I meet a lot of founders working with Capital Enterprise and it’s not uncommon for them to ask for marketing pointers. What sets these companies apart is that most of them are deep techs, which means they could be anywhere from many months to years away from actually having a product ready to commercialise.
This puts them in an unusual spot. They’re not wrong to be thinking about marketing, but it’s usually far down the priority list behind research, building a working product, fundraising, hiring a team, regulatory approvals and much more besides. The question for me becomes: what advice can I give that’s actionable and useful but won’t soak up too much time and resources?
What I tell them is tailored in every case, but I’ve noticed enough common themes to outline some of them broadly. Here they are:
Try thinking in public and do it on your blog
Whenever I hear about a new company, I start by visiting their website to get a one-sentence understanding of what they do. Then, when I actually get to meet them, I come away understanding so much more about the market they’re in, the problem they are trying to solve, and why the team feel they have an edge on the other products or companies in this space.
While this isn’t exactly unexpected, it’s worth emphasising how little most visitors will absorb from that first scan. The burden is always on the startup to explain what makes an opportunity exciting. You should make it easy for people to understand what you’re working on and share your excitement.
My suggestion is simple: every 2-3 weeks, put some time aside to write something in an informal tone about what you’re working on and put it up on the company blog. Founders are unlikely to have time to keep up with this on their own, so it’s okay to limit their input to verbally describing what they want to talk about and then feeding back on a draft. If you have a part-timer or marketing intern (hey OneTech!) on the team who can take their rough thoughts and turn it into a 300-500 word blog post, that’s a good enough place to start.
You can write about the product you’re developing (within limits, of course) or the market you’re planning to enter. You can share news about the company, such as new hires, partnerships or fundraises. You can also branch out to expound on anything related to the startup journey, from your experiences of fundraising or hiring a team to everything you’ve learned about how the regulatory apparatus in your industry is set up to strangle new entrants and preserve the status quo (for instance).
If you’re able to keep up with it, after six months you’ll have 8-12 blog posts to look back on which, taken together, will go a long way towards explaining what you’re working on to anyone who stumbles across your site. The people checking you out at this stage could be investors, journalists, competitors, or potential employees – in other words, a small but important group of people.
Lay the foundations for your social media strategy
Many early-stage founders seem to believe social media is a waste of time. I’m sympathetic in principle (just build your product!) but in practice I think it’s not quite right.
Let me emphasise that social media strategy for an early-stage company does not have to be time-consuming. There’s an easy way to do it, and it’s all driven by the blog posts you’re writing.
It’s a simple two-step:
1) Anytime you finish a new blog post, post it across your channels with just a bit of tailoring to fit the format of that particular platform. Keep in mind that very few people will click any links, so whatever they’re going to get from your post they will probably get on-platform.
For LinkedIn, you could do 2-3 paragraphs summarising the key points from your post with a link to read more at the bottom (people on LinkedIn seem to be the most literate of anyone on the internet).
Twitter could be a single tweet and a screenshot, or a thread with a few tweets pulling out key points from the blog.
A key quote could turn into a graphic to share on Instagram or Facebook.
The video channels (YouTube and YouTube Shorts, TikTok, Instagram Reels) are a different kettle of fish with fewer investors and tech journalists spending a lot of time there. However, I have no doubt that with a little ingenuity your trusty marketing intern could turn a blog post about curing cancer into a TikTok.
2) If you want to post a little more frequently, you can set time aside every week to think about what you’ve been working on that could be turned into social media content. Here are just a few examples:
- A photo from an event you attended
- An article or news story relevant to your industry with a couple of sentences expressing your point of view
- A photo of your team, whether you’re building together or having a team happy hour
In short, you can develop a social media presence without devoting more than a couple hours a month to it; and even occasional posts will lay foundations for future growth, when you have more resources to put in.
Look for ways to make your website 10% better
Most founders in this category seem to build their own websites. This is obviously the correct thing to do and what they produce tends to be good enough.
While it’s bound to be a lower priority than basically anything else on a CEO’s to-do list, I would suggest that if your company is lucky enough to have a part-timer on the team, you have them spend a couple of days trying to make the website better in the following ways:
- Reconsider how much text you need on each page
- Make sure you have chosen fonts and colours that are easy to read
- Spend some time looking for good-quality stock photos
- Try viewing every page on desktop and mobile
At some point down the line, it’s likely you’ll want to invest in a revamped website. Until that day comes, there is pretty good mileage in making sure the site you have is easy to read, with a balanced amount of text on every page, high-quality photos and layouts that work across desktop and mobile.
Beyond this set of baseline suggestions, finding the right marketing strategy for a startup becomes extremely specific – so I’m going to leave it here for today. If you’d like to stay up to date with what we’re working on at Capital Enterprise, you can sign up for our startups newsletter here.