Don’t Just Pitch. Market.

At January’s Smartups meeting, Dr. Tony Ratliff took the mic to share some insights on marketing for startups. Having been on both the startup side and investor side, he brought a treasure trunk full of tips on pitching. If this is your first time hearing about Smartups, it’s a monthly meet up group in Indianapolis where marketers and entrepreneurs come together to share their insights on startups.

The full-time dentist, full-hearted entrepreneur walked us through the elements for a successful pitch, highlighting 3 goals:

  • to give investors an overview
  • to get them excited about your company, your team, your idea, your product, your solution
  • to get them to take the next step

Throughout his presentation, Dr. Ratliff emphasized an underlying theme of asking and addressing the right questions:

  • How did you discover the problem?
  • Why are you the right people to do this?
  • How many people have this problem?
  • Are your customers willing to pay for your solution?
  • What is the size of your market?
  • What is your marketing plan?
  • What is your customer acquisition cost?
  • How many competitors are in the space?
  • What’s your competitive advantage? your secret sauce?

The conversation changed from pitching to marketing in no time. By asking these questions of yourself and your team, not only will you see a pitch assemble right in front of your eyes, but you will also uncover the layers of branding. By addressing these questions, you realize the marketing strategy for your product.

One of the many points that Dr. Ratliff made that resonated with me was that “most Startups fail from a lack of customers; not from a lack of cool stuff.” This is inherently a marketing problem. When an investor asks what your customer acquisition costs are, they are asking for your plan. They want to see if your marketing plan is feasible. And, to successfully run your business, you need to ensure you are making more per customer than your acquisition costs.

Every entrepreneur in the room could pick up any tip of Dr. Ratliff’s and apply it to his own business. That’s the beauty of Smartups. And, although he focused on pitching to investors, Dr. Ratliff inadvertently asked us to look at marketing in a holistic way. After all, without marketing, would the product exist? If a tree fell in the forest and no one heard it, did it fall?

So, whether you start at pitching or marketing, I trust you will find your way to a successful business. And, if you’re looking for a support network of marketers and entrepreneurs in the Indianapolis area, know that we’re here for you.

If you are interested in joining Smartups or would like to go to the next one, sign up at