8 Insanely Simple Ideas to Grow Sales at a Small Business

Sumit Gupta
February 2013

I find that small businesses are often “sleepy” businesses. The owners have lost the spark to grow the business and are settled into the income stream they have.

Here are 8 simple tips that a sleepy business can do to reinvigorate and grow sales and get new customers. I will use a “laundry” to demonstrate the ideas, but they are applicable to any business, whether a restaurant, ice cream store, or bakery.

  1. Customer registry: Start collecting your customers names and email addresses:
    • Sounds simple. It is simple. Everytime you ring up a customer, ask them their name and email address to start a customer registry. Tell the customers that you will send them discount coupons.
    • Once you have the list, there are tons of different ways to take advantage of the email list.
    • Get a simple, and cost effective customer relationship management (CRM) system to manage your customer list.
  2. Reward Referrals: Offer your customers rewards for referrals. “Send this 25% off coupon to your friend. If your friend comes into the store and uses it, we will launder 1 item for free for you”.
    • Redemption is simple. When the friend comes to the store with the coupon, ask him for who his referring friend is, look up their account and give them the reward.
    • Hire a professional graphic designer to create the coupons and email invites. The costs are low and it makes for a much more professional outreach.
    • Of course, don’t forget to add the new friend into your customer registry.
  3. Discover Slow Days: Study your sales carefully to look for opportunities to grow on slow days.
    • Look for:
      • Days when sales are low
      • Times when you don’t have enough work at the business
      • Anytime that you are wasting product
    • Offer discount coupons to customers (via your email list) for the low days. Pizza companies do this all the time ($5 pizzas on Mondays and lunch buffets).
    • If you are a food (eg: bagel / donut) shop and you end up throwing away product every Tuesday night, then offer a Tuesday night special to drive traffic to the store.
  4. Sell More to Existing customers: Look for spending patterns of your customers.
    • If your customers are getting 10 shirts laundered a month for $2 each, then offer a package for the month for $30 for up to 20 shirts. In the worst case, you will make $1.5 per shirt and make $10 more per customer who signs up. In the best case, many of those who sign up will only bring in ~15 shirts (and not 20).
    • Offer bundles: Pre-pay for 10 shirts and get the 11th shirt for free. This forces loyalty and repeat business.
    • If a customer only launders shirts, offer them 25% of a trouser for every 5 shirts he brings in.
  5. Learn About Your Customers: Figure out who your customers are and also who lives in the neighborhood that should be your customer.
    • If the neighborhood has lots of young, single professionals, offer them a monthly service for their laundry. This will encourage them to sign-up & be loyal to your business.
    • If your customers are families, and perhaps laundering only adult’s clothes, then offer them a “launder a kids shirt for 50% off with every adult shirt at full price”. This will upsell existing customers to bring in more business (tied to tip #4 above).
  6. Serve Local Businesses: People working in local businesses should be a big target for any store / consumer service company.
    • Go to local businesses and talk to the human resources (HR) person to offer them
      • Discounts for their employees
      • Free delivery on catered orders or if a laundry, free pickup and drop off from the business.
      • If a bagel, donut or ice cream store, offer to deliver bagels and / or donuts every Friday morning. If ice cream, offer to bring in ice cream cart every Friday afternoon at 4pm.
    • Every company is looking for low cost ways to make the workspace fun for their employees.
  7. Special Day Offers: Hallmark and others have created tons of new special days for businesses to have an excuse to reach out to their customers.
    • Offer Mother’s Day, Birthday, whatever day specials to your customers. Each of these is an excuse to call on the customer to remind them to come into the store.
    • The incentive you offer is purely to cause your customer to come in early, rather than wait. That’s why all coupons are time bound.
    • Have a professional graphic designer to create greeting cards / emails for you to send out to your customers with the offer.
  8. Cut Costs: Obvious, but often overlooked. Go over your expenses line-by-line and spend a few days brainstorming on how you can reduce that expense. Start with the biggest expenses first.
    • Power (electricity) bills are often a place for cost reduction.
      • White goods like heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, etc consume a lot of power. Often, if your refrigerator is more than 5 years old, buying a new one pays for itself in power savings within a year or two.
      • I had a friend who upgraded his swimming pool pump to a new one, which paid for itself in power savings within a year.
    • Switch off lights in areas you aren’t using. Install motion detection based light switches; they are inexpensive and a onetime purchase. It pains me to see the lights and projector on in a conference room when I am leaving work in the evening.
    • Cutting products from your portfolio. Study your sales. Remove products that don’t sell well. Example: cut the ice cream flavors or bagels that folks don’t buy. Might make some customers unhappy, but might also significantly reduce waste and save money.
    • Are you ordering too much product / raw materials too far in advance? Managing inventory more closely can be a way to improve cash flow and save a lot of money.

Do leave a comment below to let me know your ideas on how you improved sales at your business or if you tried one of these things and it worked or not.

Good luck and you can learn more about marketing from some of the articles I authored.

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT gmail.com

Sumit Gupta

Practical Tips for Product Managers

Sumit Gupta
July 2011

I am a self-trained product marketing person.   Here is some practical advice to help improve as a product manager.

  • Read: As much as you can.   There are really only two ways we learn — by doing things ourselves or by reading about how others did them.   I usually look at lists such as the top business books recommended by BusinessWeek or other similar magazines or websites. Read broadly: marketing, business management, leadership, creativity, sales.
  • Write: As a product manager, this can take many forms: customer ready presentations, white papers, blogs, internal memos, strategy docuements.   Writing really helps collate your thoughts.   It forces you to concisely communicate your ideas.   It teaches you to position — your products, yourself, your company.
  • Learn to write: If you, like me, are an engineer who transitioned to marketing, then you probably suck at writing.  I recommend reading The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.   The key thing in writing is presenting your ideas with as few words as possible.  As stated above, this forces you to think through and concisely present your ideas.
  • Learn Positioning: This is by far the toughest and most useful skill that a product manager possesses.   If you become good at positioning, you are golden.   Start by reading Al Ries books on Positioning.  Positioning means owning a place in people’s mind.   You need to constantly position your product and its features and benefits to your customers.   In fact, you constantly position yourself in front of colleagues and friends.
  • Present:  Just like writing, presenting also helps you collage your thoughts and forces you to build a simple message to your customers / audience.    Make sure you learn how to make good slides.  There are several books on this — many of them teach you to mimic Steve Jobs presentation style.   Just like writing, you want to learn to create slides with as many pictures and as few words as possible.
  • Meet customers:  There is nothing like knowing how good the presentations you created are than presenting them in front of customers.  Product managers often create sales presentations, but never deliver these to customers.
    • Learn from your customers.   See how they respond to your presentations.  Find out what they value in your product.  Learn about their business problems.
  • Watch your customer: The best sales guys are the ones who watch the customer when you are presenting and not you.   Our natural instinct when someone presents is to look at the slides on the screen.   But if you want to see how your customer or audience is reacting to the messages on the slides, you should watch them.
    • If someone looks like he or she is disagreeing with what is being presented, then interrupt the presentation and ask them “looks like you don’t fully agree to this.  what do you think?”.
    • If someone nods their head in agreement, then say “looks like this feature really applies to your company”.  This will force them to tell you what value the feature / point you are making brings to them.
  • Listen before talking: Whenever you go into a customer meeting, always start by asking your customer questions.   For example, if a customer asks for a presentation on your roadmap, then start by asking “what are your plans on software or hardware procurement over the next few years”?    What are the most important things you are going to be looking for?   And so on.
    • This way, when you are presenting the roadmap, you:
      • Know that the customer is serious and actually plans to buy something,
      • What features to highlight in your products,
      • Where to focus your presentation.
    • I have been in situations, where we closed the deal because we asked these questions before presenting and also in situations where after learning that the customer had no intention to buy, we refused to tell them our roadmap (in a polite way of course).
    • The most successful customer meetings are those in which the customer does most of the talking (at least 50% of the time).
  • Help your sales team: The first and most useful advice I got from the guy who convinced me to go to marketing was “Always make sure you are a resource to your sales guys (and gals)”.
    • Remember, marketing is a support function.   Engineering makes the product, sales sells it.   Marketing makes sure that engineering is building the right product, it is priced right, and sales has the sales tools to sell it.   But you can get rid of marketing and engineering would still build a product and sales would still sell some of it.
    • So, by helping the sales team, I mean making sure they have the right customer ready presentations, the value proposition and positioning of your product and its major benefits are well presented, you provide good tools to train your sales team, you provide additional tools that the sales team can use to convince customers of the value of the product, and so on.
  • Learn to tell stories: In everything you do in life, the most important advice I can give you is Learn to Tell Stories.   Always start your presentations and pepper your conversations with personal stories.
    • For example, if you are building a more fuel efficient car engine, then start with something like “I bought a SUV a few years ago, when gas prices were $2 a gallon.   Of course, with my luck, as soon as we got the SUV, prices shot up to $3.   Boy, it really pinches at the gas pump.   So, I can’t wait to get this new car engine to the market that will cut my monthly gas bill by $200”.
    • The most common pushback I hear to this is — “My company builds a technology component for other businesses, so its really hard for me to tell simple stories like this”.
    • That is the beauty of personal stories; there is always something that you can talk to.   For example, a senior manager at my company recently presented to a large audience and he started by unwrapping a gift in front of the audience and pulling out a magazine.   He told the audience about how he has kept that 10 year old magazine because it represented the first time his company got on the front cover, etc, etc, etc.   It was a great story that captured the audiences attention and made them want to listen to this really interesting guy.

All right, hope these were useful tips.   You can learn about marketing from some of the articles I authored.
Please leave a comment. I really look forward to your experiences and feedback.  Or send me a note at sumitg AT gmail.com

Sumit Gupta

What Does A Product Manager Do?

Sumit Gupta
May 2011

The objective of marketing is to
sell more product
to more people
more often
at higher prices
– Sergio Zieman, ex-CMO Coca Cola

Text books usually call this the 5 Ps: Product, Pricing, Place, Promotion, People.  This article is just a laundry list — details are left to other articles I authored.

Marketing can be divided up into two types of activities:

  • Inbound product and business management
  • Outbound product marketing

Inbound product management  involves

  • Manging the lifecycle of a product
    • Requirements gathering
    • Product strategy (how many products, product segmentation)
    • Product definition & feature prioritization
    • Some amount of program management
    • New product introduction
    • Customer feedback
    • Positioning features — this is a key task of PMs
  • Business management
    • Pricing
    • Revenue forecasting
    • Supply management
    • Business operations

Product managers spend a lot of time working with engineering to prioritize roadmap features based on business priorities. This means gathering customer feedback to determine what features:

  • A customer will pay for
  • Will generate new business
  • Help renew existing business

This point is super important – customers will always ask for tons of features, but the product manager prioritizes those that customers will actually pay for. At every step, you ask – will the customer not buy if we don’t add this feature?

Outbound product marketing focuses on revenue generation on products. This means

  • Developing a market segment strategy
    • Segment marketing sizing
    • Which segments to focus on — a function of segment market size, product fit, and ability to access
    • Segment revenue strategy
  • Creating sales tool
    • Product positioning – this is a crossover between inbound and outbound product marketing
    • Product brochures
    • Web strategy and web content
    • Simple, effective sales tools based on the type of sales team
    • Success stories
  • Product launch and public communication
    • Press release
    • Press briefings & launch events
    • Campaigns & advertising
    • Marketing campaigns to reach customers
    • Promotions, bundles, channel programs

For example, a new bagel store may run a campaign to get the word out about their opening. Instead of running ads in the local newspaper, it will probably be more effective to call on local offices and offer discounted breakfast bagels once a week. Don’t forget to leave coupons behind for the employees!

You can learn about marketing (in particular in startups) from some of the articles I authored.

Please leave a comment. I really look forward to your experiences and feedback.

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT gmail.com

Sumit Gupta

Please feel free to contact me at sumitg at gmail.com

How to move from Engineering to Product Management

Sumit Gupta
June 2011

One of the most common conversations I have with engineers these days is about their desire to move to product management / marketing.   First of all, there seem to be many myths about what product managers do.  It is common to hear engineers say “I want to making strategy decisions about products”.   In fact, this is a common thing that even inexperienced product managers say during interviews.Product management is 99% perspiration, 1% strategy, to paraphrase a famous saying.   Product managers spend an inordinate amount of time making sure the product is being built right, or the product is shipping right, or the sales channels are working right.    You can read more about what product managers do here and also read about whether doing a MBA will help in moving from engineering to product management.

So, you still think you want to be a product manager?    Well, its not going to be an easy change over and there are tons of people competing with you.    For every product manager (PM), there are typically 20 to 50 engineers in a company.   So, PM positions are few and far apart.

Here are concrete things you can do to move over:

  • Become more involved in customer facing opportunities.   You have to love working with customers and have to be good at it to have a decent career in product marketing.
  • Look for opportunities in applications engineering or as a sales engineer.    This is closer to marketing / sales (closer to the customer).   But don’t stay in one of these positions for too long if your ultimate aim is to go into product marketing.  These are just a springboard to PM.
  • Write white papers, blogs, other notes that are for customers.   Technical articles are a good start, but even better if you can write versions that are meant for managers rather than engineers.
  • Prepare technology presentations that show the value of features rather than talk about the technology.  This is the hardest and most interesting job that PMs do — positioning.  Al Ries’s books on positioning are the bible on the subject.
  •  Meet and hang out with product managers and sales folks.  Listen and learn about the things that concern them.   Try to create a presentation or document that helps them with a problem they are having in sales / marketing.
  • Read.  Read a lot.   Start with textbooks on product management.  They will teach you about the breath of tasks that product managers do, from product definition to sales tools, pricing, sales channels, branding, and advertizing.   Also read business books (just look up the top 10 business books over the last 5 to 10 years and read them all).   Read broadly: books on marketing, business, leadership, sales, creativity, and whatever else you can get your hands on.
  • Make sure you talk to business leaders in your company in marketing and sales to let them of your interest in moving over to marketing.   That way, when there is an opportunity, they will keep you in mind.   But you also have to keep doing things that demonstrate your aptitude for outbound roles.
  • Start volunteering for a non-profit in a marketing or business development role. Nothing builds your resume like getting relevant experience. If you can say on your resume that you helped increase the donations to a charity from $10K a month to $20K a month, that is a real achievement that will speak to your ability.

At the end of the day, the most important thing you have to do is set a schedule by when you want to be 100% into marketing.   Create a roadmap to how you will get there.  Think of this as your first marketing project — marketing yourself so that you get a job in product management.    Don’t just keep doing what you are doing in engineering.  Everyday you need to do something that helps in your path to marketing.

Think about these things

Before you start on your path to product management, think about these things:

  • Your experience in engineering will help, but will not count towards product management.  That means, even if you are a director of engineering, you will start as a product manager and will have to go through the paces like any other junior product manager.
  • This also means you might have to take a salary cut.  In fact, broadly speaking, product managers make less money than engineers — especially in the silicon valley.   Salaries level out only if you reach a reasonable level of seniority in marketing.   (Sales makes the most money if they do well).
  • Your deep knowledge in technology is almost a handicap.   The most common mistake that engineers turned product managers make is talking about the technology all the time.  If you read any sales books, you will learn that the most crucial part of a sales deal is getting the customer to stop focusing on technical due diligence and start talking about business terms.    So, learn to leave technology behind and focus on positioning the benefits and understanding and solving customer problems.

Make the move fast

Once you decide you want to move into marketing / sales, make the move as soon as possible.   Every minute that you spend in engineering now is not building towards your next step.  So, start looking for jobs inside your company and outside.  Meet as many marketing and sales people as you can.  Go to networking events.   Start building your resume.   Also, take whatever job you can that is closer to customers, whether it is as an applications engineer or sales engineer.    But always keep your eye on the ball – which is the new position you want.   So, if you want to be a product manager, don’t stay in the applications engineering job too long.  It is only a stepping stone.

Good luck and you can learn about marketing from some of the articles I authored.

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT gmail.com

Sumit Gupta

Please feel free to contact me at sumitg at gmail.com

Please leave a comment. I really look forward to your experiences and feedback.

I am an Engineer: Should I do a MBA?

Sumit Gupta
July 2011

Lots of engineers in the silicon valley are considering a move to marketing or sales.    I wrote earlier about what product managers do and also about making the move from engineering to product management.The other big question engineers have is whether they should do a MBA and if it will in the move from engineering to product marketing.   Frequently, folks are considering doing an executive (weekend) MBA program while they continue to work.

What does a MBA buy you?

First, lets examine what a MBA buys you:

  • Theory behind what is business management, marketing, and sales.   A formal business school program is excellent to get a solid background in everything about business, including reading balance sheets, profit and loss, various aspects of marketing — including product management, branding, advertizing, public relations, and an overview of sales and sales management.
  • Builds your resume.  There is no doubt about it; if you are serious about making a change in your career, there is nothing like showing your dedication by going back to school and also, hiring managers appreciate the fact that you will at least have the theoretical background about business management.
  • Gets you ahead of the crowd.   There are lots of engineers trying to make a change to marketing / business management.    A MBA degree gives you an edge over the rest of your peers.
  • Networking.   I believe this is a bit over-rated, unless you are doing a full-time MBA.   If you are in an executive MBA program, I have not seen the networking aspect pay off too much.   Your mileage will of course vary.
  • Confidence: There is no doubt that most engineers are more confident after they finish their MBA.  I think this has to do with a few things.  One is the degree itself gives folks more confidence in their skills.   More importantly, the experience, the interaction, and the challenges do really add to your personality.

Sounds like a slam dunk, right?

This all sounds pretty good, right?   So, what is the downside?

  • A MBA does not get you a job.    In fact, once you finish your MBA, you will be competing with 100s of fresh MBA graduates — including many who are many years younger than you (especially if you did an executive MBA program).   Your engineering experience helps some, but it does not really speak to your abilities as a general manager / product manager.
  • You could have spend the same time and effort in getting real life experience in business management.   A MBA is expensive and is very time consuming.   Also, instead of 2-3 years of doing the MBA, you could instead have made a transition to any marketing, sales, business role and started gaining experience.  Instead of taking classes in the evening and weekends, you could have instead done marketing for a non-profit and gained experience that will directly help you get a job.
  • You can get the same theoretical background by reading the business books on your own.   In fact, its likely your personalized reading list will be much more focused on your career move than the broad MBA programs.
  • Often folks do a MBA without a plan for the future (see “Have a plan after the MBA” below).
  • If you want to network, join a professional group — there are tons in the valley, usually targeting entrepreneurs (like SD Forum,  TIE, et cetera).

Have a plan after the MBA

The biggest mistake that I see folks make is not having a plan after their MBA.   Often, folks think, “Let me get a MBA, and then
somehow magically, my career will take off”.    The most important thing to figure out is the plan after the MBA.  Do you intend to
quit your engineering job and look full-time for a marketing / business management / investment job?

If not, are you just doing your MBA to advance in engineering management?   If so, have you checked with your company or others, if they value engineers with MBAs? The answer in my opinion is that they don’t.   I have never seen someone get promoted to an engineering manager, because they got a MBA.  In fact, doing a MBA takes some much time and energy, it might actually make you step back in your engineering career.

A MBA is a means to get to some end.    Its just a step towards what you want to do next.   So, plan your next step before getting into a MBA.

So, should I do a MBA?

This is a personal decision based on tons of factors.  But you probably should do a MBA if:

  • If your plan is to move into investment banking, finance, consulting, product marketing in a non-technology company, or some other completely different management role.  It is in fact required for many of these roles.   If your plan is to move into product marketing in a technology company, then its harder to justify doing a MBA.
  • If you don’t believe you can self-educate yourself by reading books, etc and need a formal program to get you to learn.
  • If you aren’t good at networking and believe that a MBA program will help build your social skills as well (this is a red flag if you want to move to marketing by the way).
  • If you don’t even know where to start even in terms of volunteering or just don’t believe you have the natural aptitude to do marketing or business development.

The most important thing in making career changes is to do them as fast as possible, once you have decided to do them (read my article on moving from engineering to product management to read more on this).

Good luck!

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT gmail.com

Sumit Gupta

Its All About Figuring Out the Customers, Stupid!

Sumit Gupta
February 2010


Got a great idea?!  Got a friend that thinks its great too.  Well, lets start coding/designing/developing.   That’s the most common reaction of technical entrepreneurs.    It is also the reason why we have 100s of successful technology companies and how the silicon valley was built.

The challenge is that for every successful startup, there are perhaps 100 other guys in garages, whose idea didn’t go anywhere.  Frequently, a major reason for this is they never spoke to a single customer before they started engineering their product.   Or even worse, they talked but didn’t listen.

Innovator’s Dilemma

“But if I share my idea with people, someone will steal it!”

This might be true if you have an idea for a new website and you talk to other would be entrepreneurs looking to do something similar.   However, in general, validating your idea with prospective customers is very useful.    To summarize, some simple do’s and don’ts:

  1. Don’t talk to prospective customers who are capable of implementing the idea themselves (that rules out a lot of your colleagues and peers).
  2. Do talk to customers at large companies if your idea is targeted at enterprises, to average consumers who do not have a technology background if your idea is targeted to consumers, to professionals if it is targeted to them (for example, talk to doctors if you can make a better medical device).

For example, if you are creating a website for twin parents, drop by the local twin parent club and ask the parents there what kind of information would help them, if they would visit such a website.

Profiling Your Customer Base

This is the crux of what a good marketing guy (typically a product manager) does.  For a startup, there are some key things you need to find out:

  1. Who are the various types of customers or “Target Segments” for your product?For example: if you have a website that gives out medical advice, then you can target
    • Men & Women between 20-30, 30-40, and so on
    • Only Women or only Men
    • Only Children (ie actually parents looking for information for their children)
    • Only Seniors
    • Some other permutation!
  2. Determine the size of each Target Segment (aka Market Size)Using the example of the medical advice website, you would have to determine
    • how many folks of each type (Men/Women in each age group, parents, seniors) access the Internet. Remember Google is your friend – there is a lot of data on the internet, if you know how to use a search engine well.
    • how many of them are likely to look for medical advice online (look for studies that have this data, look for other indicators like how many of these type of people buy drugs online, and so on)
    • Where else can each group get this data?
      • Is finding medical advice for children’s ailments difficult?
      • Do parents or seniors want to look up the dosage before taking/giving medicine?
      • What other competitive websites, services are available?

      A lot of this information is going to come from talking to customers. So, you may have to visit the local AARP meetings to meet seniors to find out what their medical information needs are and how they get information. Similarly, parent clubs, mailing lists, websites might give information about the concerns of parents.

  3. What is the difficulty of penetration into each segment?
    If you target seniors:

    • Do they have the motivation to look for information on the internet? If not, can you make your website attractive to them by making it part of something they have to do or like to do every day. For example,
      • Enable them to renew their prescriptions from your website.
      • Connect to a video conferencing software like Skype so they can talk to their parents.
      • Add online games like bingo to create a community.
    • Do they trust information on the internet? Or how can you make your website look trustworthy? For example, does adding endorsements from senior doctors help?
    • Do seniors prefer talking to someone on the phone? Perhaps you can add a helpline to your website for a certain fee.
  4. How does your customer spend money aka how are you going to make money?Creating a great product is just the basis of a company. Figuring out how to sell it and extract the maximum amount of money from a customer is just as big an uphill battle. For that medical advice website, you have to figure out how to monetize all those people visiting the website. A standard strategy seems to be to leverage text ads. There are in fact many other ways to monetize a website.
    For example:

    • along with the free advice, add a for-a-fee advice helpline; this could be a live chat or a phone call.
    • Tie up with a pharmacy to offer referrals.
    • For a parenting website, besides offering advice on the best things to buy for baby, add links to where parents can buy them.

Case Study

Lets try a different case study to understand these concepts.   Consider that you have an idea for a new iPhone application that enables people to morph a photograph into funny caricatures (there is probably an app for that!).  So, lets profile our potential customers.

  • Teenagers (13-18):
    • Pros:
      • Have lots of time to kill, are hooked to phones, take a lot of pictures with camera phones, and are likely to be looking for these kind of silly, fun applications
      • Teenagers are fad-oriented; they will gravitate towards a cool application that their friends are using.
    • Cons
      • iPhones are expensive and not many teenagers are likely to have one.
      • Teenagers are fickle customers and are likely to try the application for a while and move on. If your business model is based on repeat business, that can be a problem.
      • Your application is fighting for attention among millions of other things that teenagers can do (example, IMing their friends).
  • College crowd: 18-21 year olds
    • Pros:
      • Have limited time to kill, but are hooked to phones, take a lot of pictures with camera phones, and are looking for these kind of silly, fun applications.
      • Meet a lot of new people in college/different classes, so this application can be evergreen.
      • Are fad-oriented, so friends are likely to also try the application.
      • Are more likely to have a iPhone than teenagers (that is, have credit cards to charge the phone to).
    • Cons
      • Lots of things fighting for attention. Free time might go in other activities like socializing.
  • Post-College crowd: 21-30 year olds
    • Pros:
      • A large population has iPhones due to its current popularity.
      • Have the money to keep buying new interesting applications. Are likely to also continuously pay for add-ons to the primary application,
      • Do take a lot of pictures with their iPhones, but perhaps not as many.
    • Cons
      • The friend circles of this age group is usually static (not expanding) and reasonably small. So, after a while, this becomes passé in the group.
  • Everyone else: 30-45 year olds
    • Pros
      • Likely to be a large population that can easily afford iPhones and new applications.
    • Cons
      • This kind of application is less likely to appeal to the broader crowd.
      • Not likely to be a viral application in this group.
      • Friend circles are reasonably static and small.
      • Probably do not take too many pictures with their phones.

You can put in much more thought into this customer profiling, but this quick and dirty profiling indicates that the best target customers to study further are the College and Post-College groups.

The next step is to visit a college campus and survey students on

  • if they have iPhones
  • if they take a lot of pictures with it
  • what do they do with these pictures
  • if they would be interested in this sort of application
  • how much they would be willing to pay for it (pricing is a whole separate, long subject!)

Similarly, visit a few stores like Fedex, Starbucks, Best Buy, etc and talk to the 21-30 year old employees to ask similar questions.

Remember, you must do all this *before* you start building it to validate that there is a market for your product and what product to really build for the markets you find.

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT gmail.com

Sumit Gupta

Why you need a marketing person in your early stage startup

Sumit Gupta
August 2010


If you are a technologist, its likely you think you need to build a product as soon as possible and then hire sales people to sell it.

And oh yes, somewhere along the way, you might need to hire some marketing people to do PR (public relations) and brochures and stuff.

I contend that you need a marketing person in your core team from day 1.


What does Marketing do anyway?

Sergio Zyman, former CMO of Coca Cola once said, “The purpose of marketing is to sell more product, to more people, more often, at a higher price.”

Marketing figures out what product to build so that customers will pay money for it. Technologists can figure out what product to build too, but often fail in figuring out if customers will pay for it and more importantly if the product fits into the workflow of the customer. How customers buy products also requires a lot of understanding to setup the right distribution and figure out the right sales model. team.

I used to work a VC that always insisted that every startup they funded hired a marketing guy asap if they didn’t already have one in their team.

But what will the marketing gal/guy do while we are building a product?

Startups should always be talking to their prospective customers.   Typically, the CTO of a startup does a lot of the early customer conversations and product validations.   This is fine.   The value that the marketing guy brings in these conversations is to find out if a customer will actually pay to buy the product you are building.

Lets first look at a case study and then come back to what the marketing guy does while the startup is building a product.

Case Study: Without a marketing person

You (as a technologist) working in a big company realize that there is tons of data in the web logs, but there is no good tool out there to troll through all the data and improve your web strategy.     You talk to others in your company and other big companies, and you have hit the jackpot on a new startup idea.

The startup launches, you hire a team, and the development startups.  You continue to meet folks in product marketing departments in large companies to validate your product idea and guide the feature set.

When the product is ready, however, you discover your sales guys are not able to close the deals.

What happened?   It turns out that the purchasing decision for web analytics products are done by the web team.   You were talking to the product marketing people in business units.   They can recommend, but the web team decides.   And the web team has to consider the wishes of all the business units.

Now what would a marketeer have done?

The key thing a marketing person would have done is figure out who makes the decisions on buying web analytics software.  He might realize that there are two choices: either show how your web analytics software is *much* better OR convince most of the  business units in the company that your web analytics software is better.  The key thing is that the marketing person would have learned is that the buying decision is not as simple as convincing one business unit and it will be an uphil battle to convince the web team that they should replace their analytics software.

That is why you need a marketing person.

But what will the marketing guy do till we produce a product?

Product marketing consists of two things: product (inbound) management and product (outbound) marketing.   Inbound product management is about being the quarterback in a product team; the product manager helps the engineering team priortize what to do, brings focus to the team (most importantly what *not* to work on), brings customer feedback back to the engineering team, while at the same time cutting through what customers ask for versus what they really need.

I believe outbound (product) marketing starts on day 1 as well.   Start a blog, become thought leaders, raise awareness of the problem in the market, start briefing press.  Yes, start talking to the press.  Start talking to late stage investors.   All of these things need to start early, so that when you come out with a product and start getting customers, you hit the ground running.

Written by a biased marketing guy …. 🙂

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT gmail.com

Sumit Gupta

Avoiding Common Startup Mistakes

Sumit Gupta

August 2010


I write a lot about how startups often ignore marketing till its too late. Here are some of the most common mistakes to look out for.

    • Not talking to enough prospective customers early on.
      • This means really spending time with a number of customers and figuring out customer pain points, how they buy product, barriers to adoption, key purchasing decision influencers, etc.
    • Not figuring out exactly what niche your product fills.
      • Often you have a product strategy, but then you also need to figure out a small wedge from which your product enters the market. Figuring out this tip of the spear is critical to success. This is ongoing process that starts on day 1.
    • Focus, focus, focus or lack there of.
      • The biggest mistake that startups make — trying to be everything to everyone. Sure, product plans change, but figure out what your target market is, what your product strategy and sales strategy for that market is. Desperate for customers, startups often stray from their focus market, because they meet a customer who asks for something slightly different.
      • Read the book Good to Great. It does a great job in describing how to establish a revenue stream in one vertical / market segment and then broadening to others. This means saying no to customers who are not in your focus segment!
    • Not building a great team.
      • Your team is the most important asset your startup has. Again as Jim Collins said in Good to Great, first get the right people in the bus, then you will easily figure out where you have to go. The startup environment / office space is so small that you will become very close to each other and besides making sure you have personality matches, you also need to make sure each member is a rock star.
    • Focusing on technology, rather than products
      • Adding more cool features isn’t why you are building the product. Addressing a customer’s problems is why you build the product. Sounds easy, but this is often forgotten by technologists, who fall in love with the technology.
    • Not figuring out how to migrate customers from the incumbent product.
      • For example, a customer may have written tons of scripts for an existing software; you better have a migration story.
    • Lack of understanding of eco-system factors that lock a customer in to an incumbent.
      • There may be products from other 3rd party companies that your customer depends on, which also need to support your new product.
    • Not having a long term product differentiation and roadmap strategy.
      • Don’t be a one trick pony. How does your product evolve? How do you maintain your product differentiation? At some point, the large incumbent competitor will respond and their might may crush you unless you keep moving.
      • As a corollary to this, you need to position your product from day 1 as a first in a family of products.
    • Underestimating the time, effort, resources, and money it takes to successfully create, launch, and be successful with a product.
      • You not only have to get a few customers, you have to go mainstream and that takes a solid foundation, a solid team, a solid product, and a solid marketing and sales strategy.
  • Signing up bad investors and bad customers
    • There is good money (good investors) and there are good customers and there is bad money (bad investors) and bad customers. Figure out what you are looking for and stick to it. Don’t accept money from investors who don’t share your vision and don’t bring you any strategic value. Don’t tie yourself to customers who are constantly trying to make you defocus from your product strategy.

Questions, Comments? Send me a note at sumitg AT gmail.com

Sumit Gupta

10 Books I Recommend Reading

Books on India that will intrigue you, make you laugh, and make you wonder

Books I recommend reading if you are interested in Hindu or Buddhist Philosophy

Books by V.S. Naipaul that I really like

9 Things LinkedIn Can Do Better

Sumit Gupta
July 2011

I am a super LinkedIn user.  I joined the site early and have consistently developed my network there over the years to perhaps a few thousand people.   I joined Google+ a few days ago and of course, like everyone else, love the concept of Circles.    So, here are a bunch of suggestions for LinkedIn that would make my life much easier:

  1. Grouping people:  Exactly like the idea of circles, I meet tons of people in my job (marketing) and in social circles.  I want to group people into social friends, professional contacts, important professional contacts and so on!
  2. Notes when you link: Whenever I link with someone, I would love to add a note about how I met this person, what I learned about him/her, etc.   LinkedIn added the ability to add notes recently, but there should be a link to notes right when a link is established.
  3. Network of networks: Often I meet someone based on an introduction from someone else.  I would love to able to see a network where I can annotate a note about how I know someone — for all you geeks reading this, if it were a network graph, the ability to add note on the link between two people would be great.  This goes beyond just introductions; sometimes it is useful to note this kind of information.
  4. Edit Other’s Contact Info: It would be terrific to edit a contact’s information with information like their cell phone number, alternate email addresses, address, etc.  Of course, this would be my personal view of their profile.
  5. Scan cards directly into LinkedIn: I have 2000+ business cards sitting in a rolodex on my desk.   Can’t I just scan them and get them into linkedin?
  6. Bump for LinkedIn: In fact, wouldn’t it be great that you meet someone and you bump phones and bam – you are LinkedIn!
  7. Messenger / Chat: I don’t use this, but tons of people at work chat with others using Yahoo Messenger or some other chat software.  Just like Google chat, it would serve LinkedIn well to add an instant message tool.    Although, please no video chat … 😉
  8. Invites: Evite would suffer instant death if Google+ and LinkedIn added the same ability as evites.    There are business events that can be served well with an evite type of RSVP service.
  9. Block out people:  There should be a way to unlink with someone (preferably without them finding out) and also, to block comments from someone (there are “social” people who need to tell you everytime they have a coffee).