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Start-up Marketing Lessons Learned from Cecil the Lion

Since it has been a while since my last entrepreneurial post, I thought I would blend three of my devotions (kids, work, and outdoors), and spout off a few nuggets of entrepreneurial marketing advice.

Advice for Marketing Your Start-up

Marketing your start-up can be scary, just like how this stuffed lion scared my then one-year old son.

What can we learn from the Cecil the Lion story to guide founders on how to market their start-up?

  1. Stay in Your Territory– Cecil the Lion was shot after wandering off protected habitat chasing a hunter’s bait. Many start-ups go out of business because they chase too many potential customer segments. Their founders boast about how lean and nimble they are, and how they are pivoting their start-up at a frenzied pace. Most successful entrepreneurs think deeply about who they are targeting, and they design their products with this specific audience in mind. For example, Matt Hall who created the 2015 App Store breakout hit Crossy Road said in an Unconsoleable podcast interview that he designed an earlier successful horse game with a specific young girl in mind he found in a photo with a pony. When someone suggested to Matt he should add an equestrian feature to his horse game, Matt was able to quickly shoot down this feature because he knew that this girl he was targeting wouldn’t want the equestrian features in her game. Crossy Road also has some great, user friendly monetization practices too.
  2. Be Resourceful When Going after High Probability Prey– Cecil the Lion did not follow his previous successful path when he chose to follow the hunter’s bait. Cecil lived to a mature age because he was successful at killing certain prey (probably antelope, or whatever). Cecil should have stuck with the prey that worked for him and avoided going after whatever flashed in front of him. In the start-up world, founders need to quickly assess which potential customers are closable and then be resourceful in targeting them versus constantly spraying random attempts at all kinds of customers. Usually involved in this process is finding good lists of qualified leads to go after. For example, a start-up friend of mine which is targeting local restaurants told me about some success he had had in getting Groupon sales reps to moonlight reselling his software. These Groupon sales reps already had many local relationships which he coveted, but he didn’t know how he could contact them. This founder looked into Zoominfo’s database and could quickly get contact info for all of the Groupon sales reps which he could market his reseller program to.
  3. Don’t Fall for Big Game Hunter Tricks– As your start-up starts to grow, a lot of “proven” sales managers will contact founders asking for a big salary based on their track record of success, usually at some other, much larger company. I’d highly advise against hiring these types to your start-up. Your initial hires should take a large salary decrease and be motivated by upside in commission and equity-based compensation. Don’t let these pre-madonna sales managers latch on to the lightening in a bottle you have without taking risk just because they have a nice looking resume.
  4. Don’t Believe Everything You Read until it is Verified– It was initially reported that Cecil’s brother lion Jericho was found killed by a hunter, then later retracted as it was then confirmed that Jericho was not Cecil’s brother at all nor was Jericho dead after all. Many blogs are quick to rush out stories about some major policy change which may impact your business. Often times there is some evidence to back up their initial post, but that doesn’t mean it is a wholesale policy change. For example, TechCrunch ran a story on how apps with a certain type of video ad format were getting banned. Over the days and weeks that followed, thousands of apps with this video ad format receive Apple’s approval without any issue. (Not that Apple doesn’t change its mind about what is acceptable, and what isn’t.)

Okay… okay. This whole notion of combining advice for marketing your start-up and Cecil the Lion is a joke. There is no relationship between the two topics but all this Cecil the Lion madness got to me. It is a lion people. Get over it. There are far bigger issues globally than a lion who is accidentally killed by a hunter. As for my specific views on this whole Cecil the Lion madness, the perspective I most agree with was written by a local hunter Dave Orrick here.


One Comment

  • Ben Walker

    Great point about knowing your targets. So many startups think the ‘spray and pray’ approach is the best way to build a following. You don’t need a million people to be successful.

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