Yes, but what does your startup *do*?

I recently signed up for a hackathon. Part of the deal these days is that sponsors get to send promotional messages to the attendees. Fair enough. The only problem is, most of these messages are rubbish!

Here's the verbatim message I received - there were no links other than to Twitter. See if you can work out what this startup does...

Just a quick heads up to let you know that we'll be attending $conference 2017 – and we’re pretty excited about it! Hopefully you’ll be plugging in alongside us.

Interested in using our APIs? Great – you’ll just need an account. We’d recommend signing up earlier rather than later to make sure you’re set up in time for the mayhem.

Sign-up is simple and should only take about three minutes, but if you’ve got questions just get in touch on Twitter @StarlingDev or through the $conference Slack channel.

See you there!

From Team Starling

From this we can determine...

  1. Starling's sign up process is too long and complicated to easily do at a hackathon.
  2. They have an API.
  3. ...
  4. Err... Starling is a type of bird? Are they Twitter related?

Most startups live in a bubble. They live and breathe their brand. No one else does. Most people haven't heard of your disruptive attempt to shift the paradigm. Hell, even if you're a company like Facebook - most developers won't be intimately familiar with everything your API can offer.

Here's a better way to write a note to developers:

Just a quick heads up to let you know that Starling Bank will be attending $conference 2017. We're a financial institution with a difference - we provide a full set of banking APIs. Check balances, transfer money, manipulate Direct Debits - it's all there!

Interested in playing with our APIs? Great – sign up for an account. We recommend signing up before the hackathon as you will need to set up two-factor authentication and provide some ID (to help prevent fraud).

If you’ve got questions just get in touch on Twitter @StarlingDev or dive in to our developer documentation.

See you there!

From Team Starling

Now we know...

  1. What Starling does!
  2. Why it makes sense to sign up early.
  3. How to sign up.
  4. Where to find out more.

It's important to remember that no one cares about your startup! You can't assume every developer has read your press releases, or your CEO's wisdom on LinkedIn.

When I met Starling's developer relations team at the conference, I was impressed by how good they are. They knew their product intimately and were able to answer my esoteric questions about UK banking regulations. They deserve better promotional messages.

6 thoughts on “Yes, but what does your startup *do*?

  1. says:

    The issue isn't that marketers are taught to be ambiguous. It's that, as a tech company, it's difficult to find a marketer who can grasp your technology well enough to write about it unambiguously and accurately. So instead companies just settle for any marketer and give them a wordbank to use when writing emails, making landing pages, and attending events.

    Unfortunately this never turns out well. Even if the marketer uses the prescribed wording, it'll look like marketing BS to any engineer ("web scale," anyone?). If the marketer steers clear of any specifics, then... well, we get posts like this.
    The solution is to push your marketing team to understand your product well enough that they can talk about it with accurate specifics, at least to some extent. Or hire marketers who have some basic understanding of software.

    1. Sarah says:

      You don't need a marketer for something as simple as an intro. It can feel intimidating to start but be authentic in your communication and empathize with your audience.

  2. Necco C says:

    In regards to Greg's comment, I feel that this article is more about teaching startup founders without marketing experience how to set up an email, than it is about finding marketers who understand the technology. Basic marketing principles, regardless of the tech involved, explain the same thing as this blog -- Answer these questions: What does this thing do, why do I care, what is my call to action and where can I go to learn more.

  3. Stephen Inoue says:

    Well said!

    Same goes for Apps. Nothing worse than launching an old app on my phone and wondering why did I even download this? Make sure you apps home screen has more than just a login screen. Make sure it tells you something about what this app does or why I should care.

  4. Alex says:

    I think this is an issue endemic in tech and not just in email communications. In a previous role I used to meet a lot of startups, very few of them could articulate what they did and why it was valuable to me or my customers. I'd hoped that the rise of unconferences and the move to Ted type presentations might have started improving communication in our industry, but it's change is slow in coming.

    Perhaps it comes down to the fact that we don't teach engineers to communicate, don't reinforce good/poor examples at work and then wonder why people aren't great at it.

  5. says:

    Well put. Followup: I visited their Twitter account, and still don’t know what they do. Some kind of “platform”, I guess.

    (O.K., I know because I read the rest of your article. Still.)

    ((And now they’re going to brag to themselves, “See? By being obscure, we actually got people talking about us! We’re so smart!!! :-/ ))

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