VCs, start-ups & marketing: A Haje Jan Kamps Q&A

It is always nice to catch up and congratulate when an old friend takes on a new challenge — and hear a little about what they’ll do next. Haje Jan Kamps is the new VP Marketing for Bolt VC. Here’s a brief excerpt from our conversation…

What is the biggest marketing challenge for VCs?

Haje Jan Kamps

Ultimately, I think it’s the same challenge that you see in any other marketing role; it starts with the extremely basic — who are your customers and where do they get their information — and continues down a pretty obvious path: What can you do to inject yourself into the conversation at the right time, in order to be the first firm to see a particular deal.

Bolt invests at what we like to call the ‘concept stage’ — and to us, that means that we are usually the first money into a startup. We invest at what used to be called the ‘pre telephone stage’ — i.e. before a company even connects a phone line. They are in deep stealth; sometimes, they won’t even have incorporated yet. They certainly won’t have done press yet — so the question is; how do you find these deep stealth companies?

The answer is probably word of mouth, and so the most important part of VC marketing, in my mind, is the brand halo — how do people know to talk to you?

What is the biggest marketing challenge for the start-ups who want VC attention?

Actually, I think that part is pretty easy. For Bolt, you just send us a pitch deck on bolt.io/pitch. We read every incoming pitch, and we’ve made a number of investments in companies that pitched us cold via the website.

Other venture firms are big on ‘warm introductions,’ but personally I think that’s a terrible approach — VCs are inundated with emails and people pitching companies to them. You have to filter somehow, right? I get that — but at the same time, maybe it’s time to take a good hard look at the collateral damage VCs are inflicting in the process; it’s a topic I’m pretty passionate about — and ended up writing a separate post about: the tyrany of warm introductions.

If you could change one thing about the ecosystem — what would it be?

I wish there were better advisors that wouldn’t shy away from telling people not to do a company. I see so many incredibly smart people butting their heads against an immovable wall and trying to build startups because they think it would be glamorous to be a startup founder. The saying goes that “founders are the only people who will work 80 hour weeks to avoid working 40 hour weeks” — and there’s some truth in that.

The thing that really bothers me, though, is that more often than I’d like, I can look at a pitch deck and realize that a company doesn’t have a sparrow’s chance in a supernova — not because the people trying to get the startup off the ground are stupid, but because they are tackling a market that isn’t big enough, or are solving a problem that isn’t really a problem. Reading the Lean Startup is a great way to inoculate yourself to that sort of thing, as is getting some advice and do your research before you write a single line of code.

I think a lot of early-stage founders are talented coders but haven’t really thought about the place of their company in the wider world — that’s a problem. A great product with terrible marketing will fail. A mediocre product with fantastic marketing will probably eat their dessert.

About Haje Jan Kamps

Haje is the VP of Marketing at Bolt, a venture capital firm investing in concept-stage companies at the intersection of software and physical goods. You can find more of Haje’s evergreen advice to startups on medium.com/@Haje