Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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When SAP, and, specifically Hasso Plattner, said they’re going to build this in-memory database and compete with Oracle, I said. God, get me the name of that pharmacist, they must be on drugs.

The Most Controversial And Entertaining Things Larry Ellison Has Ever Said

Peter Thiel was not the only one inferring that certain tech company executives were taking illicit substances…

Acquiring Concur is the latest big deal by SAP, which agreed to buy Ariba, a business-to-business marketplace, for $4.3 billion in 2012. Earlier this year, SAP acquired Fieldglass, which helps companies manage contract employees. SAP has a market value of nearly $100 billion.

SAP Buys Concur Technologies for $8.3 Billion via The New York Times

In the olden days, technology companies that did not innovate simply went out of business.  Now they just acquire other companies and sustain themselves on the largess of hefty maintenance agreements and annual recurring SaaS contracts.  On the other hand, it does give smaller enterprise tech companies a convenient exit strategy, which is boon for the startup community.

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Judas Priest,
Sin After Sin

COVER FRIDAY: Diamonds and Rust by Judas Priest (Joan Baez cover) - In one of the more unlikely pairings, the metal gods cover one of folk’s all-time legends.  Judas Priest did not release a ton of covers, but the ones they did were always interesting, like The Green Manalishi on the Hell Bent for Leather album which was a Fleetwood Mac cover.  Many of the best covers and worst covers seem to happen in that genre cross-over, and lucky Priest comes out of the best covers side.

They had toyed with a cover of Baez hit Diamonds & Rust for awhile. The first pass got cut from the Sad Wings of Destiny album.  Luckily, their new producer Roger Glover was able to convince the band to do another version and release it on the Sin After Sin album, their first record on the CBS label.  It ended up being the first commercial radio hit for the band and even got avid support from Baez herself.  It is a phenomenal version of the original made even better with Rob Halford’s excellent vocal performance on the tune.

I genuinely feel that there is no real value in complaining.

The One Thing You’ll Never Get Any Value From via Gary Vaynerchuk

So true, it just stresses you out and does nothing to address the core issue you are complaining about.  Reminds me of a point Simon Sinek touched on in his talk at Inbound earlier today on how worrying and other negative emotions starts to eat away at our health.

At some point you have to build a real business, generate real profits, sustain the company without the largess of investor’s capital, and start producing value the old fashioned way.

Burn Baby Burn via AVC

Yep, it is happening in the B2B SaaS sector as well and eventually there are no safety nets for these companies because they spent themselves out of existence.  But what is driving founders to push the pedal and spend like no tomorrow?  While Fred and Bill are not targeting valuations as the cause, in a frothy funding environment, entrepreneurs are under the belief (egged on by plenty of investors) that the money train will continue to roll on.  It is the growth at all cost theory, and well, I remember that did not play out too well the first time we did this in tech fifteen years back.

Everyone is under the impression that it is raining money.  That certainly is the case now, but nothing to bet the farm on long-term.  I know it may sound all fuddy-duddy, but turning a profit and running a cash flow positive business is a good thing.

And one thing about sales & marketing. Achieving massive scale by blowing it out on sales & marketing is certainly one way to win a market.  But you can also be much more intelligent about the process and executing with purpose and precision.  That is what is going to win, more so than playing someone else’s game when they turn on the sales & marketing spigot.

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State Of Euphoria

80’S METAL TUESDAY: Be All, End All by Anthrax - Time for some serious, no holds barred head banging tunes this morning.  That means some Anthrax is in order, one of the best known of the 80’s NYC thrash bands.  The State of Euphoria from 1988 never got a lot of love back in the day, but listening to it over the years, you can appreciate just how good of an album it was and representative of a band that was upping it’s game and growing up from their earlier days.

Even if the album is not a fan favorite, some of the tunes are concert staples to this day including the thrash anthem Be All, End All.  Other than Antisocial (a Trust cover), this is the best and most rocking song on the album.  Enjoy the head banging this morning!

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Darkest Era,

METAL MONDAY: The Serpent and the Shadow by Darkest Era - Last week I alluded to posting some Celtic Metal from a band that I have up until recently had not known about.  Well, glad that I found out about this band because both their previous album and their 2014 release are stellar.  Sometimes the folk thing can be a burden, but this is a band crafting excellent tunes, building great hooks, and showing considerable talent.  And you cannot go wrong with a singer that refers to himself at Krum.

Severance came out back in May, so maybe it is bit late to call it a new album, but it is not too late to declare this album a best of candidate.  From the opening tune to the longish closing track, each song is solid.  The Serpent and the Shadow is about the best representation of a band that is parts Maiden, part Thin Lizzy, and part kick ass metal that is totally comfortable in 2014.

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Miles Davis,
'58 Sessions Featuring Stella By Starlight

JAZZ AT NIGHT: Stella by Starlight by Miles Davis - Continuing the thread of the last week’s jazz post, by the middle of ‘58, the Davis sextet was in full swing.  John Coltrane was back with Miles after his stint with Thelonious Monk finished up, Bill Evans was on piano, Jimmy Cobb took over on drums, and Cannonball manned the alto sax.  It was with this group that Miles would soon upend the jazz world.

Several sessions were recorded during ‘58 resulting in the reissue album ‘58 Miles.  This included tracks from a studio session in May as well as tracks from a live performance at the Plaza.  Stella by Starlight, a famous jazz standard and ballad by Victor Young for the movie The Uninvited was part of the studio session.  It is steamy and languid and just so chill as you would expect given the crew.  If you have a chance, I highly recommend getting this album, a gem that runs under the radar of more famous albums, but is absolutely stellar.

Superior sales and distribution can create monopoly, even without product differentiation. The converse is not true.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel via Tom Tunguz

This was a snippet from Tom’s blog post.  Lean Startup and the startup world often say product wins and discount the value of marketing and sales.  But in fact history has shown us that the best product does not necessarily win, it is the company with the best execution to take the market that wins.  If you want to dominate a market, create a superior sales and marketing engine.  The product will get there, but do not wait for the product to be “ready” or good enough.

No amount of process, people, or product will help if the messaging is not working

Good messaging is like good art; it is hard to define but you know it when you see it. And like art, it can be hit or miss, and more often on the miss side when it comes to early startups. Many folks attribute those startups that start getting traction and achieve scale as being startups that found product-market fit. While that is true, what got them there was the right message which is the crux of finding one’s product-market fit.

Ultimately you are creating a clear explanation as to what your company is and what problem it solves for the market. You unlock that riddle and you will find that you open a lot of doors. In that sense, your sales messaging is the master key for your particular market that works for the segments you have defined.

How does this differ from marketing messaging? It shouldn’t, at least by much. Marketing however has a much broader audience to reach out to, which includes partners, analysts, investors, competitors, industry groups, and even customers and broader market. They are the catch all and so they are coming from messaging at a brand level.

Most of what marketing creates should still align with what sales does, but sales are focused on one audience only; prospects. So the messaging needs to be crisp, clean, and jargon free. The point is that anything that creates questions or concerns or roadblocks in the minds of prospects should be removed, and that includes messaging that could likely confuse potential customers.

Messaging is such an important topic that I made the next NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup all about that one thing. It will be a panel of sales and marketing experts in the B2B enterprise market talking about and sharing their thoughts and tips for crafting great messaging. If you are struggling with or have questions about how to craft messaging or what you even say to prospects to get their attention, then this meetup at Work-Bench on Tuesday, September 23 6 PM is for you.

Before I close out this post though, I thought I would jot down a few thoughts of my own since I am going through the same challenges now with my startup. Here are some things to consider:

  • Who are you trying to reach? Messaging is not some monolithic, one-size-fits all thing. You need to understand who you are reaching out to buying creating buyer personas and then targeting your messaging to fit that persona. If you neglect to personalize your message, you risk alienating the every audience you are reaching out to.
  • Is the messaging crisp? Like a good elevator pitch, the messaging needs to be easy to say, easy to understand, and short. Drag on and on, it makes your company and product look unfocused. Note that this does not mean you should adopt the “we are X for Y) format many startups utilize which sounds pithy and undermines your unique value.
  • Is marketing and sales aligned on messaging? Often these groups are working at cross-purposes, which causes marketing and sales efforts to appear disjointed. This creates questions in the mind of prospects as to what you offer, creating unnecessary friction in the sales cycle. It is critical that sales and marketing are working together as one united front.
  • Is the message too ambiguous? The best messaging strikes to the heart of what a company does and is offering. If the messaging is too broad or too “inside the studio” then you are forcing people to dig. In an age when attention spans are getting shorter, expecting people to dig for more is a bad assumption.
  • Is your messaging too complex? In the attempt to appear novel and cutting edge, sometimes we fall victim to being too smart for our own goods. The result is messaging that confuses prospects. The effect compounds at every stage of the sale, lengthening the time it takes to explain and educate prospects. Do not try to be fancy! Stick with plain language and remove the jargon which creates barriers.
  • Is the message unique and defensible? The opposite problem of complex messaging is reducing it to something so basic that it does not sound all the unique. For example, simply calling yourself a recruiting platform or a CRM tool may be simple, but it does not get across why your offering might be better than other options in the market.
  • Is it the very best messaging? You may think you have come upon the winning ticket, but you might be missing out on an even better message. Never be afraid of testing new messaging and trying new ideas to stay fresh. To that end, always be testing across your various outreach channels to see what is most effective. That also means you need to incorporate a metrics driven approach.
  • Is your messaging too static? Markets, customers, and products are constantly evolving at faster cycles, so the messaging should also evolve. Messaging need to needs to be relevant and timely, so make sure that you are reviewing the messaging on a regular basis.
  • What are customers and prospects saying? We often forget to take notice of how our customers describe the company and the products, or what transpires in conversations with prospects. Make sure to capture that information from the field and see if it aligns to your core messaging. Chances are the way they are explaining things might be more relevant to your target audience.