Closing Time

Early Stage Startup? 11 Startup Marketing Initiatives to Help You Grow Faster

Can you package up the marketing needs of early-stage companies into 11 key initiatives?

Yes, you can if you are the ‘Marie Kondo’ of startup marketing.

Join this episode of Closing Time with Anna Furmanov, host of the Modern Startup Marketing podcast, as she details these 11 startup marketing initiatives that early-stage companies need right out of the gate to help them grow faster. 

Anna calls it MaaS – Marketing as a System – but we call it brilliant!

By systematizing marketing for startups, MaaS provides a structured approach that addresses the common challenges faced during the early stages of a business. It offers a comprehensive framework that ensures essential marketing elements are in place to support growth and success. Whether it’s branding, customer acquisition, or other crucial aspects, MaaS aims to provide a reliable foundation for startups to establish themselves and thrive in a competitive landscape.

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MaaS (Marketing as a System) Explained

MaaS, or Marketing as a System, is a concept that emerged from Anna’s experience working with early-stage startups. Through her engagements, Anna recognized a recurring pattern of needs among these startups. She distilled these needs into a list of 11 essential components (pictured below), which she calls the “must-haves for startup marketing.”

MaaS is perfect for companies that are revenue positive, with at least a few customers. At this point, the size of the startup typically ranges from around ten to 20 people, with a majority of them being engineers and developers focused on product development. While some startups may have a salesperson, it is not a mandatory role during this stage.

It’s important to note that the MaaS framework is not limited to small businesses but can also be implemented in larger companies. The applicability of MaaS is flexible and adaptable depending on the specific needs and circumstances of each company.

The Marketing Foundation Deck

The Marketing Foundation deck serves as a comprehensive guide that captures crucial aspects of the business, customer insights, and competitive analysis. It enables startups to establish a strong marketing foothold and ensures that their messaging is customer-centric, unique, and aligned with their target audience’s needs. 

To create the Marketing Foundation deck, Anna begins with voice-of-the-customer research. This research provides valuable insights that inform the content of the deck. The main points covered in the deck include:

1. Identifying the primary problem for the target buyer

2. Establishing the purpose and target audience of the business

3. Highlighting the unique benefits and features of the product

4. Conducting a competitive analysis to understand the market landscape

5. Defining the positioning, messaging, and relevant keywords.

Anna emphasizes the importance of incorporating feedback from super fan customers obtained through voice-of-the-customer research. By utilizing the language and insights directly from the customers themselves, the messaging becomes more authentic and resonant. This approach ensures that the messaging aligns with what is already appealing to the target audience.

Additionally, Anna finds it valuable to compare the feedback gathered from customers with the team’s perception of the product’s benefits. This comparison reveals any discrepancies and provides an objective view that can significantly impact the overall marketing strategy. By addressing these differences, the messaging can be refined and adjusted to better align with customer expectations and preferences.

Mood Boards

Mood boards allow startups to explore and define their brand’s visual identity, personality, and overall mood. By carefully curating the aesthetics and capturing the brand’s essence, startups can differentiate themselves in crowded markets, resonate with their target audience, and make a lasting impression that sets them apart from competitors. 

Mood boards go beyond the words and messaging used in marketing. They encapsulate the overall mood, colors, and personality that the brand wishes to convey. The options for mood boards are vast, ranging from light and playful to serious and professional. Collaborating with designers, either an existing team member or an external specialist, allows for the creation of captivating and distinctive visuals.

Research studies have shown that a significant majority of consumers, more than 90%, appreciate humor from the brands they engage with. Although not applicable to all industries, this insight emphasizes the importance of exploring different approaches during the mood board exercise. Unforeseen opportunities for promotion and marketing may arise from considering various creative directions.

Website Essentials

Within the MaaS framework, three elements directly pertain to a startup’s website: the homepage wireframe with copy, the homepage design, and the design for other website pages.

When working with seed-funded startups, Anna often finds that their existing website may be incomplete, lacking the necessary components for a comprehensive online presence. Therefore, she prioritizes the homepage as the starting point since it is the most visited page. The homepage is divided into two essential aspects: the wireframe and the copy. Anna begins by creating a wireframe using a Google Doc, mapping out the various sections and their arrangement. This includes the top navigation bar, header banner copy, main call-to-actions, testimonial sections, top benefits, how it works, features, additional testimonials, main call-to-action, and ways to stay in touch. By following a structured approach based on best practices and user expectations, startups can provide a seamless browsing experience.

Once the wireframe and copy are established, the homepage design phase begins. Anna collaborates with a designer to bring the Google Doc wireframe and copy to life. Through clear direction and visual cues, the designer incorporates the desired elements and aesthetics into the homepage design, ensuring it aligns with the brand’s messaging and resonates with the target audience. The homepage design typically receives more attention and refinement compared to other website pages.

In addition to the homepage, other crucial website pages are recommended for startups. These include a one-level deeper product page that dives into specific features, an about us page to establish the team’s story and values, a blog to share valuable content, and a contact us page for easy communication. While the specific pages may vary depending on the startup and industry, these foundational pages address key customer expectations and provide essential information to potential customers.

Ultimately, the goal is to simplify the user journey, enabling potential customers to quickly understand the startup’s offerings and determine if the product aligns with their needs. By focusing on these key website components, startups can establish a strong online presence and lay the foundation for successful marketing and customer acquisition.

GTM Strategy and Execution

The go-to-market strategy involves selecting the appropriate GTM motions that will guide the marketing plan. It’s a collaborative effort that requires alignment among various teams, including sales, marketing, customer success, and product.

In early-stage startups where resources are limited, and team members often wear multiple hats, it becomes even more crucial to integrate the GTM strategy across different functions. For instance, the product-focused founder might also handle sales and customer success responsibilities. While marketing takes the lead in top-of-funnel activities and channel prioritization, the strategy extends to nurturing prospects, implementing CRM systems for effective follow-up, and supporting the sales process.

The interconnection between marketing, sales, and customer success ensures a cohesive and revenue-driven approach. The marketing efforts should extend beyond blog posts and social media engagement to encompass the entire customer lifecycle. This includes nurturing leads, providing relevant content and case studies, and retaining existing customers. By integrating marketing with revenue-focused activities, startups maximize the impact of their marketing initiatives and contribute to the overall growth and success of the company.


If you’re in a startup, you feel like there are a hundred things you need to do as a marketer. My guest today says there are 11 that you should do first. Let’s talk about them in this episode of Closing Time. Thanks for tuning in to Closing Time the show for Go to Market Leaders. I’m Val Riley, head of content and digital at Insightly CRM. Today, I’m joined by Anna Furmanov off the self-described Marie Kondo of Startup Marketing and the host of the Modern. Startup Marketing Podcast. Welcome to the show, Anna. Thanks for having me. Great to be here. Awesome. Well, I love the Marie Kondo reference, by the way. It made it so clear as to what you offer, and it led us to inviting you to be on the show. Anna, you indicated that you wanted to kind of productize a list of items. It kind of reads like a formula to me. The must have’s for startup marketing. You call it MaaS, or marketing as a system. First, how did you narrow it down to these 11 things? Val, that is a great question. When I first started my business working with early stage startups, I was kind of more open to like,. What do you guys need? Then after working on multiple projects with the early stage startups, I realized they continue to need similar things over and over and over again. And so that’s how. I whittled it down to those 11 things because you can’t skip any of them. And it’s also like the biggest need for when you’re early stage. Got it. So just to clarify for the folks at home, we’re talking about the seed stage. So this could be a business that maybe is pre-revenue or maybe hasn’t yet met that 500 K mark. Does that sound right? And then can you also tell us, like how many hires a business might have at that point? The size of these seed startups that I usually work with can be anywhere from around ten people, mostly they’re engineers. Right? Developers are working on the product. There are product focused founders. There might be a salesperson, there might not be. It’s not a requirement. And so it’s around ten, 15, 20 people. Although I have worked with larger companies bringing the same system in that like around 80 people, it just really depends. But I would say for the most part, around 10, 15 people. Got it. Okay. So we’re going to go ahead and list all 11 on the screen here. And folks can go listen to your podcast if they want to learn about them all will provide that link. But I’d like to take a deep dive into just a few in the time that we have. So I want to go first to number two. It’s the Marketing Foundation deck. Can you talk us through that? Yes. So the marketing foundation deck is really the, it’s the core. It’s where everything sort of begins. It’s the jumping off point for all the other work that I do. I do start with voice of the customer research, and then from the learnings that I gain from that research, that all goes into the marketing foundation deck. And so the Marketing Foundation deck, it’s not a 40 page deck. I try to keep it to the main things that are really needed. So for example, these things are like, what’s the main problem for our target buyer? Why do we exist? Who are we for? What’s our main like, target buyer, buyer persona? What are we actually giving to them? What are the top benefits? Top unique benefits to the buyer? Because there might be other players in the space. So we want to make sure that we’re unique. What are the top unique features of our product? Doing a competitors analysis because we want to understand who else is out there. What are they talking about?. What do they look like? What are they saying? And then the positioning, messaging, and any relevant keywords that we should keep in mind. So across this deck, I also like to pull in like things that I heard from Voice of Customer Research. So I’m not just making assumptions. It’s not just words coming out of my mouth. It’s the stuff that’s coming out of their super fan customers, which is exactly what you want to use in your messaging. It’s the stuff that’s resonating already. So I like it for it to come directly from the people that I speak with and then something that I like to do as well is I like to compare, like after I do the voice of customer research and I talk to the buyers,. I talk to prospects, and I ask them like, what is this and what are the benefits of this product? I like to compare that to what did the team say that they think, you know, that they think are the benefits? And just see, it’s really interesting because I could see the difference and and that difference is really meaningful when you start spreading it across everywhere that you live online. So valuable. I’m so glad you added that extra part because about, you know, contrasting it with what the team is feeling. Because I just think that objective view that you’re bringing to the table is so, so valuable. I’m going to go ahead and skip to number five. It’s about mood boards. And I have used mood boards as a tactic in the past. Can you talk about how startups benefit from it? Because, you know, some people could blow this off as like the marketing team is making us be crafty and it is just really so much more than that. It’s way more than that. So this is where like the art and science of marketing comes together and we go through and we just talk through personality. We talk through like, what do we want to look and feel like the competitor research, right? That’s really important.. What does everyone else look like? And and so the the point is, we want to make sure that the mood of the website, what it looks like, what it feels like, is different. It stands out because it’s just usually I’m working with startups, they’re in a cluttered space. And if you’re going to blend in, it’s just going to be a lot harder for people to remember you. So this is a really important part. It’s not just the positioning, messaging, getting the words right. It’s also like, what, what, what’s the mood, what are the colors and what’s the personality? Are we going to be light, airy, playful, serious? And there are so many different ways to go. And so I work with my designer, typically, if they have a designer, we work together, but I also have a designer that I bring in and I’ve done that multiple times and it’s one of my favorite parts, actually. Yeah. We quote a research study and I can find the exact data point, but it indicated that like more than 80% of consumers want the brands that they buy from to be funny. And I don’t know that it doesn’t certainly fit in every industry, but I don’t know that most businesses realize that. So I think taking the time, the exercise of doing the mood board really can open up a lot of opportunities for you in promotion marketing that maybe you didn’t even foresee. That’s right. I mean, so my background is I did a lot of work with B2C, and B2C seems to just get it. They get it right away. They’re like, you know, we can’t add another mac and cheese on the shop unless we do it with some kind of personality, some kind of spin, some kind of cool marketing, cool design. Otherwise, it’s going to blend in because there are so many, Right? So B2B, I think there’s now maybe over the past like five, ten years, people are starting to realize like, oh my gosh, there you look around, there are a lot of players in the space and you’re going to blend in and they’re realizing that it’s actually pretty important to whether it is like, you know, your personality is more funnier, more serious, like you have to figure it out and you also don’t want to fake it. So what I like to do is like I joined the team as a fractional head of marketing and I get to know everybody on the team. And it’s important to know, like what’s natural, what is a natural personality of the team. So you’re not going to have to, like, make something up every time you put together some content, right? And that’s the same thing for the website. Well, let’s transition to the website because there are three items on your list of 11 that map directly to website. One is a homepage wireframe. A homepage design, and a design for other website pages. So again, in your tactical list, you say these are three super important things. Can you talk through the specifics of those? Yeah, the seed funded startups that I typically start working with, they might have like the home page that they put together. It’s pretty bare. I mean, it might be like worked through, but just the home page, maybe a couple other pages. Maybe they started a blog, maybe they have a contact us page, but they don’t have all of the required what I would say required pieces of a website so the home page we start working on first because that’s where most people visit. And so I broke it down into the wireframe and copy because like that is where it all begins. The structure starts there and I usually use a Google doc before I give it to my designer to work out the design from that Google doc. And so the homepage structure. I like to follow a structure that goes something like this. You’ve got your top navigation bar. What are those links going to be? You’ve got your top header banner copy, your image, main call to actions. You’ve got your testimonial section, top benefits, how it works. Top features, another testimonial section. You can include multiple here and then you’ve got your main call to action and other ways to stay in touch. And of course, your footer, which everybody can, you know, can navigate to if they’re looking for something else that’s not in the top navigation bar. So just looking at so many different websites and pulling out the bits and pieces that work well and that are just sort of like an expectation from your the buyer that’s jumping into a website and expecting to find certain things and expecting the structure to look a certain way.. You kind of want to make it easy. So that’s the structure I follow. And then that turns into the home page design and the Google doc copy comes to life. The designer then comes in and has some direction. I come up with, You know, maybe there’s an image that kind of looks like this for this sort of copy.. And the home page, We usually spend a lot more time than the other pages. The other pages usually, again, it depends on which startup I’m working with. Some of them like to include a pricing page, some of them don’t. Some of them want to focus on another landing page, but usually we have a one level deeper product page where you just go into the specifics of the features, you have an about us page because people are really want to get to know like, who are these people?. Why did they start this company? Why did they decide that they needed to build this? Like, what’s their story? The blog and then the Contact US page as well. So just I’m not looking for a product demo, I just want to contact you. I have something else I want to ask. So those are the pages that I usually recommend. I mean when you lay it out like that, it makes so much sense. And I think, you know, having that like a roadmap of sorts that you’re giving these companies is so valuable because you can get so distracted like, Oh, but we want to add that and but we wanted that at that. But you’re saying, hey, these are the expectations of the people that are visiting your site. So let’s make sure we meet these. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, again, you know, there are other there there definitely are nuances like there are companies that completely build their website. So different. Right. They’re trying to stand out even more. But from my perspective, you’re an early stage startup. You want to make it easy to understand who you’re for, what are you offering them? And just make it easy to figure out, like, what’s the benefit to me? What are the features of this product? Make it really easy. Then you remove that friction for people to understand if this is actually a product for them. Got it. So the last two on your list are big ones and it’s about go to market strategy and execution. I feel like the go to market, the phrase go to market has just it’s having a moment right now where folks are realizing that, gosh, in the old days when we had growth at all costs, it was okay for different teams to be in silos. But now sales, marketing, customer success, product, we’ve all got to be on the same page and we’ve got to have a strategy together. So is that kind of what you’re talking about here? And is it about picking the different go to market motions that maybe are going to guide the marketing plan? Absolutely. It is exactly what you said. It’s picking the go to market motions that are going to guide the marketing plan. I also agree with you, like go to market has to include other folks on the team. The thing is, with early stage start ups, you don’t have a lot of folks on the team, so a lot of people are kind of wearing a lot of hats right at the same time. So you’ve got your like product focused founder that’s also sales person, that’s also customer success, right? It’s all kind of together. What I do like to do, though, is when. I’m thinking about the marketing strategy. It’s not just marketing. I’m also thinking about like from a sales perspective. Okay, so marketing, yes, we’ll focus on top of funnel, we’ll prioritize our channels, but then how does that roll into nurturing the folks that come in and they’re now aware of who we are, right? How do we make sure that we nurture them? We have a CRM system in place. What happens, like when we’re reaching back out to them? We know that they’re interested. We know they perform certain actions. And then when we have customers, what do we do with them? So it does tie in to the sales process. It does tie into the customer success and retaining customers. And what do you do with your best customers and creating content, case studies, for example. I don’t believe in just okay, let’s talk about the blog post you’re going to do put them out on social media, visits to the website that’s top of funnel stuff, but it really does have to integrate back into the revenue for the company. Otherwise, why do marketing at all? Yeah, it’s almost like when you’re in that phase, you need to have those people wearing multiple hats say, okay, now let’s put on your sales hat and think about this. Oh, now let’s put on your product hat and think about this because they are fulfilling multiple roles. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, there’s no other way. When I worked full time as a head of marketing in a couple of start ups, there’s just no way that you can say, okay, I’m, I’m not wearing that hat I’m just going to focus here in my lane because there’s not enough people to do it right. So you have to figure out like just how to be strategic about and prioritization and focus is extremely important. And that’s also something that I bring to the startups that I work with is like, let’s whittle it down to the most important, impactful things. Prioritize because we know we’re going to wear multiple hats. We don’t have a lot of time anyways and do a really amazing job in just those areas. Got it. All right, well, we are out of time, but if you guys out there want Anna’s full list, head on over to the Modern Startup Marketing podcast and you can read all 11 points. Anna, thank you so much for joining us. I had a great time.. I love talking about this topic. So thank you, Val.. Thanks for having me. Fantastic. And for all of you tuning in, thank you for joining us. Remember, you want to like this video, subscribe to the channel and ring the bell for notifications so you don’t miss an episode. We’ll see you next week on Closing Time.

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