5 Startups & The Marketing Lessons We Can Learn From Them

The world of ecommerce startups is often portrayed in the media with stories of companies like Facebook or Uber. Inspiring tales about a handful of hard working individuals with a good idea changing the landscape of whole industries.

But behind the scenes things aren’t always quite so rosy in the world of online marketing.

According to a study conducted by the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 50% of new businesses fail within 4 years, and industry experts such as Shikhar Ghosh have speculated that 75% of start-ups will never return a profit. With that in mind, what percentage do you think go on to have levels of success akin to Facebook? Not many.

Even so, while this article won’t give you a complete guide to beating the odds, we will break down one of the things all successful start-ups have in common. Outstanding marketing.


In 2010, Emily Weiss started a blog called Into the Gloss out of her apartment. Today, she is the CEO of Glossier, a growing beauty brand with a cult following among millennial women. At its peak, her best-selling product, Boy Brow, had a waiting list 10 000 people deep.

In her position as a beauty blogger she was naturally building rapport with her future audience with each new post. Soon enough, she had a massive following that engaged with everything she published, and trusted her opinion. So naturally she started her own company to cater to what her followers wanted.

What were the key ingredients to her success? Emily herself had this to say:

“During my time in magazines, I saw a real need for a smart, thoughtful discussion on beauty. It wasn’t really happening, so that’s when I took the conversation online with the launch of Into The Gloss. We continually have those conversations today, amongst our team, editors and super engaged customers who help inform how and what products we launch next, and the direction of the brand.”

So, she:
●Put out reliable, high quality content which in turn built her following.
●Developed and maintained a deep understanding of her demographic by communicating directly with them.
●Took action to give them what they were asking for.

Warby Parker

The eyewear market has historically been dominated by the monolithic Luxottica Group. There are endless tales of entrepreneurs seeing inflated eye glass prices and moving in, only to be blocked at every turn. Enter Warby Parker.

Founded in 2010, Warby Parker had a simple, if ambitious plan. Undercut the market by selling frames and lenses for $95 total while simultaneously appealing to the fashion elite. Oh, and did I mention that they wanted to do it on a shoestring marketing budget? Although it sounds impossible, that’s exactly what they did.

They identified where their audience’s attention was focused and drilled their marketing to capitalize on this. They made a push to get editorial content about them published in well-respected magazines such as Vogue and GQ.

Credit: Vogue

The response was phenomenal and Warby Parker grew 500% in its first year. When you have a great product all it takes is a few strategic articles and connecting with the right social influencers, then word of mouth will do the rest.


It can take a lot of convincing to get a customer to buy their next mattress online. How will they know if they’ll like it? What are they supposed to do if they don’t? Casper understood these concerns and created a marketing strategy to neutralise them.

Casper ditched the ad campaigning strategy of traditional marketing and adopted a millennial and linkster savvy approach, buying a multitude of adverts on podcasts run by social media influencers and sending free samples for the hosts to try.

They also offered a “100 night trial”: any customer could return the mattress at any point within 100 nights for any reason. If that doesn’t put the doubts out of your mind I don’t know what will.

Lastly, a bit of viral marketing never hurt anyone. Meet Insomnobot-3000; a chat bot to keep you company while you fall asleep. Does it really help you sleep? Who knows. Does it get shared a lot and drive plenty of interest towards your business? Most definitely.


Tesla. You know who they are, you know what they do, you probably even know many Elon Musk’s side projects. Why? Well making spaceships is always going to give you an unfair advantage in the marketing game, but there are still some lessons we can apply to those more terrestrially oriented.

What Elon Musk has done that no other CEO on our list has, is turn his own celebrity status into a personal marketing platform. Musk has spent years appearing on podcasts, giving talks, and attending interviews; this combined with the high profile nature of his companies has made him a household name. So the moment he announces a new project, the world is already listening and his legions of supporters will spread the good news.

The lesson here is that building your personal brand can be a clever tactic to reinforce your startup’s brand identity, whilst simultaneously putting yourself in a great position to launch more projects in the future.


Sometimes less is more; this is the key concept behind Brandless. They’re a consumer packaged goods company selling everything from mechanical pencils to kosher mustard.

The first avenue Brandless uses to generate interest is its high quality blog. This provides its readers with actionable, consumer-focused content, some of which directly drives sales, such as this recipe which uses ingredients directly purchasable from their site. Meanwhile, other articles do more to establish the brand’s credibility with its audience, covering topics such as their brand journey, and socially conscious charity initiatives.

While that’s a great foundation for any ecommerce start-up, the unique thing that makes Brandless stand out is that its products essentially advertise themselves. Every single thing they sell costs $3. No more, no less. And all of their products share their consistent, extremely minimalist branding.

Credit: Brandless

No mascots, no images, no garish colours. Browsing through their store is a breath of fresh air in a world of “in your face” advertising. They found their niche in savvy online consumers who wanted the best deal without any hassle and catered to them effectively – it takes a stroke of genius to turn unbranded groceries into something people want to talk about.

So, remember this:
●Identify your customers’ concerns about your product and address them.
●Find where out where your customers like to browse content and target your marketing there.
●Communicate with your customers, and respond to their feedback.
●Provide high quality content that builds rapport, credibility, and familiarity.
●Don’t be afraid to do something novel to stand out.

Making good use of these key digital marketing principles alongside a great product will go a long way to enabling your brand to reach it’s full potential, and making sure you don’t end up being the next Juicero.

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