The Top 10 Marketing & Communications Mistakes Startup Founders Make — and How to Avoid Them

Kelly Miller
Jul 18, 2019 · 4 min read

Startup founders, you are my superheroes. After braving a thunderstorm to come out and pack into WeWork for the Startup Right panel — I’m yet again reminded that nothing can stop you.

Startup Right: 10 Tips for Launching Your Venture with WeWork Labs at WeWork Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

Last night, Banner Public Affairs joined a crew of DC startup experts to discuss the most common mistakes founders make when building a company. My fellow panelists included Mike Ravenscroft of re:Founded, Max Moyer of TRIUMPH LAW and Zachary Giegel of GSP Financial + Advisory. Together, offered best practices from across the startup ecosystem: from branding to fundraising to protecting IP to customer acquisition. It was a lively discussion with an eclectic crowd of founders, startup employees and others in the DC tech world.

Me, perhaps suggesting that TikTok is *not* the answer to most DC-based startups’ marketing problems

We all agreed that we often see the same mistakes repeatedly, which is why we centered our conversation around how to avoid common pitfalls and course-correct before it’s too late — or too expensive to fix.

On the communications front, here’s what I identified as the top 10 marketing and communications mistakes startup founders make — and how to avoid them:

1. Branding as an afterthought

Brand creation is a delicate process that requires thoughtful coordination. Rushed execution can yield a brand that doesn’t emulate an organization’s mission or includes outdated or disconnected messaging and visuals that confuses audiences and belittles a brand’s legitimacy.

2. Making assumptions about your audience

If you don’t know who your customers and stakeholders are, it’s hard to know how to talk to them. Spending time to understand your audience, through administering surveys, browsing the publications they read and monitoring their conversations online can help you better address their pain points and “speak their language.”

3. Building in the dark

If you heads-down build a company while ignoring opportunities for networking with stakeholders or building up “buzz” and public momentum, it will be harder to gain traction for a launch.

4. Not talking to your customers

Never let user input stop guiding your iterations. Receiving this valuable data can take many forms, including surveys — but oftentimes, sitting down to chat is the best way to truly learn. Social media comments can also provide insightful feedback for your organization.

5. Striving for tech media coverage and ignoring your niche/vertical

Everyone wants to be covered in TechCrunch — but oftentimes, your users get their news from a variety of sources. Aligning the publication to the vertical will reach your niche audience more effectively. Health apps, for example, are more likely to have impactful reach by appearing in health-centric publications.

GSP’s Leah Terhune moderated the event

6. Not pitching before a launch

Start-ups are often not able to meet demand if their product becomes popular too quickly. A blessing and a curse, this issue can derail a new company from their potential — instead, tease your content to reporters before launch day so you can gauge the public interest and save yourself from this all-too-common pitfall

7. Ignoring the “founder story”

Even the driest products and organizations can have fascinating tidbits in its creation. While reporters may be tired of covering the story of another app, they might see something interesting in the people who built it. Additionally, the founder story can create a strong connection with your users, especially on social channels.

8. Diluting social media efforts

Start-ups will always have limited bandwidth for their social media presence— but some founders further limit their time by attempting to post on every channel they can think of. Determine which social media channel your audience uses the most and skip the ones that don’t make sense for your organization.

9. Lacking a central storytelling repository

Communication is happening everywhere — web copy, tweets, presentations, physical collateral. Keep track of all the different ways you discuss your brand. Use one “elevator speech” that answers the who, what, and why of your brand to ensure your messaging is in-synch with your mission.

10. Forgetting the “unique value proposition”

While funny taglines and sharp graphic design can be important tactics, if a brand loses sight of their core mission, they lose. At a fundamental level, your company should always be communicating the unique values or mission of your product.


Startup founders are some of the busiest people on the planet but still so many try to completely DIY a communications strategy. Often, folks then make these easily correctable mistakes and get frustrated with lack of traction. Your mistakes will cost you revenue and could compromise a core audience who believe in your product.

While it might not make sense for a cash-strapped startup to hire a flashy PR firm, outsourcing key elements of your branding and outreach will save you time and get you further. With this in mind, Banner created a Founders Menu — specially priced a la carte options for growing companies to build a sustainable infrastructure.

Reach out for more information on our special rates for early-stage ventures

Thanks again for joining last night, and let’s keep the conversation going — I’m here to help.

Women Make

Women Make is a community that supports women entrepreneurs…

Kelly Miller

Written by

Director, Banner Public Affairs. Advocating for underrepresented in tech and guiding communications efforts for busy founders.

Women Make

Women Make is a community that supports women entrepreneurs and put them at the forefront

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