Lessons of going from large enterprise to the startup world
A lot of people who work in large companies say, “I really want to do something more entrepreneurial”. But, most don’t have any idea what they are getting into. Before leaving your cushy enterprise gig, you should attend this session. Startup life is not always as glamorous as advertised. It’s not all about cool offices with ping pong tables, free snacks and kegs on tap. It’s about late nights, limited resources and a lot of really, really hard work. At the same time, it can be a highly rewarding experience where you have a unique opportunity to make the kind of impact that you could never make in a big company.
Advice from the CMO of QA Symphony
About Jeff Perkins + QA Symphony
Jeff Perkins is Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of QA Symphony, a leading global provider of QA testing software for agile developers. Prior to QA Symphony, Jeff spent 8 years in senior marketing and sales roles at PGi and AutoTrader.com. He started his career grinding it out in the NYC ad industry at Saatchi & Saatchi and Havas. His experiences range from traditional to digital, B2C to B2B, and agency-side to client-side. Jeff received his BA from American University and MBA from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. He is a frequent contributor to several marketing publications and a speaker at many industry events. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.
Brian: Can you tell us a little bit about QA Symphony? How do you go to market?
Jeff: If you think about business today, almost every business has a software component to their business. Actually, we would say almost every business is actually a software company even if they’re not traditionally defined as a software company.
Think about some of our customers like Nordstrom, like Office Depot. If their e-commerce platforms don’t work, if their shopping carts don’t work, their business doesn’t work. We provide tools that help the people within an organization, those testers, do a better job and a faster job of testing the applications that are really critical to those businesses being successful.
Brian: So is it an enterprise play, or is it just B2B to different developer groups within organizations?
Jeff: The way the industry has shaped is that there’s one large player that supplies these software tools to most large enterprises, and that’s Hewlett-Packard. With a lot of big companies and software that’s provided by a lot of big companies, they’re not always as innovative as they could be. What we’ve found is they have a software platform that a lot of testers are using and that a lot of testers are dissatisfied with because it’s old, it doesn’t work that well, it actually slows down the process for the software tester.
If you think about what’s happening in development today, there’s the term agile, or agile development, and that’s what all the leading companies are going to. Instead of releasing software every three to six months, or every twelve months, companies are releasing software every week, they’re releasing software every day. If the software tester is not able to keep up with that velocity, they become the bottleneck. That’s why the testing tools become really important within organizations.
We have a really sturdy platform for enterprise software testers. We try to go into companies where they have fifty plus testers, because that’s really where we see our product adding the most value.
Brian: Is it tough doing B2B marketing to that audience?
Jeff: It all goes back to understanding the audience, understanding who they are, understanding what makes them tick, understanding really how to position your product effectively to them. Where are they going for information, what information is valuable for them?
What we’ve found with the software testing audience, is that they are very hungry for information, they’re very hungry for content, and overall they’re under served. We this year started doing a webinar program for customers, and we had no idea how many people would show up.
The first webinar we did, we had almost 3500 people register and then about 2000 showed up for the webinar. We said, all right, we’re onto something here. These people are really hungry for content and they’re not getting enough of it from whatever the trade publications are, the trade shows they go to. That’s been a core part of our strategy, feeding them with that really high quality content and keeping them engaged with our brand and really filling up the top of the funnel with leads.
Brian: Can you talk a little bit about your own career, your own experience? You’ve come from a much larger company into what is a maturing startup.
Jeff: I’m a former ad agency guy and I was very fortunate early in my career to work at some great advertising agencies and work on some really great clients like Proctor & Gamble’s Tide brand and Volvo. Those were really exciting brands to be a part of and I think helped build a really good foundation for growth. Later in my career I went client-side like a lot of agency people do.
When I went client-side I made the transition from B2C to B2B and that’s when I started this path on B2B marketing, first with Autotrader and then with PGI and now with QA Symphony.
I’ve always worked either for big companies or with big companies on the agency side. I’ve always been lucky to be in these roles where I can be very creative, very entrepreneurial within big organizations. I’ve found that when I’m happiest in my work is when I am rolling up my sleeves and doing the work and building things.
I found that I work really well in chaotic, crazy, disorganized kinds of places. The best opportunity for that, I thought, was probably more in a startup environment than in just a big company environment, so that led me to my job at QASymphony.
Brian: In terms of the startup world, when you jumped into that startup space, what surprised you the most?
Jeff: When I jumped into the startup space, I knew I was coming into an environment where there wasn’t a lot of foundation poured from a marketing perspective and I’d have to do that work. I was coming into an environment where it was maybe a little bit younger than I’m used to.
When you come out of the enterprise, you get used to people who are having maybe a higher level of sophistication when it comes to their knowledge and their experience. Here we have sales people who this is their first sales job. You constantly have to remind yourself that and know I really have to help these guys with messaging and collateral and coaching them on how to be more effective sales people, how to present the value proposition.
Brian: Are there any tips for marketers in startups that you’d like to share?
Jeff: It’s still all about the people. That really goes for anyone whether you’re in a big company or in a small company.
When you’re in a big company and you have a bigger team, you might have some high-performers, some low-performers, and it kind of equals out, and hopefully you’re above average. Whereas in a startup, the people are essential. You can’t make a bad hire. You can’t have a low-performer lingering around for along time.
I have two people on my team, and then I also have a really good agency network that we use for things that we can’t do. Either skills that we don’t have or overflow work that we just can’t get to. That’s what I call the people stack. There’s the tech stack, and then there’s the people stack. I think it’s that people stack, that is the most important piece. If you have the right people on your team, there’s really nothing you can’t do.
The second part is focus. That for me is the one of the hard things. When you go from one company where you have a lot of resources and you have a lot of people on your team, you can do a lot of stuff. That doesn’t mean you should do a lot of stuff, but generally you can take on lots of different projects. Whereas in a startup, you can quickly get derailed if you go down the wrong path or if you try to take on too much too soon.
Marketers have to ask themselves when they’re at a startup, “What is broken, and what can I fix now?” I will say usually, even if the brand is not what you want, be careful before biting that one off. It is really hard to make a brand change. It’s really hard to change out all of your collateral, your logos and everything.
I would steer marketers generally away from that unless you look at it and say “Our brand is broken and we can’t do anything without it.” If that’s the case, go after the brand, but in general, what startups need, they need revenue. Where do you get revenue, from lead generations. I think focusing on activities that are outside of lead generation are probably going to be a mistake especially when you’re new into a startup.
Brian: Do you have any tips on working with your agency? How do you get the most out of your agency?
Jeff: When I joined QASymphony, we had three agencies on board at that time and over my first three months we ended up firing them all. We just weren’t working well together.
I need agencies who are very fast, that’s point number one, especially in a startup. I will actually sacrifice some strategy for speed. I needed an agency that would be fast, that would be nimble and also that wasn’t going to lock me into a big retainer. That’s a real mistake that companies make, especially small companies. You just can’t afford monthly hits of $10,000 or more. You may not use the agency in a given month because you have other priorities, and then you’re still paying the $10,000, and there’s always exit fees. It ends up getting very expensive.
What I did is I found some freelancers, and we stared doing a couple projects. It was getting a sense of how they work. I had worked with them at previous companies so I knew they were good, I knew they were talented. The question was are they going to be able to work the way I want to work. We did a couple of projects, decided that we liked working together. We’ve dramatically ramped up. Actually, this group of freelancers now formed an agency, a lot of it based on that we’ve been paying them a fair amount of money on a monthly basis, so they now can scale and bring in more talent.
I need the agencies to be athletes. I don’t need a team of creatives, I need a creative guy who’s also kind of a good project manager. We eliminated layers of project management from our agency stack, and that’s been great so we can spend money on the creative or the writing or the ideation and we’re not paying overhead of someone who’s doing timeline. You have tools today … We do everything in Trello.
The guy who does all of our creative, he’s really strong on Trello and he’s managing the projects on Trello and we’re getting notifications and it’s created a really efficient workflow.
Brian: Is there anything else you wanted to add to the talk today?
Jeff: I think for marketers, and especially for marketers that are in a startup, you’re not going to have big budgets, and you have to be very smart with your spend. If you work at Coke, you have millions of dollars to spend. The millions of dollars are building the brand. Whereas at a startup, as the CMO of a startup, as the marketing leader of the startup, you are the chief Kool-Aid drinker. You have to be the brand guy. You encompass the brand.
You have to be the face of your brand. You have to be the guy who’s getting the T-Shirts and you’re the most excited about the brand. You want to create in a startup that kind of Kool-Aid culture where people just love the company.
Other people see that and people come up to us at trade shows and they’re like “You guys are such a cool company because they see the people that are involved in the brand.
We make software and people are buying software from us, but they’re buying software from us because we’re people. They’re not going online and doing a credit card transaction, they’re talking to a person. We don’t want customers who have to work with us, we want customers who want to work with us and like to work with us. We want customers who feel like “Wow, this a really cool company I’m involved with.” I think marketing’s role is to drive that brand.
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