When Marketing Won’t Save Your Company

Blake Epstein

As a startup, you tend to work with other startups. Your clients are smaller, a little less business savvy and their products often fail to reach critical mass. As someone who has worked with a broad range of startups, a pattern began to emerge on why some have succeeded while others have failed. Through my years of experience I believe most situations can be looked at using something I call the WINS MATRIX.


The WINS matrix or Why I’m Not Selling

The WINS Matrix is a very simple exercise to test your idea, product or service and see if there is a chance of long-term viability. What is mostly can help with though is qualifying the idea of marketing to scale your business.

Ideally, you can “cross-off” these four squares because you’ve accomplished them already (you meet or exceed all the requirements in the matrix). But if you’re not eligible for all four, you should meet at least three. Anything less means you have some internal work to do before marketing could have any positive and profitable impact on your business.

Before you make the jump into advertising, I recommend asking yourself these four questions to see if marketing is right for you.

The Quadrants

There are 4 quadrants that represent an aspect of your company

1. PMF — Product market fit: Do you people want your product right now?

2. Funnel — Your customer acquisition methods: How are you gaining customers?

3. Capital — How much money you have: Are you self-funded, VC-backed or making enough money through current sales or just flat broke?

4. Content — Do you have images, video, copy, testimonials and or reviews?

Product Market Fit

This is the most important factor that predicts whether or not your company thrives or dies. If you make a product nobody wants, no matter how much money you spend marketing it, it won’t sell. PMF is one of the most difficult things to predict. There are a variety of factors that influence it (probably more than you are willing to read about) including competition, picking the right target audience, etc… But to simplify this idea we can plot it. Is the product you created more of a novelty or built to scale?


Fad or Fab?

Let’s take ice cream as an example product to test this on. Let’s hop in a time machine back to the year 1904. On this fateful day at the St. Louis World’s fare:

Ernest A. Hamwi, a Syrian concessionaire. Hamwi was selling a crisp, waffle-like pastry — zalabis — in a booth right next to an ice cream vendor. Because of ice cream’s popularity, the vendor ran out of dishes. Hamwi saw an easy solution to the ice cream vendor’s problem: he quickly rolled one of his wafer-like waffles in the shape of a cone, or cornucopia, and gave it to the ice cream vendor. The cone cooled in a few seconds, the vendor put some ice cream in it, the customers were happy and the cone was on its way to becoming the great American institution that it is today. — History of the Ice Cream Cone

And billions and billions of cones later we know that it was built to scale.

Now what if instead of selling a waffle-like pastry, he was selling waterproof and cold-proof beaver gloves, and inadvertently created the world’s first ice cream glove? I would wager that the beaver ice cream glove would fall closer to a novelty and would inevitably fail not just because the American beaver population was already in a crisis in the early 1900’s, but who would want fur to hold their ice cream?!

But wait! What if the ice cream cone was invented before modern machines could keep temperatures low enough and over a long enough period to keep milk from melting? All you would have is a cone shaped cup made from cake batter (which does sound really good), but it this falls on the another axis on the PMF Scale.


Are you trying to make faster horses or a better car?

You here have something that is “too soon”. That is, nobody needs it yet. This is another product misstep entrepreneurs and young start ups can make.

Are people even ready for your product?

CBInsights did a post-mortem on 253 failed startup. You can read it here.

Below is the top 20 reasons starts ups fail.


#1 — No Market Need

As you can see, most startups fail because they make products and services that people don’t want or need. They are either too late, too early or just a novelty and there isn’t enough potential in the market for growth. And if no one wants a product naturally, marketing can’t make it better.

If on the other hand you have a product that has a strong potential to scale AND you are in goldilocks zone of not too soon or too late, marketing can help you.


The Goldilocks Zone


The second most important factor is your funnel or customer acquisition methods. How are you obtaining new customers organically?


One of the many iterations of the sales funnel

How are your attracting customers? Often new business owners are blinded by their own enthusiasm (or terror) of going to market and they haven’t really thought about how they will gain users, patrons, etc… Most are so sold on their own hype that they have a “we will build it and they will come” mentality. Just because you are trying to revolutionize the wiffle ball bat does not mean customers will flock to every sporting goods waiving their money high in the air for it.

A fantastic product that is sitting comfortably in the goldilocks zone can have no initial customers. This is not a bad problem to have. Marketing can help. Instead of opening your door to crickets, let us help you with that!


Getting an early stage investment used to be easy, but in the last few years it has become more difficult.



(top) Global VC financing volume and value in technology companies (bottom) Global financing volume into technology companies by stage

Since 2014, it’s become harder to close those necessary early dollars to help fund a new start up.

Can you have a product without capital?

Often a case of chicken and the egg, it is hard to have one without the other. But really good ideas do get funded and a funded good idea that meets the PMF requirements can gain scaleable customer growth through marketing.

On the other hand, If you have bootstrapped a product together, and have a sustainable flow of organic customers but lack the scale-fuel of investment dollars, then making the pitch to a VC is a lot easier to win than having no product and no customers.


This is one of the most overlooked requirements to launching a new company; or is the least funded part of the operation.

With so much time and energy constructing the product, training the right people and building out distribution what’s left is usually a COB of the product or the company logo. How can you sell something if no one can see it?

Even if you have lack photos or video, you can crowd source content from your customers. Ask for reviews, testimonials and turn your community into little content creators. You’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t try and the worst thing that can happen is they say no.



A thing to remember and echoes the importance of making a great product — A great product naturally will create advocates and advocates want to showoff your brand because they are proud of it. In close, this simple exercise can have a profound long-term impact. It might cause you to pivot your business or start something new all together. At the end of the day I hate to see companies using their marketing dollars ineffectively when a few tweaks to their product or making more content can lead to gains in efficiency.


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