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For Trusona’s CMO, a startup mindset means being a jack-of-all-trades
After 14 years leading marketing programs for Microsoft, Karen Dayan made the jump to marketing startups and hasn't looked back.
In 2012, after more than a decade at Microsoft, Karen Dayan made the leap from building marketing programs for the world’s largest software company to working at a startup.
“I spent 14 years at Microsoft in a bunch of different marketing roles across the business and oversees in the Middle East and Africa, and the last six years in Redmond, Washington at the headquarters,” says Dayan, “And then, I spent about 10 years in two different startups.”
The first of Dayan’s startup experience was as VP of marketing for Criteo. During her time at the personalized retargeting platform, the company went from $20 to $200 million in revenue in two years. After Criteo, Dayan was recruited by cybersecurity expert Ori Eisen to lead marketing for his startup, 41st Parameter. That company eventually sold to Experian.
Dayan says she had been doing marketing consulting when Eisen approached her for the second time in January of this year to run marketing efforts for his newest startup, Trusona.
“I joined the team in January of this year,” says Dayan, “They have been in business for about two years now, but, as you know with startups, the first few months to years is really building the product, finding the product market fit, and, when the the time is right, marketing the product.”
Founded in 2015, Trusona is a cybersecurity platform that aims to replace passwords with safer and simpler methods for logging into any online service.
When asked about her attachment to the startup culture, Dayan says she’s hooked.
“Taking a brand, a product and a service that’s unknown in the market, and working hard, and tedious execution — it’s like you’re creating something in a studio and then, all of a sudden, your brand becomes a leader in the market.”
The CMO says seeing that all the work come to fruition, and become a leader, is hugely satisfying.
Today, Dayan offers her insights on building marketing strategy for product launches and shares the lessons she learned at Microsoft that proved applicable to her work as a startup CMO.
1. Create buzz — In early days, it is important for a brand to drive awareness and be omnipresent in the eyes of prospects. That doesn’t necessarily require expensive execution — it could be as simple as regularly posting on social media, targeted placements on professional networks, or creatively participating at relevant events.
2. Build credibility — Until you have customers you can tout on your website, determine your company’s unique strengths and focus your efforts on thought leadership.
3. Be creative — It’s not easy to get the attention of your prospects in a crowded market, especially as a startup. Therefore, it is extremely important to set clear objectives for every marketing activity and think of out-of-the-box tactics to achieve your goals.
Amy Gesenhues: As someone who has led marketing for both large-enterprise organizations and startups, where do you see the biggest difference in what you’re trying to accomplish — beyond the need to build brand awareness?
Karen Dayan: Of course, brand awareness is a challenge. When you have a larger company that already has an established brand, it’s a much different ball game. The way I look at it is it’s not only brand awareness, but building that brand credibility — people not only recognizing the brand, but trusting it.
Because we’re in a B2B situation where we’re selling to large enterprises across finance, healthcare, government, higher ed [and] entertainment, we need to build that credibility.
Well-known brands are able to launch new products into market that automatically inherit the credibility of the umbrella brand. With startups, there’s several factors which go into building a brand credibility early-on. The most impactful factor will be existing clients, and being able to list a lot of logos on your site.
Usually, with a startup, it’s like the chicken and the egg. You don’t have clients, so you can’t talk about the clients that are already using you in order to get new clients. Ways that I’ve been doing this throughout the years is through thought leadership, really understanding where we excel, and where we’re unique, and having the company present that thought leadership in any way possible.
Whether it’s byline articles, whether it’s at events and through different customer meetings, through the website — thought leadership is key.
And then, even before you can get to thought leadership, the executive team track record and investor and advisor reputations build a lot of credibility in the company, as well as brand image.
So as you’re building your new brand, how you look to the world and the positioning that you display can build a lot of that brand credibility which comes inherently for a bigger brand.
Another difference [is] the limited resources a startup has — both in manpower and in money. When marketing for a startup versus an enterprise brand, it requires a lot more tradeoff and focus on optimizing the highest impact strategies and tactics.
[As] a bigger brand, of course, you’re always optimizing, and you have a budget — but you have more people, more manpower, that can do a lot more things than in a startup.
AG: How do you identify the best person — or persons — within the C-suite or on the team to serve in the thought leadership role for a startup?
KD: I think you have to take a lot into consideration to choose the thought leaders or the spokespeople of the company — which could be one and the same, but could be very different.
In the case of 41st Parameter and Trusona, Ori Eisen, who’s our founder and our CEO, is a huge cybersecurity expert. He’s well known in the industry; he brings credibility with him. So he’s the one doing the bylines, he’s the one writing, he’s the face of the company in that sense.
I’ve been in previous companies where the CEO was more of the business leader, and less of the thought leader in the industry. In that case, the CTO was the thought leader in the technology we were bringing [to] the people because he had the credibility.
To that same sense, the way we’re marketing at Trusona, we have a bunch of different audiences. We have an audience that is the security people who want the product, and you need a security expert.
We have an audience that is more the customer experience people, who want to get rid of passwords and make a delightful solution for their customers. Then, we use someone on our team who’s our chief design officer. He’s the customer satisfaction expert, so he’s the leader for that.
I think it really depends on the audience you’re trying to reach and where the skills are in the company.
AG: What about the lessons learned while leading marketing for large organizations like Microsoft? What have you been able to apply to your marketing strategy for Trusona and the other startups you’ve been part of?
KD: In my last role at Microsoft, we were building up the software, the service product for Microsoft. Essentially, it was like a little startup within a bigger Microsoft. What I was able to do at Microsoft — and learn — was that I was building one of the first digital strategies for Microsoft at the time.
With digital, the greatest advancement is the ability to readily test, measure, refine, and optimize marketing to achieve the best ROI. Being at a big brand, and having the flexibility with budgets and access to top agencies, I was able to experiment with so many different tactics of digital marketing.
Of course, all those learnings I can take with me to the smaller startups which may have less time, money, resources, access to big agencies. Now that I have that learning under my belt, I can bring that with me to the startups.
AG: What about the mindset of a startup CMO — do you think it differs from someone leading marketing for a well-established brand or large company?
KD: I think a startup CMO needs to be a jack-of-all-trades and needs to be ready and willing and excited to roll up their sleeves to get the job done — where, in large corporations, there’s different groups that run various aspects of marketing.
There’s a group that does the PR. There’s a group that does events. There’s even a group that does event logistics versus event content. There’s a whole group of agencies that run online marketing. In a startup, it could be a few people, or even a one-man band, for quite a while to run all these aspects.
Coming from a large organization, moving to a startup, one of their first questions to me was, “Great, you were at Microsoft. You had all this money probably thrown at you, and this machine you just put the money in on one end, and on the other end, things came out. How are you going to do this?”
It was really about understanding the broad spectrum of every piece of marketing, and bringing that to a startup. A startup CMO needs to be skilled at carefully defining objectives, and focusing on the activities that’ll make the largest impact for the business.
In a larger organization, the mindset of the CMO is more about managing, and having other people do that — in a startup, it really has to be the CMO that’s making those decisions every single day.
AG: What has been the most challenging aspects of marketing a startup?
KD: Driving awareness and buzz around a new brand, especially in a crowded space that’s usually getting crowded more every day.
When a startup comes about, they’re thinking of this new thing they’re going to solve, and, of course, there’s a few others who think they can solve it as well.
So having to do that with few resources, and really from ground zero, is super challenging. Another challenge particular to a startup — and, of course, it depends what stage the startup is — there’s still a lot of unknowns in terms of product market fit, and who is the buyer in the audience. Who in the organization needs to be targeted? And, especially at Trusona, where we do have this match for a bunch of different buyers in the audience for marketing?
It’s really tough. You have to roll with the punches and be able to adjust where needed. You try one audience, and then you try another, and then, all of a sudden, there are technological advances and the product shifts a little — and then, we’re not doing this, but we’re doing a little of that. I think that happens less in an established product.
In a startup, especially early on, there are a lot of changes to the direction, and the product market fit, and that is quite challenging.
AG: What platforms have been more beneficial for building out Trusona’s marketing strategy?
KD: At Trusona, and also at the previous companies, I’m a big proponent for building a brand initially through PR and thought leadership. I think those are critical pieces to the brand, defining your position and unique attributes, and getting it out.
The more omnipresent your brand can be to your relevant targets, the better. It’ll open doors for sales and business development. There are guerrilla tactics to get this done; it doesn’t have to be big budgets and billboards.
I think this includes wisely leveraging key events, finding advocates in the market, and friendlies that can help give feedback about the product, about the marketing. And creating extremely targeted campaigns, whether through email or social media, to reach the most relevant buyers directly.
Of course, this all depends on what you’re selling, how broad, or how targeted it is. But, I find those the most effective ways to really get notice of your brand.
AG: Have you guys leveraged any influencer marketing?
KD: Yes, we do have quite a few experts we use. One in particular at Trusona, who’s been working with Ori for several years is Frank Abagnale.
Because we’re a company that’s focused on finding the true persona and the identity, Frank Abagnale is the guy who the film “Catch Me If You Can” was written about, the No.1 old-school fraudster. We use him both as someone who feeds into the product, and helps us develop the product, and think about these types of things — but also as an external spokesperson.
Having him as internal adviser of the company, and external spokesperson for the company, has been amazing. He’s someone who gets invited to speak at so many different events about identity and identity theft. Every time he speaks somewhere, regardless of his connection to us, we see leads come in.
AG: Trusona is still fairly new in its life as a startup, but at what point do you believe an organization moves beyond the startup mentality, or even stops calling itself a startup?
KD: It’s true, there’s no clear definition. Sometimes, there’s sort of an event that happens, and you get bought by a big company or you IPO — but is that really the end of startup? I don’t know. Some companies are startups for 12 years, and some, like Slack — is it still a startup? Probably not, and they’re pretty new.
Because “startup” is defined in so many different ways, there’s not one clear definition.
I think, in terms of marketing, once an organization grows beyond a single division and requires dedicated teams to market different divisions — and they all roll up to maybe a CMO who’s more managing up rather than managing down — maybe that’s when they graduate from their startup mode. When the CMO is doing more of the coordination in a 30,000-foot view of things, rather than the day-to-day, hand-on strategy and execution-type things.