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Draft.dev CEO Karl Hughes on the importance of using experts in developer marketing

By Anna Heim

Developers can be a tough crowd. They typically hate being marketed to and are often short on time, which sets a particularly high bar for any content marketing aimed at them.

Coming up with relevant content that developers find interesting takes specific know-how, and this is where Draft.dev comes in. Its Chicago-based founder and CEO Karl Hughes describes the firm as “a superniche content marketing production company, producing technical content for companies that want to reach software engineers.”

Hughes and his agency were recommended multiple times in our growth marketer survey, which we launched to surface experts that startups can work with. (If you have your own recommendation, please fill out the survey!) One of the survey respondents noted that developers are underrated as a target audience: It may be niche, but it is a large one. More importantly, they are an audience a growing number of startups need to reach.

“If you are going to have subject matter experts write, you also need to have good editors to work with them.”

Developer marketing came up in our conversation with strategic marketing firm MKT1, so we called on Hughes to learn more. Our discussion covered a lot of ground, from what he has learned and his ambitions to Draft.dev’s process.

Editor’s note: The interview below has been edited for length and clarity:

What kind of clients does Draft.dev work with?

Karl Hughes: Almost all of our clients are developer tools companies. Mostly Series A- and Series B-funded, so they have got some funding and some knowledge that content marketing works for their audience. What they are trying to do with us is scale production and make sure that what they are writing is going to resonate with developers.

What inspired you to create Draft.dev?

I’ve been a software developer, and then most recently was a CTO at a startup in Chicago, so I knew that there were lots of companies trying to reach developers [ … ] and that a lot of them were doing a poor job of it. So last year I wanted to combine my tech knowledge with writing knowledge, and that’s where Draft.dev came from — and it’s been awesome!

We get to work both with technical and non-technical marketing and developer relations people to help them get more content out. And even though it’s marketing content, it’s super focused on education, because developer marketing is a bit tricky. Developers can be a bit skeptical of marketing, so you have to be nuanced in your approach. You have to be genuinely helpful, so we really try to focus on helpful content that is also a net positive for the client.

What are some mistakes that you see companies making when creating content for developers?

There are a couple of big challenges that Draft.dev is specifically built to solve: Relying too much on your own team to create content when they are busy and have other priorities, and thinking that you can just get your general copywriting agency to cover developer topics. It usually doesn’t work well.

Many companies start off getting their engineers to write content and make the mistake of thinking this will work forever. Let’s say you’re a continuous integration tool and you want to write content that shows developers how your tool works and that it’s a good option. Marketing teams will go to developers and say: “Hey, could you guys write a blog post?” And they’ll usually get a few blog posts here and there, but it’s really hard to build consistent content when these engineers are building the product and have production deadlines to hit.

When you look at companies that have done developer marketing really successfully, like Okta and DigitalOcean, you see that they have dedicated teams to produce this content. There’s a reason for that: It’s almost impossible to get your engineers to write everything that you need to produce high-quality and consistent content over time.

The other big mistake that I see companies making is thinking that a general marketing writer or SEO copywriter can write great content for developers. That is super rare. I mean, I’ve probably met two or three who can do a decent job of making it look like they know enough to speak with some authority. In general, you either want somebody — either at your company or otherwise — who knows the tool.

So for example, if I ask a general SEO copywriter, “Could you write about how to write a SQL query that does X, Y and Z?”, maybe they can hack some other articles together and come up with something, but it’s certainly not going to have the authority that a real software developer has.

This is true in any area where you have to rely on subject matter experts to help you with marketing content, but because my background is in development, I knew that this was a huge problem for companies.

How does Draft.dev address that?

We are definitely not right for every company. But for companies that are looking to scale-up content production and have technical authority behind those pieces, that’s where we come in. Typically, these are companies that know they want to do developer content, but are stretched too thin on their engineering team or they have tried freelancers and have a really hard time managing them and keeping quality consistent. So they come to us to do that.

We solve that problem with a huge pool of software developers who write for us on the side. Right now we have about 50 or 60 active monthly writers who are all software developers; they work full-time jobs and do this at night and on weekends. We bring people who are actually in the field, doing these things every day. They bring that technical expertise to the articles that we create for clients.

The mutually beneficial aspect here is that while we obviously pay these writers, they also get a byline out on the client’s site. We don’t do a lot of ghostwriting, which is a little unique, but is really good for our style of content because you want to show subject matter expertise. It’s preferable when you don’t have your head of marketing listed as the author of every piece of developer content. It’s nice to have a byline by a real software developer.

All of this goes back to what your content strategy is and who you want to reach. This is not blanket advice for everybody, but for companies trying to reach developers who are writing code every day, I think it’s super helpful to have some technical authority from people actually doing this.

How do you make sure your writers have subject matter expertise?

We have a writer vetting and selection process. Once we have vetted the writers who have applied, we also look for the best match for each article. We are looking through their skills and past experience to see who’d be the best fit.

We also recruit specific writers to write about niche topics. Sometimes that means doing cold outreach; sometimes it means going through our networks and figuring out who we know who’s written about Rust before. Things like that can be really tricky and time-consuming for a marketing team to do, but because we are doing this full time for lots of clients, we can spread that work around. It makes a lot of sense, and our clients like that we do this for them.

How to you balance your writers’ technical expertise versus writing skills?

That is tough! But there are some best practices in this field. If you are going to have subject matter experts write, you also need to have good editors to work with them.

There are two sides to how we get high-quality content from software engineers who may be average writers when they start, and are often ESL speakers. The upfront part is that we plan content pretty thoroughly. We go back and forth with the content to make sure we know what we are producing, and we also have technical content planners who make sure that each article has a story, an outline and lot of structure before we give it to a writer.

The writer fills in the technical details and personal experience, and then every piece will go through three rounds of edits to get it up to our standards: a technical review; a developmental edit for things like structure and flow, and a copy edit.

How do you split these tasks?

We’ve refined this process a lot since starting this [in May 2020]. Initially, it was just me and my managing editor Chris [Wolfgang] — she had a lot of experience in editing, so she could do full-stack editing, and I was focused on writing, picking writers, reviewing, etc. That’s how we divided things in the early days, but as we grew, we realized that we wouldn’t find an army of Chrises and Karls.

We had to figure out how to split these jobs into specialities where people can do their best work, and that’s how we managed to scale and keep quality high while growing at the pace we have. We now have five full-time people and we work with over 35 startups of various sizes, so we are still a small business, but it has been growing very quickly.

How do you get new clients?

Our biggest source of new business has been referrals. Clients who work with us love what we do and refer us to other people. We have also ended up working with companies going through accelerator programs like Y Combinator, so when new YC companies ask who does developer content, they hear about us. Besides us there’s probably just a couple of other companies that specialize in this. It’s a very small field so we get mentioned a lot.


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Growth has been so organic at the moment that I haven’t pursued a lot of active outreach strategies, but we are starting to get better at boosting this [organic growth]. One of the first hires I made this year was an account manager who’s helped with maintaining relationships with existing clients and getting things like testimonials, case studies, etc. Another thing is that when people see our content, they ask the company who did it, because companies that are selling developers tools really need a way to produce this kind of content, and there aren’t many providers.

How do you complement your clients’ own content production efforts?

Our two sweet spots are bigger companies that are looking to augment their in-house content team, because they have a hard time keeping developer content going, and really small teams that are building a tool specifically for software developers and need to get going with content production or ramp it up.

A lot of our clients will have something like a community writer program in addition to what we provide. For instance, we work with Strapi, which is an open-source tool that has a big community with community writers writing about how they use Strapi.

But then they use us to augment that content, because they want to be able to set some topics themselves. A lot of times, community contributions are good for whatever your community happens to be working on, but you can’t necessarily ask your community to write about X or Y.

The other challenge here is that with any developer-focused community writing program, you are going to need to spend a lot on editing. A lot of companies underestimate the work it is going to take. That’s where we come in: Instead of hiring all these different people you need and trying to build your own process, you can slot Draft.dev in there for a while. If some day you want to go hire your own team and replace us, that’s great — we’d love you to outgrow us. But ideally, we’d like to stick around and always be part of your developer content efforts.

Do you also do anything related to content distribution, such as writing the tweets that go with the articles?

We just started doing that; it’s our first big add-on service, where for each piece of content we’ll create social media collateral, like a couple of tweets, LinkedIn posts and Reddit submissions with the subreddits they would be most appropriate for. Then the client just has someone on their team copy-paste and schedule it with whatever system they want.

We also send a full promotional checklist they can use to promote the content, because one of the challenges I see with some of the smaller companies we work with is that they sometimes get lost when it comes to getting the content we produce in front of people. If you are not a developer, it’s hard to come up with copy about a technical piece. So by offering that collateral, we’re making it a bit easier. It’s been our first foray into this. We could expand into other things in the future, but that would probably be next year.

Unmuted founder Max van den Ingh on success beyond the metrics

By Miranda Halpern

There is no authoritative playbook for marketing these days. Every company must find its own voice, and as it grows and evolves, its marketing needs to evolve as well.

Relying on proven tactics and measurable metrics isn’t enough — today, the most effective marketers constantly study and learn from innovative approaches while exploring new avenues.

This is where Unmuted comes in. A growth marketing agency based in Amsterdam, this company focuses on LinkedIn marketing, content marketing, marketing automation and email marketing. Before starting Unmuted, Max van den Ingh was head of growth and product at MisterGreen, an electric vehicle leasing company, and he also served as head of growth marketing at ShopPop, a chat-based marketing platform.

Van den Ingh, who also serves as a guest lecturer at Nyenrode Business University, was recommended to TechCrunch through the TechCrunch Experts project. We’re currently on the lookout for top-tier growth marketers that you can recommend to other startups. If you know of one, let us know by filling out this quick survey.

Van den Ingh spoke with us about his “modern” approach to marketing, setting realistic goals, how startups had to shift during the pandemic and more.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You call Unmuted a “modern” growth marketing agency. What do you do that makes your approach to marketing modern?

The way we help our clients is fundamentally different from how most traditional marketing agencies operate. At Unmuted, our clients don’t come to us to have their ideas executed; they come to us for our process. In a way, we’ve productized a growth marketing process that generates ideas for our clients. They find immense value in that process.

Depending on the customer’s team size and resources, we either guide them during execution or execute autonomously and report back. This process-based service model is, in our opinion, the only way to grow a business in a sustainable way.

“The way we help our clients is fundamentally different from how most traditional marketing agencies operate. “

In a practical sense, this is what that process boils down to: We take all that we’ve learned from fast-growing companies and apply these principles to our clients’ businesses. Typically we focus on what we call “innovative companies” — whether that’s because they have a SaaS offering or they’re an innovator within a traditional industry doesn’t really matter. The process we’ve designed works for B2B startups, scaleups and SMBs. That last category can benefit greatly from the way we work.

Our role, then, is threefold: We come up with strategies that we carry out by experimenting with several proven marketing tactics based on our extensive in-house knowledge and experience. This relieves our clients’ marketing teams of potentially stifling tunnel vision.

Our growth program typically unfolds in three stages as well, which we call the Foundation, Acceleration and Transformation stages. In the Foundation stage, we set up the fundamentals based on an extensive audit of the client’s business, and start out with our initial experiments. In the Acceleration stage, we scale the experiments that have shown promising early results. Finally, in the Transformation stage, we teach our clients how to continue growing their business themselves. If necessary, we stick around in a consulting role.

Your work at MisterGreen helped it grow about 10x. How much can a client expect to grow when working with you? How do you help clients set realistic goals?

Setting goals is always a challenge, especially when it comes to marketing. Why should you aim for a certain number? Why not aim higher, or lower, for that matter? At Unmuted, when we start working with a new client, we perform a series of exercises together. This helps us get a clear picture of where the client is now and where they could be when we’ve optimized marketing.

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Next, instead of fixed numbers, like a specific amount of new customers in a given period, we focus on growth levers, like month-over-month growth in certain conversion or activation areas. Focusing on growth levers makes our work more actionable.

We then construct a framework as part of our growth program that also allows room for certain beliefs a company has. I feel this “belief system” is truly essential to any growth marketing strategy. If you don’t allow room for gut feeling activities and only focus on data-driven projects, you will end up only working on things you can measure. We believe that growth marketing will become more effective when you also invest time and effort in channels and spaces you can’t necessarily measure.

When people talk about your solution on WhatsApp or during podcast episodes, that’s amazing and will effectively influence revenue, but sometimes there’s just no way to track these activities.

Finally, we don’t make any guarantees when it comes to growth results. That’s not how it works. We’ll always aim to maximize results as part of the process. Diligent focus on continuous improvement and optimization comes first. Results will automatically follow afterward.

For instance, we recently helped a B2B SaaS platform increase demo requests by 350%. But this wasn’t the goal at all. The process we were following was focused on optimizing every aspect of the demo request journey, from acquiring visitors to optimizing the demo page and more. Every experiment we ran increased the demo request metric to some extent. After six months, you start seeing these compounded results.

You were also the head of growth at ShopPop. How did that experience shape the way you help your clients?

Working for a fast-growing B2B SaaS company with a self-serve product taught me quite a few things. For starters, the importance of getting a really clear understanding of what sustainable growth looks like. Especially in growth marketing, there are a lot of things you can do to gain short-term results. But this doesn’t necessarily help, because you might be acquiring customers that you lose in the long run.

For example, running aggressive advertising campaigns in the early stages to acquire new users in sectors that you know won’t benefit considerably from your product. This type of superficial growth will come back in the form of churn sooner rather than later, and simply isn’t sustainable.

At Unmuted, when we start working with a new client, we put a lot of time and effort into understanding their best type of customers, what their problems are, and why that’s the case. Only then do we start looking at how to solve those problems with our client’s products or services.

You’re a guest lecturer at Nyenrode Business University and do speaking engagements as well. What do you hope people take away from your talks?

When I stand in front of a crowd during a speaking engagement, I always share stories about times where I took a pragmatic approach and did things differently. Growth can come in different shapes and forms, and although it often seems simple, it’s never easy. People, and especially management, have to understand that growth takes time and that you need failures to learn.

You need to have conversations to be able to learn and iterate. It’s better to have the wrong type of conversations than not having any at all. Without feedback, there’s no way to grow. And while an eagerness to learn comes naturally to most marketers, this isn’t necessarily the case for your average business person. If I can inspire audiences with my approach to growing by learning, I think that’s a great takeaway.

How have you seen startups change during the pandemic?

A lot of startups have been forced to change their approaches during the pandemic. Some have adapted successfully, while others are now stuck. I experienced it personally when I was still working at ShopPop, where we were focused on the music industry when the pandemic hit.

Music industry clients weren’t buying, for obvious reasons, so we had to pivot somehow. We ended up moving into e-commerce, which was, and still is, booming.

As the pandemic continues, what trends are you seeing in growth marketing?

The biggest trend I’m currently seeing is in the role marketing departments play. These have never been as important as they are now. Digital marketers, especially, are often the ones that come up with new ideas as to how a company can grow online. Nobody will know how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out, but in the meantime, every company is trying to adapt and find new ways to connect with their customers in unique, meaningful ways.

Logically, we’re seeing a surge in demand for online events like webinars and virtual summits. But everybody is doing those. So where can you carve out your own thing that becomes recognizable for your brand? Discovering these new channels and approaches — I think that should be the role of marketing.

How have you seen the startup market develop while working in growth?

The development of the startup market has been most noticeable in how new standards are being set. For example, startups have always been characterized as fast movers, but remote working and the rise of highly collaborative tools have further increased the speed at which startups operate. The whole industry transformed from speedboats into rocket ships. Talent became much more accessible, and through that internal cultures became more diverse and more resilient.

You can always depend on startups adopting new ways of working early on. They need to differentiate in order to survive, and a novel approach can be the one thing that makes them stand out from the crowd.

You have to understand that working at a startup often feels like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. And that’s also the moment you’re at your most creative. I think this is also how growth marketing as a whole came about. In competitive markets, people have to fight for their right to exist. Marketing is often a way to radically differentiate. When people become really good at that, set new standards and raise the bar, the market develops as a whole.

What do startups continue to get wrong?

It’s been said many times before, but even today, most startups don’t learn quickly and deeply enough. Founders often have an amazing idea and vision of how things will play out. But how much field experience does this person really have? Enough to be able to foresee the future?

Usually, for startups, short-term growth goes well — they get some initial traction from their network, but then the next phase kicks in. Especially when there’s an investment involved, putting more pressure on the commercial side of things, this next phase will mean encountering a lot of hurdles.

When a company doesn’t find a strong enough product-market fit and doesn’t apply what its learned early on, things will get extremely tough. In this phase, a lot of research and experimentation is necessary. If the founding team isn’t up for this and they put their heads in the sand, the startup will deteriorate quickly.

On the other side: What are startups doing better now than ever before?

The best thing a startup can do, and I’m seeing it happen more and more, is investing in community early on. When I was leading growth at MisterGreen, we created a community for the first thousand Tesla Model 3 owners in the Netherlands. Everyone wanted to be a part of this founding tribe, learn from each other, get insights and so on.

This group turned out to be our most effective marketing tool. Word-of-mouth went through the roof. We had all of these people talking about our community at birthday parties, in their office, you name it. This is a great example of investing in marketing you can’t really measure, but which you do strongly believe in.

Dear Sophie: Should we sponsor international hires for H-1B transfers and green cards? 

By Ram Iyer
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

My startup is desperately recruiting, and we see a lot of engineering candidates on H-1Bs. They’re looking for H-1B transfers and green cards. What should we do?

— Baffled in the Bay Area

Dear Baffled,

Yes, you should absolutely sponsor international talent for green cards! Listen to my podcast in which I discuss how to hire international professionals who are already in the United States by transferring their H-1B visa and using green cards as a benefit to attract and retain them.

The severe shortage of tech talent currently in the U.S. is prompting professionals to negotiate better compensation packages, and companies are increasingly using green card sponsorship as a benefit to attract and retain international talent.

Green card sponsorship as a benefit

Companies need to offer green card sponsorship to remain competitive. In fact, Envoy’s 2021 Immigration Trends Report found that 74% of employers said they have sponsored an individual for permanent residence (a green card), which is the highest percentage in the six years Envoy has asked this question in its annual survey. Rather than waiting until the last possible moment to sponsor an H-1B visa holder for a green card, 58% of employers say they are starting the process with the employee’s first year at the company on an H-1B visa. Most employers — 96% — said that sourcing international talent is important to their company’s talent acquisition strategy.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Sponsoring international talent for a green card is a way for companies to show they invest in and prioritize their employees and are willing to make a long-term commitment to a prospective employee. Employers can further distinguish themselves by offering to cover expenses for green card applications for a spouse and children, as well as a work permit application for a spouse.

Employers should also consider paying for an employee’s marriage-based green card as a third-party payor, particularly since marriage-based green cards take about one-third of the time and one-third of the investment compared to employment-based green cards. What’s more, most marriage-based green cards are not subject to annual quotas.

H-1B transfers are most common right now

Because most U.S. embassies and consulates abroad remain closed for routine visa processing due to COVID-19, most employers are hiring international talent who are already in the United States on an H-1B sponsored by another employer. In these situations, an employer must file for an H-1B transfer for the prospective employee. Take a look at a previous Dear Sophie column for more details on the H-1B transfer process.

The questions that employers ask me most often about the H-1B transfer process include:

The MKT1 interview: Growth marketing in 2021, hiring versus outsourcing and more

By Miranda Halpern

Emily Kramer and Kathleen Estreich are the founders of of MKT1, a strategic marketing firm that does much more than just marketing. As we mentioned the last time we spoke with the company, it offers a plethora of services ranging from marketing consulting and organizing recruiting and mentoring workshops to angel syndicate investing.

The two founders took to Twitter Spaces on July 20 with TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton to talk about about the growth marketing industry. They offered some new perspectives, like thinking of growth marketing as an engine and other subdivisions of marketing that make up growth marketing, as the fuel.

After talking about what they were seeing in marketing, we opened the floor for a Q&A session that founders took advantage of to ask how to know when to hire a marketer and when is it good to outsource.

Below is an excerpt from the Twitter Spaces event, edited for length and clarity.

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What is growth marketing?

Emily Kramer: I think the easiest way to think about it is: Marketing consists of the fuel and an engine. Growth marketing is the engine and content marketing, product marketing, comms, events — all of that are your fuel. It’s building that engine: Everything from building marketing ops and making sure that you’re tracking and can get everything out the door, to what you’re doing with email, ads, SEO and on your website. All of these things that are used to drive your audience throughout your funnel.

“Marketing consists of the fuel and an engine. Growth marketing is the engine and content marketing, product marketing, comms, events — all of that are your fuel.”

It’s not just getting someone to sign up or getting someone to be a qualified lead to pass over to sales. It’s also supporting the customer success team and the product team. Anything that is communicating with your audience in a one-to-many way is how I think about the marketing function. Specifically growth marketing in general — it’s a full funnel, it’s the engine, and it’s ever changing.

We in marketing have 5,000 names for everything, including growth marketing. You’ll often hear in top-down sales organizations it is called demand gen, but I really think of demand gen as a subset of growth marketing focused specifically on driving leads to sales. That’s kind of what it is and how I define it. Every marketer you talk to would define it a little bit differently.

What does the landscape of growth marketing look like in 2021? What are you seeing in summer 2021?

Kramer: We’re seeing two major shifts. One is thinking about how community is a part of this, or at least throwing around the word “community” for things that have always been done. “Community-led growth” is obviously a big buzzword; that’s basically getting people in conversation to drive growth. The phrase “product-led growth” is another, and that is really just another way to describe self-serve.

Having growth marketers who can collaborate with product growth roles and product growth teams and having one centralized team has been a trend over the past 10 years. But now the term product-led growth is what we use for all of that. Marketers love to rebrand even their own functions.

Kathleen Estreich: A lot of companies are starting to think about growth marketing earlier. We’re seeing a lot of companies thinking about hiring their first marketer. It used to be you’d hire at Series A, but because all the funding rounds are sort of being moved up a level, a lot of seed-stage companies are thinking about growth earlier.

The skill sets of growth marketers are in high demand. They always have been, but it feels pretty acute right now. Given that a lot of the companies are raising money earlier and starting to try and build that traction faster to grow into the valuations, we’re starting to see a huge need. Pretty much every company we talked to is wanting to hire and thinking about growth levers they should be using earlier.

Where is there an oversupply of folks? Where is there an undersupply? Where’s the demand today? What’s underutilized today?

Estreich: In general, marketers are in pretty high demand. Product marketing in particular has been pretty interesting. We’re seeing a lot of folks in product marketing roles, because typically, the first marketer at a startup is someone who has product marketing experience and there are many companies being started and they’re looking for product marketers. And finding someone who has the experience in product marketing, who’s not just coming from a big company.

I think product marketing at a larger organization, you’re very much tied to a product line; you’re doing just product marketing. But at an early-stage company, you’re not doing just product marketing; you also need someone who understands distribution. So we encourage a lot of companies to hire someone that is what we call a pi-shaped marketer: Someone who has depth and competence in two areas of marketing.

Usually it’s product marketing and growth marketing, and finding that person is really challenging in a normal market. I would say in this market in particular, it’s a pretty tough role to fill. But if you can find the right person, you might have to make some trade-offs on either the level or the experience that you’re bringing someone in. But if you can find a person who has competence in product and growth marketing, I think that’s someone a lot of companies can benefit from in the early days of building their marketing teams.

Kramer: I’ve had a couple of startups that I’ve talked to, even in recent weeks, and I’ve heard, “Oh, our first marketer is going to be a community marketer.” That role is evolving and changing a lot. Back when I started doing startup marketing, about 10 years ago, community really meant social media, and it doesn’t mean that at all anymore. So finding people that have had that exact role before is really difficult.

In some cases, when people say community marketing, they mean they’ve done a lot of content, virtual events or customer success. I think when people post that role, it’s kind of like square peg, round hole or not knowing if it’s square peg, round hole. I sometimes see this mismatch on roles that are posted and the talent that is actually available.

I think my advice to marketers based on that is: Really read the job description, and maybe the title — does it match exactly what you’ve done, or does the title even match what you think you should be doing? Maybe there’s an opportunity there to kind of educate on what you can do and also educate on how to define roles in really early-stage companies.

When is a good time to start working with a growth marketer?

Estreich: A question we hear quite often is, “When do I know is the right time to hire my first marketer?” One of the things that Emily and I often tell founders is, the founding team is the first marketing team. You’re doing a lot of the early messaging and positioning. Usually kind of the early vision — that’s probably how you raised money. I think the way to think about it is to take a step back and ask, “Okay, what are the needs? What are the things that we’re trying to get done?” And thinking about product-market fit.

I think a product marketer, growth marketer or pi-shaped marketer is generally the first person that you would bring on. You want to make sure before you bring your first marketer that you actually have a product that’s ready to go to market. And if not, then it’s probably worth waiting until you have the product out there with some semblance of a handful of customers. Once you have that, then it might be time to start thinking about who that first marketer is.

I think the first marketer then is usually some combination of a product marketer with growth experience or a growth marketer with product marketing experience. Someone who, like Emily said at the beginning of the call, has experience with your business model and is ready to roll up their sleeves, because the first marketing job when you’re an early-stage company involves wearing a lot of hats, testing a lot of hypotheses and doing a lot of the work.

So you want to make sure that you don’t hire someone too senior who is not going to want to do the work. They’re just going to want to hire a team, which you’re probably not ready for. You also want to make sure they’re not too junior and they don’t even know what to do yet. Finding that balance, a midlevel person, is also going to be important.

Kramer: You mentioned that a product marketer can help you find the right niche to focus on. I think you should have some customers and a starting place. A better way to describe product marketers is actually audience marketers — they are figuring out how to communicate what you do to a specific audience. You probably have some idea, but they’re going to help you continue to explore within your team, like, “Should we expand to other audiences? Should we stay within this niche? What do those different audiences need? Are we talking to customers? What are they saying?”

They are responsible for knowing everything about your audience and also helping you grow into and test new audiences. That’s a huge part of the product marketing role. But again, it can be really risky to bring that person on too early at the sacrifice of building product and getting things out the door.

Is MKT1 seeing any trends with B2B and growth-stage businesses around the balance between hiring FTEs and outsourcing certain marketing functions?

Kramer: Early on, I think founders think, “I don’t need to hire a marketer. I’m spending so much time on marketing, but I don’t need to hire a marketer, or I’ll just hire a contractor or agency for content. I’ll hire a contractor or agency for paid or for SEM or even for SEO.” Then you end up with all of these contractors. But contractors, even the best of contractors, are only good when they have a contact or someone to help them review things, and when they have clear instructions on what they need to do. Because you’re working with so many clients, you can’t get up to speed on all of that quickly.

The management overhead of a contractor agency is sometimes just as much as doing the work yourself, especially if you are not experienced in that area, because of all the back and forth. Many times, marketing is more iterative than some other areas of the business where you can hand over some things, especially when it comes to the creative aspects, because you’re figuring out what your brand is. There’s just going to be a lot of back and forth.

I think there are a couple of areas where agencies and contractors are better to hire. One of those areas is paid searches. You won’t need to hire an SEM specialist for a while. And it is definitely a specialty; it is a unique beast and kind of changes a lot, what’s working and what’s not. Having someone who understands how that works and is inside AdWords all day is really helpful, so that’s a good area to bring someone on. So no matter the size of my marketing team, I think I’ve always had a search agency to augment. Even when I’ve had a dedicated search person on my team, I’ve still had an agency to augment them. That’s something you’ll always need; you’ll need different agencies as you scale to do different things.

I think another area where it makes sense is on the content side, to augment the content people or your product marketer. Again, you need to have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to write about, what you’re trying to say, what your unique perspective is, what your brand is, before you start paying a contractor to write a bunch of content. Because what you’re going to end up with if you do that, is just a bunch of content that doesn’t really say anything; it doesn’t really drive a goal.

So content, paid search, always really good areas. And then as you scale — not at the beginning, most likely there are some exceptions depending on what type of business you are — but PR is the other area where media relationships, I mean, we’re talking to TechCrunch here, but like they can probably speak more to this. But media relationships are something where economies of scale really come into play. So having an agency that is a master in media or has a bunch of media relationships makes a lot of sense. That’s more later on. PR, content and paid search, but make sure you have people internally to manage them or it can become more detrimental than helpful.

Silicon Valley comms expert Caryn Marooney shares how to nail the narrative

By Matt Burns

Caryn Marooney, Silicon Valley communications professional turned venture capitalist, spoke extensively on storytelling at TechCrunch Early Stage: Marketing and Fundraising. During her talk, she broke down messaging into four critical parts.

Marooney knows what she’s talking about: Throughout her time in Silicon Valley, she helped companies like Salesforce, Amazon, Facebook and more launch products and maintain messaging. In 2019, she left Facebook, where she was VP of technology communication, and joined Coatue Management as a general partner.

The presentation is summarized below and lightly edited for readability. Marooney breaks down her method into the acronym of RIBS: Relevance, Inevitability, Believability and keeping it Simple. A video of her presentation is also embedded below and contains 20 minutes of Q&A where she answers audience questions and covers a lot of ground.

Marooney has written extensively on this subject for TechCrunch, including this article, where she describes her RIBS method in detail. Last month, she expanded on this topic with her go-to-market strategy around building a hamburger.

‘The gift of editing is critical. Do not just write all your ideas and get very excited about what you think and ship it.’

Relevant

Why should anyone care? Does anyone care? That’s the point Marooney is making here. The message must be relevant to the audience before anything else.

The very first thing is why anyone should care. And it’s important to remember that as a startup, you’re in a situation where nobody knows you. And nobody thinks, “Oh, I should really care about this. So you need to be very specific about who your audiences are and why they should care and why it matters to them. Early on, too. Relevance is usually to a very small audience, and you earn the right every day to expand that audience.

So, for example, when I was first working with Salesforce, it was a very narrow set of salespeople, for small- and medium-sized businesses, there was always the sense that it was going to be a cloud provider for companies of every size, but you have to start somewhere. And when you’re starting somewhere, you can paint the bigger picture. But you have to be specific about the benefits to your smaller audience. (Timestamp: 1:48)

Inevitable

In addition to talking about Tesla, Marooney uses the counter-example of the Segway, which shows a great idea alone is not enough. Even though Segways were introduced as a world-changing mode of transportation, in 2021, Segways are mainly only used by mall cops and tourists.

In growth marketing, creative is the critical X factor

By Walter Thompson
Jonathan Martinez Contributor
Jonathan Martinez is a former YouTuber, UC Berkeley alum and growth marketing nerd who's helped scale Uber, Postmates, Chime and various startups.

As we move toward a privacy-centric, less targeted future of growth marketing, the biggest lever will become creative on paid social channels such as the Facebooks of the world. The loss of attribution from our good friend iOS 14.5 has accelerated this trend, but channels have increasingly placed efforts toward automating their ad platforms.

Due to this, I believe that every growth marketing engine should have a proper creative testing framework in place — be it a seed-stage startup or a behemoth like Google.

After three years at Postmates, consulting for various startups, and most recently at Uber, I’ve seen the landscape of marketing change in a multitude of ways. However, what we’re seeing now is being orchestrated by factors out of our control, causing a dawn of shifts unlike anything I’ve seen. Creative has subsequently risen to become the most powerful lever in a paid social account.

The foundation

If you’re looking to leverage the power of creative and succeed with paid social marketing, you’re thinking right. What you need is a creative testing framework: A structured and consistent way to test new creative assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the pieces a creative testing framework needs to be successful:

  • A defined testing schedule.
  • A structured theme approach.
  • A channel-specific strategy.

Creative has become the most powerful lever in a paid social account.

Testing creative should be a constant and iterative process that follows a defined testing schedule. A goal and structure can be as simple as testing five new creative assets per week. Inversely, it can be as complex as testing 60 new assets consisting of multiple themes and copy variations.

For a lower spending account, the creative testing should be leaner due to limited event signal and vice versa with a higher spending account. The most important aspect is that the testing continues to move the needle as you search for your next “champion” asset.

creating a testing schedule for different creative themes

4 themes x 3 variants per theme x 5 copy variations = 60 assets. Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

After setting a testing schedule, define the core themes of your business and vertical rather than testing a plethora of random ideas. This applies to the creative asset as well as the copy and what the key value props are to your product or service. As you start to analyze the creative data, you’ll find it easier to decide what to double down on or cut from testing with this structure. Think of this as a wireframe that you either expand or trim throughout testing sprints.

For a fitness app like MyFitnessPal, it can be structured as follows:

  • Themes (product screenshots, images of people using it, UGC testimonials, before/after images).
  • Messaging (segmented value props, promo, FUD).

It’s vital to make sure you have a channel-specific approach, as each one will differ in creative best practices along with testing capabilities. What works on Facebook may not work on Snapchat or the numerous other paid social channels. Don’t be discouraged if creative between channels perform differently, although I do recommend parity testing. If you already have the creative asset for one channel, it doesn’t hurt to resize and format for the remaining channels.

Determining wins

Equally important to the creative is proper event selection and a statistically significant threshold to abide by throughout all testing. When selecting an event to use for creative testing, it’s not always possible to use your north-star metric depending on how high your CACs are. For example, if you’re selling a high-ticket item and the CACs are in the hundreds, it would take an enormous amount of spend to reach stat-sig on each creative asset. Instead, pick an event that’s more upper funnel and a strong indicator of a user’s likelihood of converting.

Using a more upper funnel event leads to faster learnings (blue line).

Using a more upper-funnel event leads to faster learnings (blue line). Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

It’s important to select a percentage that stays consistent across all creative testing when deciding on which statistically significant percentage to use. As a rule of thumb, I like to use a certainty of 80%+, because it allows for enough confirmation along with the ability to make quicker decisions. A great (and free) online calculator is Neil Patel’s A/B Testing Significance Calculator.

Make or break

You’re scrolling through a social feed, a sleek gold pendant catches your eye, but all the messaging has is the brand name and product specifications. It hooked your attention, but what did it do to reel you in? Think about it: What are you doing to not only hook, but reel people in with “creative” — the make or break it factor in paid social growth marketing?

Circumventing iOS 14.5 data loss

Creative testing is only getting tougher for mobile campaigns as iOS 14.5 obfuscates user data, but that doesn’t equal impossible and simply means we need to get craftier. There are a variety of hacks that can be implemented to help gain clear insight on how creative is performing — some may not last forever and others may be timeless.

Amid all the privacy restrictions, we still have access to a huge population of users on Android that we should take advantage of. Instead of running all creative tests on iOS, Android can be used as a clear way to gather insights, as privacy restrictions haven’t rolled out on those devices yet. The data gathered from Android tests can then be taken directionally and applied to iOS campaigns. It’s only a matter of time until Android data is also at the mercy of data restrictions, so use this workaround to inform iOS campaigns now.

If running Android campaigns isn’t a viable option, another quick and easy solution is to throw up a website lead form to gauge the conversion rate from creative asset to a completed form. The user experience will certainly not be nearly as amazing as evergreen, but this can be used to gain insight for a short period of time (and small percentage of budget).

When crafting the lead form, think of questions that are both qualifying and would indicate someone completing your north-star event on the evergreen experience. After running people through the lead form, communications can be sent to convert them so ad dollars are being put to good use.

Placing efforts by account stage

The testing efforts for creative asset types should differ widely by account stage and can be broken down into three I’s: imitation, iteration, innovation.

The type of creative testing should vary over time.

The type of creative testing should vary over time. Image Credits: Jonathan Martinez

The earlier an account stage, the more your creative direction should rely on what’s proven to work by other advertisers. These other advertisers have spent thousands proving performance with their assets, and you can gain strong insight from them. As time passes, you can slightly slow derivation from other advertisers while focusing on iterating on the best performers. If a percentage had to be placed, I would target 80% of efforts on imitation early on, with iteration gaining steam, and innovation being the final, heavy-lagging prong.

This isn’t to say that innovation can’t be attempted early on if there are great ideas, but generally a more mature company can afford to spend heaps to validate their innovative ideas. Whether you have an in-house design team or are working with freelancers, it’ll also be much easier to spin up 50 variations than it will be to think of and design 50 different innovative assets. Imitating and iterating will make your early testing exponentially more efficient.

Leveraging competitor insights

Brainstorming and trying to imagine the most beautiful, eye-catching, hook-inducing creative doesn’t always happen within seconds, let alone minutes or hours. This is where utilizing competitor insights comes into play. The most abundant resource is the Facebook Ads Library bar none, because it contains all the creative assets that every advertiser is using across the platform. It always surprises me how few actually know of this free and powerful tool.

When browsing through competitors or best-in-class advertisers in this library, a sign of a great performing creative is how long an advertiser has been running specific assets. How does one find that? The date of when an advertiser started running their creative is stamped conveniently on each asset — this is beyond powerful. I can spend hours scanning through creative assets, and each advertiser provides even more intel and inspiration.

Creative should be at the top of the list as you think of where to place efforts on your paid social growth marketing. We must have a hacky mindset as data becomes more obscure, but with that mindset comes separating the winners from the losers. The types of strategies put in motion will vary over time, but what won’t vary is the importance on strong creative, the make it or break it factor to success.

Dear Sophie: Should we look to Canada to retain international talent?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I handle people ops as a consultant at several different tech startups. Many have employees on OPT or STEM OPT who didn’t get selected in this year’s H-1B lottery.

The companies want to retain these individuals, but they’re running out of options. Some companies will try again in next year’s H-1B lottery, even though they face long odds, particularly if the H-1B lottery becomes a wage-based selection process next year.

Others are looking into O-1A visas, but find that many employees don’t yet have the experience to meet the qualifications. Should we look at Canada?

— Specialist in Silicon Valley

Dear Specialist,

That’s what we’re all about — finding creative immigration solutions to help U.S. employers attract and retain international talent and help international talent reach their dreams of living and working in the United States.

I’ve written a lot on how U.S. tech startups can keep their international team members in the United States. One strategy is to help the startup employees become qualified for O-1As. Another is to obtain unlimited H-1B visas without the lottery through nonprofit programs affiliated with universities. Sometimes candidates return to school for master’s degrees that offer a work option called CPT, or curricular practical training.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

But sometimes, companies end up deciding to move some of their international talent to Canada to work remotely. Recently, Marc Pavlopoulos and I discussed how to help U.S. employers and international talent on my podcast. Through his two companies, Syndesus and Path to Canada, Pavlopoulos helps both U.S. tech employers and international tech talent when their employees or they themselves run out of immigration options in the United States. He most often assists U.S. tech employers when their current or prospective employees are not selected in the H-1B lottery.

Through Syndesus, a Canada-based remote employer — also known as a professional employment organization (PEO) — Pavlopoulos helps U.S. employers retain international tech workers who either no longer have visa or green card options that will enable them to remain in the United States or those who were born in India and are fed up by the decades-long wait for a U.S. green card. U.S. employers that don’t have an office in Canada can relocate these workers to Canada with the help of Syndesus, which employs these tech workers on behalf of the U.S. company, sponsoring them for a Canadian Global Talent Stream work visa.

Syndesus also helps U.S. tech startups without a presence in Canada find Canadian tech workers and employ them on the startup’s behalf. As an employer of record, Syndesus handles payroll, HR, healthcare, stock options and any issues related to Canadian employment law.

Pavlopoulos’ other company, Path to Canada, currently focuses on connecting international engineers and other tech talent working in the U.S. — including those whose OPT or STEM OPT has run out — who cannot remain in the U.S. find employment in Canada, either at a Canadian company or at the Canadian office of a U.S. company. These employees get a Global Talent Stream work visa and eventually permanent residence in Canada. Pavlopoulos intends to expand Path to Canada to help tech talent from around the world live and work in Canada.

Extra Crunch roundup: Seed-stage basics, SaaS marketing live chat, Zoom’s Five9 buy

By Walter Thompson

A famous poem advises us not to compare ourselves with others, “for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

The same holds true for startup fundraising; the size of your seed round will be determined solely by your company’s immediate needs and the investors you’re working with.

“Remember that fundraising is not the goal,” says three-time YC alum Yin Wu. “Building a successful business is.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


If you are an early-stage founder who’s seeking clarity about apportioning equity — or if you’re biting your nails over how much to raise — read this primer. It’s also a useful overview for early employees and co-founders who may be new to startup financing.

Topics covered:

  • How financing works: SAFEs versus equity rounds.
  • How much to raise.
  • How to arrive at your valuation.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch! I hope you have a great week.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Twitter Spaces: SaaS marketing with MKT1 founders Emily Kramer and Kathleen Estreich

MKT1 Co-Founders Green

Image Credits: MKT1

Join us today at 2 p.m. PDT/5 p.m. EDT/10 p.m. London for a Twitter Spaces conversation with Emily Kramer and Kathleen Estreich, founders of MKT1, a partnership that advises SaaS startups.

In addition to their work with individual companies, they also run founder workshops, a job board and a marketer-led syndicate.

Emily has built marketing teams from scratch at companies like Asana, Carta, and Astro, and Kathleen has scaled and led marketing and operations teams at several high-growth startups, including Intercom, Box, Facebook and Scalyr.

If you have an Android device or an iPhone and a Twitter account, click here to join the conversation or set a reminder:

Duolingo’s IPO could cast golden halo on edtech startups

Alex Wilhelm and Natasha Mascarenhas look into recent figures from U.S. edtech giant Duolingo.

It announced a first price range of $85 to $95 per share, which Alex and Natasha note “feels strong.”

“If Duolingo poses a strong debut, consumer edtech startups will be able to add a golden data point to their pitch decks,” they write. “A strong Duolingo listing could also signal that mission-driven startups can have impressive turns.”

But if it struggles?

“The wave of consumer edtech apps may lose some enthusiasm about going public.”

Outdoorsy co-founders detail how they expanded the sharing economy to RVs

Outdoorsy-founders-series

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Seven years ago, ad executive Jen Young and tech entrepreneur Jeff Cavins stepped away from the careers they’d built to launch Outdoorsy, an RV rental marketplace.

Last month, they announced a partnership with high-end camping company Collective Retreats and raised a $90 million Series D and $40 million in debt to speed up an already impressive rate of growth.

To learn more about their approach to building a transportation company that caters to people who crave a taste of nomadic existence, Rebecca Bella interviewed Young and Cavins for Extra Crunch.

Their conversation explored the impacts of COVID-19, their business strategy and why they decided to take on $30 million in debt financing:

Jeff Cavins: We like to look at macro trends as a business and I think U.S. monetary policy is going to get us all in a little bit of trouble. So we wanted to lock in a credit facility for the company at advantageous terms.

Cleo Capital’s Sarah Kunst explains how to get ready to raise your next round

Sarah Kunst at Disrupt SF 2017

Image Credits: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

TechCrunch virtually sat down with venture capitalist and Cleo Capital managing director Sarah Kunst at our latest Early Stage event. Kunst joined us to chat about preparing for raising capital in today’s frenetic fundraising environment, digging into the gritty mechanics for the audience.

This post rounds up a few favorite excerpts from the chat, starting with Kunst’s notes on how to make a killer pitch deck.

She also offered advice regarding incorporation, how to find a co-founder and when startups are too large to join an accelerator.

In an increasingly hot biotech market, protecting IP is key

Protecting IP is key for biotechs

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The good news for biotech startups is that investment in the sector is soaring.

“Along the way, founders will need to procure additional investments, develop strategic partnerships and stave off competition,” Kevin A. O’Connor, a partner in the Intellectual Property practice group at Neal Gerber Eisenberg, writes in a guest column. “All of which starts by protecting the fundamental asset of any biotech company: its intellectual property.”

ServiceMax promises accelerating growth as key to $1.4B SPAC deal

Female worker working on a machine in factory. Woman in uniform operating a machine.

Image Credits: Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm and Ron Miller dug into ServiceMax, a company that builds software for the field-service industry, after it announced it would go public via a SPAC.

“Broadly, ServiceMax’s business has a history of modest growth and cash consumption,” they write. “It promises a big change to that storyline, though. Here’s how.”

The head of Citi Ventures on how, and why, to leverage corporate venture arms like his

At our recent Early Stage event, we had the opportunity to talk with Arvind Purushotham, the managing director and global head of Citi Ventures, about how startups should think about corporate venture arms, including what a check from an enterprise like Citi can mean, and how to leverage that kind of goliath once it’s already a financial partner.

For founders trying to understand the benefits and potential pitfalls of working with a corporate venture arm versus a more traditional venture team, it’s worth zipping through this discussion.

Robinhood targets IPO valuation up to $35B amid warning that crypto incomes are slipping

Alex Wilhelm considers what Robinhood’s first IPO price range ($38 to $42 per share) means for the U.S. consumer fintech giant and whether we can expect it to raise the range again before it debuts.

In picking apart Robinhood’s latest filing, Alex noticed an aside about decreased crypto trading volume.

“Because Robinhood deals with consumers, who might decide to trade less in time, it has more uncertainty in its future growth than, say, Zoom,” he notes.

The Zoom-Five9 deal is a big bet for the video conferencing company

Video Conferencing Software Zoom Goes Public On Nasdaq Exchange

Image Credits: Kena Betancur / Getty Images

Zoom plans to spend a little less than a sixth of its value on Five9, which sells software that allows users to reach customers across platforms and record notes on their interactions.

Alex Wilhelm notes “that Five9’s revenue growth rate is a fraction of Zoom’s.”

“The larger company, then, is buying a piece of revenue that is growing slower than its core business. That’s a bit of a flip from many transactions that we see, in which the smaller company being acquired is growing faster than the acquiring entity’s own operations.

“Why would Zoom buy slower growth for so very much money?”

AngelList Venture’s Avlok Kohli on rolling funds and the busy state of VC

Few companies have deeper insights into the day-by-day state of venture capital than AngelList.

According to the company’s data, over 51% of the “top tier U.S. VC deals” involve their platform and tools, giving them a remarkably expansive view of everything going on.

AngelList Venture CEO Avlok Kohli joined us at TechCrunch Early Stage to discuss topics ranging from the state of the market to his thoughts on why there’s suddenly so much money flooding into VC (sending valuations to the sky), and where AngelList could go from here.

Marketing Cube founder Maya Moufarek’s lessons for customer-focused startups

By Miranda Halpern

Maya Moufarek, founder of Marketing Cube, spent more than 15 years working for companies like Google and American Express before launching her own agency. Today, her London-based firm works with startups around the world — and her startup clients have raved about the results, based on what we’ve heard in our TechCrunch Experts growth marketing survey.

“She’s an absolute powerhouse who knows growth better than anyone I know,” according to Alice at The Lowdown. Nikki O’Farrell of KatKin told us that “[She has an] expert ear and eye from the world of startups/scaleups and growth. Her functional and direct approach allows you to execute at speed and see results quickly.” Constance at Luko said that they “[r]eally liked her mindset, both hands-on, no bullshit while also super strategic.”

We interviewed Moufarek to get her take on lessons she’s learned from working with larger companies, how she applies them to smaller companies, her approach to optimizing her clients’ success, trends she’s seeing in growth marketing and more.

(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

We received many testimonials about you through our TechCrunch Experts project that mentioned your direct approach and hands-on experience. How do you think those qualities contribute to your success in working with startups and forming strategies?

The truth is, a lot of the time ambitious founders and executive teams don’t have a marketing background, so they need to outsource to find the right support to deliver on huge growth ambitions — usually within very limited time frames.

“Choose a marketer or agency with no direct experience and you may simply get the wrong answer for your situation.”

In that situation, experience is everything — there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing approach for startups. Marketing strategies that help find product-market fit are very different from acquiring your first 100 customers, which is very different from scaling your customer acquisition or lead generation. There are also a lot of intricacies to this sort of role, which makes it pretty unique — choose a marketer or agency with no direct experience and you may simply get the wrong answer for your situation.

Having gained 15+ years of experience in a range of businesses — from startups to conglomerates, and experience of Series A to private equity — I’ve had the opportunity to actually apply the tried-and-tested practices of hypergrowth, as well as offer the full stack of C-level support. That’s why I founded MarketingCube.co, a boutique strategic growth consultancy for innovative startups and scaleups.

Being direct is critical, because by their very nature, startups are after fast and transformative outcomes, not never-ending presentations and lengthy processes, so a hands-on approach is crucial. You need to get straight to the beating heart of the business, understand the culture, involve the right people — and be comfortable telling founders and exec teams things they don’t always want to hear. In return, they get a solid foundation, ambitious deliverables, and the right tools to hit the ground running and continue to do so after you leave the room.

What lessons did you learn from working with larger companies such as Google and American Express that you use when working with startups?

Now, everyone sees Google as this huge company with endless products and expansive teams, but back in 2005 when I worked there, it didn’t seem like a megacompany. It was post-IPO hypergrowth, but the EMEA and emerging markets I contributed to were like regional startups within a scaleup. At the other end of the scale, American Express was a more traditional and established corporation with legacy systems and processes that was beginning to go through a digital transformation.

So the lessons learnt from these companies vary widely — but there are some universal principles that are always relevant.

One lesson — which was especially true at Amex — is to always be prepared for shifting markets that may disrupt your business. That may seem strange advice for a new startup, but the economy is volatile and things change very fast. It’s hard to prepare for every situation, but you need to have the vision and drive to lead the market, as well as the means to execute it.

In terms of CX/UX, I tell everyone I work with that less is always more. It might be a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. By this I mean, customers want fewer clicks, fewer words and simpler, more direct steps to reach their end goal.

Google really understood that it’s essential to provide your customers with a seamless experience and to delight them throughout — after all, customers are the lifeblood of any successful business.

If your organization is truly customer-centric, it’s always possible to deliver a digital transformation successfully or adapt to a changing market. Amex has shown how a brand and business can reinvent itself many times over.

Finally, always agree on a clear set of objectives and key results (OKRs) to ensure focus, prioritization and collaboration. Agility and speed are the competitive advantages of young businesses and OKRs help deliver that, as well as create accountability.


Has a growth marketing expert made a big difference for your startup? Please share your recommendation in our survey.


When looking at your portfolio, you’ve worked with companies in various areas, like Pexxi/Tuune in health tech, YuLife in insurtech and Andjaro in HR tech. How does your approach to each client differ to make sure you’re optimizing your clients’ success in their field?

The first thing is that — regardless of their specialism — every company is at a different stage and has different needs. So asking the right questions, setting the right goals, and including the right people and teams at the start is key.

Beyond that, each business model, industry and audience has its own principles, best practices and proven strategies. For instance, in health and finance, credibility and trust are critical. Whereas for an HR SaaS brand, the challenge is all around driving adoption because the market they are creating is totally new.

So, I always start with an audit of their customer base or target audience:

  • What role are they hiring the business to do?
  • What problem are they solving?
  • What value do they add?

I find Clayton Christensen’s jobs to be done (JTBD) framework very powerful because it’s relevant to the product, marketing and strategy teams. It’s built on the assumption that consumers don’t buy products, they “hire” solutions … and they can “fire” them just as quickly if they’re not doing the job properly. It shifts the focus away from the “ideal” customer persona to the real issue and how to solve it.

Understanding the business levers and Sean Ellis’ North Star metric is vital for growth. It’s about focusing on the metric that directly reflects the value that your company and products bring to your customers. For example, for Airbnb that may be the number of nights booked; for Spotify, minutes listened to. It’s all about simplifying your strategy into something that is digestible, memorable and applicable.

The North Star metric is not a revenue metric. Revenue is the result of the value you deliver. Not the value itself.

What do startups continue to get wrong?

All too often startups don’t truly know their audience or make the mistake of thinking that brand-building can wait.

According to CB Insights, “no market need” is the main reason startups fail, coming in at 42%. For me, this shows that too often founders do not fully understand the market potential and its alternatives, their customers’ pain points and anxieties, what’s pushing the audience away from their current solutions, and what the pull points are for the business.

This is why I really love the JTBD framework — it stops you from seeing the customer like a strict “persona” and lets you start seeing the solutions they need to find instead.

No matter what maturity stage or success level of the startup/scaleup, we often end up going back to customer insights and really stress-testing how well they know their audience to help elevate their value proposition, messaging and growth opportunities.

When it comes to brand-building, a brand really exists in the hearts and minds of consumers, which makes it hard to quantify. So founders often delay the brand-building process or laying the foundations for one. But an established brand helps increase perceived value, unlocking incredible margins or market share, depending on a firm’s pricing strategy.

Strong, effective brands are not built overnight. Many founders think that brand-building means costly advertising, which is not the case. Brand-building occurs at every interaction between a brand and its customer base across the purchase lifecycle — pre (advertising), during (how and where the purchase happens) and post (CRM, warranties, customer service).

On the other side, what are startups doing better now than ever before?

Right now, startups are working on bolder, more diverse and more impactful issues.

I started angel investing and it gave me exposure to a fantastic and wide variety of founders and innovative ideas. I have been fascinated by how far and wide founders are spread to help reshape our lives and change the future.

A few recent businesses that have inspired me are:

  • FairHQ blends scientific research, data-driven insights and best practices to help you embed D&I into your business.
  • Fertility Circle helps find the best tailored fertility information for parents. With one in six struggling to conceive, they connect individuals with a supportive community and provide access to expert medical professionals.
  • Hapi plan empowers family and friends to invest in their children to ensure their financial security for the present and in the future.

What major trends are you seeing right now with hiring growth marketers?

I often hear founders say that “growth is the new engineering.” Tech companies have been fighting over engineering talent for as long as I can remember, and now it’s the same for growth talent.

Why?

I think there are multiple reasons: One being the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, as businesses heavily impacted by the crisis are now hiring at the speed of light. A lot of small businesses applied the “cut deep and early” recommendations to manage their cash flow, so they now need to rebuild entire marketing and growth functions.

Thankfully, there is a lot of funding going into startups at the moment, so there has been a huge spike in demand for growth talent. Lastly, as we’ve all seen, the crisis catapulted the digitization of businesses and purchase funnels for more established businesses that now need digital growth marketing talent to help maintain their sustainability.

During times of disruption, there is a great opportunity for innovation, and from what I’ve seen, this has made hiring managers and recruiters quite creative about how they go about sourcing and attracting growth talent. Lots have expanded their geographical search thanks to remote working becoming the norm. Some even applied account-based marketing best practices by building target lists of talent and creating automated sequences to reach out to them. It’s been really interesting to see.

In your “Hiring Growth Marketers — Where to Begin” post on your website, you mention the T-shaped growth marketer. How has the shift in company’s priorities during the pandemic changed the skills that growth marketers consider essential in their T?

During the pandemic, we had two categories of businesses: (a) those seriously impacted by the restrictions and (b) those who saw a spike in demand for services, like Deliveroo and Netflix.

Those severely affected had to pivot and pivot quickly to survive. A great example is Airbnb, launching digital tours and online experiences to support their hosts and ensure they continue connecting with guests. Another is Oxwash, previously exclusively washing laundry within the hospitality industry, who shifted their business to cleaning scrubs and bedding for NHS hospitals during the height of the pandemic. By adapting, they learned to clean to clinical NHS standards and help keep a strained health service afloat. For these businesses, the flexibility and customer development were the essential elements of the T in their growth teams, as they had to build an entirely new proposition on the fly.

On the flip side, businesses who thrived through lockdown saw an increase in requirement for CRM skills and merchandising. To find the right tone to match the mood of the nation — and curate relevant recommendations or services to engage with existing and new customers — was the name of the game. Data and analytics became an essential skill to make sense of the changing behaviors, and understanding how to manage pandemic demand levels, especially as companies like Ocado early in the pandemic struggled to meet customer demand and so allocated limited slots for delivery.

The wealth of knowledge and adaptability of the growth teams in both of these types of businesses shows how valuable T-shaped marketers are to whether businesses big and small fail or succeed.

Growth marketing roundup: cool SaaS, marketing lies, VR ads and more

By Miranda Halpern

One might think that a short week due to a U.S. holiday calls for a short weekly recap, but we have plenty to share about growth marketing from our coverage over the week. With the help of your recommendations, this week we were able to interview Peep Laja and Lucy Heskins, and publish multiple guest columns on growth-related topics including homepage testing, marketing lies to watch out for, VR ad opportunities, company-naming and ad compliance.

TechCrunch is collecting responses in this survey to find the best growth marketer for founders to work with. We’ve included some of our favorites, below the links.

This early-stage marketing expert says ‘B2B SaaS is actually very, very cool now’: Extra Crunch reporter Anna Heim interviews Wales-based growth marketer Lucy Heskins about her experience working with start-ups, how content marketing is best used, and more!

Navigating ad fraud and consumer privacy abuse in programmatic advertising: Did you know that “ad fraud exceeded $35 billion last year, a figure expected to rise to $50 billion by 2025”? Jalal Nasir, CEO of marketing compliance startup Pixalate, lends his thoughts about how business leaders and brands can ensure they don’t fall victim to the problem.

To stay ahead of your competitors, start building your narrative on day one: Anna also sat down with Peep Laja to discuss the importance of a startup being the one to write their own narrative and how it can mature with the company.

Demand Curve: How to double conversions on your startup’s homepage: Head of content Nick Costelloe looks at when it’s good to be unique, and when it’s best to stick to the status quo when working to double conversions on your homepage.

(Extra Crunch) Demand Curve: 10 lies you’ve been told about marketing: For subscribers, Costelloe goes through 10 lies you’ve heard about marketing, and what to try instead to create better results.

(Extra Crunch) Can advertising scale in VR?: Have you been on the fence about VR advertising for your company? AR/VR analyst Michael Boland lists out the pros and cons in this article.

(Extra Crunch) What I learned the hard way from naming 30+ startups: Naming a start-up might require more thought than you imagined. Marketing executive Drew Beechler takes us through what should be considered when picking out a name, like strategic alignment.

As always, please let us know if you can recommend a top-tier growth marketer who works with startups by filling out this quick survey.

Marketer: Nikita Vorobyev

Recommender: Ruby Club

Testimonial: “Nikita & his company, Buildrbrand, have worked tirelessly to bring my idea to life and did everything in his power to get it to the level it is today. He & his team created a world-class conditional quiz visual experience that I think would be really cool for him to share with the industry. He doesn’t know I nominated him, but I definitely wanted to give back to him in any way I can since I believe his agency creates some of the best brands going viral online right now.”

Marketer: Max van den Ingh, Unmuted

Recommender: Harry Willis, ShopPop

Testimonial: “They [have] shown considerable and demonstrable growth marketing success at various companies. One of them being MisterGreen, a Dutch Tesla-leasing company that had grown 10x under Max’s leadership.”

Marketer: Patricia (Patty) Spiller, Chief

Recommender: Livongo

Testimonial: “Hired her to lead Product Marketing and she identified the opportunity to do growth in a much different way, which could significantly accelerate our company’s growth. So, she founded the Growth Marketing team and scaled the team from 1 person to 30 people in less than 2 years, based on all the success they had in growing our member base.”

Extra Crunch roundup: Unpacking BuzzFeed’s SPAC, curb your meeting enthusiasm, more

By Walter Thompson

Meetings should have a clear purpose, but instead, they’ve become a way to measure status and reinforce what is colloquially referred to as CYA culture.

There’s a kernel of truth in every joke, so whenever someone quips, “This meeting could have been an email!” you can bet that some small part of them meant it sincerely.

Few people know how to run meetings effectively and keep conversations on track. Making matters worse, attendees often don’t bother to prepare, which makes a boring session even less productive.

And then there’s the complication of workplace politics: How secure do you feel declining an invitation from a co-worker — or a manager?

“Every time a recurring meeting is added to a calendar, a kitten dies,” says Chuck Phillips, co-founder of MeetWell. “Very few employees decline meetings, even when it’s obvious that the meeting is going to be a doozy.”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


Changing your meeting culture is difficult, but given that 26% of workers plan to look for a new job when the pandemic ends, startups need to do all they can to retain talent.

Aimed at managers, this post offers several testable strategies that will help you boost productivity and say goodbye to poorly run, lazily planned meetings.

“Declining a bad meeting should never be taboo, and you should reiterate your trust in the team and challenge them to spend their and others’ time with more intention,” Phillips says. “Help them feel empowered to decline a bad meeting.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch, and have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

Why Amazon should pay attention to Shein

Image Credits: Shein

In the last year, online apparel shopping app Shein grew active daily users by 130%, reports Apptopia.

Each day, thousands of new products arrive on the app’s virtual shelves. Items are rapidly designed and prototyped before Shein’s contractors put them into production in Guangzhou factories — two weeks later, those SKUs arrive in fulfillment centers around the globe.

TechCrunch reporter Rita Liao examined how the company’s agile supply chain has become hot talk among e-commerce experts, but beyond a strong logistics game and data-driven product development, Shein’s close relationships with suppliers are integral to its success.

She also tried to answer a question many are asking: Is Shein a Chinese company?

“It’s hard to pin down where Shein is from,” answered Richard Xu from Grand View Capital, a Chinese venture capital firm.

“It’s a company with operations and supply chains in China targeting the global market, with nearly no business in China.”

Inside GM’s startup incubator strategy

General Motors Chief Engineer Hybrid and Electric Powertrain Engineering Pam Fletcher with the 2014 Spark EV Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at a Chevrolet event on the eve of the Los Angeles International Auto Show in Los Angeles, California. When it goes on sale next summer, the Spark EV is expected to have among the best EV battery range in its segment and will be priced under $25,000 with tax incentives. (Chevrolet News Photo)

Image Credits: Chevrolet

GM Vice President of Innovation Pam Fletcher is in charge of the company’s startups that tackle “electrification, connectivity and even insurance — all part of the automaker’s aim to find value (and profits) beyond its traditional business of making, selling and financing vehicles,” Kirsten Korosec writes.

Fletcher joined TechCrunch at a virtual TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 event to discuss what it’s like to launch a slew of startups under the umbrella of a 113-year-old automaker.

Investor Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool’s Chris Bennett on getting to the point with a pitch deck

Image Credits: MaC Venture Capital / Wonderschool

MaC Venture Capital founding managing partner Marlon Nichols and Wonderschool CEO Chris Bennett joined Extra Crunch Live to tear down the company’s early deck.

“The first thing that jumped out at all of us was just how bare-bones the presentation is: white text on a blue background, largely made up of bullet points,” Brian Heater writes before noting the CEO admitted that “not much changed aesthetically between that first pitch and the Series A deck.”

“It aligned with what we were valuing at the time,” Bennett says. “We were really focused on getting the product-market fit and really trying to understand what our customers needed. And we’re really focused on building the team.”

Dear Sophie: What options would allow me to start something on my own?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

I’ve been working on an H-1B in the U.S. for nearly two years.

While I’m grateful to have made it through the H-1B lottery and to be working, I’m feeling unhappy and frustrated with my job.

I really want to start something of my own and work on my own terms in the United States. Are there any immigration options that would allow me to do that?

— Seeking Satisfaction

Investors’ thirst for growth could bode well for SentinelOne’s IPO

Alex Wilhelm calls SentinelOne’s looming debut “fascinating.”

“Why? Because the company sports a combination of rapid growth and expanding losses that make it a good heat check for the IPO market,” he writes. “Its debut will allow us to answer whether public investors still value growth above all else.”

Alex delves into an early dataset from SentinelOne and why public market investors still appear to value growth above anything else.

Before an exit, founders must get their employment law ducks in a row

Rubber ducks in a line

Image Credits: Jenny Dettrick (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Guest columnist Rob Hudock, a litigator who focuses on helping companies recruit the best talent available while avoiding distracting workplace issues or lawsuits, lays out the importance of putting out any employment-related fires before an exit.

“Inattention to employment issues can have a significant impact on deals — from preventing closings and reducing the deal value to altering the deal terms or significantly limiting the pool of potential buyers,” he writes.

“Fortunately, such issues typically can be resolved well in advance with a little forethought and legal guidance.”

Practice agile, iterative change to refine products and build company culture

Building an excellent product and a standout company culture require the same process, Heap CEO Ken Fine writes in a guest column.

“At Heap, the analytics solution provider I lead, a defining principle is that good ideas should not be lost to top-down dictates and overrigid hierarchies,” he writes. “The best results come when you approach leadership like you would create a great product — you hypothesize, you test and iterate, and once you get it right, you grow it.”

Here, he lays out his method that argues in favor of iterative change, not “one-and-done decrees.”

a16z’s new $2.2B fund won’t just bet on the crypto future, it will defend it

The big news on Thursday was the announcement of Andreessen Horowitz’s new cryptocurrency-focused fund. Most focused on the eye-popping $2.2 billion figure, but Alex Wilhelm dug a bit deeper into the announcement to note that a16z isn’t just pumping a ton of money into the crypto space, it’s putting on gloves to fight for it.

Alex writes that “a16z intends to run defense for crypto in the American, and perhaps global, market. Crypto-focused startups are likely unable to tackle the regulation of their market on their own because they’re more focused on product work in a particular region of the larger crypto economy. The wealthy and connected investment firm that backs them will take on the task for its chosen champions.”

5 takeaways from BuzzFeed’s SPAC deck

Image Credits: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm dives headfirst into BuzzFeed’s announcement that it plans to go public via a blank check company.

He looked at its historical and anticipated revenue growth (the latter is very sunny, which is not atypical for SPAC presentations), what makes up that revenue (more “commerce” as time goes on), its long-term profitability projections, as well as fun stuff, like the Pulitzer Prize-winning BuzzFeed News.

Admit it. You’re curious.

3 issues to resolve before switching to a subscription business model

Three issues leaders need to address before switching to a subscription business model

Image Credits: SaskiaAcht (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Moving from a pay-as-you-go model to a subscription service is more than just putting a monthly or yearly price tag on a product, CloudBlue’s Jess Warrington writes in a guest column.

“Executives cannot just layer a subscription model on top of an existing business,” Warrington writes. “They need to change the entire operation process, onboard all stakeholders, recalibrate their strategy and create a subscription culture.”

Warrington says that in his role at CloudBlue, companies often approach him for “help with solving technology challenges while shifting to a subscription business model, only to realize that they have not taken crucial organizational steps necessary to ensure a successful transition.”

Here’s how to avoid that situation.

Veo CEO Candice Xie has a plan for building a sustainable scooter company, and it’s working

An illustration of Veo founder Candie Xie

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Rebecca Bellan interviewed Veo CEO Candice Xie about the micromobility startup’s “old-fashioned way” of doing business.

“I understand people are eager to prove their unit economics, their scalability and also improve their matrix to the VC to raise another round,” Xie says. “I would say that’s OK in the consumer industry, like consumer electronics or SaaS.

“But we are in transportation. It is a different business, and transportation takes years of collaboration and building between private and public partners. … So I don’t see it happening from day one, turning over a billion-dollar company, while simultaneously having it all make sense for the cities and users.”

5 companies doing growth marketing right

Image of five round wooden balls moving up steps to represent growth.

Image Credits: jayk7 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

All companies want more or less the same thing: growth. But how do you accomplish it?

Ideally, don’t start from scratch.

The race to grow faster is more pressing than ever before. … “[F]orward-thinking entrepreneurs and growth marketers simply must make time to study their competition, learn best practices and apply them to their own business growth,” Mark Spera, the head of growth marketing at Minted, writes in a guest column.

“Of course, you should still run your own experiments, but it’s just more capital-efficient to emulate than to trial-and-error from scratch. Here are five companies with growth strategies worth emulating — including the most important lessons you can begin applying to your business today.”

Musculoskeletal medical startups race to enter personalized health tech market

Human anatomy, hand, arm,muscular system on plain studio background.

Image Credits: ChrisChrisW (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

With more than 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain and musculoskeletal (MSK) medical problems, a number of startups are offering patients new products “that don’t resemble the cookie-cutter status quo,” reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

Startups hoping to enter this space have an uphill climb. Setting aside regulations that cover aspects like product packaging and marketing, they must compete with well-entrenched competition from Big Pharma as they try to partner with health insurance companies.

Natasha profiles three companies that are each taking a different approach to personalized health: Clear, Hinge Health and PeerWell.

Like the US, a two-tier venture capital market is emerging in Latin America

In the second part of an Exchange series looking at the global early-stage venture capital market, Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim unpacked the scene in Latin America, discovering it looked a lot like the situation in the United States: slow Series A rounds, fast B rounds.

“Mega-rounds are no longer an exception in Latin America; in fact, they have become a trend, with ever-larger rounds being announced over the last few months,” they write.

Despite that, the funds aren’t being equitably distributed, and the region still lags behind its peers: Brazil has the most $1 billion startups in Latin America, with 12. The U.S., meanwhile, has 369, and China has 159.

But the Latin American market remains hot, if not quite as scorching as the U.S. and China.

Dear Sophie: What options would allow me to start something on my own?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I’ve been working on an H-1B in the U.S. for nearly two years. While I’m grateful to have made it through the H-1B lottery and to be working, I’m feeling unhappy and frustrated with my job.

I really want to start something of my own and work on my own terms in the United States. Are there any immigration options that would allow me to do that?

— Seeking Satisfaction

Dear Seeking,

Job dissatisfaction and frustration while on H-1B is normal, according to Edward Gorbis. He is the founder of Career Meets World and a performance coach who specifically works with immigrants and first-generation professionals to help them find fulfillment and thrive in their careers and life. I recently spoke with him for my podcast, “Immigration Law For Tech Startups.”

He says that “once immigrants reach stability, they start to think, ‘Who am I, what do I value, what’s my core identity?’” He partners with people to help them to gain a better understanding of why they think the way they do, teach them how our brain really works, and then reshape and retrain the brain for success.

Gorbis says that imagining overcoming the hurdles that stand in the way of doing the work that will fulfill you is the first step. So, here are some options that can help you imagine how to move toward building the life of your dreams.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Raise $250,000 and be the CEO

A great new option for aspiring entrepreneurs is International Entrepreneur Parole, a new immigration program in the United States that allows CEOs, CTOs, and others to obtain a 2.5-year immigration status. You can live in the U.S. and run your company. Your spouse can work and you could be eligible for a 2.5-year extension.

How to qualify? You’ll need to own at least 10% of a U.S. company, such as a Delaware C corporation registered in California. Ideally, you’ll want to show that your company bank account has at least $250,000 raised from qualifying U.S. investors prior to applying, but you can demonstrate other evidence to show that your company has the potential to grow rapidly and create jobs in the U.S.

See yourself at another company

There is technically no limit on how many H-1B employers you can have or how many hours you work — or how few hours you work — in an H-1B position. So, think about other companies.

Dear Sophie: Is it possible to expand our startup in the US?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

My co-founders and I launched a software startup in Iran a few years ago, and I’m happy to say it’s now thriving. We’d like to expand our company in California.

Now that President Joe Biden has eliminated the Muslim ban, is it possible to do that? Is the pandemic still standing in the way? Do you have any suggestions?

— Talented in Tehran

Dear Talented,

Yes, it’s possible! Unfortunately, yes, the COVID-19 pandemic is still making the immigration process a bit challenging, but remember, where there’s a will, there’s most often, in immigration law, a way.

On his first day in office in January, Biden rescinded the ban on visas for many majority-Muslim countries, including Iran. The ban had been in place since 2017 and nearly 42,000 visa applications were denied, according to the U.S. Department of State.

Biden also allowed the bans on the issuance of H-1B, L-1, and J-1 visas and green cards at U.S. embassies and consulates that the previous administration put in place last year to lapse.

That means international startup founders like you and other international talent living outside the United States can start thinking about obtaining these visas and green cards without necessarily requiring exceptions to do so. In a recent podcast episode, I talked about these and other immigration-related changes, as well as those promised by the Biden administration. Take a listen to find out more!

As you probably know, most travelers from Iran are currently not allowed entry into the U.S. because of the COVID-19 travel ban, and most U.S. embassies and consulates are not open for routine visa and green card application processing. Because the United States has not had an embassy or consulate in Iran since the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, you and your co-founders should find out which U.S. embassies or consulates are currently processing routine visa and green card applications — and are in countries that are not on the suspended entry list — and apply there. We’re still waiting for detailed information from the State Department on the equivalent of reparations for individuals who were affected by the Muslim ban.

In addition, I recommend that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can help you devise an immigration strategy for yourself, your co-founders and your families based on your personal and professional goals. Now, here are a few options for you to consider.

L-1A visa to open a U.S. office for your startup

Dear Sophie: Any unique immigration strategies for quick hiring?

By Annie Siebert
Sophie Alcorn Contributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

I do recruitment for tech startups. With a surge of VC investing, many startups are urgently hiring.

Which visas offer the quickest options for international talent? Are there any unique strategies that you would recommend we explore?

— Maverick in Milpitas

Dear Maverick,

Thanks for reaching out with your questions! We’re seeing the same urgent hiring demand from startups. In my columns, you’ll find a lot of materials to support you regarding the most common options. However, in a recent podcast episode, I discussed a handful of very specialized — and rarely used — temporary work visas that in most situations offer an expedited way to bring international talent to the United States to live and work. The eligibility requirements for these work visas are very specific, but if any prospective candidates qualify, these visas are great, quick options for the startups you work with.

The quickest option for employers is to hire international talent already in the U.S. because many consulates still remain closed to routine visa processing due to the pandemic. What’s more, travel restrictions have been imposed on India and remain in place for Brazil, the U.K., Ireland, 26 other countries in Europe, China and Iran. However, there are some exceptions in the national interest. As always, I recommend consulting with an experienced immigration attorney.

Here are a few uncommon visas and strategies that can offer quick options for startups to recruit international talent:

Help TechCrunch find the best email marketers for startups

By Miranda Halpern

Email marketing has been with us for decades, but today it has been refined to a science and an art form.

If you’re an early-stage founder, it is one of the best ways to build and grow your direct relationship with your customer. You know how fickle the platforms can be. You can’t afford to mess this up.

So when and how should you think about doing email marketing, versus all of your other frantic priorities?

Here at Extra Crunch, we’re helping you find the answers. Today, we’re launching a survey of founders who want to recommend a great email marketer or agency they have worked with to the rest of the startup world.

Fill out the survey here.

If you have someone to recommend, make sure to let us know: We’ll use your answers to create a freely available public database of experts in this domain on TechCrunch. We’ll feature the most helpful responses (anonymously if requested) so other founders can find the right people for them to work with.

The next step might be even more useful: We’ll provide EC subscribers with our own coverage of email marketing how-to topics and issues in more detail, based on our ongoing conversations with these experts.

In the coming months, you’ll see us dig into topics from great content production to optimizing deliverability, flow, timing, and design. We’ll also examine how to use email together with other marketing funnels, to improve your ROI on paid advertising efforts.

We’ll cover ongoing changes to the technology that affect the space, including the state of the art in email tools, email service provider platform changes, privacy laws, and much more.

If you’re a founder and you respond to the survey, you’ll also receive a discount to a new Extra Crunch subscription.

We’re particularly interested in what the expert did in the early to middle stages of the startup’s journey. Usually before Series C, for venture-backed companies. Recommendations wanted for both individuals and agencies.

If you’re a growth marketing expert, you’re encouraged to share the survey with your founder clients.

Finally, for those who have been reading TechCrunch for at least a few years, you’ll remember a similar set of surveys we had begun around other categories of startup experts, including legal, brand and overall growth. After a hiatus to take care of a few other things, this survey marks the resumption of that initiative!

❌