Indy AMA
Indianapolis Chapter of the American Marketing Association


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Ground-Up Marketing for Startup Entrepreneurs Recap

Written by Sally Cutler

Indy AMA invited the masterminds behind some of Indianapolis’ fastest-growing companies to share their insights on what it’s like to simultaneously cultivate a brand and a business—Ground-Up Marketing for Startup Entrepreneurs.

Panelists included Santiago Jaramillo, CEO and co-founder of Emplify powered by Bluebridge; Dan Hanrahan, who has played key roles at companies like Brooksource, iGoDigital, and ExactTarget and is president of his latest business, Sigstr; Jeff Gasior, president of Statwax; and Adrian France, co-founder and chief creative officer of the The Odyssey, an online community for honest content.

So, how do you know when you have the next great idea–or how to build and maintain your intended culture during startup and growth–when to begin investing dollars in marketing–and how to avoid pitfalls that may trip you up along the way?

Some key takeaways:

What you’re already doing may be ripe for adaptation for other customers. Santiago Jaramillo explained that as Bluebridge grew, they developed an app for internal employee engagement and wondered if perhaps other companies could use it. After doing a “listening tour” of human resource directors, they discovered engagement was a priority that wasn’t being measured, and a tool to improve culture didn’t necessarily exist. As such, the Bluebridge team carved out Emplify, sold Bluebridge, and invested the proceeds back into Emplify.

Quick Notes: Once you find an untapped need and find a tool that others can benefit from (and would pay money for) – take the leap, test it, improve it, and repeat.

Be prepared to ramp up your marketing strategy (and change it). As Jeff Gasior pointed out, in the beginning your company may be “new and flashy,” with plenty of referrals. Ultimately, though, you will need to start marketing yourself once the new-ness wears off. Be prepared to change your marketing strategy based on feedback.

Quick Notes: It’s not always about what your marketing strategy looks like today, but how it evolves to meet the needs of your company and your brand’s trajectory in the future.

Everyone is, or knows someone who could be, a possible customer. Adrian France believes in the power of meeting people face-to-face, making third-level connections, and showing passion for your company by sharing your story.

Quick Notes: Making a connection in person says more about your brand than a billboard or ad ever will; get out there!

Be self-aware, humble, and adaptable. When you’re on a high-growth trajectory, Dan Hanrahan shared, you’ve got to be mindful of it. Adapt to the change and reevaluate your goal and purpose. At the end of the day, enjoying where you are and what you’re doing is a key importance to being able to continue your success.

Quick Notes: Being nimble and prepared to evolve with your company is key to prolonged success. It also helps if you like what you’re doing :).

Be intentional about culture. This was a recurring theme. For Jaramillo and Emplify, being intentional about culture is about measuring employee engagement—asking, listening, taking action, and then doing it all over again. France stressed the value of Odyssey’s highly visible culture board and hiring employees based on culture fit first. For Hanrahan and Sigstr, it’s about remembering that employees are the brand and as marketers they need two important levers for success: a better product and better marketing. And Gasior believes in providing benefits that are truly of value to Statwax employees, not necessarily directly to the company—investing in employees and their well-being for the long haul.

Quick Notes: Employees will build your brand and eventually become your brand. Be intentional about who you bring on and invest in them – they’re your greatest asset.

Indianapolis is a great place for startupsTechpoint, a resource to accelerate and support Indiana’s tech community, has noted Indianapolis’ recent transition out of the shadows and into the light of top-tier national media outlets, such as Forbes who recognized Indy for its’ “unbeatable atmosphere, job growth and affordability,” saying, “Indianapolis is praised year after year for their below-average unemployment rate and strong projected employment growth rate, creating a favorable outlook for jobs in the city.” The panelists also noted that success begets success and Indy’s network of entrepreneurs and business leaders are helping to drive the startup engine. And while starting a company may be terrifying, it can also be freeing and worth the leap if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.