Strategizing for startups

How to think before you act when it comes to marketing for your company

The concept is simple: Think before you act in marketing. Getty images

If there were a joke about how entrepreneurs treat their marketing — and there totally isn't — it would go something like this.

An entrepreneur walks into a bar. Before the bartender can ask, the entrepreneur says, "I want a drink and I need it ASAP."

"What type of drink?", the bartender asks, motioning to the hundreds of bottles behind him.

"I need a drink that is refreshing, doesn't make me too drunk and makes me feel like I'm getting my money's worth."

The bartender begins listing drink after drink, and the entrepreneur, sometimes sampling the drink, turns each one down.

At long last, the entrepreneur climbs behind the bar, grabs a glass, pours in some ice and soda water, and takes a long sip.

"This is exactly what I wanted," the entrepreneur proclaims, "Why didn't you offer me this in the first place?"

The moral of the story? When it comes to marketing, entrepreneurs tend to know exactly what they want, yet they focus on quenching that immediate thirst, not knowing why they're in a bar in the first place.

The idea of your first step is nothing compared to the reality of your second. You can know something but applying those principles to starting and/or running your own business can be difficult.

When we (yes, I'm an entrepreneur too) look at marketing, we often confuse tactics with strategy. I see a problem and immediately need a tool to fix it. Hanging a picture? Where's the hammer?!

While it's tempting to lead with the tactics (i.e. website, brochure, display ad, video, etc.), they can be misguided. This can drain precious resources. Strategy can inject purpose into everyone's mindset.

Marketing efforts must be considered a sequence of events that, when lined up in the right order, produce results that are repeatable, more effective, and can lead to a predictable type of profitability.

Where careers rise and fall is the accuracy of any particular strategy. Since we're talking about accuracy, let's use an archery metaphor. Sure, you can consistently hit a target from five feet away. The farther away you get, though, the more you have to consider crosswind, the arrow's trajectory, and your own focus in order to hit that bullseye. And that's all part of a process of whittling down the variables you don't know or can't control.

It's the same with marketing. The more time you've spent preparing, studying, testing, and strategizing, the more often you will accurately target that bullseye.

Where a lot of entrepreneurs also miss the mark is not clearly understanding the core business issue. If you're lost in the forest (and it can totally feel like that sometimes), you're supposed to be quiet when hunting for food but you supposed to make a lot of noise when trying to get rescued. That's what mixing up a core business issue can do. As a process where you're whittling down the variables, marketing is a sequence, like this:

Graphic from Jarred King

Seems simple enough, right? But the process itself is dependent on the intangible pieces in between the steps. This is what happens between the "knowing" and the "doing." So, the above graph should really flow like this:

Graphic from Jarred King

Usually, the typical entrepreneur prefers to start with step four and just "get sh*t done." The problem with this approach is that it can either be the wrong solution (you're hunting with a rock instead of an arrow) or the wrong effort (you're staying quiet when you should be hollering).

The difficulty here is that the desired effect doesn't happen overnight. It rarely solves "today's problems" today. Even worse, it might require a larger investment. Without fundamentally understanding your business problem, any solution offered will be less effective, more expensive, and more wasteful of time and resources.

Instead, simply start with the business problem and then follow the above sequence to leverage "the doing" part in order to develop "the knowing" part. This doesn't have to be a drawn-out process, and there are a ton of free resources available online to help conduct your own research, analysis, and planning.

Ultimately, I'm saying "think before you act." It's not difficult to understand. The challenge for entrepreneurs is that they are faced with hundreds of important and, often, business-critical decisions each day. We can't help but to react, then decide, and move on. While our gut and grit got us to this point of success, it's strategy that will take us from surviving to thriving.

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Jarred King is the founder and president of Swagger Agency, a full-service marketing firm as well as the current president of Entrepreneurs' Organization - Houston. King also serves on the board of InnovationMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning. Image via kodahealthcare.com

A new Houston-based digital advanced care planning company is streamlining some of the most difficult conversations in the health care industry around palliative care.

Founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

Koda Health uses a conversational platform where users can enter information about their values, living situations, quality of life wishes, and more while learning about different care options at their own speed. It also uses a proprietary machine learning approach that personalizes audio-video guided dialogue based on the patient's individual and cultural preferences.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fafanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fafanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions."

The app is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year, as it allows for hospitals and organizations to better plan for what their patient population is seeking in end-of-life-care.

The B2B platform was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship, which tasked Koda's founding members with finding solutions to issues surrounding geriatric care in the medical center. In March 2020, Koda incorporated. Not long after ICU beds began to fill with COVID-19 patients, "galvanizing" the team's mission, Fafanova says.

"It was no longer this conceptual thing that we needed to address and write a report on. Now it was that people were winding up in the hospital at alarming rates and none of those individuals had advanced care planning in place," she says.

After accelerating the development of the product, Koda Health is now being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

The company recently received a Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation, which will allow Koda to deploy the platform at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and test it against phone conversations with 900 patients. Fafanova says the company will also use the funds to continue to develop personalization algorithms to improve Kona's interface for users.

"We want to make this a platform that mimics a high quality conversation," she says.

After Koda completes the Phase I pilot program it will then be eligible to apply for a Phase II award of up to $1 million in about a year.

Koda Health was founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry. Photos via kodahealthcare.com

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