The common wisdom around the web is that everything about marketing – from the tactics to the ethos and beyond – is different when you’re working for a startup versus an enterprise company.
That’s why I was so happy to sit down recently with Todd Wilms, current VP of Marketing for MOVE Guides, for a chat about the differences between the two. Unlike many of the people weighing in on this subject, Todd’s actually worked for both types of companies – and the conclusions he’s drawn about the differences and similarities may surprise you.
Moving Into the Startup World
Todd comes from a long career in enterprise marketing, including stints with SAP, PayPal, and Peoplesoft, among others. I started our chat by asking what surprised him most about taking a position at MOVE Guides, a startup out of the UK with headquarters in San Francisco that recently closed its third round financing.
“I’d heard how different startup space was,” Todd shared. “But now that I’ve been in it, I have to say, there’s not that much of a difference. The pressures are still there. The lack of resources, the DIY aspect of marketing – of rolling up your sleeves and making it happen – is still there. You still have high pressure, you’re still trying to connect in to your audience – all of those things are universal. The offices may be a little different. You may have better coffee in one over the other.”
I asked Todd to expand more on the idea that enterprise companies experience some of the same pressures as their startup counterparts. While I get that everyone’s trying to do a lot with the resources they have, I think most of us would assume young, growing companies have a harder go of it than established firms.
As Todd explained, “It’s about scale and expectations. In enterprise, it’s about relevancy. The thing I always heard in the enterprise space was the threat of the ‘little guy’ who was quick and nimble, and who could build up and pass what you put in the marketplace. It was easy for competitors to swim up on you and steal your lunch. There was always this fight for perception. Being enterprise isn’t as cool as being a startup.”
So sure, startups may have to really agonize over grinding maximum ROI out of every dollar, but they do have advantages over their larger competitors in terms of their agility and cachet. Knowing that both types of companies experience similar challenges, I asked Todd to explain how his day-to-day tasks varied at each type of business.
The Day-to-Day: Startup vs. Enterprise
Todd said that some of the differences are simply due to scale. “You’ve got big expectations for both,” he explained. “When you’re at enterprise, you have this huge needle you have to move. The pressure’s on you to do that. Even though you’ve got more resources, you still have numbers you have to meet.”
Conversely, Todd stated, “On startup side, you don’t have all the resources and the number might not be as large, but the percentage and the scale of it is still relevant. You can’t make mistakes. You have so few resources, so little time and so little money that the pressure to do everything right – to make all the right moves – is huge. In the enterprise space, you have more flexibility and a higher tolerance for risk. You can make a few mistakes in the enterprise space that you can’t in startups.”
That said, one of the few differences he did highlight between the two types of organizations was the ability to work more hands-on with both his product and team. “One of the nice things about startups is you’re a little closer to the problem; a little closer to the solution,” he said. “There is a little more of a ‘roll up your sleeves, get it done, there’s no one else to pass the buck to’ mentality, but that’s really exciting because you’re closer to the action.”
What It Takes to Be a Successful Marketer
Knowing that he’s worked on both sides of the spectrum, I was curious to get Todd’s take on what you need to be a successful marketer in a startup, for an enterprise company or for both.
He started by sharing – again – that he sees success in both types of companies as coming down to the same factors: “I think the skillset and the DNA are similar for both. You want someone who’s customer-centric, customer-focused, and who understands what’s happening in the marketplace. You want someone who can take the discipline of marketing and see how it fits into the bigger picture.”
Todd also explained how he’s been focusing on this within his own career. “Marketers have more data, more insight, and more understanding on what’s happening in the marketplace in general than any other organization within the company,” he said. “Marketers in the past have been shy about coming in and leading the direction of a team or a corporation. Marketers have all this rich data, and they should be using that to drive the organization.”
As our conversation came to a close, Todd shot down one commonly-held misconception about the startup vs. enterprise debate: that big companies are bogged down by red tape, and that startups’ nimbleness gives them an inherent advantage.
“Just because a startup can go faster, doesn’t mean it should,” he noted. “Sometimes, if you’re too quick – doing that ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach – that’s just as damaging as doing nothing at all. The idea that you need to move quickly can be damaging.”
Learn from the checks and balances large companies have in place. Embrace the DIY nature of startup marketing. Combine both approaches with today’s rich data sources, and you have a recipe for marketing success – no matter what level of organization you’re working with.
How do your experiences compare? Whether you agree or disagree, leave me your thoughts on the “startup vs. enterprise” debate in the comments below: