Marketing and renewable energy start-ups

A smart venture capitalist I’ve known for some time introduced me to one of her clean energy portfolio companies. As I transition from the enterprise software / Web 2.0 world to renewable energy, she has been incredibly helpful.

Then I heard back from the founder of that energy firm: “Marketing guys will be the last to get hired in this economy.” Maybe that seems true, even obvious, to many. But, let’s think about this.

There’s a problem I see among renewables start-ups; in fact, many early-stage companies dominated by scientists and engineers. Their scarce financial resources (getting scarcer by the day) are allocated predominately to on-going research and product development. Why? They are comfortable with R&D as opposed to the black magic (I could use two different words) world of marketing. And, there’s the perception that you can’t move forward unless your product or service is fully baked.

A client and founder of a company with a really compelling, web-based business-to-business service continued to fund software engineering with limited seed capital and just one small paying pilot customer. My perspective is summed up in my dissenting assessment of his path: “You are going to have the best web platform in the world for [XYZ] when you close the doors.” Their precipice is perilously close.

It’s never too early to sell the story. A tough economy may be the best time to prime the pump. In this period of bleeding cash and non-existent credit, organizations aren’t likely to buy today or tomorrow. But, if your offering is top-of-mind when things loosen up, you’ll be in great shape. People will be willing to pilot your not-quite ready primetime stuff because you’ve had them chomping at the bit.

The choice is simple: the perceived great product that will be available soon or the completed widget they’ve never heard of?  In all of high tech, the choices are myriad. Similarly, the alternatives for customers’ energy portfolios are getting broader and broader.

Tell your story now. Do some marketing.

— posted by Tom Witkin

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Posted in Blogroll, Energy, Tales From the Road, Uncategorized

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