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How do you compete in a tough marketplace with thousands of other competitors? Adam Blitzer, EVP & GM, Marketing Cloud Salesforce and former VP, Marketing @ Pardot, shares insights from launching a company in the already crowded marketing automation space and zig-zagged the way to market leadership.
The truth is, sometimes things are just out of your control. You can’t control how much competitors raise, where you get to be located starting out, and you can’t force the market to mature faster.
So what are the things you can control?
#1 When the world zigs, zag
This was a marketing ploy by Levi’s for black jeans. It pictures a black sheep among a crowd of white sheep. This ties back to asymmetry, when the world is doing one thing try to do the opposite. You want to stand out from the market, not fit in along with your competitors. It may not be what’s popular at that moment, but that’s because it doesn’t exist! You can make it so.
#2 Asymmetric Geography
Through this you will have amazing labor supply and loyalty, insanely cheap commercial real estate, and a hotbed of B2B companies. Choosing the right location for your startup is crucial for your success. We can’t always have as much funding as we’d like when we bootstrap, but you can choose a strategic area to work such as a college town. Students are always searching for jobs and will be loyal to the company for their time there.
#3 Asymmetric Funding
Salesforce had to have constraints around the funding unlike several competitors. They had to engineer the business and plans knowing there was no funding to fall back on. They let their competitors spend their own money to build a market that was very evangelical.
#4 Asymmetric Product
When you have less funding you can’t possibly build everything you want to build at that point in time. Salesforce recommends allowing competitors to be on the flexible side of the spectrum. You can’t be in multiple areas at once! When starting out, they chose to put a stake down on the easy side of the spectrum, using less functionality as a feature.
Both your company and competitors will be on very different spots on the marketing spectrum. This is good! In turn, it will carve out different parts of the market.
#5 Asymmetric Corporate Culture
When you don’t have to raise money, you control the company. You can run the company exactly how you see fit. If your competitors are very sales driven and hustling, swing in the opposite direction like Salesforce. Run the company by having your core values being positive, supportive, and self-starting. If people enjoy working there and enjoy being a customer, your business will be successful.
When you’re creating a business environment, keep this quote in mind:
“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
#6 Asymmetric Funding
The more you go up on the funding scale, the more limited your opportunities become. If employees and startup owners own the entire company and reach 100 million, vs if a company raises that money through funding, it’s the exact same outcome but you’ll have more fun along the way owning the company.
If you continually raise IPO, you’ll own less and less of your company and have less say. Moral of the story, co-founders owning 100% of the business is so much more enjoyable.
#7 Making Mistakes
“The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake” -Savielly Tartakover.
As long as you don’t make the final and fatal mistake, you’ll win the game. When you bootstrap, you don’t have enough money to throw a mistake to completely ruin your company.
A few mistakes Salesforce made as a bootstrap company was having no contracts, no coherent upsell strategy (poor pricing & packaging), being much too efficient in sales, and underestimating the size of the market.
- Embrace your constraints
- Don’t meet force with force
- Control what you can control
- Optionality is a beautiful thing