My day at FounderFuel

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By Francis Moran.

FounderFuel participants enjoy a pizza lunch

When I first learned of FounderFuel, the Montreal-based accelerator program developed by the folks at Real Ventures, I asked if I could be part of their mentor program. I was pretty up front about what I was looking for; we had been writing a fair bit about accelerators and I wanted the chance to see the process from the inside even if, like sausages, you should never look too closely at how some things are made. Because Real Ventures focuses its investments on companies in web, mobile and digital media, none of which are really my sandbox, I didn’t think I’d be the most useful mentor they recruited so I was pretty chuffed when they let me in with the first cohort and delighted that they asked me back for the second. The truth is, many of the companies in the first and, now, especially the second cohort are working in areas where my experience has some relevance and I’ve enjoyed the work with these teams of young entrepreneurs.

I stepped up that contribution a bit yesterday when I put on a class looking at the basics involved in developing a marketing strategy. It was the shallowest of dives into the planning process as I tried to skim over in an hour what it usually takes me several weeks of work to bring a client through. Still, attendance at the session was pretty good, the questions were excellent, and it was only the necessity of catching my train home that obliged me to put a halt to the one-on-one consultations I had with several of the teams that could have gone on for some time.

I’ll write next week about how FounderFuel’s organisers think the program is going, what they learned from their first cohort, and why they have made the changes they have from the first to the second cohort. In the meantime, however, FounderFuel turned the tables on me and interviewed me last week. They asked a bunch of questions I don’t often take the time to deliberate so I thought it worthwhile to share their post here.

Day 17: Francis Moran unlocks the key to marketing

Today was another fun-filled day at FounderFuel. Francis Moran stopped by to talk to the teams about bringing their technology to market, giving great insight into refining your product, understanding it, and then how to market from there. He used the teams as examples, allowing them to step into his matrices and diagrams, which was of great value for all to see the other teams and themselves put into his frameworks. For lunch, BDO kindly treated us to pizza and everyone sat around to learn about cash management, taxes, the importance of finance (even/especially early on), and SR&ED, among other things.

Before Francis came in, I got the chance to ask him a few questions. Here’s what came of them:

First off, you’re a mentor in our accelerator program. Without naming any teams, how do you feel about our new cohort and how did Mentor Day go over for you?

This was my second Mentor Day and I enjoyed it even more than the first. The teams were, if possible, even sharper and more developed than those in the first cohort. It might just be my general sense but I thought there were more B2B companies in this cohort. Given that B2B is my focus, it made this cohort more interesting and it was easier for me to see how I could help some of them.

You focus on B2B technology companies and helping them with marketing strategies. What do you think is the most common marketing mistake B2B tech companies make in their marketing strategies?

The most common error is not having a strategy at all. Too many technology companies have a “Build it and they will come” attitude. This generally leads to not having a strategy, although it’s not the only cause.

What do you think the key to a successful marketing strategy is?

It begins with the customer; understand the customer and the rest is easy.

You’ve been in the industry for 30 years now. Naturally, there have been shifts in so many facets of the marketing industry. This has undoubtedly changed the key to a successful marketing strategy over the years. What’s changed and what’s stayed the same?

The fundamentals remain exactly the same. The options available for implementing a marketing program obviously have changed dramatically but successful companies 30 years ago built their business around the customer and successful companies today do the same.

What are the biggest shifts that you’ve seen in the technology marketing industry, and what do you think will be the biggest shifts to come in the next decade or so?.

It has never been easier for prospects to find out everything they need to know to make a purchase decision. Often, they can do this without once having to rely on marketing materials from their potential vendors. This has led to an amazing shift in the balance of power between buyer and seller. Paradoxically, the same forces mean it has never been easier for a company to enter into a conversation with the marketplace, replacing tired old one-way promotional efforts with a more authentic exchange of information.

New channels across which these conversations can take place are being created all the time. And, not being able to see over the horizon any better than the rest of you, I can’t predict what’s coming except to say that there will be many nexts.

One area that is going to gain a huge amount of attention, however, is neuro-marketing. We write a fair bit about this on our blog. We are gaining an ever-better understanding of exactly what the brain is doing whilst it processes information and makes choices. Functional MRI scanners can literally show us which areas of the brain are lighting up when we make a decision to buy something. You’ve gotta believe marketers are keenly interested in this.

What are some strategies that you’ve used to market technological companies in order to humanize them and make customers respond to them?

The most compelling example I can cite is a company we helped launch in 1997. (And that we still work with today.) It was bringing to market the world’s most advanced artificial hand. The technology itself would have made this an amazing story to tell. But the impact this new piece of technology had on the first patients to be fitted with it catapulted the story into the stratosphere. I’ve presented our case study on this product launch scores of times. Every time, I hear people gasp when I put up the pictures of the hand — they are absolutely amazing pictures and the hand looks like something out of “The Terminator.” But when I follow them with the pictures and stories of our first three patients, the room goes very quiet and the hair rises on the back of my neck. Every time. That’s what making it all about human element does.

There’s a misconception in the B2B realm that we’re marketing to other companies that are, by definition, faceless and without emotion. However, every company is made up of people, and every customer interaction is between people. It’s essential that we get to the human element just as swiftly as possible. No-one buys technology — or anything else — unless it delivers a valuable benefit to some human.

How has the reception of technological companies (by consumers, businesses) changed since you bought your first cell phone

Again, I think it’s much the same, at least from a marketing perspective. One of the core challenges of marketing technology is that we are usually trying to persuade customers to do something new, or to change the way they used to do something. And persuading human beings to change how they do things is devilishly difficult. Despite the greater profusion of technology in our lives today, I’m not sure that imperative has gotten any easier.

Who were some people that you looked up to when you were first getting started in the industry? And who do you look up to now?

I had some amazing mentors at almost every stage of my career beginning with my first-ever assignment editor, an almost cliche’ed model of the crusty old newspaperman except she was in her 30s and a woman. She taught me how to ask questions and how to write fast and clean; those two skills underpin most everything I do.

I don’t know that “look up to” is the right phrase but the people I most enjoy working with today are the really bright and committed younger folk I get to deal with both within my own company and within our client companies. I spend far more time than ought to be necessary refuting the contention that young people today are shiftless, attention-challenged and self-centred. I’m sure many are, as were many of every generation that came before. But I am inspired every day by the countless examples I encounter of young people who are anything but.

What kinds of things do you like to do in your free time?

Notes, notes, notes!

I love to travel and I love to live and eat like a local when I do, even when travelling on business. (I visited four continents last year.)

I’m a news junkie — I am a recovering journalist, after all — so I devour the best newspaper in Canada (it also happens to be one of the best in the world) from cover to cover every day. It’s a critical part of my world citizenship.

One of my very first ventures — photography — is an expensive hobby now. (There is no customer. See my answer to the next question!)

I enjoy skiing, golf, tennis, biking and a bunch of other things, most of which I do with far more enthusiasm than skill.

I have two sons aged 18 and 16, and a wife who also works in technology marketing, which makes for some very interesting conversations in our household.

We have an over-active three-year old Viszla named Pulitzer, a nod both to his Hungarian heritage and to the fact that I shall probably never win a real Pulitzer.

Any words of advice to the teams in our cohort?

Never stop asking, “Who is going to pay money to buy what I am building?” Without that, it’s not a business; it’s a hobby.

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