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The #1 Problem Facing Tech Start-Ups

In case of zombiesForget monetization. Forget VCs, Angels and term sheets. The biggest challenge facing tech start-ups today is that a lack of understanding of their target users. 

Founders of tech start-ups are generally very tech savvy. They know how to make things work. But knowing how to do something is not the same as making something that will be useful for your target user. Something that users will see and love, something they will get, something they will use with regularity. For all of these functions and more, you need good old fashioned product marketing.

It's time we brought back the product marketer. 

Somewhere over the past twenty to thirty years, marketing became synonymous with corporate branding, communications or snake oil salesmanship. Product marketing is the translation of market insight into a successful product and everything in between.

Product marketers are the "front end" of the product-user engagement. The engagement spans pre, during and post product engagement. Product marketing is the voice of the users to the product team, and the voice of the product team to the users. Product marketing is fueled about insights and user needs, riving the fulfillment of these needs through product communications, pricing, distribution and more. 

When I worked in the "social media" industry I met with dozens of start-ups who claimed to be building solutions for social media managers. These social media managers were my staff and clients. Yet remarkably few start-ups understood my challenges or provided solutions that solved the challenges we were facing. They offered novel solutions, but to all the wrong problems.

The same can be said for almost all of the upcoming social, mobile, contextual, photo, or video based networks and platforms. Few of them will get off the ground, because few of them have the skills to combine techinical know-how with a strong go-to-market strategy that solves a real need for their target audience.

There are thousands of "mommy innovations" floating around the web. Almost universally, they deliver novelties rather than solutions, adding to the clutter of an audience desperately trying to solve their clutter challenges. A product marketer would easily raise these challenges and offer solutions by working with your designer.

Designers are not product marketers, though they should certainly bring many complimentary skills to the table. VCs are not product marketers, and you may be in for  ride of if you are using them as such. Corporate leadership should certainly have a voice in product marketing, but they lack the day to day insights your product marketer thrives on.

By our nature, we all gravitate towards what we know. Coders will focus on the code and designers on design. But if you don't include the voice of your users in your core product development, don't be suprised when they dont show up six months down the line.

Most start-ups aren't building solutions for TechCrunch. So don't limit your marketing efforts to people who can get you on TechCrunch. The deadpool is full of ideas that were great on paper.

Now go interview some great product marketers. You'll be surprised how much you still have to learn.