10/30/2013— Kelsey Breseman
I had never done marketing before working for Technical Machine, but I stepped in to fill the role, mostly because everyone else had their hands full with technical development (and also didn’t want to do it).
I can’t claim absolute success, but things have gone better than I expected– and since it’s all new to me, the learning curve is huge. What I hope to present here are a few pieces of advice you might not have seen before. I hope you find them useful.
Know your product.
When I first joined Technical Machine, not much had been written down as far as company mission and value proposition. Tim, Jia, and Jon had a united vision that they’d talked about a lot, but it wasn’t enumerated in words. So in order to understand what I was selling, I had to ask a lot of questions.
What drove Technical Machine? It didn’t make sense to sell the product without the vision, or the vision without the people. So I started by researching and writing one-paragraph biographies of Tim, Jialiya, and Jon. Tim lives and breathes software. Jia cringes to see automatable tasks done by hand. Jon can keep his head above the daily development and see big futures down the road.
Next, I wrote a sort of statement of purpose. This was complicated; it’s hard to get someone else’s vision on paper, so I made some educated guesses– internet of things, Arduino-type thing for webdevs– and passed it back to the founders for a few rounds of corrections.
By the time I went through this whole process, I had a much better idea why Technical Machine mattered, and was able to start asking the more trivial questions: What differentiates Tessel from other microcontrollers? I had to know why before I could adequately explain and sell what. And since all of these writing-and-correcting processes occurred between all of us together, minor discrepancies in founders’ vision came to light, and we all finished the exercise with clearer understandings of exactly how we were presenting Technical Machine.
Be honest and open.
We’re open source hardware, open source software, and we’re also trying to be an open business: we’re reaching for transparency not just within the company, but also with our broader audience. This is partly because, as a company, we’d like to encourage other web developers to start hardware companies. It’s part of our core mission. Thus if we can use ourselves as an example, we can help other companies like us to learn and grow.
One surprisingly difficult facet of openness is to be honest within the culture of your company. For example, at Technical Machine, we’re just five 22-year-olds who like free food, jokes steeped in nerd culture, and spending time together. We’re working on Tessel because we really want it and think the world could use a better hardware prototyping experience. Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and try to sound distinguished and professional, but our best reactions come from just being ourselves and trying to openly connect with our users (albeit politely).
Connect with the people who impress you.
Fortunately, people are pretty easy to find online (especially web developers). I found lists of the people I thought would care most about our project, and I started to follow them on Twitter: the most active node.js authors, people who work at Github, etc. Because I hand-selected each of these people, they’re the ones who learned about Technical Machine first. And because we had designed for them, their excitement lent us a good introduction to the internet when they passed the word along.
You never know when you’ll suddenly be exposed to the public eye. With all my Twitter following, we accidentally launched a couple of weeks before we meant to. Although we had planned to launch with more detailed information and clearer design, we had a website up with the basic information and a big, obvious “join our mailing list” field. We panicked a bit to find ourselves at the top of HackerNews, but then we spun up a few more dynos on Heroku to manage the traffic, regularly backed up the flood of email addresses coming in through MongoDB, and by the end of two days, had a mailing list 10,000 strong to reach out to with our crowdfunding launch.
Put up your MVP of a website, and make sure of all the core functionalities in case people find it. You can perfect your design and finish filling out details later.
Connect with the people who support you.
Pay attention to everyone who has backed your crowdfunding campaign, joined your mailing list, followed you on Twitter. Certainly, it’s tedious to read through lists of thousands of people– but it pays off. We read through our lists regularly and reach out to interesting people. This is how we meet investors, get invited to conferences, and arrange tech talks at different companies. Your supporters are invaluable, and some of them are also well-connected.
Even easier, sometimes people email you. Talk to them! Start a discussion! Whenever we get a chance, we ask people how they want to use Tessel. This helps us make the product our customers want most.
Responding to every email and tweet is important. There are few faster ways to annoy a supporter than to ignore them; likewise, a clear, speedy, and thoughtful response can make a loyal supporter.
With that advice, how can I end this post any other way than by asking you to write? Please reach out to me: @selkeymoonbeam, or kelsey at technical.io.