In an early, small startup, everyone wears many hats. One of the more important hats for everyone to wear, which doesn’t always come naturally to people, is that of marketer. Most early stage startups don’t have a marketer, and may have very little marketing expertise. This “role” often falls to the CEO, but in a lot of startups the CEO is technical–in fact there really isn’t a CEO–it’s just two developers working on something new. The first hire isn’t a marketer either, it’s another developer…
“Every employee as a marketer” becomes even more important when your customer is a developer. More and more startups are emerging and growing in this space, catering to developers and technology folks. So you’ve got a small team of developers building products for other developers. That small team of developers have to be marketers.
When GoInstant started we were very quiet about what we were building. It was “stealth mode” at its best (or worst?) because we rarely shared what was going on, how things worked, etc. GoInstant was acquired before ever really launching publicly. As a result of how the company started and grew in its first ~2 years, we didn’t do a lot of marketing. And to be fair, the original product and market focus wasn’t on developers–it was large enterprise. The team (which was ~90% developers) didn’t have to go out and market.
Then the strategy evolved and we launched GoInstant as a platform, squarely focused on developers. We made GoInstant free and exposed a lot of the underlying technology, so developers could build their own awesome realtime apps and experiences. We open sourced a bunch of stuff and continue to do so. We started blogging about the tech. Suddenly, GoInstant was living (or trying to live) in the spotlight and promote what we had to offer to developers actively. This is an ongoing process–a significant cultural shift–from building technology “in secret” to building technology in the open. And it’s been an awesome experience.
But it drastically changes how we think about marketing. To reach developers–our peers–we need our developers speaking to and engaging with those users. Every developer at GoInstant has to be a marketer.
It’s not an easy transition to make. We’re taking a page from GitHub and one of their employees, Zach Holman. Zach recently wrote a blog post: GitHub’s Public Speaking Culture — go read it now. If that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will. Granted, GitHub has a lot of resources (money and people), so they can afford having people taking “time off work” to speak at events. But the question is this: can you afford not to?
So at GoInstant we’ve decided to try out GitHub’s policy and pay for anyone that gets a speaking opportunity at an event. It doesn’t matter what the event is, or the size. It could be a small meetup or hackathon. It could be a massive conference in Europe. We’re encouraging every employee (including developers and non-developers) to get out there and speak. As Zach points out, you shouldn’t focus on speaking specifically about your company or selling your wares; we want our team talking about processes, technologies, startups and more. We want them talking about stuff they’re passionate about.
It’s going to take awhile to ramp up, but we’ve already got 3 or 4 employees going to 4 different events in February. And there may be more. That’s pretty damn cool. And the events vary from targeting enterprise developers to a university hackathon.
Public speaking isn’t easy. It takes a lot of practice and (again, as Zach points out) it exercises a different part of the brain from coding. So for a developer there’s a challenging context shift that has to take place. But you can learn a ton when public speaking. It’s an amazing skill to have. It makes you a better communicator and critical thinker. If you’re going to reflect on something you’ve done and then craft that into a story, you’ll be forced to analyze what you’re doing critically and honestly. It’s a good process to go through.
Every employee is a marketer. Every employee is a reflection of the brand you’re creating. And every employee creates and affects the culture of your organization. GoInstant is shifting from a culture of quiet to a culture of loud and open–it’s an exciting shift–one that requires everyone’s participation. We hope to encourage that shift by having our team out there speaking. I’m excited to see how this evolves, because I believe it’ll be better for each individual at GoInstant, and for the company on a whole.
Side note: Zach just put out an awesome resource to help public speakers: speaking.io. Definitely check that out.
Photo courtesy of michigancommunities.