Builders Conference / Marketing / Philly Tech Week

For a startup, word of mouth can be just as useful as traditional marketing, but tracking metrics is still important

Insights from a startup fishbowl session at the 2024 Builders Conference.'s Danya Henninger with Nic Esposito of Circa Tech, Colin Fraser of Upling and Amit Jain of MentoMind ( Builders Conference)

Following is a recap of one of the sessions at the 2024 Builders Conference, a daylong convening on building better innovation ecosystems. Notes for this piece were documented in real time on our community Slack — join here. Find other takeaways from the conference here.

How you market your startup depends on what it offers or builds, of course, but three founders of very different companies had several things in common. 

For example, the importance of direct outreach and creating ambassadors out of early customers. 

Directly talking to educators about what would make their jobs easier played a big role in increasing adoption of MentoMind, the Philly-based personalized SAT prep company run by Amit Jain.

“The goal is not only sales, but ongoing use,” Jain said, so getting to know users and receiving their feedback helps influence how the company evolves. Word of mouth is also important — maybe more so than traditional marketing, he said, at least when starting out.

Find somebody who does marketing in your nicheColin Fraser Upling

That was key to building a base for Colin Fraser, whose DC-based Upling acts is like an “Uber Eats for marijuana.” To find customers who’d order from the platform, he hosted events and offered freebies.

To fill out the other side of the transaction and get dispensaries on board, Fraser and his team went store to store, watching for pain points like potential customers leaving because of lack of parking, and then made their case as to why joining the delivery platform would be good for business.

For Nic Esposito, whose Philadelphia startup Circa Tech has an overall goal of reducing waste by bringing retail into the circular economy, discussions with other parents of young children helped direct the creation of and simultaneously spread the word about the company’s first product: an online marketplace called Unless Kids.

Once you raise awareness and get people to sign up, he said, it’s key to develop strategies to keep them engaged. “Just because you got the user on doesn’t mean they’re going to use your platform now,” Esposito said.

To make it all work and come out in the black, you must figure out your user acquisition costs, he said. Metrics in general should help determine your marketing strategy, from conversion to engagement.

You may be able to build your own tool to ensure you can act on those metrics, Fraser added — that’s what he did to collect insights on periods of high delivery for Upling. If you’re going to hire an outside firm to help, he added, make sure they understand what your product or service actually offers.

“Find somebody who does marketing in your niche,” Fraser said, “so you’re not risking someone getting it wrong.”

➡️More from the 2024 Builders Conference

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