Developing the Nucleus – Startup Marketing



Marketing a startup efficiently is vital — I doubt this notion requires much convincing. Ensuring that user acquisition costs are effective and profitable will practically determine whether or not a company succeeds or fails. A company without customers is just an expensive project.

Running on a lean budget (as many early stage startups do) means that you need to make every dollar count. So how do you make the most of your marketing budget early on? The key to success is focusing on your “nucleus,” a much smaller, highly targeted cluster of customers/users that are most likely to use your product. The nucleus can also provide in-roads to the broader market, act as “trend-setters,” and can also offer vital feedback early on.

1)   Market Research

This sounds so arcane, but it is critical. Determine, with as much precision as you possibly can, the following: 

a)   Which individuals are you solving a problem for?
b)   What solutions do they currently use?
c)    How much are they paying for solutions or equivalents?
d)   How much spending power do they have?
e)   Where and how do they meet with one another?
f)    Where do they discover new things and what influences them?

2)   Defining the User 

After addressing the above point “which individuals are you solving a problem for?,” you need to work extensively on defining user demographics. If anything, this is an exercise in making your targeting as precise as possible.

a)   Is there a specific region to focus on initially? (There almost certainly should be.)
b)   Is there a specific profession or segment to target? (“Housewives that have an interest in yoga and organic food,” or “Women in their 30s that work in technology law on the west coast,” etc.)
c)    Where does your target demographic congregate, work, play, network, and consume media? In essence, you should try to create absurdly specific statements that define your users. The more specific this becomes, the easier and more efficient it will become to market. You may well have several demographics that you can market to. Defining them and separating them is critical; you can then focus on whichever one is initially more accessible and profitable to chase after. Once you’ve successfully captured one demographic, you can proceed to the others.

3) Working with the Nucleus

a)   Determine how best to deploy new features and then test them.
b)   Implement an effective stream of communication with users to collect feedback and discover ‘micro-pain-points’ in the product.
c)    Figure out how to turn your customers into ‘spokespeople’ and influencers. Importantly, figure out how to incentivize them to talk about your product and promote it. **A recommendation from a peer is worth exponentially more than any kind of marketing**
d)   Be responsive to your customers to refine your product to their needs in an iterative manner. It is important, however, to tread this fine line without making the product too “niche.”

If you make a product that answers the needs and requirements of the ultimate “power-user,” while also making it accessible to the most casual user, finding success is inevitable. A perfect example of this is the Macbook Pro, which has become the go-to machine for programmers, video professionals, animators, and designers while wonderfully suitable for the total novice.


There is no single answer to developing a perfectly focused marketing plan. But when it comes to startups, defining and targeting your nucleus is the best place to start. This approach will enable you to fail or succeed more rapidly and more clearly, making the entire process faster and more accurate.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: Michael Beckwith

About the author: Maxim Wheatley

Maxim Wheatley is a recent graduate of Georgetown University, having studied Cognitive Science & Psychology. He is currently working to become an iOS development guru. His interests center around startups and new ventures, he has already been involved in three different startups, and started two small businesses before he graduated college. Currently based in Washington, DC, Maxim is always interested in talking about ideas and opportunities wherever they might be.

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