It was 2009, the world outlook was pessimistic, moribund in the clutches of the Global Financial Crisis. I was in the capital of unbridled optimism, Palo Alto, California.
This fascinating hub of academia, hi tech and entrepreneurship is part of the Santa Clara Valley, which from the mid-70’s is more commonly referred to as Silicon Valley. On my first visit, I couldn’t believe I was actually there. Household names adorned low rise buildings. Logos etched on building doors for apps that I used everyday. University Ave, lined with coffee shops and restaurants made famous by startup and VC meetings that resulted in global technology phenomenons.
There were 10 of us, of which 6 were fresh-out-of-college interns, in our office the size of a double garage. We were building a SaaS business that was going to take on the sleepy world of recruiting by the scruff of its neck.
I was the marketing guy.
The interns started bombarding me with their tips and perspectives on how to market a SaaS company. They were all really, really smart, incredibly ambitious and working for free. If they could find a potential hit business, jump on for the ride and collect a salary and some stock along the way, they could strike gold. Becoming a millionaire by 30 wasn’t considered an unusual ambition.
Soon, I was being bombarded by terms like “growth hacking” and “lead generation”.We were going to build our website on a $250 template and “bootstrap” the build. We needed to “automate” our marketing, plus create all manner of social media interactions. Plus, we needed to create some webinars, podcasts, Slideshare material, sales slicks and a ton of product collateral from our non-existent product management.
Then there were the analyst relations, conference displays and hosted cocktail functions as well as entering product awards (and win!) and getting the CEO speaking gigs at only the big conferences. Oh, by the way – we don’t have any marketing budget and the intern assigned to me was fresh out of college. She immediately negotiated a 30% rise in salary.
It dawned on me that the keen observers of Silicon Valley had come to expect a no-budget, high-impact way to market a business. Out of this, had come a new approach. This approach was actually less about a marketing function and more about creating a hybrid of product and sales, with the marketing baked into the product.
I wondered if the wider world was experiencing this. Yes, in certain places outside the US (particularly London with the emergence of Silicon Roundabout) but largely, no.
Spin forward to now and marketing is fighting back. Is it too late?
As I heard about new companies (Air BnB for one) and new marketing mavens such as Ryan Holiday, marketing’s enfant terrible who made the famous American Apparel campaigns. I needed to learn not only a new language but a new approach, where budget wasn’t an issue, as no-one had any money. What would today’s CMO do today if his budget was cut to 10% of current spend? These new guys don’t think in terms of (big) budgets, they by-pass paid media out of necessity straight into earned media.
I had a baptism of fire on growth hacking and it’s this that I want to explore further as it’s the very foundation to the future of marketing – and the people in it.