Pre-Seed Startups, Stop Investing Into Marketing

Stop Doing It, Unless You Like Leaky (and expensive) buckets!

I come across many startups in Phoenix that use Facebook ads to get their first users, or invest hundreds into a software like Hubspot to crank up marketing. Marketing is a necessary evil for many startups, but that evil should not exist in your pre-seed days, ever.

My Assumptions

I need to make some things clear here. I do have some assumptions about who is reading this blog article.

  1. You are a pre-seed startup who has some type of product, but is still looking for product market fit
  2. You have a few customers or a few hundred users, but it’s nothing to gawk at
  3. You’re a first-time founder, because anyone else ideally wouldn’t be investing in marketing this early!

What Is The Point Of Marketing?

I have been working with 500 Startups for the past few weeks helping them with their growth playbook for founders (It will be hosted here in a few weeks if you want to check it out). After spending so much time thinking about growth, it got me thinking about when startups should start investing into marketing.

Short answer = Invest in marketing after you’ve found Product Market Fit (PMF).

First of all, to talk about this topic, we have to define product fit. The original definition, coined by Marc Andreessen, noted the following:

Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” — Marc Andreessen

Good market means an existing market. Ideally, a big market. An example here would be the iPhone app developer market or the Jewish youth group market. An example of a nonexistent market (or very small) would be the underwater basket weaving community. If you develop a product for them, you’ll never find PMF because it isn’t a “good” market.

Secondly, if you built a product that is selling to that good market with ease, then you’ve found product market fit. The best kind of PMF spreads through word of mouth from you users or your customers. Ad’s are not a great way to tell if you’ve found PMF.

Now that we have that definition out of the way, we are assuming that you have not found PMF yet. So you have a product but no market to sell it to, or you have a market but no product to satisfy their needs.

Any startup who is pre-PMF should be heads down on product development and customer development. Why? The goal is to find PMF, and before that nothing else matters. Growth matters, but if you have a leaky bucket, that growth is being wasted. Additionally, if you haven’t found PMF yet, all resources should be allocated to that, not growth.

Marketing is fuel to the fire, but finding PMF is the spark you need to start the fire. A bunch of fuel on a pile of wood is just….some wet wood. Some people use marketing to give the illusion that a startup has found PMF. Here are some situations where that is true.

  1. Your main customer acquisition channels are paid advertising
  2. Your churn percentages are high for your industry
  3. Your current customers aren’t referring in other customers
  4. You aren’t experiencing organic growth

Are any of the above true? Maybe you’re paying attention to vanity metrics. Vanity metrics are metrics who make you fell like Superman, when in reality, you’re just Clark Kent

It’s in your best interest to find Product Market Fit before you do most other things, especially invest money to acquire more customers... Customer’s you’ll likely lose. Remember, PMF isn’t fueled by marketing. Marketing is fueled by PMF.

Don’t know if you’ve found PMF? These sources might help.