Are We Living In A “Post-Startup” World?

Guest author Carol Broadbent is the cofounder and principal of Crowded Ocean, a Silicon Valley marketing agency. She wrote this post with cofounder Tom Hogan.

Industry pundits like to talk about how we’re now inhabiting the post-PC, post-desktop, post-software world. Recently, after launching our 36th startup, we sat back and looked at how much has changed in terms of the rules and ‘best practices’ governing the startup world. 

We realized that most of the rules that governed our first startups—only five years ago—no longer apply or are under serious reconsideration. For example:

Post-Geographic

This category used to be called “virtual”: in other words, there is no headquarters. The CEO is on one coast and the CTO is two or three time zones away. Sales, obviously, is all over the place. And so, increasingly, is the rest of the team. The company is held together by an infrastructure of shared project plans, painfully long conference calls and periodic town hall meetings.

Post-Intellectual Property

This might seem like a part of the post-geographic trend, but there’s a fundamental difference. In the past, parts of your company could be virtual, but not your development team. They needed to be in one place (where the CTO lived) and full-time employees. Recently, primarily because Apple, Google and Facebook have gobbled up so much of the Valley’s engineering talent, the mindset has changed. IP is developed and nurtured by the CTO, but he/she staffs not only virtually but offshore (Ukraine, India, China) and the developers aren’t even employees.

Post-Post-Silicon Valley

What started as a geography (Santa Clara, Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto) became a state of mind, the idea being to take the DNA of the Valley and graph it into new geographies. Thus was born Silicon Alley (New York), Silicon Gulch (Austin), and Startup Nation (Israel). And they flourished. 

Today, there are literally hundreds of startup incubators and accelerators scattered nationwide. Now, though, there is the renewed belief that there is something in the DNA of the actual Valley—in the workforce, in the meetups, in the constant cross-fertilization of ideas that stem from the concentration of talent and ideas in one place.

Part of this change is geographic: In the past, San Francisco wasn’t part of the Valley, both geographically and in mindset. Now there are more highly valued “unicorn” companies in San Francisco than down the Peninsula. That has led to a whole new ability to recruit fresh tech talent: Live in SF and take a company bus down to our Peninsula location. Or stay and work in SF. 

But it’s not just startups that thrive in the region. In response, some VC firms are requiring their out-of-state portfolio companies to relocate to the Valley. And non-US startups, especially Israelis, find that they can grow more quickly if they have a Valley sales office. Or, better yet, a Valley headquarters. 

When most major car makers and many of the top auto suppliers have set up shop in Silicon Valley, it’s evidence that this is the nexus of innovation in software, smartphones, robotics, machine vision, the connected car and more.

Post-Bullpen

The open-office, privacy-challenged layout that was so popular among startups small and large is waning in popularity. Employees report feeling distracted, frustrated by a lack privacy and studies show that the veneer of accessibility and openness is offset by a measurable hit in productivity. The unintended consequences are two: a) an explosion in headphone sales; and b) an increasing number of employees are opting to work remotely—not because of the commute, but because they get more done from home.

Post-Agile

This term, co-opted from the concept of agile software development, is now applied to entire companies. The two-week cycles and daily scrums of agile development teams have bled over into marketing and other departments, with short-term management now the norm. In our world, startup marketing, even the largest projects have a weekly cadence, driven by the frenzy of 24/7 news cycles, daily Twitter storms, and the relentless deadlines of weekly blog posts.

Post-Lean

 The concept of the lean startup, popularized by Eric Ries in 2011, asserted that a tech startup needed to get to the MVP (minimum viable product) before entering the market. The logic was that this minimal product feature set was sufficient, as long as the company was receptive and responsive to market reaction and could rev the product quickly to meet market demand.

But then “lean” got applied to startup marketing and the discipline that requires a team to nail their message and value prop before launch sometimes got lost. And that misstep was very costly. Today, whatever your definition of “lean marketing” is (no money? no staff? no plan?), the growth-hacking approach has overtaken lean marketing. It’s all about focusing on shortening the customer acquisition cycle with an emphasis on digital marketing strategies that are quickly implemented and revised. It’s a great concept, particularly in business-to-consumer startups, but less of a fit for the longer sales cycles of business-to-business.

Post-Funnel

The old-world sales funnel was a linear progression from awareness to purchase. The new world is the mobile-first, heavily social sales funnel that incorporates multi-channel communications and recursive steps along the way (from awareness to purchase) that track referrals along the customer acquisition path. In the post-funnel world of today, there has never been a bigger dependency upon an integrated marketing plan.

Startups are like any organism: they evolve to fit their surroundings. The environment of Hewlett and Packard was fundamentally different from that of Jobs and Woz and of Sergey and Larry. This generation of startups will be quicker, nimbler, more diverse, and more experimental than its predecessors. Ten years later, those characteristics will be the norm—and the startup will evolve yet again, always staying two steps ahead of Normal.

Photo by Epic Bets

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