The marketing challenge for startups

Watch this video with Indinero’s founder, Jessica Mah. She’s 20 years old. I’ve known her since she was 16 and she’s always been an aspiring entrepreneur.

But look around the house that the co-founders all share. Five geeks sharing rent in Silicon Valley. Keeping expenses down. It’s messy, clothes are around. It’s not a showcase office that you can bring press or potential customers over to.

Why not stay in the small house?

Well, the marketing challenge for a startup is to appear big. Jessica even admitted that in her interview, saying their investors are pushing them to get an office. Why? To appear bigger!

So, look at the other ways that Indinero appeared big in the past few weeks.

1. They hooked up with YCombinator, the Silicon Valley startup accelerator. How did that make them appear big? Well, they got to present to hundreds of press and investor types at the end of the program and were joined into an alumni network bigger than anything they could do on their own.
2. They were on CNN Money. Big.
3. She was on Techcrunch TV. Big.
4. They have a great website, with a growing list of customers. Big.
5. I met Jessica Mah at TED. She paid for that out of her own pocket ($6,000 expense), which puts her in touch with big name investors and influentials. Big.
6. They integrated with FreshBooks. Big.
7. They got funded by many of Silicon Valley’s biggest investors, which landed them on influential Vator News. Big.

All this is covered on CrunchBase, too. Big.

How else can a small, scrappy, startup appear big?

On the other hand, I love startups when they are small. There’s nothing like the smell of a real startup that hasn’t shed its scrappy roots yet. Or maybe that’s the pile of clothes over in the corner that needs to be washed. 🙂


12 thoughts on “The marketing challenge for startups

  1. I like the new breed of real-time dashboard services that allow you to monitor business data in real-time. Chartbeat and Hummingbird are similar in intent. HTML5 will make this sort of thing more ubiquitous.

    If I was working at inDinero, I would be thinking about a couple things strategically:
    1. Invest a lot of resources in improving the presentation layer. That could be the key in separating from competing entities. Really making the visualization animations smooth, polished, stunning and immediately informative using things like heatmaps, interactive charts, etc.
    2. Develop more ‘fun’ and useful statistics behind the visualizations. Things like trend modeling and predictive analysis.
    3. I like the non-specific small business focus. It works across any vertical. But, I would develop a distinct product targeting ecommerce and online content providers such as bloggers.

    I wish you and your team the best of luck and I’ll be sure to mention your service to my clients!


  2. This is one of the most inspiring blog post (if i miss others i am sorry)
    Jessica is really inspiring at a young age. Makes me think that i need to focus more too. LoL! I am 22 and still don’t really know what I really should go after. Focus focus focus is something that I should really concentrate. thanks for the share.


  3. Emblematic of Web 2.0, pretty UI without any supporting architecture, or anything in terms of real functionality (bad copycatting Mint), pulling data in randomly and incredibly buggy (and in the case of the forecasting part, wildly inaccurate), just enough golly gee whiz to pull in the suckers, with the downright horrid branding of “No More Accounting”, death to companies if followed literally.

    Venture is a sub-prime market, limiteds are not making a cent…but makes good for the ready-made ridiculously farcical ‘boy/girl wonder’ press stories, and bloggers with shaky cams.

    And this is just so typical….

    “….we’ll always stop short of doing formal accounting, simply because I don’t think it’s fun. And we won’t build comprehensive tax-management features either, because I don’t think it’s fun.” —

    Well, geee-whiz, have pizza-parties, bounce around like beach balls and blather on, real accounting and ANYTHING dealing with the government is NOT fun, but vital. Lightweight buggy dashboard app from kiddies that will quit if things get “not fun”. Welcome to Web 2.0.


    1. Dear Sir, you’ve put my own thoughts forward much better than I ever could. She’s not starting a company — she’s simply playing.You don’t make business decisions because something is fun or not; how will she ever fire anyone?


  4. Robert,

    Really enjoyed your post. This might sound strange coming from a VC, but I absolutely agree with your sentiments. I wrote a guest post for Forbes on this very topic a few months back called “Why Entrepreneurs Don’t Need VCs”:

    Entrepreneurs have more leverage today than ever before. It makes for exciting times. 🙂


  5. Keeping hyping it Scoble..

    “I met Jessica Mah at TED. She paid for that out of her own pocket ($6,000 expense), which puts her in touch with big name investors and influentials. Big.”

    Out of her own pocket… right… you mean out of her parent’s pockets. It was plain luck and the (entertainment of 37signal founders to meet an aspiring teen entrepreneur” that she was invited in the first place.

    The rest… YCombinator and the news/investors that followed as a result of YCombinator is all hype. Thanks for adding to it.


    1. She told me she saved up for the fee and paid for it out of her own pockets, but if she got her parents to pay for it that’s cool too. Glad you helped clear that up.


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