If You Hear These, RUN, DON'T WALK!

Startup CEOs Say the Darndest Things....


I have had the opportunity to meet with a variety of high tech companies in the last few weeks, and I am amazed by some of the "wisdom" that comes from the mouths of CEOs in today’s day and age.  Here are a few of the "doozies" – if you hear similar things in your company, RUN, DON’T WALK to the exits!


"I know our website isn’t very clear, but customers who are looking for our kind of product will understand we mean."


"Let our competitors spend their money on marketing and awareness; we don’t need that because we have a better product."


"We don’t want to actively pursue customers or generate awareness, because that might antagonize our (one) reseller."


I told one CEO that I couldn’t figure out what his company’s product does from their web site; this was his response: "That is intentional. We ask our customers what they need, and then we tell them that that is exactly what our product does."


"We don’t talk to industry analysts, because we all know that the only way you can get a positive rating is to pay them."


"Marketing is expensive and the return is so small. I can get a lot more mileage by developing additional product features."


In a consolidating market where several competitors have already been bought up by large conglomerates, this is what one CEO had to say about investing in brand awareness. "It’s too soon to get the word out…maybe in a year or two, but not now.  I mean, what would I do if somebody actually responded to a campaign – I wouldn’t even have anyone to call them back."


When commenting on the company’s decision to return to a market that proved unsuccessful in the past, with the same offering, this is what one CEO had to say. "I know it doesn’t make much sense, but we have to try something different. We know what we are doing now isn’t working."


I asked a CEO of a brand new startup, to identify his customers. This was his response: "We don’t have any customers right now. We don’t have a budget to work with customers. We plan to build a product for 8 months, then look for additional funding to engage with customers."


One company had a very small competitor in Norway. They got a customer request from a company in Finland, which I thought was pretty lucky, consdering there was little outreach in that area.


Me: "That sounds like a great opportunity – I wonder how they heard about you."

CEO:  "Ignore them – I’ll bet it’s that company in Norway trying to get information about us."

Me: "How could that be? This a legitimate Finnish company; that company is in Norway."

CEO: "Norway, Finland….what’s the difference?"


"I know we lose money on each customer, but what we lose on each customer, we make up in volume." (Okay, I made that one up, but it doesn’t sound that different from the other silliness, does it?)




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  • David Lavenda

    Totally agree with John. I have heard the one about communicating with investors more than once. Unbelievable that otherwise intelligent people believe in the sizzle, even when there is clearly no steak.

  • John Hunter

    Great article.

    I would add (on the subject of internet analytics for a service start up company), "I don't care where the web hits for the site are coming from. Why does it matter that TX is interested and NY is not? We have to communicate our value to everyone." The CEO didn't even consider that the employees and PR in TX might be better than what NY was hearing and they might need to evaluate WHY their message was working in one market and not another.

    But my personal favorite has always been, "It doesn't matter that we are not a profit making company and we have no source of real revenue. If you can't get investors to understand our potential, then you are communicating what we do badly." This is the old sell the sizzle not the steak philosophy and it is the hallmark of poor management.

  • David Lavenda

    Lisa, unfortunately many young startup CEOs pay lip service to marketing, but as they agonize over every dollar they need to spend, most think that product positioning, messaging, etc. as things that are not that important. "Once the product is finished, we can figure that stuff out," is usually the reply. Until someone has either seen what proper marketing can do, or until they have been burned by a competitor who got it right, I find it impossible to break through. What eventually breaks through is either a failure to generate any market traction, an investor who "gets it," or a change in management.

    In way of reply, to these statements, I would say to the CEO....."thanks for the meeting. Call me when you get serious about marketing."

  • Lisa Sandbank

    I am interested in how the enlightened would respond to these statements. Employing a series of following questions could steer them toward discovering their mistake on their own, whereas a direct retort could be adversarial and embarassing--neither of which starts a relationship on good ground. David, what would you say to some of these ridiculous statements?

    Lisa Sandbank
    Director, Brotherlab