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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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The Pitch & The Name, The Chicken & The Egg

Last week I took a rare drive to the TechAviv Founders meetup at Herzliya IDC. Not a drive I take lightly, mind you. But a rare opportunity with the kids taken care of, my lift both ways arranged, and enough coffee to keep me alert at the hours which are correctly referred to as “twilight”.

It was a great opportunity to meet with the community of entrepreneurs and investors I am proud to be a part of. Was nice to meet old colleagues, some new ones and of course Yaron Samid, who first introduced this meetup as a guest in a meetup I organized some years ago (continues here ).

Dave McClure gave a great talk and conversation around pitching. It’s great to be able to practice your pitch in a sympathetic environment, and get a really useful feedback to help you improve.

I was surprised though at some of the pitches, not to mention company names I heard during the evening. It took me right back to my consultancy days, when most of my business was creating names and doing renaming projects for startups and helping them create their pitch and communications strategies.

Name Thy Baby

So let’s start with a name. Or – let’s not. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about naming companies and products is that too often people come up with a general idea for their startup and their second step is immediately to name it. As if this baby, if not named immediately, will never learn to walk. They take great pride of the name they have created, sometimes they sound prouder of the name then of the business.

But a better way to do it is to use a temporary name, working title, project code-name and delay the naming until you are sure of your markets, your business model, your marketing & communications strategy and the overall terminology your business is going to use. Not to mention languages. Lots of Israeli entrepreneurs assume English automatically – but that’s not necessarily your target audience or all of it. If you might be targeting more than English speaking markets, beware embarrassing mistakes like “Pajero” “Pinto” “Mist” etc.

It’s almost a chicken and an egg question, only people here are so certain the name comes first. It shouldn’t. Your pitch should.

The other thing I noticed about the recent names I heard was intentionally using misspelling or a mixture of words one simply can’t spell from hearing only. Be very careful about these inventions. You might be a tech genius but when it comes to naming, using an expert could be the wisest and most cost effective move you can do at this very early stage in your company’s life. 

But this is really just the tip of the iceberg. You can look at a sample process here or look for more great tips on Google.

Pitch At All Costs

It might be that 15 years as a journalist in print journalism made me very efficient with words, especially crafting headlines that can tell enough in a limited number of characters and leave enough mystery so the reader continues reading. But this is exactly what you should do when you are pitching your company to an investor, partner, employee or supplier. Don’t attempt to tell the whole story. One of the main things to remember of course is who your audience is.

Take the same news item and compare the headlines it gets on various media. The differences result from the audience a medium is directed at. The same goes for pitching. You should always prepare a set of pitches for potential audiences. Not totally different pitches obviously, but different ways of saying the same thing.

To make sure you are using the right pitch – prepare before you go to an event where you might meet Dave McClure, for example. There’s enough information online about him and what he is looking for. So if this guy is looking for companies with traction – and you have traction – then grab his attention with his declaration of interest. Not with the fantastic and original un-spellable name of your company, nor with the story of what it is you do – that does not belong in a pitch.

And just for the sports – if you want me to draft some sample pitches here for you – I dare you to send me a paragraph (up to 3 twits long -520 characters) – and I’ll do my best. First 5 to send me (comment on this blog post) –win.

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The Linkerview: Booth babes? Really??

Primesense just came back from one of the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshows, the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas, and my friend, Iris Finkelstein-Sagi, the Director of marketing for the company posted a link to the following article, titled: “2012 CES Booth Babe Problem Highlights Women’s Perceived Role In Tech – Let’s Fix This”.

She is a real tech lady with a nice track record in the business. PrimeSense, of course, is the company that developed the technology behind the Kinect — yes, that high tech device that takes nice credit for the top sales of XBOX in 2011.

I also watched the linked BBC report and I need to ask: Booth babes, really?

Yes, we hired ’booth babes‘. It first came up within the need to hire people to demo the product. We didn’t consider them ‘booth babes’. We weren’t looking for models in bikinis to demo our new User Experience. We had a list of requirements and we looked for the right people to be presenters at our booth. One presenter had to play games which included jumping up and down and moving a lot – so obviously this had to be someone who could still look good when jumping up and down and young enough to be able to do it all day. We had a little controversy about what this person should wear and the discussion on this topic was almost surreal. I think we would have been as uncomfortable discussing it if we were hiring men, but we ended up hiring 2 women.

So why did you hire women? And what did they wear?

Well you hire women to meet the expectations of the market. The two girls we hired wore regular, nice clothes. Not ‘sexy wear’. But for us – it was easy. We had 4 more presenters in our booth, hired by our partners. 3 of them were a little more controversial. Our partner Bodymetrics lets you virtually try on clothes, in the comfort and privacy of your home, in front of your TV screen. Obviously for the technology to properly map your body you need to be minimally dressed. They now offer it to 3 types of female body shapes, so they hired 3 female models, one for each body shape, and dressed them in tight Yoga outfits. It wasn’t sleazy or anything. Another partner, Visikord, offers an interactive dance app, and they hired a dancer to demo the product, which was also a big hit.

So no sleazy or sexy outfits, how did it work for you?
We were surprised by how many people came to talk to the booth babes about the products, choosing them over the company representatives wearing formal company tags. Not to mention the sheer number of people standing around just gawking at them.
You know, we invested a lot of energy thinking about ways to attract people to the booth. CES is a large event and we had to compete for visitors’ attention. The Kinect is famous enough for people to look us up, but it turns out all you really need is a couple of models and you’ve got people crowding around you all the time. People walk for miles in such shows. There is so much to see. They stop where they see something nice, pretty, and attractive. Apparently that’s all you need, no special effects

How do you explain this phenomenon? After all this is supposed to be a professional tradeshow.
I find it really crazy. We should definitely do some scientific anthropological research on this to better understand what is happening to people when they see ‘booth babes’. We also have to ask where to draw the line. Some presenters really appeared in sleazy outfits. Not appropriate for a professional trade show at all”.

Excuse me for stating the obvious, but aren’t most visitors males?
In this show yes, probably 80 percent of the visitors are men. But I read a thought-provoking question in one of the articles relating to the booth babes: If we turn it around and take a show where most visitors are women and companies use male booth-babes, would it have the same effect? I wonder.

Did you ever consider hiring one female and one male to demo in your booth?
Actually it never came up. Bodymetrics, for instance, is currently only targeting women. And all the solicitations I get from marketing companies and models agencies offering their services for the show – all relate to women. The option to hire a man never came up. During the show we did a lot of social media efforts, and had a lot of Twitter and YouTube coverage. One tweet I remember specifically said “PrimeSense booth babes are the best”. That was the only thing he said.

Strange?
More like shallow”.

And we said that’s a professional show?
It’s gotten better over the years. It used to be worse. The whole ’trade-show models’ industry has declined over the past few years.

So your link said “let’s fix this”. Do you think we can?
What needs fixing is the presenters’ image of themselves, and the image of women in tech. If they think that the only reason for a woman to be at the CES show is if you’re a ‘babe’, this is disturbing and demeaning. I think in most cases we have reached a point where it is not so sleazy any more. Maybe the next thing would be to change the term we use. As for the industry – it is characterized by fewer females. Fewer women play games than men. When it comes to purchasing a flat screen TV, at best the man will probably look into the tech aspects and the woman may look into the design. But the majority of tech gadgets are male oriented.

I think the balance may actually change in the future. When I go to a high school I can’t say female students have fewer smart phones then male students.
Right. Personally I like gadgets as much as the next guy. I’m not as gadget-crazy as a lot of men I know, but I do like this industry. That’s why I have been in it for so long. Things do change over the years. Gadgets are getting friendlier and simpler, more natural and intuitive to use and less black and geeky. It is reflected in the design trends. We do think of how to fit our product in the living room and make it appeal more to women. Wii brought gaming into the living room, making it friendly and accessible for the entire family – it’s not just geeky kids and hard-core gamers anymore – its whole families, women, grandmothers etc. Microsoft took this one step further with the Kinect by really thinking about turning a gadget into something as natural and intuitive as possible – so EVERYONE can relate to it.

How was the self perception of your ‘booth babes’?
Well they earned a lot of respect from our team, for beating all the Fruit Ninja records. I think they were proud to be representing a company who attracted so much well-deserved attention at the show – for the product, not the external trappings.

VC Marketing, They do it too

A group of investors has been waiting for me to finish a few documents. So my guess is they might be surprised if I put up a new blog post before I submit their expected papers. Priorities, you know. This post got delayed. But along this ongoing process of funding my startup I can’t help but looking at my potential suppliers – those people with the money – and consider their marketing strategy: The investors’ marketing strategies.

As we, the entrepreneurs are searching for funds, and work really hard to market ourselves; we often forget that the people we try to market-to are also working hard on marketing themselves to us.

Investors, whether angels or funds, have to market not only to their investors, but also to the fund-seeking entrepreneurs. They compete on getting the best entrepreneurs coming through their doors first. Some acknowledge this reality better than others: The attitudes range between those who are playing hard to get to those who are open and accessible. Those you can only contact via a shared connection, to those who put their email-Facebook-twitter up there. Those who have you fill out forms to those who will happily get a friendly cup of coffee with you.

It was more than a decade ago that one of my clients was a major Israeli VC fund. I had consulted them on their web positioning and executed the project with the best GUI expert I have known, Yoav Perry, who happens to be my cofounder at Saveby, our startup. I just remembered that experience and considered the long way that web positioning and marketing tactics has made since. Well, at least in some cases. The most interesting cases are those revealing a unique positioning.

So starting close to home with the Israeli VCs I’ll disclose my interest first: My husband is Partner and CFO at Genesis Partners, one of the earliest and leading VCs in Israel. This is their homepage, the images switch randomly.

Genesis Partners Homepage
It's all about the people

The “all about the people” tagline says it all and markets to all direction: the people in the fund, the people trusting the fund with their money and of course the people that the fund invests in. Funds invest in people first, before the ideas.

The people are the fund’s greatest achievement. Which is why Genesis Partners have gone even further. They established “The Junction” – a shared workspace for entrepreneurs doing their very early steps towards a startup company. With an internet connection, a coffee machine and a conference room they fulfill the early stage entrepreneurs’ needs, and all that for less than the coffee costs. Did we mention marketing strategy?

Confession of a Social Networking Discriminator

I’m a social networking racist. I admit it. If you’re not there – you’re not. As simple as that. As I start browsing for business connections for my new startup, either service providers, potential employees, strategic partners – you’ve got to have an online presence, and a maintained and updated one.

Too often I am approached or connected with people who aren’t. Not online, or not updated, or think they can maintain their anonymity in this day and age, and still be looking for a job in hi tech, internet or marketing. I almost think it’s ridiculous. It’s like looking for a job as a life guard when you can’t swim. Really!

Thanks - http://politicalirony.com/

The common argument I hear is “I’m entitled to my privacy”, “I am a private person” and the best is “I don’t think the world should know when I have to go…”. -which proves my point exactly. These are not sentences a person who knows a thing or two about social networks would say.

For the benefit of those who don’t understand it yet, but want to, here are some replies and tips.

First of all – people can preserve their private lives to themselves even if they have a Facebook or Twitter active accounts. It’s your choice what you put up and what you don’t. You really should avoid reports on “when you have to go” – because no one cares.

Second – if you have any professional value, then you have content to share, and hopefully a valuable one. You don’t have to open a blog,  just join the conversation, one way or the other.

Joining Social Networking Stages
1. Share Knowledge You Came Across
Being a professional persona I bet you are exposed to professional knowledge which you can share. Assuming you haven’t started to write articles and blog posts yet – start by sharing links.
2. Share Your Opinion
Share comments on items you read. You can actually post your professional opinion on market news, even if you read them offline. Just don’t forget to mention what you are referring to.
3. Get Knowledge from Others
Look at other professionals in your area and see what links and opinions they are sharing.
4. Share Information by Others
If those links are valuable – then share them with your friends and followers too (retweet/share).
5. Converse, React
Reply to those who shared knowledge with yours, or with thanks. Don’t forget to reply to those who replied to you or thank your retweeters.

Privacy Preserved
All of those have nothing to do with your meals, children, spouse, sleeping habits, entertainment preferences, religion, or any other personal information which you would rather keep private.

Your online presence is yours. So avoid using the photos of your children instead of your own. Show online a simple photograph that would help potential business contacts find you in events.

Choice of networks
The most popular networks for business networking are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. There are other social networks of course, but I’d like to review my own choice of how I use those:

1. LinkedIn is a networked résumé. It is based on the same Curriculum Vitae one might submit when searching for a job. So it’s an important network to be on, but it’s beneficial only if you make sure your CV there is really kept up to date. Another benefit is the ability to collect recommendations from people you worked with in the past – colleagues or clients. These are usually traded for your recommendation, but do reflect positive working relations. You will eventually decide which connection you’d want to make on each network. On Linkedin I’d start with people you have worked with or done business with. This can evolve later to potential employees or partners. Remember the main benefit of connecting to someone on Linkedin is to be able to connect through them to someone else, who might be a useful connection. Obviously, in a similar way, you should be able to help your contacts connect through you.

2. Facebook can be both a work tool and a personal tool. You can use it for both; you can group your business and family connections in two different lists and choose which items posted are exposed to which group. But for those who fear the leak of their personal information let’s just discuss the business use.
Facebook is an excellent communications tool. You start by connecting to your business contacts, colleagues or clients and begin by following them. Except for links and updates that they share, some might be more interesting than the others, look at groups and pages they join and of course – events.

Groups and pages are in fact smaller communities within Facebook with shared interests (I’m referring to professional interests). Some of these groups meet on various events, which would give you a perfect opportunity to meet with those colleagues of yours and expand you networking relationships beyond. Who would you connect to on Facebook? For me Facebook is rather personal so I try to limit my connections to people I’ve met or done business with or am already connected and familiar with over a longer period of time (for international contacts). When people who I don’t know ask to be friends with me on Facebook I will try to find out what is their interest. I would rather offer my personal email for assistance, than add them to my list of contacts. By adding them to my list of friends their updates are in my feed (are they interesting connections for me? Is their feed relevant?), and also they get updates from me on their feed (do I want to share with them?). The other suggestion I make to those who want to follow my updates – is to follow my twitter.

3. Twitter is a different platform. It’s the easiest and in a way the smartest tool of all. As a default your twits are public. You can make them private, but what’s the point there? Quoting someone smart – “it’s like going to a nudist beach fully clothed”.
So what is the business use of twitter? It does 2 main things: on the first level it allows you to gather professional information from your preferred sources – be it your colleagues or international bloggers or any knowledgeable sources who are sharing their wisdom on this platform. If a couple of years ago I needed to perform a daily search to find my most relevant news items, then today I get the most relevant items from my preferred sources, which already sorted a lot more than I could have scanned.

The second use of Twitter is to get your word out there. Use it when you feel ready. As stated above, social networking is a conversational tool. You join the conversation when you have something valuable to contribute, and you follow simple rules of courtesy towards your connections there.

To social-net or not?
This is an existential question especially if you are in marketing or marketing related industries and in the internet related industries too. I feel this is where markets go to. If the masses could have influenced the choice of logo of the Gap (just an example), then anyone ignoring social networking in today’s world is attesting to their staying behind.

Why am I “doing a startup”?

The past two weeks have been the busiest I’ve experienced. Well, no wonder: I’m launching a startup. Hadn’t expected it to be any different.
And as I am doing my work, including among other things constant research and networking I ran across Dave McClure’s blog post titled “Why NOT to do a Startup — becuz yer Gonna FAIL. (spend more time with your kids)“.
It’s got McClure’s presentation on the topic from the Seattle Startup Day. I watched it twice, and tested myself on the question of to do or not to do, or: why am I really doing it?
Here’s the presentation:

so why am I “doing” a startup (and planning the next one, or two)?
1- My correct reasons:
Because I am pissed whenever I approach online shopping
Because I have to solve some problems there
and yes, some fear is fueling my drive for this startup (and a lot of fear regarding the next one)
2- The unreasonable:
I live in a nice apartment, raise 3 happy kids and a hubby, and am a trained, professional, multi tasker: I have to be, because I always look beyond and watch for the wider contexts.
3- I’ve re-written the business plan so many times, to a point where I’d let the product and the customers interact with the business plan to make it true and dynamic as a good business plan should be.
4- My idea is GREAT! But I haven’t settled for my own view about it. I tested it on a wide variety of contacts, some less closer then others. Most comments are “Are you sure this wheel hasn’t been invented yet?” and “Let me in!”.
5- The idea was born as an awesome solution for the shoppers. But I was constantly aware of the fact, that if sellers interests aren’t met there will be no value in this solution. As I recruited my co-founder, a seller among other things, I’ve discovered this in fact solves a real problem for sellers too.
6- Leader or a looser? I must be some sort of a leader, if so many people recognize me in events or venues and contact me to help them solve their problems or answer their questions. I’m always happy to help, open to discuss anything and eager to learn from everyone.
7- My pitch is short and to the point. I don’t need a presentation (though our video clip is really cool!). I hope I’ll raise money to get out of bootstrapping and to -…
8-Recruit a full team!
Between us, the two co-founders we’re a tech, brand and GUI expert, and an international marketing, communications, social networking and biz dev. But to make it work we’ll need a full team of experts, each a master of his or her area.
9- Hopefully we will be able to establish a company based on care and generosity. It’s all about the people. First and foremost. People make the company, and not vice versa.
10- Can I sell or market? Marketing and communications strategies are my forte. Yet, even within marketing, you need the help of experts. No one can be an expert in everything. Recognizing this, and not trying to be a “know it all” is one of the keys to a successful startup. At least from my experience.
11- Oh YES! I want to change the world. Step by Step. Some steps will make more noise then the others. I fear this is only my beginning, because once you’ve liberated the startup bug, ideas will keep flowing.

Platform or a service? That is the question

Do you go to a barber or to a hairstylist? Do you get a haircut or a hair design? Trends and fashion surely impacted the use of terminology in many industries over the years. The hi-tech arena is not different. The only thing we can say to its defense is that in many cases the evolution in terminology is accompanied by real technological developments, not just perception changes.

Think of how the web, “just web”, left the prime stage for the sake of web 2.0. Or the distance from the original LinkedIn concept to Twits. It’s just an example, of course.

And now, is “platform” the new trend pushing “web services” aside?

I’ve asked this question around for the past couple of weeks. It looks like the “platform” concept is very popular. Many developers of web services have decided to dress their companies with the air of “platform”. Isn’t offering a platform for buying and selling a lot more impressive than suggesting an online shop?

Similarly, venture capitalists say, many developers of various software solutions present their software as “an engine”. Having a software that performs isn’t impressive enough. But offer an engine – now you’re talking!

The investors are not that impressed with the new terminology. Although some treat is as “semantics only” and ignore the choice of word, others prefer it if the entrepreneurs would call their child with its proper name. That would lead to the correct market strategy, from research to penetration and management of competition.

So what is really the difference between a web service and that glorified platform?

Platform

A web service usually offers an actual solution to end users.
A web platform, however, offers a basis for the creation, by others, of services or solutions, which are then offered to end users. A platform is a basis on which you can build new things.

“The web is a platform”, claimed Tim O’reilly in his article from 2005 “What Is Web 2.0”. But some ventures have taken this concept too far. For instance- “The Meretz USA weblog is a platform for discussion of issues related to Israel and the American Jewish community…” – why not simply a forum?

In many cases it’s simply a confusion, where the usage of the term “platform” is correct – language wise, even if not venture-wise. “ParagonEX Trader is an advanced online trading platform for the Forex market”. “Erayo is the world’s first online wholesale platform for boutiques and independent retailers.” “BlogTV is a well recognized platform that has won several awards”. Qoof widget is “The Most Advanced Video Platform on the World Wide Web”.

Qoof executive chairman and founder Richard Kligman explained: “I think we just started a few years ago with the term Platform and so that is what stuck. Even though SASS (Software as a Service) may be a better fit for us now, platform is still more understood when talking to clients and investors. If I remember correctly we looked at what Brightcove called themselves and since we are the best solution for video as a selling tool, as opposed to an entertainment tool like Brightcove, we decided to go with that. I think SAAS is on its way up and will be more common in the next 12-24 months, but for now Platform is the one you need to explain less.”

On the other side there are companies who could use the sexy term, but elegantly avoided the trend:
Fring™ is a mobile internet community and communication service that allows friends to connect…” but “Fring provides an Open API, providing 3rd party developers with the building blocks to create mobile web apps and leverage Fring community & hardware capabilities” which actually adds a platform to the service.

Things are very clear in the eyes of entrepreneur Yossi Taguri (Nuconomy). “A platform is something you build on, a service is something you give out of the box…For instance: Windows is a platform, hotmail is a service. Google app engine is a platform, Google apps for domains is a service.” Yet on the company’s web site “NuConomy helps companies better assess and understand website and social marketing performance with its free, next generation web analytics and optimization platform.” Taguri clarifies: “we have an analytics service and an advertising platform”.

You can get a hint on the perceived importance of ‘platform’ from a sentence Jeff Pulver wrote on one of his blog posts “…Facebook’s opening of it’s platform with the APIs … transformed FaceBook from a social networking application to a social networking operating system”.

So my guess is, we should be looking at the development of a lot more platforms in the next couple of years. And probably a process of separation between services or SAAS and platforms.

The lone consultant

Being a consultant can sometimes be really, really lonely. And this is true even on the busiest days.

As I write this I am sitting in my office, at home. A small fridge is tempting me, but I can stay glued to my chair for hours, unless I have meetings outside. I got back to work today. Obviously, a busy day. I had one early meeting out of the office, many phone calls to return, email messages and social networks I need to keep alive. All this while I need to complete another proposal and finalize another project. Had to create a small power point. Update an excel sheet….

Just before 14:00 my 10 year old got back from school. This was an opportunity to see another human face and also have lunch. I don’t always use this opportunity. Sometimes the 16:00 deadline, when I need to go pick up my youngest from the nursery school, is too intimidating and I use every last minute I have in my study. Sometimes, I continue even after I get the kid home, when he is only too happy to play peacefully in his room.

It’s not an easy thing, to be a sole consultant. It has some advantages, like: No traffic to the office. No office politics. I run my own timetable – and can be flexible when necessary. I don’t have to take every project landing on my table. I can say “no”.

But there are faults too, like: there is no “work day” or “work hours” or “office time”. The office is at home so there is no escape and no real method to disconnect for hours. Without colleagues, partners or help – availability is a requirement. And without a boss that defines deadlines or demands or a company framework – I need to create the structure by myself and the motivation. I feel especially lonely when I need someone to brainstorm with.

So I thought of various options for strategic alliances. My services can complement those of graphic studios who offer visual branding, various web services companies who offer anything from site development to SEO and web marketing. I can join hands with advertising companies or PR firms as well as other consultants.

But then I found out that Israel isn’t a place for real collaboration. It seems every man fends for himself. Some do not want to encourage cooperation because they fear their alliance may turn out to be a competitor. Some find it a difficult sale: It’s hard enough to convince a client of your own value, why should I bother with someone else’s value? The fact that the joint value may actually be a lot higher is often ignored.

I still think that alliance is the way to go. This is one of the reasons for my vigorous networking. I need someone to talk to, to brainstorm with, and to throw my ideas at. I need someone who will keep me alert and laughing and provide that social and professional camaraderie that will maintain my sanity as a consultant.

There is also one other need. I discovered that I really don’t like the sale process. The whole bonding-presenting-proposal-closing circle is not it for me. However I am in love with the project process. I love every minute of analysis, decrypting the correct strategy, finding the name, the answer, the solution, creating a new business directions. I love it!

Clearly, to succeed, my consulting business would need to align with a professional who can complement my skills. Be the sales mensch, while I get into the details, and still be a partner enough to brainstorm with. But where can I find such a partner and how can I know if this can really make a fine partnership?

Brainstorming with my daughter

I love brainstorming. This is really one of the best ways to achieve results. I encourage brainstorming in all levels of the organization, for many types of questions or problems. Being a self employed independent consultant I don’t have co-workers to brainstorm with, but I often brainstorm with my clients or with other, third parties, involved in the service rendered.

When it comes to my startup-idea, I didn’t really know who I can brainstorm with. I don’t have any partners, yet. Surely enough no co-workers. My husband, chief brainstormer, doesn’t posses enough knowledge of this industry to help here. It’s been staring me in the face for so long, that I don’t understand how only last night I realized it:

My 13 year old daughter is the best brainstormer for this project! She has been the chief inspiration for the project, so why not brainstorm with her?

For the past several weeks I have been the coolest mom ever for my kids, while I introduced them every other day to a new web site with games, networking or virtual worlds. I collected their impressions, and sometimes their friends’ impressions, like a spontaneous, accessible, focus group. Based on these impressions and my own research I started to create a document describing the system I am planning to create. But something was missing all this time.

Yesterday, while she was dragging me to work out, walking around the neighborhood streets, I asked her if she would like to hear what I am working on. While I started to describe the project she contributed her feedback, which evolved into ideas. My concept is different from all major sites so you have to be a flexible and creative thinker.

mother and daughter

I was impressed by her ability to think marketing, communications and to suggest technical features. Like a good brainstorming session it evolved to a ping-pong. Her being a 13 year old girl, without any hi-tech experience, only contributed.

When we got home we both concluded that it was a very good workout…

The chicken or the egg, marketing or the product?

Last week I participated in the Tel-Aviv-Yafo Entrepreneurs Meetup I organized. The meeting presented a panel of three, Danny Arazi, Ouriel Ohayon, Yaniv Golan and was moderated by Avichai Levy (about the participants). The debate was around the question “How early should a company begin to establish its brand and marketing strategy?”

It’s an interesting question and rather an emotional one. It is always emotional when you get to marketing. Being a marketing person myself I am lacking some objectivity. However the panel presented people like Ouriel Ohayon – a VC and tech oriented man and Yaniv Golan – CTO of Yedda, alongside the multifaceted Danny Arazi, and the more marketing oriented Avichai Levy, so it was a good opportunity to get a more comprehensive impression of the situation.

There were three of us when we prepared for the panel. Esther Loewy and Avichai Levy joined me. Esther is a Kellogg-Recanati graduate and a marketing communications consultant. We started with the gut feeling that the main problem the Israeli market is facing is either total disregard for marketing, or the opposite, “know-it-all” approach.

We felt encouraged by the discussion developed with the entrepreneurs from the audience, because it became clear there is a growing awareness of the importance of proper marketing strategic planning. However, the “know-it-all” approach seems to be leading the way even to this blessed result. VCs and angel investors are examining the marketing strategy of startup companies. It is rare that a startup will raise funds without any marketing planning.

However, some expressed their opinion that being marketing-aware is a needed requirement from anyone who wishes to establish a startup. Since at the beginning entrepreneurs are lacking the funds to hire a marketing function, they are required to work out their marketing strategy by themselves. And the general belief is – that if you can’t do it, than you can’t build your startup company. The result is – that more computer engineers or electronics engineers are doing marketing. It is not their specialty, nor their forte. But it is a necessity, driven by the market.

Quoting one of the panelists, Ouriel Ohayon: “But if your service is all about seducing, attracting and understanding the user, the marketing is a key competence of the company. Even more: the whole DNA of the company should be imprinted with marketing. From the CEO to the product team. Marketing is not a function or a title: it is the company. Marketing is about having a great product, a great user experience, a good logo and brand identity, a good customer service, a good distribution road map, a good customer acquisition program and even more important a good customer retention program.”

It is encouraging to think that investors hold marketing so highly. Repeating the DNA phrasing, Ouriel has rejected the idea of outsourcing or consulting. This has to be an internal value, he believes, outsourcing can come later.

But do all entrepreneurs have the marketing knowledge and qualities? People may be brilliant developers, but when it comes to marketing, a whole new set of tools, knowledge and …. well, eyes is required.

I think the solution might lie with cooperations and partnerships. And if you don’t want “to marry” a partner, there are ways to outsource tasks or get specific help or guidance from marketing professionals in many models: deferred payment or payment with equity, or an hourly based payment, which isn’t the same as a salary for a full time hi-level marketing professional. Using an outer source doesn’t diminish or belittle the entrepreneur’s initiative. If anything, it is a growing experience. The entrepreneur gets to learn of marketing and practice marketing thinking, since he must take and active part of any marketing strategy creating process. In other words, if you weren’t born with this DNA, why not use the available tools to acquire it?

Does online networking also give you the jitters?

Last Thursday I held my 3rd Entrepreneurs Meetup event in Tel-Aviv. I think about 60 people attended and it went very well. The day before I had those regular jitters and “what if’s” annoying thoughts, but once I cleared those I knew the jitters will go away too.

 

The Tel-Aviv-Yafo Entrepreneurs Meetup group was established via the meetup.com web site by a fellow entrepreneur, Gadi Guy. The basic idea is to create an online community over the web site, which actually gets out and meets, in the real world, for some real live networking. I was appointed organizer of the group about 4 months ago and took it very seriously. It shows: we are up from barely 12 who showed up to the November meeting (5 of them personal friends) to approximately 60 on each of the following meetups which I organized and unfortunately had to close registration to at some point.

 

Strangely enough only a year ago I dreaded networking. I would go to a public event not knowing where to place myself. Thinking once to often about where I am looking (“don’t stare!”) and how I am holding my hands (“don’t cross them!”) or what the hell am I supposed to say to create that magic called networking. With the help and guidance of my amazing business coach, Ziv Malbin, I learned how to do it. Still getting those jitters every time, but able to perform.

 

Networking is one of the best marketing tools available to us. It has always been this way, but in these last several years, networking has taken on more faces and formats than we can list or follow. Online networking has brought this on and the current trends show that online is definitely not taking the place of real-life networking, it’s only enhancing it, magically, wildly and beyond our wildest imagination, taking us to places we never thought we could reach.

 

This post will be continued…

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