Tag Archives: venture capital

‘Good a time as any’ for startups

24 Oct

James Fallows is offering ongoing takes on how venture capital firms are reacting to the financial crisis — a writer always worth following.  He’s previously posted a much-talked-about slide show by Sequoia Capital, essentially advising a batten down the hatches approach to running a startup.  This generated a response from by one of his readers, Alan Patricof, the managing director of the New York VC firm Greycroft Partners, quoted in full at Fallows’ blog, and excerpted below:

This is surely a time for companies to pay meticulous attention to detail, particularly their cost structure. It is a time to be realistic in their near term assumptions for revenue growth and take nothing for granted.

Raising additional capital to support operations is of course critical, as it is at any time, but this is particularly a time for young companies to be extra cautious in developing pragmatic assumptions of their needs and in focusing on the amount and not necessarily the cost of that capital.

This is not a time to panic, cut off all investment in the future, and burrow into a dark hole. Take a page from the packaged goods industry that the time to gain market share is during tough times when your competitors are weaker in responding. And while this may feel more directly related to portfolio companies, we as a venture industry should not retreat either. It is our strong belief that we can and will continue to make sound investments in excellent opportunities. It is as good a time as ever to start a company with sound fundamentals.

An approach that makes sense. As a communications and marketing consultant, I’ve long enjoyed working with enthusiastic, optimistic entrepreneurs with loads of big-picture ideas who nonetheless took a measured approach.  They invest in defining and positioning their brand, have clear objectives, and focus their communications on advancing strategies toward those objectives.

More, I think there’s something to this idea of money moving from exotic financial instruments toward ideas that make things — good ol’ fashioned ‘progress’.

Marketing in a Downturn: Invest in the Upswing

14 Oct

My son just finished ‘book the 13th’ of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Figuring I’ll never have time to continue past the few chapters I’ve skimmed, I asked him how it ended … did our fair Baudelaire children get a “happily ever after” ending after all?

He wouldn’t tell me directly, but he did describe a Lemony Snicket-ish metaphor from the books. He said that the story is like peeling back the layers of an onion. The more you peel, the more you cry.

Which brings us to the financial crisis.

Maybe you’ve read about this, but it bears repeating…here’s how I understand what’s happening:

  • Mortgages are defaulting, causing anything mortgage backed to default as well.
  • Banks now doubt each others’ credit, and won’t lend to each other.
  • Banks, in turn, are less likely to lend to businesses – and when they do, it will be at a higher cost.
  • Many businesses will postpone or cancel technology upgrades, equipment purchases, and expansion, freeze hiring and salaries, and reduce headcount.
  • Consumers will face job loss and lower wages.

Business-to-business concerns will find their customers cutting back orders. Marketers of high value, complex purchases like technology will be faced with longer sales cycles.

A slideshow by blue-chip venture capital firm Sequoia Capital is getting a lot of attention right now. Their advice tech startup executives: batten down the edges. Cut to the bone. Focus on revenue. Pay reps on their sales. Measure your marketing and only do what works.

During the tech bust starting in 2001, you saw a lot of this. From my standpoint, marketing and PR agency budgets were slashed or dropped altogether – even by large companies with stable revenue.

Decent advice. But as you do this, I’d like to suggest alternate point of view: Invest in the upswing.

What if, instead of across-the-board cuts, you took the downturn as an opportunity to reshape, refine and streamline your communications and marketing for the turnaround? There is no magic message or marketing trick to loosen corporate purse strings. Instead, position yourself to be the one they turn to when they’re ready. You could:

1) Revisit the message – Is the story you tell today getting you closer to the sale? Is it getting you there fast enough?

2) Reshape the strategy – Is your marketing built around what influences your prospects? Cut the marketing communications vehicles that are running fumes. Fix those that aren’t working like they should – is it time to incorporate social media into your website so your fans can share what you have to sell? Focus on reaching prospects where they are – through the web, via the media and in their communities both online and off.

3) Invest in relationships that matter – Every market is a community. Are you engaged? If you “go dark” in PR and marketing, will key consultants, editors, analysts, gurus reporters and influencers remember you when you return? Participate in communities, network with influencers, contribute to discussions through speeches, blogs and articles.

I’d like to start a conversation here if I can. I’m going to spend the next few weeks writing about marketing during the downturn – what’s going to work, what’s not going to work, what companies are doing well and not so well today. And I’d love to share your stories – post them here or email me at ken@kadetcommunications.com.

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