9 Steps to Getting Your Start-up Up the Hill

Why U.K.-based TagMan is likely to make it big across the pond and across the Rockies.


Paul Cook, founder of TagMan, is under no delusions that it
will easy to replicate the success his company has enjoyed in the U.K. Launched in London in 2007, Cook and
friends were early proponents of “container tags,” bits of code that help
marketers identify the true source of sales from their online campaigns. After gaining over 100 clients in the
U.K. and Europe, TagMan set its sights on the U.S. in late 2010.


Explained an undaunted Cook, “A lot of [U.K. tech] companies
come here and don’t make it happen.” He likened his situation to the myth of Sisyphus, “you start
rolling the rock up the hill, it rolls back down but eventually [unlike
Sisyphus] you get to the top and it really starts rolling.” After an hour with Cook, it was clear to me that TagMan is well on its way, yielding these 9 steps to getting your
start-up up and over the hill.

1. Find a stellar co-climber

With two start-ups under his belt, Cook was no stranger to
the challenges of entrepreneurship when he first started TagMan back in 2007. He knew first and foremost he couldn’t
do it alone and credits “the commercial success of the company” to Jon Baron
his co-founder who didn’t join full-time until 2008. Explained Cook, “we built some good tech but tech is no good
without someone [like Jon] to bring it to market.” As General Manager, Jon is also responsible for strategic
planning and partnership development.


2. Look for the pivot

Before it was called TagMan, short for Tag Management
System, the company offered a broader platform for website optimization,
cross-selling and merchandising. After
realizing “there were a lot companies doing optimization,” Cook and his team
decided to focus exclusively on container tags, a bold pivot that paved the way
to dominate an emerging market.

3. Identify the cornerstones


Blessed with marquee clients in Europe, Cook knows his
company must also show that TagMan works in the US. Explained Cook, “you need a couple of good cornerstone
clients … They’re important because they provide social proof and can drive the
product locally.” To this
end, Cook reported, “we have secured a very big U.S. company in travel and a very
big U.S. company in retail, we just can’t announce their names yet.”

4. Take it one leap at a time

Few start-ups find extraordinary success in their first year
and TagMan is no different. Noted
Cook whose first two years were slow, “by the end of 2008 we had less than 10
clients, by the end of 2008 we had 25 and by the end of 2010 nearly 100.” Added Cook, “it just takes time to
build a solid proposition and get those references lined up so you can really
put your foot on the gas.” Acknowledging
a challenging climb ahead in the US, Cook cautioned, “The whole market is just
beginning here and there’s a whole education process.”


5. Do the big climbs

While delegating new territories to others is tempting,
there is nothing like moving the founders to convince a new market you’re
serious about it, especially when dealing with U.S. companies. Accordingly, Cook and co-founder Baron
moved across the pond this year.
“We’re fully committed to the U.S. market,” explained Cook, “that’s why
our presence here is not just a satellite office–we brought a full team.”

6. Map the terrain


Acknowledging the vast differences between the U.S. and the U.K.
markets, Cook and his compatriots conducted research to help guide their
efforts. Offered Cook, “We ran
surveys and found that there was a significant amount of money that could be
reclaimed or optimized [Via tags].”
This research then informed white papers, blogs and presentations, all
of which are helping to drive leads and establish the company as thought
leaders in the emerging container tag market here in the U.S.

7. Know your

A good climber is well aware of his strengths and
limitations. One of the more
impressive aspects of TagMan’s tag management system is that it calculates client
savings in real-time making its strengths and value to customers readily
apparent. “By helping clients with
precise attribution of the source of an online sale, TagMan can help eliminate
duplicate payments, saving clients upwards of 30% of their marketing dollars,”
reported co-founder Baron.


8. Blaze your own

As tempting as it might be to join the pack in climbing, it
is rarely a good thing for start-ups.
In the case of TagMan, Cook sees their independence as a source of
strength. “We have no vested
interest, we’re not trying to sell any marketing service company at the back of
this,” explained Cook. “We’re
purely providing independent tag management and attribution reporting,” added
Cook with a wink as he took a not so subtle jab at competitors like Google’s

9. Enjoy the climb


While the climb for Sisyphus was anything but fun,
entrepreneurs are well served by trying to make it so. A firm believer in creating a fun
company that good people want to join, Cook noted, “having a more fun and
approachable environment can also help get people talking about you.” To this end, Cook explained, “the quirkiest perk we offer is encouraging
and paying for employees to use floating,” an au courant approach to relaxation. Sounds like a nice break from the climb to me.

Final note: With clients like
Subaru, Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand singing their praises, it’s no
wonder that TagMan recently raised $2.25 million in Series A funding. I suspect
this will make the climb that much easier and further justify Cook’s faith that TagMan,
“should be very successful here.” For more of my interview with Paul Cook, visit TheDrewBlog.


About the author

Drew is the founder of Renegade, the NYC-based social media and marketing agency that helps inspired B2B and B2C clients cut through all the nonsense to deliver genuine business growth. A frequent speaker at ad industry events, Drew’s been a featured expert on ABC’s Nightline and CNBC