11 min read
Jun 8, 2021

A Startup Founder's 5 Lessons for Making Strategic Marketing Software Decisions

Startups are increasing their martech spend, but that’s not enough to solve their marketing technology challenges. Here are 5 lessons that a real startup learned.

Andrew ConradSr Content Writer

Back in 2018, Daniel Dietzel was running a successful digital advertising agency in Silicon Valley when COVID-19 came along and changed the world for everyone.

“Everyone’s budget just disappeared,” said Dietzel.“We were either going to become a software company or we were all going to be homeless, basically. So we sold 10% of the company, retooled all of our software and said we’re going to build a SaaS (software as a service) platform.” 

Dietzel and his partners realized that to survive the pandemic, they would need a new approach, which involved pivoting from digital ad agency to marketing software developer. They were onto something.

Our recent marketing technology survey of more than 200 startup leaders (methodology below) found that 63% had increased their marketing technology budget over the past year while only 4% had decreased their martech spending.

Marketing technology budgets at startups over the past 12 months

But just because startups are investing in martech doesn’t mean that it’s an instant fix. The same survey revealed that less than 60% of startup leaders reported that their martech stack fully met their business needs, with their marketing technology challenges ranging from too many unused and overlapping features to the overall complexity of those tools.

As a startup leader, you know how essential it is to focus your efforts on improving processes and making the most of your marketing budget.

With this in mind, we recently sat down with Dietzel to talk about the challenges startups face when building a marketing technology stack, and the lessons he has learned on his own startup journey. Startups that heed this advice will have an easier time growing as they learn how to automate tasks, budget wisely, set clear goals, and more.

Here are five lessons to help you maximize your martech investment.

Lesson #1: Spreadsheets are useful, to a point

Dietzel and his partners first got the idea for their new marketing software while collecting data from multiple crowdfunding platforms and manually entering it into a spreadsheet for cross referencing.

“Facebook would give us one dashboard and Indiegogo would give us another dashboard, and then we'd have to cross reference the data in Excel and spend like an hour or two every night,” he said.

The basis of Aphrodite’s new software started with automating that process.

The lesson

Spreadsheets may be able to get you where you need to go, but if it’s taking you a few hours every day there is probably software out there that can save you time and, ultimately, money. Our AppFinder tool—which allows users to filter by features needed, supported devices, and price range—can help you narrow down your search.

GetApp's App Finder tool

GetApp’s AppFinder tool for marketing automation (Source)

Lesson #2: If you can’t find it, consider building it

While Dietzel and his team were building Aphrodite, they found tools that could automate cross referencing data for marketing metrics like bounce rate and conversion rate, but nothing on the market that could automate cross referencing financial data like cash flow and profitability from multiple sources.

“We couldn’t find anything, so we built it,” he said. “Our bet was that we were in a unique position to solve this problem.”

Dietzel acknowledges that not every startup is fortunate enough to have coders and software developers in-house. But he also points out that developing software might not be as complicated as some startups think.

“I think most small businesses are building software without knowing it, because when you build an Excel spreadsheet and change all the variables you are coding, in a sense,” he said. “Believe it or not that is exactly how coding works.”

The lesson

If you run into a problem that existing software can’t solve, you could be sitting on a million-dollar idea. But remember that building your own software can also be costly and time consuming, so you should only consider it if you’re sure about what you’re doing. If you really think that you have found a market need but don’t have the time or ability to fill it yourself, consider asking your marketing software provider if they would be willing to add the feature in a future version of their software.

And if you’re new to software building but eager to get your feet wet, start with the basics of app development. Our survey revealed that 63% of startups are already using low-code or no-code software development platforms, and our recent article on low-code versus no-code software can help you get started.

Lesson #3: When the right tool is available, invest in it

Just because Dietzel’s team is capable of developing their own software solutions doesn’t mean that they build everything on their own, as that would be a colossal waste of time and money. Imagine if Coca-Cola built their own delivery trucks from the ground up. Instead, do a little research (our Buyers Guide is a great place to start) to find the best software solution for your problem and invest in it.

For example, Aphrodite uses Mailchimp for email distribution, SEMrush for SEO optimization, LinkedIn for lead generation, and AdEspresso for social media advertising optimization.

You may even be able to find free tools that can solve your problem. Dietzl and his team have used Zoom for free video meetings.

“I think the free tools are really good for people who are new to a (type of) technology,” he said. “Free trials are also really good, especially those without a credit card (required for signup).”

Does you business use free marketing software?

The lesson

Don’t be afraid to pay for a solution when it can provide value to your organization. Even if a tool seems expensive up front, look at the whole picture and consider how much time and money it will save you in the long run.

But remember that there is also a place for free software. There’s nothing wrong with using a free tool when it meets your needs, or using free trials to familiarize yourself with new technology. In fact, 56% of the startups we surveyed use some type of free marketing software. 

Lesson #4: Tap into the power of personal connections

Dietzel says that it’s important to remember the power of human-to-human connection, whether that’s face-to-face or over a virtual meeting for a conversation or software demonstration. Your marketing software might even integrate with a video conferencing tool to make it easier to set up video calls with leads, add video conferencing links to emails, and more.

“Even if (your) technology is totally different from what's out there, when you put it into words what you're selling, it sounds like everything (else) out there,” he said. “So in-person demos, we found, are super useful. Just showing people how to onboard.”

To that end, Dietzel and his team attended a lot of virtual conferences over the past year with the goal of one conference per month, from TechCrunch Disrupt to SaaStock, CES, Web Summit and Ad World. They called it their world tour from the couch.

“I think we onboarded more clients during Ad World than during the first two months of our software being public...because it was so closely related to what we were doing,” he said. “We onboarded like 20 businesses in 24 hours.”

Once you have gained some traction and experience presenting at bigger events, you can even use webinar software to promote and host your own webinars to share useful information and organically promote your business.

The lesson

Remember to actually get out and meet people (virtually or in reality) to market your business but try to find a receptive audience before you start your pitch. While marketing technology has powerful capabilities—from analyzing massive amounts of data to automatically sending thousands of personalized emails—it’s still no replacement for a genuine human-to-human connection. Leave some space in your martech game plan for networking and other outreach opportunities.

Lesson #5: Find your north star, and use it as a driving force

Starting a business can be confusing, exhausting, and discouraging, even if you have all of the right software tools. That’s why it’s so important, says Dietzel, to find your unique beacon of success, and rally around it with your team. And of course, stay caffeinated.

“There is so much trial and error involved, so just drink a lot of coffee and keep trying,” he said. “And have a north star. Our north star was ROI. Cash on one platform, cash on another, put it together in Excel, and that was the one thing we were always trying to improve.”

And once you have that goal, it’s important to communicate it throughout your organization.

“The decision making process will change. Once we picked a few KPIs, the marketing team had to switch gears (toward the new number we’re working toward),” he said. “If everyone is aligned on what the number is, the tools will fall in place.”

The lesson

Before you build your martech stack, focus on a clear, defined, achievable mission for success. This will help you fine tune your martech stack. The reporting feature in your marketing software can be a goldmine of information for tracking KPIs and OKRs. This can help you determine whether or not you’re on the right path. Just remember to regularly share this information with your team and adjust priorities accordingly.

A conversions reporting dashboard in Remarkety marketing automation software

A conversions reporting dashboard in Remarkety marketing automation software (Source)

Ready to tackle your martech challenges? Here’s a plan for startups

The lessons above helped Dietzel and his team at Aphrodite hone their martech stack, but every startup has its own unique challenges. It can also be helpful to have a general marketing technology plan. Our guide on marketing technology for startups outlines a five-step plan. Here’s a preview: 

  1. Assemble your team. Recruit a team of cross-functional decision makers and users from across your organization and task them with developing a martech plan tailored for your specific business needs.

  2. Identify required capabilities. Ask your team (step 1) what you need your marketing software to do and how it will integrate with your existing tools.

  3. Set implementation timeline. Have your project manager (or team member with the most project management experience) outline a realistic timeline for implementation of your new martech software.

  4. Visualize and communicate the plan. Use your preferred project management tool to build a roadmap and distribute it with regular updates to all necessary stakeholders.

  5. Review performance. Monitor the effectiveness of your martech stack, collect feedback from end users, and make adjustments as needed.


GetApp’s 2021 Marketing Technology Survey was conducted February 18-25, 2021 among 238 respondents to learn more about the use of marketing technology tools by startups. Respondents were screened for leadership positions at startups in healthcare, IT services, marketing/CRM, retail/eCommerce, software/web development, or AI/ML.

GetApp’s marketing technology stack effectiveness question included all of the following choices (listed here in order of effectiveness according to weighted scores): A/B or multivariate testing, web analytics, customer relationship management (CRM), multi-touch attribution, social media marketing, content marketing platform, mobile marketing platform, website builder tools, customer data platform (CDP), search marketing (SEO/SEM), personalization platform, consent and preference management, marketing automation software, survey/customer experience platform, content management system (CMS). multichannel marketing platform, email marketing platform, online video advertising, employee advocacy tools.

Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.

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