Software startups always start out very heavily focused on technology. They have to be; they’re building some kind of software application and most of their time has to go into doing that properly. Most software startup teams are made up entirely of developers or weighted in that direction. Have a team of 4? I bet 3 of those people are technical…
At Standout Jobs we have 8 people full-time. Six of those are on the technical side. That’s fairly common amongst early stage software startups.
But at some point, most software startups have to start changing. You can only focus on the technology for so long. Eventually, you have to start marketing and selling it. Occasionally you’ll find developers that can also serve as marketers and business development gurus, but more than likely you’ll hire on additional people to help.
Thats the evolution of a software startup — from being a technology company to being a sales & marketing company.
Most successful software companies make the leap.
You might have the greatest technology in the world, but if no one is generating buzz, marketing, brokering partnerships and selling for you, your company is very likely to fail.
Recently at a conference I was speaking to the CTO of a very successful technology company. I had heard rumors that they only had 15 people, which was surprising given their success. In fact, they were at 50 people. And when I asked him for more details on the make-up of the people, he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “We were around 15 for the first couple years, most of us were on the technical side and only the CEO was non-technical. But now in our third and fourth years, we’re over 50% on the sales & marketing side.”
That’s very telling. They spent roughly 2 years building technology and staying fairly quiet. And now that the technology is solid, they’re bringing on more sales people to ramp things up.
The best technology in the world is meaningless unless someone is out there knocking on doors.
We often hear stories of companies with less-than-stellar technology winning the day because of their superior outbound initiatives: PR, biz dev, marketing & sales.
Standout Jobs is facing that same evolution now. I see it as a threshold that software startups hit — build technology, get it out there, refine and reiterate, prove that it works and people like it, then go crazy on sales and marketing as quickly as possible. We see more and more software startups going with a free (or freemium) business model (including Standout Jobs), which means they’ll live and die almost entirely based on how much scale they can achieve. That scale is very hard to achieve through word-of-mouth alone, or through viral means (and these days we see a lot of startups try viral scaling approaches that are less-than-pleasant and accepted, such as email spam, spamming LinkedIn contacts, etc.)
If you don’t have a roadmap to scale customer acquisition, get one.
Even if you’re not ready to execute on that roadmap, you should be looking at it while you’re building your technology. You’re probably not the right person to be succeeding with that roadmap either, but when you go to hire sales and biz dev people they’ll want to see what strategies you’ve been thinking about. And, those strategies will impact product development. Just think about the viral components or features you might be able to build into your software application that could help with gaining traction…
Ultimately, the most successful software startups aren’t really technology companies, they’re sales & marketing companies. Even companies that have armfuls of patents won’t succeed in a huge way as technology companies alone; they have to prove people will pay for what they’ve built and that they can scale it to some degree before real value is proven.
So if you’re running a software startup, think about how and when you’re going to make the transition and evolve from a technology to sales-driven company. And don’t let the evolution take too long…someone will pass you along the way.