From Listening to Launch: The Founder Journey

Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

There’s no school like entrepreneurship to drive home the big lessons. And sometimes that school challenges your beliefs.

What matters most: great product or great marketing and sales? When I was a VC, I argued for marketing. Now, as the CEO of Bizly for the past few years, my entire perspective has changed. And I’ll admit, I was wrong.

I used to have debates with other VCs, and I argued that great marketing can overcome anything, even a product that isn’t quite right. I had portfolio companies with stellar teams, and I was disappointed when they didn’t push the pedal on marketing or sales. I argued with co-investors, making the case that awesome partnership deals take time to put together, so kickstarting the effort early was essential, even before the product was ready for primetime.

The counterargument was, in the world of software, that the product is your “funnel.” And the problem with great marketing is that it will hide the leaks in that funnel, fooling you into believing the hype around your vanity metrics. Once the marketing boost fades away, this broken funnel comes to light, creating even more problems since lots of capital and important customer impressions have already washed through it.

To me, this was indeed a decent point, but I would reply that all the activity produced by great marketing would help you move past the first funnel and provide a short-cut to the inevitable next funnel. And our arguments would go further down the rabbit hole from there.

The reality is that your product is a reflection of everything you’ve learned, all the micro-decisions you’ve made, and most importantly, all the listening you’ve done to the voices of your team, customers, and suppliers. Marketing and sales can communicate those discoveries, but those clever words can never replace the hard work and tireless efforts of converting those discoveries into software. After all, you’re a software company, remember?

The product is indeed the cornerstone of a great software business. The reality is that you need marketing and sales, too. But it’s important to focus on what is most important. Most early-stage software startups are not (yet) in the game of creating successful long-term businesses where sales is vital. Early stage software startups are in the game of capital efficiency and experimentation: making the most of very little. They need to prove that their experiment can make $1 + $1 = $3 on very small amounts of capital. If they do this, they will then get the real capital to start building the real business on top of the successful experiment. These early-stage experiments are where you listen and create that value.

We’re really excited to launch the Bizly corporate platform today, September 12, 2017. It’s been a long journey of discovery and learning. We’ve listened to large enterprise customers, hundreds of their end users (admins and employees), hotels and restaurants around the country, our investors, and the brilliant insights of our team leaders. We’ve never stopped listening. In fact, we added the critical component of a meeting concierge to the platform just a couple weeks ago. As a result of our commitment to listening, we’ve built a product that we are confident is the most responsive meeting platform on the planet. And now we’re making the experiment available, for free, to anyone with a corporate email address. I’m anxious, I’m excited, but deep down, I know we’ll change the world.

Bizly is a platform for searching for and booking meetings and events at the best hotels, restaurants and activity venues. Browse here.