March Madness: Get Your Startup Out of Pre-Revenue!

March Madness typically refers to NCAA college basketball, but this
month’s craziness ranges from stock market-madness to presidential primary-madness, more prez -primary-madness to movie-madness (Ferrell!), and finally, to Spitzer’s hooker-madness.

But founders have more important things on their minds — like getting your startup out of the purgatory of “pre-revenue.” My research can help. You’ll close some deals using these core sales strategies. These tips don’t involve much sweet talking, but they do demand some attention and organization.

1. Aim your sales efforts at being #2: Your goal should be a “second
supplier”. A major mistake is going for the throat too early. SSG, Second Supplier Gambit, is trying to be a #2 provider through your website. Set aside your need to be their #1 supplier and love the waitlist status you are on. If you’re #2 on enough lists, you’ll be #1 soon enough.

2. Speak at industry conferences: Industry get-togethers are always looking for bleeding edge speakers. If you’re advanced, offer to be a back-up speaker (yes you just applied SSG). Another technique is to offer content focus, speaker line-up pre-produced and almost turn-key. A more expensive option is to have a pro writer develop content for you to speak on. Google ghost writer and put up an elance or better yet visit a Local NSA (national speakers association) chapter. If your CEO can’t speak, hire an actor (kidding!). Or go to an acting class.

3. Get a PR person: Specifically, one who works with an external agency to place speakers. Get one like Marie Williams, see Flackette from Shift Communications.

4 Do Not Wait For a Savior: This is a HUGE Pitfall. ‘Oh, we are waiting until we hire a marketing executive.’ Wait a minute… there’s 12 of you and no one can promote?? Danger Will Ferrell! Danger!

5. Have product message that isn’t KISS-able: Keep It Super Simple. Make sure your word-of-mouth message is easily cut and paste-able. This word-of-mouth-message is easy enough for a drunk UCLA hoops fan to reiterate/recall/regurgitate at a Stirr mixer.

6. Add value during the promotion process : During engineering school when I sold ads for the Daily Illini, I’d offer off-print-ad promotion ideas. Don’t buy an ad from me… I just wanna meet to share promo ideas. Set aside your need to sell something (SSG), and add value while you pitch them.

7. Never make legacy hires for the marketing team: I cringe when I
hear, “oh, we are hiring the CFOs daughter to do marketing. She just graduated
from USC.” Eek!

8. Murder-in-the-650 : Just like getting away with murder, there are 650 ways sales promotions can go wrong. You’re a genius if you can figure out the 400+ ways not to get caught. You’re a business genius if you can cover 300-400+ bases necessary. Every pitfall spiders to 30-100 details, so use this blog posting as your springboard.

9. Thinking you can only launch once : Wrong! We aren’t launching a space shuttle here… unbake the pie by getting your users to activate their visit. How? Get users to go to third base first. Get users to do something and set aside transferral of money- personal information- commitment. Movies can only premier once. Your product can relaunch, prelaunch and postlaunch.

10. Develop the illusion of a waitlist : I’m In Like With You uses invites, Spinvox used TechCrunch to give out beta subscriptions, we have a backlog of students waiting for free subscriptions to get a FICO of 750. Waitlists make you cool! Restaurants have known this for years. I book Evvia three weeks out for a Fri lunch in the booth. People feel better about clearing the waitlist.

11. Put up a Scoreboard in the office: Keep track of your staff’s three-pointers. Some folks use a white board, put each employee’s name on it and right next to it, their current sales. It’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

CONCLUSION: Remember, these pitfalls (and their solutions) took over 20 years to learn. Don’t get demoralized if you can only implement just one! Hey, if you get bogged down or log jammed, call me during my office
hours @ 650-283-8008.

larry1.jpeg Larry Chiang is the founder of duck9 and a frequent contributor to Found|READ. Two of his most popular posts are: 9 VCs You’re Gonna Want To Avoid, and 9 Things Stanford B-School Won’t Teach You, which he is turning into a book.