The startup to scaleup journey is a tough one, even more so in the current climate as investors become more cautious.
But there are lessons to be learned from successful startups that have achieved success.
I’m pleased to be talking to Victoria Hatcher, who works from one of those businesses. In 2022, Proximie, only six years after they were established, raised an $80m Series C, taking their overall investment to over $130m.
And in this podcast we’re going to dig into that journey.
Who they are: Victoria Hatcher is Global Head of Marketing at Proximie
A bit of background: Prior to joining Proximie, Victoria worked in the healthcare and FMCG markets. While Senior Marketing Lead at Danone, she looked after their Aptamil and Cow & Gate brands in their £15m category of early nutrition products before moving on to roles with St John & St Elizabeth Hospital and a contract with NHS Test & Trace.
Where you can find Victoria:
The path from startup to scaleup isn’t easy. A report from Deloitte found that only 0.5% of startups become a scaleup.
But what can you do to help make that journey a success?
In Proximie’s case, they were mission led from the start. Back in 2016, Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram FRCS (Plast), BEM, started the company with a very clear mission. As she explains in The Origins Story on the Proximie website:
“I wanted to create a platform that could extend the reach of a surgeon’s expertise, and make that skill timeless. A multi-sensory experience that was a catalyst for collaboration, and that could eventually digitise a surgeon’s footprint. We wanted to create the effect of a borderless operating room that could empower surgeons to remotely share knowledge that could ultimately reduce variation in care, and help save lives.”
This mission is still at the heart of Proximie today. Victoria explains: “In my first week, Proximie was used in Kenya and we had our first C-section delivery of a baby. That wouldn’t have been possible without the power of Proximie. The technology allows you to be in the room, train people and talk people through that procedure. Those things are hard to replicate in other businesses, but they’re really, really powerful.”
From a marketing perspective, there were a few things that Proximie got right.
Early on, they nailed their tone of voice and stuck to it, giving consistency. The temptation for a lot of startups is to constantly pivot on the messaging to find their market, but having a constant tone of voice that reflects your brand’s personality helps you connect with your audience.
Another key success to Proximie’s early growth was their focus on PR. Victoria explains: “We used PR as a key lever for us. We had some pretty heavy-hitting PR. CNN, Boston Globe, The Times. We’ve been in most of the broadsheets in the UK. I think early doors we got in with getting our name out there on a large scale and using some of the case studies to do that.”
But it hasn’t always been plain sailing. As is the case with any startup there are going to be challenges, and Victoria talks about how they probably did too much in the past. Being very mission led may also have been at the detriment of their product marketing. She says: “I think we probably could have been more product focused. We’ve got this incredible leader with this incredible mission, and that was really integral to building our brand early doors. I think we could have brought the product messaging in sooner than we did. I don’t think it’s made a huge difference, but if I had my time again, it’s what I would do.”
Prioritisation is one of the most common challenges for marketers all over the world, but particularly so within startups and scaleups. Often those companies are understaffed and under-resourced, so it’s impossible to do everything.
Being scrappy at the start means that you rarely plan too far in advance because business priorities change so the plan can easily become defunct before it’s been executed. But an investment round can give your startup some more breathing room, enabling you to properly plan.
Victoria explains: “As we’ve moved into series C and had to grow up as a business a little bit more, we’ve got plans in place now. We are thinking longer term. When you go into series C, you have a bit more of a buffer in terms of being able to start planning beyond six months to 12 months. We can start planning three to five years ahead. In doing that, you then create a contract with the team and senior team and the board that goes, this is what we’re going to do. And I think that’s really helped us in terms of deciding what to do and what not to do.”
With the investment and long term plan in place it has helped them prioritise some key areas, namely”
Victoria goes on to describe the consequence of not having a long term plan: “When you don’t have a plan you can refer to on a monthly basis that’s linked to business objectives and KPIs, and that shows return, you’re anyone’s to play with and you’ll be chasing your tail forever.”
Recruitment is key to any startups growth, and marketing teams evolve during the scaleup phase. Startups will tend to have a fairly lean marketing operation, and to avoid making any big bets early on, will likely hire one or two generalist marketers to set up the foundations.
Those initial marketers will be responsible for:
But as you can see from those responsibilities, there’s so much to do and so little time to do it in.
As startups go through those investment rounds they typically start to hire specialist marketers across those key areas.
Victoria goes on to explain how Proximie has grown their marketing team: “We have representation across the globe now and we didn’t previously. Each of the regions has a regional lead, which has made a big difference. And then some of the more central functions sit as part of the global team.”
She also talks about three key specialist hires that they’ve made:
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