Harsh Lessons: What Printers Can Learn from Start-Ups

By: Sandy Hubbard 

There are lessons printers can learn from other people’s businesses…. especially when those businesses fail. Start-up companies are a good source of research because the timeline is short, the mistakes stand out, and the founders are often willing to talk about what went wrong.

I asked a group of founders that question for a research project. As a fan of The Social Network and the Steve Jobs biopics, I expected to hear stories of personality clashes, money quarrels, and power-hungry investors.

Instead, one word floated to the top almost 60 percent of the time: Marketing.

The founders I surveyed had five marketing areas that contributed to the company’s demise:

1) Insufficient or Non-Existent Marketing

Remember, these are companies that failed. So it’s no surprise that these founders admitted they did not view marketing as essential to their business success.

Instead, they believed their great idea — combined with money from investors and a passionate and motivated team — would be enough.

2) Lack of Market Testing

I was surprised that a founder could pour heart and soul into an idea that had never been tested in the marketplace. To spend so much money and time developing their business and then to discover there was no market fit… ouch! Not only did they fail to test the viability of their idea, but they also did not research their competitors’ strengths and advantages. Some founders suggested it was because they were idea people, not business experts and that their advisors and investors should have insisted on proper market research.

Either way, the market spoke, and it said “no thanks.”

3) Marketing Too Late or to the Wrong Audience

One founder who knew how to market successfully said he persisted in marketing to investors well after the preliminary funding phase. Because he was in constant fear of going broke, he marketed for money instead of marketing to buyers.

When it was time to roll out his idea, there was no awareness and no demand… and so his company just sputtered away until the money really did run out, just as he feared.

4) Having a Proper Marketing Program but Discontinuing It


Founders shared stories of having to cut marketing as an economic measure.

“You can’t eat marketing, and you can’t sleep on it,” said one founder who slept on couches and in his car as he tried to build his company.

Many noted, however, if given another chance, they would keep some kind of regular marketing program going and cut somewhere else — even if it meant hardship and inconvenience.

5) Trying to Control it all Themselves


Almost all the founders admitted they wanted to control every aspect of their new company. Ego stood in the way of exploring their marketing options.

“I didn’t think I needed expert advice,” said one founder. “I knew my company better than anyone
else, right?”

Another said he thought he would have more time to “learn marketing,” once the business was making money.

My heart was sad for these founders who worked so hard but missed such a key component of business success.

When I finished my research project on these founders, I gathered the comments and handed them to a friend who writes for the tech industry. “Please,” I said, “Help these people. I have my own people to help.”

And so now, my printing and marketing friends, what are the lessons we can glean? Be the kind of expert who could have saved these start-ups.

Don’t be afraid to reach out with some unsolicited advice or ideas on how they can improve what they’re doing. We never know how close our customers are to the end of the line. A dash of print marketing expertise could save the day for somebody’s business.

And that, my print-loving friends, is the best lesson we can gain from the marketing mistakes of start-ups!

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