Working with Startup Founders (a Q&A with Jason Brewer)

Preparing Startups To Scale (Q&A with Jason Brewer)

By Wednesday November 15th, 2017

Jason Brewer, CEO of Brolik, spends his time advising startup founders on brand positioning and go to market strategy. Here are his insights on working with founders and the common challenges they face when preparing to scale.

What’s your favorite aspect of working with startup brands?

The raw energy… the feeling the founders have that they can take over the world. I know it is a vulnerable position to be in, to put all your chips on the table and bet on yourself and start from nothing. I have a lot of respect for people who take the dive and my innate response is to help them however I can.

When you begin consulting early startups, what are some of the issues you run into?

The most common challenge I see with startups is a lack of clarity on their positioning and how to best communicate their value. Founders usually don’t know or admit this is a problem, because they are thinking about sales numbers and scaling quickly, and are drinking their own kool-aid. Pushing as hard as they can in every direction for 18 hours a day will not make up for poor positioning and messaging.

The founders must devote time to researching their audience and their ideal customer from the outside in, not through their own lens and biases. This is critical, yet so many startups sit isolated in a room and do not dedicate this time. They think they can build their business in a silo, but working in stealth mode is no good. Successful startups analyze and know their audience better than anyone, including their competitors, and can use this knowledge to find a niche in the market and take over market share quickly.

I remind founders that they need to keep an outside-in not inside-out mentality on their brand positioning and messaging. They must stay disciplined on keeping a customer first mindset, and avoiding their mission and vision from overwhelming the brand’s position and messaging in the market. I recently wrote an article on this exact topic:  Don’t Confuse Mission With Brand Positioning.

The most common challenge I see with startups is a lack of clarity on their positioning and how to best communicate their value.

When you sit down with a founder, what are some of the first questions you ask and why?

I ask them to explain a few things…

  • Explain your business model
  • Explain your vision for the company 6 months, 2 years, 5 years from now?
  • What’s holding you back from where you want to go?
  • Tell me everything you know about your ideal customer.
  • What problems are you solving for them?

I listen to how the founders respond and the language they use. I purposely avoid putting any of my own ideas or solutions on the table this early and try to listen and absorb as much as possible.

In essence, I’m trying to identify disconnects, problems, dangerous assumptions, so I can help them start to peeling away at them.

When a startup starts scaling rapidly, what new challenges present themselves?

We’re working with some fast scaling startups right now. One challenge we face is the rapidly changing (new) personnel that we are working with and managing/prioritizing the continuous flow of new ideas. As an early stage startup, they are also still actively figuring themselves out. They are usually exploring new campaign ideas and ways to express the value they offer, and the c-level team is usually very hands on in all creative brainstorming and marketing conversations (sometimes to a fault). With fast growing startups it’s about managing growth effectively and keep their marketing efforts organized, while not losing sight of the big picture. It’s easy for things to start spraying in every direction and for people to lose focus, especially after a big funding round. We help to keep things in sync.

What are the benefits of a startup partnering with an Agency?

Perspective. Agencies have experience with other brands in different industries. We also have relationships that can help an early startup develop. Sometimes that leads to a strategic hire or matchmaking them with a B2B client. It’s good to have a team you can depend on without taking on the overhead of building a marketing team of 10-15 employees in house.

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About the Author

Jason is co-founder and CEO of Brolik, a digital agency in Philadelphia. As an entrepreneur, Jason is passionate about helping other business owners navigate the complicated journey of owning a business and developing marketing strategies to grow their brand.
Follow @jaybrew on Twitter or connect with Jason on LinkedIn or Google+