If you know Dave McClure as 'the guy who swears a lot' I don't think you've been listening properly.
Dave McClure is the guy who talks about markets and distribution when everyone else is talking about tech specs and dev platforms.
He's the guy who asks you who your customer is not what your product can do.
He's the guy who tells you to stop building better mouse traps and start finding more efficient ways of servicing markets.
Dave is a creative marketer and angel investor who takes ideas from around the world and assembles them into something that people can understand and want to pay money for.
By my ears, he talked about marketing for about 3/4 of the fireside chat at the ATP Innovations incubator last night in Sydney but I'm wondering how well the message was received.
One of the people I talked to afterwards drew me a complicated diagram about raising capital out of Switzerland and told me he would never take money from 'any of those US funds' for reasons that were not covered in the diagram.
Another guy agreed that he needed to spend more time defining his customer but that most people had smart phones so his market was 'pretty much everyone'.
My own first business endeavor was in human-grade dog food. Bowwow Bakehouse was an outstanding company that harnessed all of my 20-year-old genius to build a better product. What I didn't have was a way of getting my product to customers.
So I built my first ecommerce cart in ASP and created a form where you could enter your dog's birthday. Rover and Snuffles were posted birthday packs with product samples and a voucher to reorder. People loved it and a community grew. Customers would send photos of their dogs wearing Bowwow Bakehouse Birthday Club hats and I would manually scan them on to my static, HTML website and build a mailing list. The sales were were about $150 a week all up but my little system worked (scale was another issue as I later learned when I went to work for a large supermarket retailer).
Why am I telling you this?
So that you don't waste too much time building a better mouse trap (or in my case-better dog food) only to realise that you have no way of accessing your customers or transacting products to them to make money.
The product isn't the end point in itself.
When people pitched their startups to Dave he answered as to whether or not he thought he could market the idea to a customer.
Transacting the customer is your objective. Sales are good. Marketplaces are very important and that's why businesses like Amazon,WalMart, TradeMe and the iTunes store are so successful.
People like Dave McClure are rare in the startup scene and it was refreshing to hear an innovation discussion anchored in solid promotional and channel strategy.
We have all sorts of new tools now that both startups and enterprise can use. Can you imagine how much easier the Bowwow Birthday Club party photos would have been on Facebook?
Dave correctly asserted, this is the layer where we should be innovating to better service customers. The marketing layer is swimming in great new tech that isn't being applied to a lot of traditional business models. Improve how the customer transacts and you have a successful business.
Dave's comment that 'most companies suck at internet marketing' is one I'd have to agree with and it creates huge opportunities for startups who can keep their eyes on the customer and not get caught replicating tech mousetraps.
Thanks to all the organisers, it was a great event and we hope to see Dave and 'Geeks on a Plane' back over this side of the world in 2013.
Group image: Dave McClure, Rick Baker Blackbird Ventures, Hamish Hawthorn CEO ATPi and Pete Cooper, Sydstart