Guerilla Marketing, Brad Feld Style

This article originally appeared on Forbes HERE.

Serial entrepreneur, venture investor and startup accelerator pioneer Brad Feld has notoriously mocked traditional marketing throughout his career. Rejecting the paint-by-numbers approach to corporate communications deployed by most marketing executives, Brad has embraced unconventional guerilla marketing tactics to help establish his venture capital firm, Foundry Group, as a thought leader in early-stage tech investing.

“…companies should… focus on building amazing products. If you have amazing products, the marketing of those products is trivial. If you have $hitty products, the marketing is impossible. Instead of focusing on marketing as an activity… integrate it into (your) products.”

Brad Feld, Managing Director, Foundry Group



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According to Brad, “I would say my whole universe is probably categorized as guerilla marketing. For a long time, I had a line which was, ‘Whenever I hear the word marketing, it makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth.’”

I recently spoke with Brad about his approach to guerilla marketing and how he instills eclectic marketing tactics in Foundry Group’s portfolio companies.

You can watch my nine minute discussion with Brad below or on YouTube here:

The catalyst for Brad’s evolving view of marketing was THIS blog entry by Chris Moody in which he pointed out that much of Foundry Group’s thought leadership efforts are essentially a form of guerilla marketing. Chris is the CEO of Gnip, a Foundry Group portfolio company.

Brad now considers thought leadership to be, “a flavor of (guerilla marketing). It’s direct, authentic, non-packaged creative around a particular set of ideas. If you look at many of the companies we invest in, sure they have traditional marketing activities, but most of their growth and momentum comes from delighting their users. I have shifted my mindset in terms of how companies should… focus on building amazing products. If you have amazing products, the marketing of those products is trivial. If you have $hitty products, the marketing is impossible. Instead of focusing on marketing as an activity… integrate it into (your) products.”

When the entrepreneur is obsessed with the product and the company has organized all of its activities around that, it’s very powerful.”

Trada – Guerilla Marketing In Action

When I asked Brad to describe one of his favorite guerilla marketing campaigns from within Foundry Group’s investment portfolio, he cited Trada. Brad proudly described how the company successfully used thought leadership marketing to seed a marketplace in which companies can outsource their SEO campaigns to a legion of independent, third-party “optimizers.” The optimizers buy keywords and create ads on behalf of Trada’s clients and then share the incremental revenue generated by such ads.

In particular, Brad was impressed that, “Trada…educated people on how SEM works…and they were incredibly inclusive. The Founder, Niel Robertson, created something called Crowdsortium and he reached out and invited anybody else who was working on crowdsourcing type businesses to be part of Crowdsortium and that amplified the crowdsourcing phenomenon. 

Within Boulder, they took part of their office and turned it into code space. They basically said, ‘Anybody who is a developer, come hang out here at Trada and we’ll give you coffee and food and a desk and Internet and you can plant here… and of course, some of those people (became) optimizers.

Think about things like code space as guerilla marketing because people are now talking about this great company Trada, which is providing space for developers, which by the way, they are desperate for.”

Foundry Group Goes Guerilla

Brad, along with his partners, have deployed guerilla marketing as a means of raising Foundry Group’s profile and communicating the firm’s casual and collaborative personality. In addition to the partners’ tireless blogging, they founded TechStars, one of North America’s premier startup accelerators.

One of the firm’s more infamous marketing stunts was their 2011 music video, entitled I’m A VC. If you have ever dealt with pretentious investors, you may pull a muscle laughing. The video was produced as a means of marketing Brad and Jason’s book, Venture Deals, yet the wide coverage it received resulted in significant promotion of the firm, its partners, and the book.

“We get regularly asked… who’s our PR firm, who does our marketing, what kind of budget do we have for promotion? We have never done a press release. We write blogs, we do music videos, we show up, we engage with people…we love our product. We’re very focused on the users of our product, which are entrepreneurs and… we translate into being very obsessed about our entrepreneurs’ products.

An image consultant would tell me, ‘Never do an interview right after you get out of the shower on Skype because your hair is going to be flat… and you should have shaved this morning. *&%@ that.”

Write Your Own Playbook

Successful guerilla marketing is predicated on executing unexpected and unusual tactics. By not relying exclusively on conventional marketing tactics, you no longer have to out-spend your competition in order to garner attention and be perceived as a thought leader.  

“The marketing playbook from the PR firms is, ‘Be authentic.’ Come on. Just be you. A company has a personality… make sure the personality fits the product, but that personality is of the founders, it can’t be manufactured and it shouldn’t be. If you start to try and manufacture it, it becomes laborious, painful, stiff (and) uninteresting. You can be a multi-thousand person company and still have a personality.

The things that get so tiresome to watch… (are) 20, 30, 50-person startups who try so hard. ‘We’re the market leader in blah.’ Well if you’re the market leader, why doesn’t anyone know who you are? If you have to tell me you’re the market leader are you really the market leader? Don’t tell me what you are, just be it and show me.”

The next time someone at your company proposes a conventional marketing campaign, do not reach for your anti-reflux medication. Instead, follow Brad’s lead and base your company’s marketing tactics on your company’s authentic personality.

John Greathouse

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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  • Really enjoyed this little piece. Off to look at the video and the Foundry Group!

  • John Greathouse

    Thanks Jamie – Brad is really entertaining & enlightening.

  • Kelly Schmandt

    Just watched The Foundry music vid. Good stuff! Brad hammers home some good points in your interview, but especially the importance of a great product and the passion to engage customers. That’s what is really all comes down to and a great reminder that all great things come from a solid foundation. Thanks, John!

  • The video’s message is timeless. I have been swarmed at entrepreneur events as an “investor” and its not a pretty sight.

    Product and passion are 99% of the equation – timing makes up most of the remaining 1%. Unless your space is really crowded, you don’t usually need to scream to get people’s attention.

  • The number one rule of Guerrilla Marketing is:

    1. Never fight your enemy when the enemy outnumbers you

    In marketing application, this means that instead of marekting to millions of people, attack small niche groups of fan-bois, Otaku (Japanese term for “reclusive fanatic”), and Mania (Korean term for obsessive product zealots).

  • Maybe another way of stating your point is, “Never fight your enemy where they outnumber you.” Startups will always be outnumbered, but the key (as you point out) is to find niches where you can dominate and outnumber the Big Dumb Company.

  • I love that. Find a niche where YOU outnumber THEM. Brilliant!

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