And we did it all with zero marketing!

"And I did it all with zero marketing!" Dumb things tech founders sayIt may be one of the dumbest things that tech startup founders can say. Still, I hear it again and again at conferences and pitch events in Vancouver’s hot tech startup scene: “And we did it all with zero marketing!”

Usually, the phrase follows right after some terrific early metric, for which this founder is justifiably proud: hundreds of paid subscription customers, twenty thousand app downloads, achieving a revenue-positive just weeks after launch, etc.

A core team of dedicated developers fueled by ramen noodles and Mountain Dew throw their creation into the app store, cross their fingers… and magic happened.

Not to begrudge these folks the success they’ve seen, but I’m skeptical that these metrics are all they could have hoped to achieve. Sure, their startup got lucky – having a great product helps. But not all companies are so lucky. A good product, good timing and other factors don’t always cut it.

If no one’s heard of your brand before your launch, throwing a product into the app store with no marketing is just bad business. You’re hoping that when you come into the office tomorrow, you’ll start seeing tens, hundreds, thousands of downloads to justify the sweat, blood and tears of the last six months of development.

Founders that brag, “We did it all with zero marketing” are telling the world that they had no plan for engaging their market. It’s like saying “we could have done way, way better — but just look at how far we got without even trying!”

That lucky initial metric of 20,000 downloads in just a few weeks could have been double, triple, maybe five times that number.

It’s just odd. When you look at the cost of development, with coders, graphic designers, web development specialists, U/X specialists and all the rest that can go into creating a project, a budget for marketing is going to come pretty close to a rounding error in terms of its overall cost to a company.

You can get a lot more bang for your buck on the marketing front. To launch with a basic marketing strategy, some landing page content, a blog post or two and maybe some social ads or a script for a video, a company might spend less than one month’s market-average salary for a single coder. It can be done.

A founder with just a bit of seed money is understandably cautious. They know the extent of their runway better than anyone. They value what they can measure, so they put all of their effort into building the product. But they don’t put any budget into telling people about where they can buy the product, how the product will solve people’s problems right now, why the pricing translates into pure value

Marketing ought to be part of every founder’s big launch. Tech founders are not building an app. They’re building a business. It is important for investors to see that.