Looking Back at My First Year at a Startup

The QASymphony team at our first user conference

Today I celebrate my one year anniversary at QASymphony. Time flies when you’re having fun. And it really has been fun. Challenging but fun.  Joining a startup was a big move for me.

Since I graduated college in the mid-90s, I had always worked for or with big enterprises. When I was an “adman”, my clients were P&G, GlaxoSmithKline and Volvo. Then when I went client-side, I worked for AutoTrader which was a $1 billion company and PGi which was a $550 million public company.

But, I was always lucky in my career that I didn’t have the traditional “big company-type” jobs. Ad agencies are very entrepreneurial environments even when you’re working with big corporate clients. And both of my client-side jobs often felt like I was working at a startup. Except I had pretty big budgets to play with.

And I was always happiest at work when I was building things. Whether it was a new marketing program or team, that’s what really got me excited about coming to work every day.

So, when this opportunity came up at QASymphony, I jumped at it. I walked away from a stable position at a big company where I managed a 25 person team to an early stage startup where I managed 2 people. But, I haven’t regretted it for one second. In fact, this has probably been one of the most exciting and fulfilling times in my entire career.

We’ve been able to accomplish some big things since I joined. I’ve been able to recruit some awesome marketers to the company — Reed Gusmus andGina Kawakek. We’ve built out a lead gen engine that is driving a good quantity of leads to our sales team. In fact, our SVP of Revenue, Jordan Rackie recently told me recently that his sales guys aren’t complaining anymore that there aren’t enough leads. I don’t think a sales leader has ever said that to me before.

We’ve rebuilt the entire QASymphony.com website. We vastly improved our SEO. Earlier this month, we held our first ever user conference — Quality Jam2016 with over 150 attendees. And most importantly we’ve helped increase revenue by over 100%. We packed a lot into the last 12 months, but of course we still have a long way to go.

Looking back, here are some of the key lessons learned from my first year at a startup.

1) You need a “people stack”

Today, everyone talks about the marketing stack or martech stack — all the fancy tech tools you need as a marketer. But if you if don’t have the right people around you, you will not be successful. Before you even think about technology, you need to get the right people on your team. You need a “People Stack”. That includes your agency network. As a marketer, there’s just too much to get done and you can’t go it alone. You need a team. And when you have the right team around you, there’s really nothing you can’t do.

The QASymphony team hard at work

2) Build a strong foundation

There are lots of shiny objects in marketing. But, if you’re not doing the basic things right, you will fail. When I arrived at QASymphony, I immediately noticed that the website was a problem. The bounce rate was high, SEO was poor and it was hard to make simple site updates without the help of a developer. In a software business, your website is often the first impression you will make with your prospect. It’s your “virtual sales rep”. Our website wasn’t making the right impression. So we rebuilt the site from scratch and the results have been impressive (big thanks to our friends atNarwhal for the great work on the site). Since launch, we’ve tripled our website traffic, cut our bounce rate in half and vastly improved our SEO performance. Without the strong foundation of our website, a lot of our other marketing programs and lead gen activities would not be as effective as they are.

3) Focus on what’s most important

When you’re at a startup, there’s always so much that you need to do, you can easily lose focus. But, you have to always remember, you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. You need to be strategic about the projects you take on. When I first started at QASymphony, I worked on a big project to rebrand the company. Looking back, this ended up being a mistake. It just took too much of my time and energy. And we didn’t really have a brand problem. The brand wasn’t preventing us from winning deals. We ended up not moving forward with the rebrand after six months of work. I would have been better off focusing on areas of weakness like lead gen efforts or sales enablement. That would have made a bigger impact to the company.

4) Show your work

For many people, marketing may seem like a black box. People see that we’re busy but they really don’t understand everything we’re doing. So it’s important that you are constantly sharing. Be totally transparent. At QASymphony, I started sending out a weekly update to the entire company with the latest marketing updates — articles, webinars, blog posts, collateral, awards, case studies, etc. The goal is to keep the entire company up-to-date on the good work we’re doing and make sure they are aware of the latest resources available. This has been especially valuable for the sales team, giving them a weekly goodie bag of content to share with prospects. You can see an example below.

The weekly marketing highlights email

5) Be the brand champion

As the marketing leader in a company, you are the person responsible for the promotion and protection of the brand. And you have to take that role seriously. If you aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid, no one will. I spend a lot of time promoting us on social media, trying to get us every industry award possible and even wearing our logo gear everywhere I go. And if some messes with our brand, I’m the first line of defense. When one of competitors was illegally using our trademarked name in PPC ads, I didn’t send them a cease and desist letter, I publicly shamed them on social media and it worked (see the image below). They didn’t try to that tactic again.

Calling out bad marketing practices by a competitor on Twitter

6) Spend wisely

One thing about working at a startup, budgets are limited. You can’t just spend money on everything you’d like to do. You have to focus your dollars in the areas where you can get the biggest return. We closely track where our best leads are coming from and we invest more in those tactics. I’ve found that having a smaller budget can be a very good thing. It forces you to be much more careful with every investment you make. That’s a lesson that a lot of marketers from big companies with big budgets should take to heart.

Year one with QASymphony is in the books. I want to thank the entire QASymphony family for making it great. I especially want to thank our CEODave Keil for taking a chance on “big company guy” and hiring me as CMO. I can’t wait to see what year two will bring.

About the Author:

Jeff Perkins is Chief Marketing Officer of QASymphony, a leading global provider of QA testing software for agile developers. Prior to QASymphony, Jeff spent 8 years in senior marketing and sales roles at PGi and AutoTrader.com. He started his career grinding it out in the NYC ad industry at Saatchi & Saatchi and Havas. His experiences range from traditional to digital, B2C to B2B, and agency-side to client-side. Jeff received his BA from American University and MBA from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. He is a frequent contributor to several marketing publications and a speaker at many industry events. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.

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