EP. 2: How to know you’re ready for marketing

by | May 1, 2020 | Marketing, Podcast, SaaS | 0 comments

When it comes to early-stage SaaS founders trying to grow their businesses, there’s a perfect time for marketing and there’s less ideal times for marketing. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to time your marketing efforts for maximum impact and efficient investment. Asia Orangio of DemandMaven digs deep into what scenarios (including a bonus scenario in the TL;DR notes below) make sense for founders to invest in marketing, and what scenarios would warrant more customer discovery and customer development instead.

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Extra Resources

  • none this time around~


  1. How to time your marketing efforts
    1. Let me be specific about “marketing” — I mean the practices, activities, and strategies that help you grow by reaching your target audience and introducing them to your product.
    2. Some people call this “growth”. I use the terms interchangeably. 
  2. I’ll give you an analogy: marketing is like adding gasoline and wood to an already burning fire.
    1. Gasoline lights it up and then the fire dies down a little bit. Stoking those flames and continually adding fuel (gas, wood, whatever kind of fire you have) ensures that it keeps burning and that it stays alive.
    2. If you don’t have a fire, then adding wood and gasoline and all of these other types of fuel does absolutely nothing. 
    3. Another analogy: when you don’t have product-market fit, marketing is like adding lipstick to a pig. The pig is a little bit more fashionable and certainly more interesting, but if the market doesn’t want a pig, then that pig isn’t going to sell. Conversely, there’s probably a market out there who does want a pig with lipstick, but it’s still your job to figure out who wants this pig.
  3. Back to the fire analogy, lighting a fire with the tools and resources you have is a lot like finding product-market fit. But once you get a little bit of a flame going, you can start to layer marketing (or really any go-to-market activity) on top. That will keep your fire going. 
    1. But it doesn’t mean that your fire is guaranteed. If a fire doesn’t have a good base or a foundation, it will go out whether you’ve got the best fuel resources on the side or not. This is a lot like product-market fit in the real world.
  4. Now there’s three real-life product scenarios that you could be in that we’re absolutely going to break down:
    1. The first — the product isn’t built yet and hasn’t yet entered the market meaning people can’t buy it and use it right now
    2. The second — the product is currently in the market and you’ve got a few beta users, but no actual paying customers.
    3. The third — the product is live, in the market, and you’ve already got a few paying customers on the product.
    4. BONUS: The fourth — this is a scenario that I regrettably did not cover during that podcast, but it is the scenario where you’re either freemium and/or well-funded with a completed MVP. If you plan on being freemium for at least the next 6-12 months, then this is when you could start using marketing to generate users — even if they’re not paying yet. Many businesses with giant total addressable markets (think like personal email management or dating apps) leverage this strategy as a way to generate users, learn as much as possible, and roll out plans/feature-gating/other relevant models later. They’ll either retire their freemium plan or figure out a way to keep it while introducing other paid plans. As for the VC-funded, well, you’ve got a very different kind of pressure. As long as there’s an MVP, then it really comes down to the market and the model when deciding between selling first or marketing first. I find founders are more dialed in when they try selling their product first, but many choose to hire marketing very early to move a little faster.


What’s up founders, and welcome back to another episode of the In Demand podcast, where we talk all about how to get to your very first 100K and MRR. I’m your host Asia Orangio, over at DemandMaven where we work with early-stage founders on reaching their very first growth milestones. Today is kind of an interesting topic. I feel like I’m going to start every single episode with that. I’ll try not to. Today’s a fun topic. It is all about timing your marketing efforts.

One of the most common questions I get just from my work with founders, day in and day out is, when is the right time to be thinking about marketing? Am I ready to be thinking about marketing? How do I make sure that I am doing marketing at the right time and place and space in my business? And it’s a challenging question because like most things, you will find that it depends. But there are a few very specific things that I look for.

There’s also a few stages if you will, that from just general perspective, allows founders to kind of self segment and figure out, are they even at the right stage to start thinking about marketing? And if they are, what does that ultimately look like? We are going to be talking all about how to actually identify if you’re ready and what does ready mean.

I want to make sure that we dig into what I mean however, when I say marketing because whenever I do get this question, usually the word marketing, it can mean different things to different people. Just depending on your background, where you’re coming from. For some people, marketing effort is all about how to brand and how to present a design of a business and what that ultimately looks and feels like. And to others, marketing is all about the activities that you take and that you do in order to generate demand or generate leads or grow in some kind of way.

When I say marketing, I really do mean these are the activities, strategies, practices that you would employ and actually execute upon in order to generate growth and to generate revenue. So I don’t just necessarily mean, Oh, this is our brand and this is what we stand for. I’m not necessarily talking about that. I think that that’s definitely helpful, but a different episode entirely. I’m talking about the marketing efforts that ultimately do generate some revenue, some growth, and ultimately helps you put your product to market. That’s the kind of marketing activity that I’m talking about.

In order for me to really unpack this topic, however, I want to make sure that I give you a pretty strong analogy. A visual, if you will. Marketing is a lot like adding gasoline to a fire that is already burning. The reason why I absolutely love this metaphor is because think about a fire. Think about the smallest fire, you’ve just started it. You’ve just piled on your leaves, you’ve added in all of your twigs and especially for all the boy and girl Scouts out there, you’ve probably experienced fire in some kind of way. You’ve probably started a fire at some point in your life, whether that was in a grill, in a backyard, wherever.

Marketing isn’t necessarily the act of starting the fire. I think there are certainly some cases where that is true, but really starting the fire. That’s really the process of going through that product market fit. You’ve got a product, you’re taking it to market, you’ve started a little bit of a fire and hopefully you can create a fire big enough and large enough that it continues to burn for eons, forever and ever. Think of the Olympics, that kind of thing.

But marketing, is ultimately throwing gasoline or fuel. It’s adding fuel to the fire. It doesn’t necessarily make sense though to try to add a bunch of fuel or throw a bunch of gasoline onto a fire that is not already burning because what happens, it just falls flat. It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t grow bigger, burn brighter or burn cleaner or anything. It just kind of sits there.

To say that if you don’t ultimately already have a fire going, even if it’s a tiny one, then it’s going to be really hard to throw fuel on it and expect anything to happen with it. Marketing is extremely similar. It’s not that you can’t do marketing without having something already going. You absolutely can. It just might not actually generate any result for you and instead it kind of ends up being more of a gamble.

Another way to think about this is, and you might have heard this metaphor, analogy a few times before, but it can also be compared to putting lipstick on a pig. I don’t know about you, but actually I think pigs are kind of cute, but let’s say you are presenting a pig to a market that does not want pigs. Slapping some lipstick on it. It’s a lot like, Oh, I’m just going to do some marketing and maybe that’ll make people want it.

But the reality is, that unless the market already wants the pig putting lipstick on, it doesn’t make them want it even more. Now, there are some out there who would say, okay, well you’ve still got a pig with lipstick. Someone’s got to want that pig with lipstick, and you’re absolutely right. It’s just probably a totally different market. And if that’s the case, then you’ve got to do all the hard work of figuring out what that market is. The problem with that though is that it’s not a guarantee. You’re not guaranteed to find product-market fit with this pig with lipstick on. So whose role is that really? Isn’t marketing’s role to help you find a product-market fit or is it really the entire team? And that’s really where it becomes more of an entire team or global effort as opposed to, Oh, marketing can just kind of fix this. They can kind of just slap lipstick on it and figure out who the right person is to buy it.

Definitely, a collaborative effort and you can certainly learn lots from the marketing effort, but it’s possible that maybe instead of putting lipstick on the pig, maybe you just kind of cart the pig around and see who wants it, period. And then maybe there’s a specific niche of people who specifically want the pig with lipstick or maybe you don’t produce pigs. Maybe instead you produce cows. I mean, and that’s kind of where we get into more of the product-market fit question.

But taking it back to the fire analogy, lighting that fire with the tools and resources that you already have, that’s a lot like going through the process of product-market fit. And once you do get a little bit of a flame going, you can ultimately start to layer marketing or really any go to market activity on the top over time. That will essentially keep your fire going and hopefully help you build an even bigger fire and one that lasts even longer.

But just because you’ve thrown fuel or gasoline on top of your fire doesn’t necessarily mean that your fire’s guaranteed. And what I mean by that is, just because you do marketing doesn’t necessarily mean that your survival is guaranteed. Really the survival depends on the base. If you don’t have a good fire base, if you don’t have a good foundation for having a strong healthy fire, then it will ultimately go out whether you’ve got the best fuel resources or not, whether you’ve got the best marketing or not.

If you don’t have a pretty solid foundation and a pretty solid base, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you do marketing or not, and we see this all the time with businesses who struggled to find product-market fit, we also see it all the time with businesses that ultimately take too long to figure out how to position their product. It doesn’t necessarily really matter.

At the end of the day, if you’ve got the best gasoline, you’ve got different kinds of fuel, you’ve got the most amazing wooden logs to throw on top of your fire, you can actually smother your own fire. In fact, it’s a hundred percent possible. And this is where founders kind of have to get into the balancing act of, okay, but when do I know I’ve got a strong enough fire? And usually, that’s when we’ve got a pretty strong understanding of our product-market fit.

Let’s dig a little bit deeper because we’re speaking in analogy terms right now. In real life, there are typically three different product scenarios that I come across. Whenever I’m working with a founder or I’m talking to a founder and they’re debating on if it’s time to be thinking about marketing, there are usually three different scenarios that they’re in.

The first is that the product isn’t built yet. It hasn’t entered the market. People can’t buy it, they can’t use it right now, developers are still actively working on it. There have been zero demos. There might’ve been some customer development or some customer discovery in some kind of way, but for the most part, it’s not used right now. No one’s using it. No one can use it. It’s not live.

The second real-life product scenario is that the product is currently in the market and you’ve got a few beta users, but no actual paying customers. You might actually have hundreds of beta users, but no one’s actually paying for the product. And unless you plan on offering pure freemium, there’s a good chance that you want people to pay for the product. You want it to be profitable.

The third scenario is that, is pretty simple. The product is alive, it’s in the market. People can ultimately search for it, buy it, pay for it, and actually use it. And on top of that, you’ve already got a few people who are already doing that. So you’ve actually already got a few real paying customers. They could easily be friends and family, but ideally, there are people who are relatively strangers. You might have built a relationship with them over time as you’ve been building the product and keeping in touch with them. But for the most part, they’re not your mom or your cousin or anything like that. So they are actual real paying customers. But you only have a few of them. You don’t have hundreds of them quite yet.

More often than not, I encounter founders who are in the very first product scenario. They are way too early to be thinking about any real kind of actionable marketing right now. And the reason why is because their product hasn’t been in the hands of anyone quite yet. So as far as I’m concerned, and as far as reality is concerned, we really don’t know if we’ve got product-market fit until we have people actually using it. And something that I try to explain to founders with every chance that I possibly can get, especially to those who are in this stage, I would say if that’s you, way too early to be thinking about marketing. And many would argue, but you still have to have a plan. And don’t get me wrong, always be prepared. Always be thinking about what would you do in certain scenarios.

But the reality is that, unless the product is in someone’s hands, and I know that we’re talking about software, so in this case it would be, they’re able to actually use it in their day to day lives, on their desktop phone, whatever. Until you get actual people using that software and using the tool in some kind of way, it’s going to be impossible for you to know who is actually getting value out of this. And is this actually solving someone’s pain? The reason why that’s critical to know, is because marketing ultimately can’t do its job unless it knows who it wants to target and why. And don’t get me wrong, marketing can help you figure that out, but there’s actually a much faster way to do that when you’re in this stage.

When you’re in this scenario, marketing is actually nine times out of 10, a much slower way. It’s not really something that I recommend to early-stage founders who are still like in that beta phase or they’re still in that product design or build phase, but just purely because marketing is a great way, again, to throw gasoline or fuel onto an already burning fire, but it’s not necessarily the most efficient way to figure out if you can get a fire going if that makes any sense.

You ultimately have no idea if you have product-market fit, that understanding of product-market fit, yes it does come with generating those very first few users and generating the very first few customers, but marketing probably isn’t the fastest or even the most efficient way for you to do that. Honestly, and this is what I tell every single first-time founder and every single early-stage founder who’s kind of in this scenario, sales is always going to be faster for you when you’re in this stage.

And what I mean by sales is, I mean direct selling in some kind of way. You’ve got a product, whether that’s B to B or B to C, you want to know if it actually helps people and if it solves a problem, put it in front of people. Actually facilitate conversations, facilitate introductions, facilitate demos, whatever it is that makes sense for your market and your product, whatever that context is, sales will always be the best, fastest way for you to understand because sales for the most part, is binary.

You either get a yes or you get a no and sometimes you get, not right now, in which case, cool. It’s still either going to be a yes or a no at some point. And sometimes if it’s a no, it’s a just a no right now. Sales is one of those activities or one of those practices that I recommend every single founder go through in those very first few months, however long it takes, but really, it’s just because you get feedback and insights so much faster than if you were to do marketing in the early days. Not knocking marketing. Marketing again, is amazing fuel, gasoline, gas, whatever flammable thing you want to throw on top of your fire.

But one thing it doesn’t do very well, at least for founders in the early days is, it doesn’t necessarily give you the direct insight immediately, on if someone’s going to think of this product is valuable or not. The reality about marketing is that, you really don’t know what someone thinks about it until they sign up. They become a bank customer and they churn. And that is a very big long funnel to build and to wait for and to try to reverse engineer just to validate if you’ve even got part of market fit in the first place. And that’s a lot of guessing. And I’m going to be honest about the marketing process.

Ideally, you minimize the amount of guesses that you have to make in the early days and this is where going through the sales process first, actually makes more sense. By going through the sales process in the earlier days, not only does the founder gain intimate knowledge of who he should be targeting or she, who they should be targeting in the early days versus not, and also what product feedback do their prospects and customers have. Where is their place in the market and how should they be thinking about positioning their product in the market, especially if they’re close to product-market fit. They have a pretty strong idea of who to target, but maybe they’re just not saying the right things about the product.

This is critical for the founder to take the time to understand for many reasons. Mostly because if you don’t, you end up guessing and any guess, it takes time, energy and resources to validate. And when marketing doesn’t necessarily know who it is that is best to target, marketing ultimately has to go through the sales process themselves and they ultimately have to figure that out. And don’t get me wrong, there are businesses, people, and scenarios where that makes sense and it has been successful. But if you’re in a situation where you can’t hire a VP of marketing, who will go through that effort and do that for you, then nine times out of 10, you’re probably going to have to figure it out yourself. And even then, I would say it’s still good for the founder to know how to sell their product just as well as the rest of them.

Is it scalable? No. But in the early days, few things rarely are scalable. Just to wrap up the very first scenario again, if you don’t have the product ready yet, it’s not live, you’re still working on building it. Your number one mission is really to finish building the product and also not to market, but to do customer development and discovery instead. To continue that process to continue showing product updates to your potential prospects and to your potential customers and to continue facilitating feedback about, if you’re building the right thing. And then also if you can, actually getting either a beta version of the product in people’s hands, prototypes, whatever it is that you need to do, in order to actually bring the idea to fruition and to facilitate as much feedback as possible.

That is going to give you so much more leverage overall than trying to build a go-to market strategy before the product is ever even live. I’ve learned this the hard way personally, but I also highly encourage any founders out there. If you really want to know if your product is going to generate any kind of revenue, the best way and the fastest way in the early days, is to honestly, just sell it. That’s whether if you’re B to B versus B to C, enterprise versus small business versus consumer, it doesn’t really matter. You can absolutely sell it first. And I probably can’t say this enough, but it just doesn’t make sense to build a marketing engine for a market that you’re not even certain will buy.

Something that I find, especially talking to first-time founders at this stage, is that, what you think the product will do for people and what it actually does for people, it’s usually an entire journey in and of itself, even right there and the amount of learning that you do and also the direction that your product goes in, it’s susceptible to nearly infinite change and nearly infinite possibilities, which means that if you’re uncertain, that means that it’s going to be harder for you to learn through the marketing process than it would be through the sales process.

Marketing, again, it’s great fuel for an already burning fire, but it’s not exactly the best way to approach starting a fire, and I think that that might be where a lot of misconception lies. A lot of founders think, Oh, well, if I don’t have anyone right now, I can just do some marketing and get someone. I would actually say that, yes, you can absolutely approach it that way, but if you don’t ultimately know, then you have to guess, and when you have to guess, especially with marketing, that’s where people lose a bunch of money, especially trying to do any kind of advertising, having no idea what they’re doing.

And then of course you hear a lot of horror stories about, Oh, marketing didn’t work for us, and here’s why. The reality is that, if you have a very clear idea of a segment of target and you’ve got proof that the product actually helps that segment or target and you know how to position it, you’ll see results from marketing. But if you don’t know, fastest, best way again, is to sell it.

Let’s talk about the second scenario. Now, the second scenario is a situation that is also very common, where the product is live. People can actually use it, but you’ve only got beta users. No one’s actually paying for it yet. And this is a very interesting scenario because I actually think that the traditional playbook is to build the product, go to beta, and then eventually launch it publicly where people can actually pay for and buy it and that’s a pretty common playbook and neither here nor there in terms of if it’s good or not. I think it depends on the product that you have, the market that you have and of course the ultimate customer and the pain that you’re solving.

But sometimes I’ll get founders who have the question of, okay, well what if I actually have users, but they’re just not paying yet. In which case it’s a similar situation where you’ve got a bunch of people using it for free, you want to charge for it and here’s the difference. You want to charge for it, but you haven’t yet. Even then, I would still say, you haven’t quite crossed the threshold. You haven’t quite gotten ready to be thinking about marketing in any kind of real actionable capacity unless it was to generate a bunch of free users, in which case I would say, if that’s part of the strategy from a growth perspective and a longterm perspective, that also might make sense.

There’s plenty of examples out there of businesses that have been focused so much more on generating beta testers than actual paying customers because their market is huge and they need as much data as possible on their target market. But too often, the scenario is actually much more that, they might spend a lot of resources generating these free beta testers, but at the end of the day,

they need to start paying. The best way to know if you have product-market fit is to start charging, to announce that you will start charging to, I’m putting my hands up and saying, you finger quotes, but launch. Then that is actually one of the best indicators of if you’ve actually got something. You can roll this out all at once. You can roll this out slowly. There’s all kinds of different ways that you can actually do this.

But the challenge with layering marketing even on top of a situation like that is, you really don’t know if you’re attracting people who would pay money until you actually do it. And then that’s when you learn. So I would say, if you’re in the second scenario, you might start thinking about your approach to marketing and also about who is actually the best fit paying customer. But the challenge is that, until you actually start charging, you really don’t know. And that’s something that I cannot iterate enough. I cannot hammer down enough. You’ll hear me say this forever, but you really won’t know until you start charging. And we can operate in hypotheticals or until you start thinking about which part of your prospect base or your user base would be most likely to pay, and then start thinking about how you can actually roll out that payment plan.

A couple of things are going to happen when you do this. First, you’re going to see who churns. You’re also going to hear who really doesn’t value the product in the way that you thought that they would. You’re also going to hear people who don’t even blink twice and in fact, tell you to charge them more. You’re going to hear all kinds of different things in between. Now, obviously the people who don’t think twice and even were expecting you to say a higher number, those are probably the people that you want to attract more of. And that’s when we start to say, “Okay, how can we get more of you?” And that’s where marketing again becomes gasoline or fuel on a fire because we’ve lit a match at that point.

We’ve started something. When we move into that space where we start to charge or we start to validate if our product market fit is as strong as we thought it was. And the best way to do that again, is to take a look at your overall churn and then of course, are people likely to recommend the product to others? Those are two very basic and there are other ways that we can measure or quantify product-market fit, but ideally, it’s something like that, and this is again where marketing makes sense.

But if we don’t have that, let’s say we have more people who say, “Oh, I’m not paying for this, I’m not going to use this anymore.” Well, that also tells us that we’ve got more work to do. Either it’s the wrong market or it’s the wrong product, or we’re not positioning it very well, which is a marketing challenge of course. In that case, even still, we’ve got to dig deeper and we have to learn why what’s going on.

In the third case, or at least in the last case where the positioning might be misaligned. That’s absolutely a marketing challenge and that’s usually one of the first places that a marketer will start. But if it’s the product or if it’s the market, we either need to choose a different market entirely, which honestly, you’d do better with sales or it’s the product. And maybe we know what market we want to be in, but the product needs to catch up in some kind of way. Even still, we’ve got a different … Even still our fire is put out and we’ve got to start over.

The last thing I think I’ll add to that is, there are some businesses out there who are in a situation where they’ve got literally hundreds of beta users, beta testers, people who are using the product for free, but freemium is not their model. And I think that that’s a very big, there’s some opposing things about that. So if your model has nothing to do with freemium, but you’ve got all these beta testers and all these beta users and you’ve got hundreds of them, there are some situations and scenarios out there where that might make sense, but you’ve got hundreds of them, no one’s paying yet. And maybe it’s because you’re holding out to continue building of the product, so that way, you can feel pretty confident that when you do start charging, you’ll actually retain most of the people who are using it.

In that scenario, you’ve got the runway, you’ve got the bandwidth, you’ve got the resources, the time, awesome. But if you don’t, this is where you can get trapped a little bit because you ultimately, you’re going in the same scenario. You’ve got all these people using the product, but you really don’t know if you could start charging and that’s where I would say, especially if you’ve got tons of people using it, I’ll let you define what tons means. I’ll let you define what that number is, but if you’ve got too many beta users, beta testers and they continue to use the product for free and freemium is not part of your plan, then it might actually be time to flip the switch and to start thinking about how you can roll out your payment plans.

All right. I saved the third scenario for last. And the reason why is because this is at least in my experience when you would start thinking about marketing. And the kinds that you can actually take steps towards. The third scenario really encapsulates founders who have product. It is live and they actually do have paying customers already. They’ve proven that at least a few people have decided to pay for the product.

The number upon which it makes sense to start thinking about marketing is really dependent on your model. Whether you are a very more on the upper tier of price, so you’ve got a pricier product, all the way down to maybe your product is free, maybe it is freemium and you’ve got a few other paid plans and you’ve got a few people on the paid plans. I’ll let you decide on what that number is. But typically, and this is just from again experience. Typically, if you’ve got at least five paying customers, that’s actually enough to start thinking about how you get more. I’ve worked with businesses that have had zero paying customers but they had an extremely strong vision and intent on who they ultimately wanted to target and why.

I will say that starting from zero because we didn’t have that very first paying customer cohort, it was very tough to model who … Actually I don’t think I want to say that. I think it doesn’t really drive home my point. It’s really more … Nose is itchy. It’s really more … If you’re to get at least the very first five paying customers as a marketer and just overall growth expert, that tells me a few things. It tells me that, you’ve got people who have decided that the product was valuable enough and worthy enough, that they kept paying for it and they did not churn.

It is pretty critical that the segment or the cohort that you leverage are customers that do not churn. Meaning they’ve been with you for at least enough time where you’re pretty confident that if they do churn, they’ll at least talk to you first about it. And again, there’s no hard line and I think that this is also where so many of us kind of fall, but there’s no hard line in terms of, okay, well is it just five customers and how long do they need to have stayed with me?

This is really where it becomes a balancing act and I’ll talk more about that balancing act and just a second, but if you’ve got at least five paying customers, marketing overall can work with that. We can ultimately say, okay, great. Here’s what those customer segments are. Here’s based on our interviews with them. Here’s where we would start to try to attract them and also, here are the most important value propositions and just overall messages that we need to make sure that we carry with us as we entered this market.

Even if you have five customers who look relatively different, we can still work with that. That’s something that we can still base a few different campaigns and just overall strategies around. The challenge of course, will be having enough volume to really hone and refine our strategy over time. But generally speaking, if you’ve got at least five paying customers, that’s where starting to think about marketing becomes more of a reality. Now you probably are actually acting on marketing and you’re starting to deploy some of the marketing strategies and just ideas that you’ve had and you’re starting to learn even more.

The one caveat that I will throw to founders who are in this scenario, is that, don’t get me wrong. Marketing doesn’t suddenly become this perfect science where it has all the answers and it knows exactly what kind of results you’re going to get. It’s still very much experimental and it likely is going to continue to be experimental until you get the magical SaaS or startup flywheel, which is the thing just seems to grow without me having to force a boulder up a mountain. It’s much more like you’re guiding a boulder down a mountain as opposed to having to feel like you’re pushing it up. But it at least will help you again, throw fuel and gasoline on the fire to still see if you’ve got something and that is still incredibly valuable.

That’s when you start planning for marketing and when you start really thinking about, okay, who are we targeting? Here’s why we want to target them, here’s where we would target them and here’s exactly what kind of relationship we want to build with these people. Here’s where they are in their journey and here’s exactly what we need to say to them to capture their attention, but then also help solve some pain, help provide some amazing value, and hopefully we’re really painkilling something for them and we’re actually delivering something that changes their world in some kind of way.

This is when marketing actually starts to become incredibly valuable, but then also, this is where it really works and where it helps. If you’re still very early on, in terms of how many customers you have, marketing is far more experimental, but it will still enable you to learn. Before you have at least those few paying customers though, most of the work you’re going to be doing probably isn’t the kind of marketing that you might be thinking of doing, it’s probably much more product work. You’re doing some just business level go to market strategy work as well.

So you’re thinking about how to position the product or maybe you’re thinking about just based off of the feedback that you’re getting from customers, you’re getting about what probably needs to be built and what could be postponed from a build schedule perspective and just from a development planning perspective. And even then, marketing very rarely is the most effective or efficient way when you’ve got zero paying customers. It’s very rare and it’s a very rare marketer too, who can actually take a company from zero to a hundred and do so without having to do a lot of guessing and or pivoting. So that’s really the biggest caveat.

But after you got the first few, most marketers can work with that. That’s when even if the founder plans on owning marketing themselves and becoming the marketer themselves, that’s really when marketing makes the most sense. If there’s one thing I want to leave you with, it’s really this, the biggest balancing act that you as a founder will have to do is really two things. It’s gaining the confidence in what you’re bringing to market as fast as possible while also securing the runway in the time to do so.

And what I mean by that is, many founders end up in a few different situations. Either they try to take on marketing way too early or they wait too late to bring on marketing and then they’re backed up against a wall and they don’t have a whole lot of time left to live. They end up with like six months or less of the runway, which is a very tight, tough position to be in, especially if you don’t know if you’ve actually got product-market fit or not. And even then, product-market fit is a constant process and a constant cycle.

If you’re in the latter situation, meaning you’re up against a wall, you’ve got a product, it needs to sell soon, or maybe you’ve already got a few paying customers, but you need more right now and not in six months or even three months, but today, I will always say that focusing on sales will just hands down be the most effective and efficient way for you to not only learn as fast as possible but actually generate some deals and hopefully some revenue.

If you’re actually pretty confident in your product-market fit and you’re also less than six months of runway, but you know that you’ve got a fire and you need that fuel and you need that gasoline, then marketing absolutely is one of the best things that you can start thinking about investing in. Keeping in mind, however, that the best marketing does take time. It truly is like wine or beer. It takes a while. And not to say that marketing can’t generate results for you fast, don’t get me wrong. Like I said, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. It can absolutely do that. But if you want to build a larger fire and you want to build something sustainable, you’re going to be looking at adding wood to the fire. You’re going to be looking at expanding it in some kind of way. And that’s the kind of stuff that slow burns, takes some time.

Yes, the gasoline gets you like the big spike, but like most things, it’ll come down. So really you want to balance out your marketing efforts with both long term and short term strategies. If you’re in the former example though, so you’re a founder who you might be thinking about marketing too early. Just wait, just pause. Just pause for a second. Because if you’ve got the time and the resources to just wait a little bit on marketing and to learn more in the interim, then whatever you do after, is just going to be that much more informed, better, higher quality and quantity overall.

Usually whenever I’m talking to a founder and they’re just way too early to be thinking about marketing, I say, “If you think you know now, just give it a few weeks of doing any kind of customer discovery or research and you’ll be shocked at how different your perspective is.” So if you’re a little bit too early, maybe the product isn’t live yet, maybe you’ve got a lot of beta testers, but no one’s actually paying yet. Just by changing one of those variables. I mean, you’re going to learn a ton. And that’s when we start to ask ourselves, okay, do we have something or do we not?

And to be fair, most founders don’t really know that until they hit a certain amount of revenue of customers. But those are the main switches, at least that you can flip. So the product being live and built and actually in people’s hands, that’s one switch. But the second is actually charging. That’s the second switch. And when those two are on, you learn so much. The third switch is really, after you have determined that you got a little bit of a fire going and now it’s time to throw some gasoline on there, that’s when we think about marketing.

I hope that this was helpful. Thank you guys so much for listening. I hope that you learned a lot. I hope that if anything, I’ve validated some things for you. So if this took off the pressure and gave you a little bit of reprieve to actually really focus on the product and the customer and the market and not necessarily marketing right now, awesome. If it also may be kind of lit a little bit of a fire underneath you and to start actually start thinking about marketing, then also awesome. And for what it’s worth, from a DemandMaven perspective, we almost always work with businesses who already have paying customers and they’re ready to throw fuel and gasoline on the fire and they just don’t really know what kind, what kind of fuel. Is it gas? Is it gasoline? Is it wood? What do I need to do? That’s what we help founders discover.

But if you’re in the first two camps, again, scenario one or scenario two, no product yet, lots of beta testers, no paying customers. Those are usually things that are better off, validated and vetted by the founder and maybe an advisor or some kind of strategist, which we definitely do the strategy work, but in terms of execution, until you flip those two switches, until you start charging or until you start offering the product live to people in the market, it’s going to be really tough to know, but I digress. You guys already know this now because you listen to this podcast.

Thank you so much again for listening. My name is Asia. I work at DemandMaven, where I work with early-stage startups and founders on reaching their very first growth milestones. I hope that you enjoyed this. Let me know some of the other indicators that you need marketing help or that you’ve learned over time because some of you guys are super experienced and you’re much further along. What were your indicators that it was now time to start thinking about marketing? I would love to hear in the comments below and also don’t hesitate to hit me up. I’m also an open book. Happy to answer any questions you guys have. Thanks again so much. Have an awesome day. Yeah.