The first priority when starting a new firm is to build up the roster, hire the core team, establish the processes and get some reference campaigns. You can’t build a business by saying ‘no’. So you’re not too concerned about your ‘target client’.
But saying ‘yes’ all the time is dangerous. You have to be selective about which clients to take on. Beyond all the basic lead qualification, you need to build confidence and find what the team is uniquely good at. “Firms are defined as much as by what they say ‘no’ to, as by what they do,” a friend once told me. And he should know having built and sold three agencies.
The decision to work with tech startups was easy. You can’t beat the entrepreneurialism, energy, innovation and pace of working with early stage companies. Plus it’s a time when marketers can have a big impact on success.
Deep tech startups
Within startups though, one area we’re honing our skills with is deep tech firms, who I’m affectionately calling ‘Nerd Companies’. These are the database, big data analytics, container management, microservices, open source, devops, agile startups. Why? Because you need domain expertise, tech understanding, and they are hard to market. Not everyone ‘gets it’ (a phrase I rather hate but is applicable here) so competition is lighter yet demand is great.
There just aren’t many marketing agencies which can help deep tech startups. The Big PR model of having lots of junior staff means they don’t have the domain expertise or context for why some firms in this space are significant. That’s not a criticism, but their teams haven’t seen the sweep of technologies blossom and fade – why some succeed, while others falter. That’s important to all tech clients, but especially nerd companies.
At the same time, deep tech companies can have a huge impact on the IT sector, and broader verticals. We want to market companies which are making a difference. Not incremental 1-5x companies but the order of magnitude improvements. Those are the ones which enable new use cases, capabilities and behaviors. They might struggle with adoption (which is where we come in) but their customers are huge advocates, their staff work with passion and industry insiders respect them.
Saying a bigger yes
Having made the decision that ‘nerd companies’ are a key client target has helped us filter the opportunities we are getting. It makes it easier to say no to some prospects, so we can say a bigger yes to others. Or frankly, so we can just focus on doing a great job for the clients we have, rather than chasing every startup which looks in our direction.
When we started, I didn’t have a clear idea of our target clients. It was the right question at the wrong time. But now we have an answer in deep tech startups. They are by no means the only ones we are working with – but it’s a great foundation.
Morgan McLintic is the founder of Firebrand. With over 25 years’ experience in the tech sector, he advises clients about their marketing and PR strategy. Prior to Firebrand, he was the founder of digital communications agency, LEWIS in the US, growing it to 250 staff and $35m revenue.