If someone would have told me 5 years ago I’d be running a marketing firm, I probably would have laughed at them.
Having gone to U-Penn to study psychology, I never once took a marketing class – or even read a marketing article. In general, while my classes were interesting, school didn’t really scratch my core entrepreneurial curiosity and itch.
So fueled by big dreams and Elon Musk’s biography, I took a year off to search for a sense of direction. I ended up at a nonprofit, where I taught myself Google Ads and CRM basics, launching myself to the #2 spot in the organization. I was working 12 hour days for little to no pay, addicted to the ability to have a real impact on the organization’s results.
As much as I was enjoying my time at the nonprofit, it wasn’t a stable long-term career choice. So I went back to Penn and powered through the rest of my graduation requirements in under a year.
At this point, my Salesforce and web design skills made a lucrative side hustle, but I hadn’t managed to bridge the gap to “businessman.”
Entering the World of Startups
I had done every hustle under the sun – bitcoin, eBay arbitrage, dropshipping, you name it. But I was ready to build something bigger, and I happened to know a guy who was also ready for a serious comeback.
That guy was my best friend, and together we founded a company we thought would change the face of ed-tech forever. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well.
We were so focused on developing our product that we contracted out all our marketing to agencies that specialized in each channel. We didn’t understand the big picture, the agencies didn’t understand the product, and sales suffered.
In the past, marketing was a small part of sales, but today, your sales team is virtually ineffective without a solid marketing foundation. Our ed-tech startup was stuck without this. It wasn’t until I got my hands dirty learning the software and tactics for myself that our marketing started to gain traction.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to save the venture. I shifted my focus back to my side hustles and tried to move on.
As my marketing “side business” expanded to the point where it was full-time with two employees, I approached each new client with the same goal: to help CEOs understand enough about marketing to make smart decisions about outsourcing or hiring marketing support.
Hard Lessons in Marketing
I got particularly involved with one of my clients making a splash in the wellness space. Cuddlist is a professional cuddling service – yes, you heard that right. It’s a real thing. I saw growth opportunity in their business model and figured if I could market a professional cuddling company, I could market anything.
Cuddlist worked out well – really well. They were approached by Shark Tank, which skyrocketed the business. The company (a professional cuddling company!) grew to generate over 10k appointments per year and hundreds of thousands of dollars in free press.
I thought I would be involved with Cuddlist for a long time, but we eventually ran into issues advertising on Google and Facebook due to policy changes. These changes made it impossible to achieve the kind of scalable growth I was looking for.
How to Approach Marketing as a Startup
In every experience I’ve had with startups, marketing has been the single most important factor for success. And if the founders, internal marketing team, and outside agencies aren’t on the same page, trouble ensues.
You don’t need to be an expert in every marketing discipline to run a successful company. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a CMO who can realistically say they’re experienced in every marketing channel and specialty.
Not to mention concerns that many CMO’s are completely unprepared for their role. As a CEO, all you need to do is understand enough marketing principles to hire the right marketers for your team and business model.
While there’s value in an internal marketing team, if your company is new or hasn’t had success in the past, there’s little reason to take on the extra risk of an internal marketing team.
A Modern Marketing Solution
My current venture, You Don’t Need a CMO, offers a new solution to this challenge. We’ve assembled a world-class team of ex-CMO’s, agency owners, and other marketers to form the first marketing syndicate.
When you hire YDNACMO, you get a full competitive analysis and market strategy report crowdsourced from our experts. Throughout the consulting process, we train your startup on marketing tactics and implementation through both individual training and our curated events.
Pooling together our team’s strengths gives you a robust strategy vetted by the industry’s best. And a working understanding of marketing for your specific industry. Without eating your entire budget in consulting fees.
If you’re a startup founder, we’d love to have you at a future YDNACMO in-person event or webinar. And my team is always available for a short strategy call if you’d like to get the ball rolling sooner. But whether you choose to outsource your marketing or bring on a CMO, be sure you understand the strategy you’re following.
If I haven’t made it abundantly clear, I think it’s critical for startup founders to understand marketing. My biggest personal successes (and some failures) have all boiled down to marketing implementation. Look to marketing to avoid those problems and get those wins for your own startup.
You can book a free consultation with our team of pros for a limited time here: