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Getting Product Right Is Imperative. But Don’t Diss Marketing!

October 20, 2012

For most New Market Entrepreneurs in the Tech space, it is religion that success is about building great product that both delights and solves real problems.  Until you do that, then nothing else matters.   That’s why most start-ups in their early days are staffed 100% with product-focused people.   But after version 1  is built, there seems to be a divergence of opinion.

Some will argue you never need anything else because good product will go viral and your users will become your sales and marketing minions… for free!  Others have the opinion that once the product is right and the concept is proven from a business model perspective– it’s time to fill the marketing tank with VC cash to fund the evangelization phase of the company’s development.  We’ve seen countless examples of both scenarios working great and also flaming out miserably.

But because we are Entrepreneurial Product and Marketing guys we think there’s an important yin/yang to this equation where both work hand-in hand.  We have shared our thoughts where great product has marketing built-in via intuitive social sharing features.  We have also echoed the important ideas of people like Steve Blank and others who passionately share the agile development philosophy that product and customer development is continuous:

For Product and Marketing-driven Entrepreneurs, there is inspiration:   The Secret Behind Pinterest’s Growth Was Marketing, Not Engineering, Says CEO Ben Silbermann

Pinterest, which CEO Ben Silbermann describes as a tool that helps people find inspiration, is now the third-largest source of referral traffic on the Internet.

But growth wasn’t easy for the company, Silbermann told a rapt audience at Y Combinator’s Startup School at Stanford University on Saturday.

The way Pinterest grew had little to do with Silicon Valley wisdom. It was about marketing — mostly grassroots marketing — not better algorithms.

In 2010, three months after Pinterest launched, the site had only 3,000 users. But some of them were active users, and those people loved the site — and both of those categories included Silbermann himself.

“Instead of changing the product, I thought maybe I could just find people like me,” he said.

So Pinterest started to have meet-ups at local boutiques, and to take fun pictures of people who attended them, and to engage with bloggers to do invitation campaigns like “Pin It Forward,” where bloggers got more invites to the site by spreading the world.

Silbermann said he realized the strategy might just be working when he heard people at a meetup having real conversations with each other about their creative projects, rather than the BS that might come from a superficial relationship on Twitter or Facebook.

“A lot of people in Silicon Valley didn’t get, and I don’t know if they still get, Pinterest,” Silbermann said. “The fact that it made sense to someone is what really mattered to me.”

Still, Silbermann added that he himself thought for a while that the secret to Pinterest’s growth woes would be finding some undiscovered Stanford grad student to build a better algorithm.

But ultimately, Pinterest didn’t need better engineering, said Silbermann. It needed better distribution.

Every month we find ourselves in similar product vs. marketing conversations with clients, consulting prospects as well as among ourselves over our own start-up projects.  In web tech, product and customer experience is indeed king.  However, we see time and time again that ‘distribution’ is no less than Prime Minister if not the wealthy benefactor funding the king.

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