“Tips for startups”: #marketing. Angelo Casagrande

StartupReporter would like to open a new series of articles “Tips for startups”. In this series of articles, we would like to share tips from experts who work with startuppers on daily basis to help them to make their startups more effective and also by talking about experts’ personality.


Oleksandr Komarevych (OK):  – Hi, Angelo. Thanks for finding time to share your personal tips about marketing, which could be helpful as for “garage style” and early-stage startups as for late-stage startups. First of all, I would like to ask you about your personal experience, your journey which brought you to where you are now: lean coach, mentor and advisor for startups. 

Angelo Casagrande: – Hey Oleksandr, thanks for choosing me for this article. About my journey, I’ve always been in the digital “thing”: I started as a web designer and developer when I was studying, later I started a digital agency (digital marketing and digital product development) which I ran for ten years, working with big corporate clients as well as many startups.

Co-working of Angelo Casagrande
Co-working of Angelo Casagrande

I never stopped making business on my own, and in 2014 I opened a co-working space in which I better approached the early-stage startup universe. I’ve been in digital marketing almost since it existed, and I had the opportunity to train my development teams to work Lean and Agile, so I just started trying to apply my knowledge and experience to help new digital businesses start and grow.

OK: – What is the most important lesson you received being in your lean coach/mentor/advisor journey so far?

Angelo: – I learned that people are always different, and startups are made of people, so with every single startup you have to start and build a new and specific relation like they were different girlfriends.

OK: – According to your experience, what is the main difference between early-stage and late-stage startups? What does the late-stage startup know and do better?

Angelo: – Late-stage startups have a vision, structure and – most important – a well-validated and stable business model, made by deep knowledge of their business, experience and detailed metrics. Early stage startups don’t ever have anything of that and are always crawling in the dark trying not to crash down.

OK: – What are the main problems with marketing that startups have at the beginning? What is the ABC for anyone who launches a project?

Angelo: – Experience. And by saying experience, I don’t mean “technical” experience, just experience with your own business. Early stage startuppers should use marketing to have quick access to lower budget to the market they’re testing, aiming to get validation data for their assumptions.

In an early stage startup, marketing should be used to learn, and never start with a long plan: only once you found validation to some models, then you can start working on marketing techniques, optimizing and planning a growth, but based on data and learnings you acquired making your first campaigns.

An example: you think 35-45 years old females in big cities are so interested in your product that you will sell it really easy and fast. Ok then, you don’t even need to have a product: you can start a 30€ campaign targeting F35-45 in one big city and you can play a lead-generation campaign or a pre-sell campaign or even a bluff campaign and drive your target through a real order and refund them after the order telling them that you don’t have your product “in stock” right now.

If you were right from the beginning, it should be really easy to make a profit with a single little campaign. If not, you are just learning tons of things you just couldn’t know.

Pitch session in co-working
Pitch session in co-working

OK: – Could you share some examples of good and bad marketing practices/strategies by startups?

Angelo: – Sure. On the bad side there’s a common mistake: a startup starts investing some funds on marketing, they make a plan for user acquisition strategy, they start their campaign, and don’t even look at their own metrics. Weeks later, they’re spending commonly over 5-10€ for a user in a business model that could only accept a cost of 1-2€, but they don’t care about it. In most of those cases, the startup is trying to get the wrong user, and they didn’t even know: a too-much-high cost per user should be an alarm saying “this is not my right user”, not a thing to “fix later with an SEM expert”.

On the good side, I recently worked with a startup that quickly changed their models using market-driven data. As a two-sided marketplace, they started opening a city and make a big user acquisition to further sell to the first clients, ended up (finding the right user and burning down the user acquisition cost) finding new clients all over Italy and use the client’s small budget to open the first user acquisition in client’s city. This means not just using marketing to get profit, but constantly using marketing to get feedback and change the way you’re working.

Angelo Casagrande

OK: – Just imagine a situation, there is someone who reads now this article and says “Okay. I have so many ideas every day and each idea is fantastic. What could I do if I have a low budget and no time enough, only weekends?”. What could you suggest him/her according to your experience? What are the next steps?

Angelo: – Validate your idea to the right target in real life: are your clients’ bars and restaurants? Use the weekend and the nights after work to pitch your idea to bar owners and try to get some sort of validation (a physical subscription to a mailing list, or even a pre-sell). Use digital marketing platforms to pitch the same idea to masses of the right target: you need young girls that want to work in a bar or restaurants?

Try understanding through the streets how to talk with them and what to say to convince them, replicate it with a marketing campaign. In two or three iterations, you should have a full small-scale model in which you now know what you really need to make it profitable.

OK: – What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Angelo: – Plans. Everyone out there is about planning. Plans don’t work for startups: they are startups, they are learning. How can you plan something you’re still trying to learn?

OK: – Are there books/blogs you suggest to read to be few steps forward than others?

Angelo: – I’ll recommend The Lean Startup (a classic) and finding examples of real executions, even if they ended up with a big fail.

Fairy tales are not going to help you in rough times, epic fails will at least tell you what to NOT do.

OK: –  What purchase of €100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?

Angelo: – a Chromecast. Life is not the same it was months ago.

OK: – What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? 

Angelo: – Getting my ass kicked for ten years trying to grow my own digital agency.

OK– What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Angelo: – Challenging and discussing with people. I love confrontation.

Pitch sessions. Angelo Casagrande

OK: – If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why?

Angelo:

– ”Dude, you are an asshole”.

No one thinks that about themselves, but if you don’t start arguing with yourself, you can’t learn anything in life. I think people should start from the “ok, what if I really am an asshole?” assumption: everything runs easily after that.

OK: – Angelo, what would you like to wish the readers?

Angelo: – To stop thinking and start failing.