Marketing for Startups & Enterprise: An Interview with Microsoft’s Kevin Henrikson 

At SEJ Summit Silicon Valley, Loren Baker talks with Kevin Henrikson about how marketing works when you’re in a startup and when you’re in an enterprise.

Loren:    [00:03] Hi, this is Loren Baker with search engine journal here at SEJ summit at the computer science history museum in mountain view. With me today I have Mr. Kevin Henrikson from Microsoft.

Kevin:      How’s it going?

Loren:    Good to see again.

Kevin:      Likewise.

Loren:    So let’s talk a little bit about marketing when you’re at a startup and when you’re at a larger corporation. Recently you were involved in an acquisition by Microsoft, correct?

Kevin:      [00:28] Yeah, that’s correct. So my company Acompli, it’s about 20 of us, got acquired by Microsoft about eight months ago. And yeah, there’s some changes, right? You know, the way that we kind of did things as a small company, more agile and probably less process in general, but there’s also some things that are harder, right? And it was harder as a startup trying to get known and get your name out and get your brand know, right? which obviously Microsoft has less of that problem right now, people have heard of Microsoft.

Loren:    And has an existing marketing machine.

Kevin:      Correct, yeah.

Loren:    [00:58] Back at Acompli, you were doing a little bit more of the scrappy do it yourself type, I mean you were involved with the marketing.

Kevin:      Engineering was very closely tied into marketing and how that worked. And so I mean, the product and the product team and design, all was kind of integrated in terms of how we market. And now obviously when you move into a larger company those functions are separated. I think the good part about it is as we’ve transitioned so far kind of from accompli into Microsoft and now, you know, being branded as Microsoft outlook the brand made a big difference in terms of, you know, pushing us up in terms of growth. But it also enabled us to go focus on other things around how do we provide the best support or how do we provide the best features and functionality for that as we go through.

[01:40] And then the marketing aspects of that are really about how do we really retain those users and how do we make sure they have a great experience kind of onboarding the app and kind of, you know, taking them from where they’ve already heard of the brand or the company and probably getting them into our app and getting them ontn their phone.

Loren:    So in the startup world, if you had an idea, would you basically just pull it off that day or take the time to plan things out, thinking about what may happen down the road with that campaign? 

Kevin:      [02:02] Yeah, that’s great. So I think the way we structured a kind of marketing and growth inside of Acompli was that we had a greater vision of like an idea of like, Hey, we want to go this way or we want to attain these kinds of numbers, or this is the kind of thing we do. But how we got there was super agile. We would just throw things against the wall. Does this work? Test it. If it works, run with it. If it doesn’t, kill it and move on, right? And I think similarly, if you kind of compare the parallels, at Microsoft we do have a greater goal. Like we want to hit a growth number, we want to hit a certain target. And as we achieve that, we still kind of break that down into smaller pieces. But many of those pieces aren’t controlled by our team, right? So we end up having other teams and partner teams that are working that are more, you know, they have more expertise or own that part of the process.

[02:42] But in terms of how we design and how we decide of what to go attack, we still try to break it down into small pieces because it’s just easier to consume and it gives you that agility to say, Hey, if something doesn’t work, stop doing that and go do something else. And so I think that’s worked well.

Loren:    So, Acompli is really a success story. You guys launched an app and everything else made it, with the acquisition part of Microsoft. Congratulations, of course. But what would you say is the one kind of digital marketing discipline that you think really worked for you all? whether it’s digital PR or content or SEO or just getting word out there about the app itself? Like what really hit it off?

Kevin:      [03:22] I think for us by far the biggest kind of impact or biggest lever that we had in terms of both growing Acompli as a company or brand is press, right? And I say press and that is kind of a broad thing, right? It’s like, you know, it’s people writing about you, it’s people talking about you on social media. All of that filters down from us getting— Nobody knows who you are as you’re a startup, right? And so when you make an announcement and say, “Hey, I’m here”, press has the biggest kind of reach, it has that set of readers. And so, you know, posting articles online, writing kind of controversial blog posts and getting those kind of pushed out into press or having people write about those was the best way, and I still stink inside of Microsoft, I think a lot of that is, you know, obviously the press machine that Microsoft has is larger, right? I think that helps in terms of the width of what we can do. But at the end of the day, press was by far the best thing. It was the most impactful on both our company and our brand and kind of the app itself and user base.

Loren:    [04:16] Yeah. Which is really interesting, especially in the world of startups because a lot of the time when I’m looking at a website or an app that got their initial tech crunch, VentureBeat coverage around their investment or whatever, you see a blip and you see a little bit of traction and then it kind of dies off, right? And then it’s like next time there’s funding a blip again, right? Cause they get on tech crunch again, and then it kind of dies off. So do you think that kind of cutting through the noise with the press coverage that you had and those types of blog posts and everything else really helped you maintain?

Kevin:      [04:46] It did. I mean, for sure when you would get an article you would get a blip. And I think the thing that we realized is that the getting that blip is hard though, right? You know, the blip is huge and it’s impactful and it’s awesome. But getting those is hard. Nobody wants to write about you every day, every week, right? And so doing meaningful and impactful things, and so grouping features or grouping kind of chunks of releases into something that’s pressable, like that you can go put, you know, have actually a press event around, made sense. But for us it was really like, “what’s the story like?” You know, it’s a small team building something new and we’re attacking a space that’s very old. We were going after email, right? And like it’s been around for everybody. There’s already hundreds of competitors out there. What made us different? and what were we doing differently? And so it’s not just like, Hey, I’m doing something and funding is great, but why are you getting funding?

[05:33] Lots of people are getting funding. Like there’s lots of startups in the Valley. Like how is yours different and how is yours unique? And it was like, and being able to craft that story and have like that sound bite that you can talk to a potential writer or reporter about where they can say, “yep, I got it. Makes sense. This is why you’re different.” And then that’s why they wrote the story, right? It’s not because, “Hey, we just want to get press and we go get it.” Right? Because otherwise you get the one blip and never come back, right?

Loren:    You tell a good story and people want to retell it.

Kevin:      Yeah, exactly. And then you have that story that threads through and like, here’s the next chapter of the story. Remember at our last meeting, this is what we’re going to do. And then kind of going back and forth and that allows you to kind of get that rhythm, right? It’s like, you know, Peter, our CEO used to say it’s like the drum beat, right? And then you just keep hitting bigger notes, bigger notes, bigger notes, and you’re working with a base cause now you are starting to get known. But then so how do you make those next ones bigger, right? And how do you make it more impactful? Yeah, there you go. That’s a great way I think to think about how you work a press strategy, is have a story to tell and you know, and get people interested in what you’re doing and less about like, “Hey just go write a story.”

[06:38] Because nobody, you know, you’ve been publishing and writing for years, right? I mean you have to have something that cuts through the noise and is impactful enough to get that kind of signal to go after.

Loren:    Cool. So Kevin, where can we find you online, and the SEJ audience? Where can we find you on Twitter?

Kevin:      [06:56] So, on Twitter @KevinHenrikson, just my full name. And also on Facebook, and so you can probably look me up. Twitter is probably the easiest, less noisy. And we’re good to go. So thanks again for having me. I appreciate it.

Loren:    Very cool. Thank you. Thanks a lot.

Loren:    [07:11] Hey kids, this is Loren Baker with search engine journal here at the SEJ summit in mountain view. With me I have Jim Christian, they head of  SEO over at GoDaddy. Welcome Jim.

Jim:          Hey, thanks for the intro. Appreciate it.

Loren:    You might wonder what we’re doing sitting in a car. Well, this is no normal car. This is actually a Google self driving cars.

Jim:          It is,

Speaker:  [07:31] The SEJ summit is one of the better conferences I attended, the speakers are fantastic. the weather here has amazing. I mean, just the location, the hotel.

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