Kelly Cottrell of Trew Marketing Talks about Working with Tech Startups
What university did you go to?
I attended Northern Illinois University and then started working full time at Hewlett Packard. I continued to pursue my education in the evenings which still living in the Chicago area and continued after moving to the Silicon Valley. By then, I was very focused on my career and traveling and I think I can honestly say that the best of my education came from a combination of hands on experience and some tremendously supportive mentors.
How did you get to Austin?
I started traveling to Austin for business in the late 1980's when I worked for 3Com. We were setting up telemarketing and lead generation call programs to increase direct mail responses and improve lead quality. I was impressed with the people that I met and worked with here and I loved the wide-open feeling of the Austin terrain and the sense that things were beginning to happen here. Most of all, I was attracted to the friendly feeling. I knew then that I wanted to get here somehow. Finally, in 1999, newly married, we bought a house and made it happen.
What did you do at your previous positions?
I was Director of Marketing at NetObjects and also held management positions in high tech marketing at companies such as 3Com, HP, and Pure Software. After working at these companies, I started my own firm, Springboard Marketing Group, in the Silicon Valley, working primarily with startups to set the strategies and build momentum for their companies. Because of the nature of a startup, I got involved in every aspect of the business, from product positioning, to lead generation programs to creating sales strategies and everything in between. I also had the opportunity to work on some unique projects, such as one at Adobe Systems in San Jose where I worked on the integration of two software acquisitions. The challenge here wasn’t just the rapid timeframe in which to integrate the products into the Adobe brand and distribution channels– it was also keeping the products positioned and marketed to the target that they were originally designed for. There were a lot of late night sessions!
What kind of companies did you work with?
I started out working for large companies like Hewlett Packard and 3Com. I realized at 3Com that my natural tendency is starting things from the ground up and I was attracted to startups. My first startup experience was a B2B software company with a high price point -- intensive purchase decision and long sales cycle. I heard about another hot startup that was making UNIX software development tools and went in to interview on a whim. The company was initially bootstrapped and started producing cash almost immediately. I was the 30th employee to join and the first non-technical employee in marketing. I learned a lot about technology and the software development process and taught the rest of the team about marketing principles including demand generation and how to work with the sales force. This was a great company -- new products were developed quickly and the company had an excellent reputation for fulfilling a need and having high quality products. After the IPO, the company was purchased and I moved on to work with companies that created web design applications, internet services and eventually built my own startup – Springboard Marketing.
How is the Austin market the same as Silicon Valley?
A lot of great ideas and technologies are generated here just like in Silicon Valley. When I first moved here in 2000, being downtown had a similar frenetic feeling to San Francisco but with more of a hometown feel to it. There’s also a similar casual atmosphere – you can bump into a millionaire and never know it. Networking is important here just like the valley. And a good reputation can go a long way in both towns.
How is Austin different from Silicon Valley?
I would definitely say that there is a more balanced approach to life here. Austinites work hard but aren’t going to stop playing hard. And football isn’t just a sport here – it’s a lifestyle! I also think there’s a real sense of loyalty here, people really want to stay in Austin and stay with a company. That’s not always the case in the valley where folks are more prone to look for the next shiny thing.
What is the biggest mistake you see startup companies doing?
I guess you can always point to something obvious like wrong product, wrong price, or wrong time. I feel pretty strongly, though, that quality is probably the biggest area where people make mistakes. I don’t just mean quality in your product but throughout your organization. Is the communication clear and consistent? Are your materials professional looking? Does your entire team treat every interaction with potential customers, influencers and investors professionally and respectfully? Especially early on in a company’s development, every small thing has a cumulative effect and answers the question – “who is this company?”
There are many smart, talented and motivated entrepreneurs who tend to think they can use their skills that helped them early on in another, less familiar area. I have seen this lead to poor results. It’s important that business owners know their strengths and weaknesses and when to get help.
What is your next step here in Austin?
I'm really enjoying working at TREW Marketing. The founders, Wendy Covey and Rebecca Geier, are a great team and they’ve created an environment where we all have a slightly different background but adhere to the same core values and beliefs about marketing and the community that we live in. We were fortunate to have a great first year in serving clients in B2B technology and cause-related programs -- working across all marketing disciplines from web to direct marketing to public relations. I look forward to continuing to help TREW grow, and putting down stronger roots in the Austin work community.