Farewell, Segasec! Here’s what I learned while being your VP Marketing

It’s not easy letting go of Segasec, a cybersecurity startup acquired by Mimecast after only two and a half years of existence. I’m thrilled for the founders, Elad and Gad, but for me it’s mixed feelings – it’s time to say goodbye.

For the past year, I served as Segasec’s VP marketing in a part-time position, a service we at Forabilis provide to startups. There are only few startups I can handle in this position. The level of involvement and responsibility it requires makes me very picky about where I choose to place my effort. Putting my face on a startup’s website as VP marketing makes it about me rather than about a service my agency provides. It is totally personal.

The funny thing is that if I do my job well enough, I can count on being replaced – either by a full-time, in-house VP marketing, or by an acquiring company with its own marketing leadership. Which is what happened in the case of Segasec. And while this is the business model that we created and it’s working well – it is still making me sad. Because for me it’s all about the people, the personal connections, and the cool things I get to do and learn. Earning the stripes of “it ended with an exit” is just a bonus.

It’s been a short and sweet ride. Here’s a bit of what I learned while leading marketing in a cybersecurity startup that had a fast exit:

  • It’s a play of “from nothing to something” – it needs to be good enough, not perfect. Marketing has a certain pace, even when it moves fast. As a marketing leader, you are constantly going to be pushed and sometimes compared to the competition, expected to perform as well as they are. You can’t, because they’ve been around for eight years and you’re around for a year, and you’re small. So focus on creating and executing as much as possible, even if the results are not perfect. Get something out and then optimize.
  • Marketing leaders must get close to the product, because no one will do product marketing aside from you at the beginning. It will be painful. There will be endless revisions for each collateral, hours spent with the product people (in my case Elad Schulman, the CEO). And at the beginning, no one can do it but the marketing leader. Bringing in a writer is a waste of time at this point – save it for later.
  • To be fully accountable, marketing leaders must own the marketing budget. I owned the marketing plan and the marketing budget. It may sound obvious, but it doesn’t always work like this, and founders have a hard time letting go – even after approving the overall marketing budget. The result is that marketing needs budget approval on every activity that requires a spend. The fact that I could build a plan that ties different channels and campaigns, and move the budget around without constantly seeking approval, made me think broader, be more strategic, and more accountable for the results.
  • Startups don’t really need a full time VP Marketing in the first two years. At the beginning, startups need fractions of different marketing skills. The first hire should be not a VP marketing but a full-stack marketing manager (and if you’re lucky enough you get someone amazing as Orly Bar-Lev).
  • Marketing’s top priority in the beginning is to provide sales with what they need in order to sell. It’s that simple, and in marketing we don’t like hearing it. Because as marketers we think about our goals in a different way, and there is a tendency to spread across too many different efforts. Sales need tools, and marketing should provide them before attending to other tasks.
  • The “Aha!” moment. Marketing can be very generic, there’s a playbook and it can be followed and be somewhat successful. For marketing to be both exciting and effective, you need to crack the code of the specific product and company. I felt we cracked it at Segasec when we learned how to utilize the product to generate data we can use for marketing, which turned into valuable content marketing and press opportunities. Having only one year, we only scratched the surface of what can be done with it.
  • “Not enough leads”. Really, are there ever enough? Never. There’s so much to write about this constant complaint from sales, but I am going to try to be quick about it: Marketing can create “workarounds” to bring leads fast, just to take the pressure off. But the chance that these “fast leads” are ready to buy is close to zero, and warming them takes time. The ways to bring qualified leads that are ready to buy before there’s a fully-running marketing machine is either through direct sales outreach, or through conferences’ sponsorships and speaking opportunities. This may sound a bit depressing, but there is really no magic way to do this. We have only started seeing marketing leads become qualified and move down the funnel in the last month or so, after about 4-5 months of lead nurture. How I wish I had 6 more months to really be able to optimize the lead nurture process.
  • Differentiation is tough, especially in cybersecurity, and as a result, the messaging suffers. So much competition, so many products. Everyone sounds just about the same. Once sales got in front of a potential customer, it was easy to show value. But what works well in a sales pitch, doesn’t necessarily translate into a marketing message. And while our messaging did change and improve, I must say that I feel we were far from done. My plan was to do a serious branding process this coming year to really make a leap in the messaging.

There is so much more to think about, such as – what’s the right timing to start marketing (hint: as soon as possible, no need to wait until there’s a working product), when is the right time to bring PR into the mix, what’s the role of social media in the cybersecurity space and when do you decide to pay the big bucks for Gartner.

There were so many things that were on the marketing plan for 2020 that I never did before – and was looking forward to experiment with Segasec in the coming year. I am really grateful for all that I learned this past year, and the trust of Segasec founders, Elad and Gad, for letting me hop in and join their awesome ride. I am sure this is not the last time we share a journey. Farewell, Segasec!

The Forabilis Six Pack: What We Learned and Taught in 2019

2019 was quite a year at Forabilis. We loved it. We have amazing clients that we did some pretty nice stuff for. We’ve grown together, and as cheesy as it may sound, it’s true. The work we do is so completely entwined with that of our clients, so the lessons are learned together. We look forward to 2020, to up our game and deliver more wins for our clients but before that… 

Six marketing stories from our work in 2019, the things that made us proud and our clients successful.

Using Product Data for Content Marketing

Marketing and Press Around A Product Pivot and Round A

Creating Winning Product Experience in Conferences

Achieving Thought Leadership through Content and Social Media

Strategizing a Business Pivot

The Event That Never Happened

1. How to Use Data for Content Marketing and Press Exposure

Segasec, recently acquired by Mimecast, is a cybersecurity startup with a platform that protects organizations from phishing attacks that target their end-customers. One of their unique capabilities is to perform quadrillions of scans in order to detect suspicious activities all over the web.

Our first task was to ‘educate’ Segasec that their ability to produce focused data on specific niches/industries is a marketing goldmine. Once we achieved that and got their agreement to setup dedicated monitoring for us, we were in business.

We decided to focus on industries Segasec were targeting as potential customers. The most high-awareness one, and the one with the most potential for wide exposure, was online retail. 

We wanted to gather data on phishing attacks around specific crucial dates for online shopping, like Mother’s day, Prime Day, Black Friday and so on. Together with Segasec’s analysts team, we set up dedicated monitoring around these dates for mega-retailers like Amazon, Best-Buy, Walmart and Target.

The results were incredible, marketing-wise. We had concrete data in our hands that showed major spikes in phishing attacks right before and during those dates. This was a solid validation of Segasec’s true value to eCommerce brands and the online press loved it. We’ve got tons of press and quotes from leading industry publications, like this one, that significantly increased awareness of Segasec.

2. The Story of an Amazing Product Pivot and Round A

We’ve been working with 3DSignals, a startup that helps manufacturers digitalize their machines to become an industry 4.0 “factory of the future” for over two years now. 3DSignals is unique for us in the sense that it operates in the ‘real world’ – yes, there are still companies that do that! It’s a special pleasure for us to be involved with physical machines, with actual moving parts, closing the loop from the original industrial revolution to industry 4.0.  

As their marketing arm, we helped them pivot and fine tune their offering and messaging to better answer the needs identified in the market. 

In the past year 3DSignals raised over $20M, a truly remarkable fit for any startup. We coordinated the global press around the A round and quickly prepared a new website to accommodate both the product pivot and 3DSignals’ new, stronger status as a well-funded company.

As they continued to grow, 3DSignals hired an in-house VP Marketing, Danya Golan, a move we cheered and welcomed. It was definitely the right move – and when it happens, we know we did a good job. We continue to act as the marketing arm of 3DSignals, running their day-to-day operation hands-on.   

3. How to Create a Winning Product Experience During Conferences

If you’re not familiar with Outgage, well, you should be. Any B2B company looking to up their ABM game can benefit from Outgage’s singular service – harnessing measurable direct mail for lead generation. Confused? Read on.

Outgage lets you send branded gifts to prospects. One really fun feature allows you to lock the gift, with an actual lock that can only be unlocked online. For example, a cookie jar with a lock on it, opened by entering your email online – now that’s lead gen like no other.

We had the pleasure of taking Outgage on their very first conference, a big deal for a young – and promising – company. Considering that this was a MarTech conference, and marketers are the hardest nut to crack, the stakes were high. We planned and executed the entire package, from pre-communication campaign, to onsite visual and collateral strategy, a speaking opportunity, and post-event email.

But that was not enough for us. In order to make the biggest impact, we devised an on-premise campaign simulating a direct one. We wanted the marketers attending the conference to get a feel in the flesh of the Outgage experience.

The engagement metrics were off the chart. Outgage ‘went home’ with a fat list of leads and sales opportunities, leaving after them a distinct scent of the new-kids-on-the-block of direct mail marketing. 

4. Combining Unique Content Creation & Social Media Focus to Achieve Thought Leadership

Take a deep breath, because this next client’s product scope can be quite overwhelming. Ex Libris develops creative solutions for higher education institutes that increase library productivity, maximize the impact of research activities, enhance teaching and learning, and drive student mobile engagement. They have a long history and strong presence in the library sphere, and we were brought in as they moved into a new and unexplored market of research in higher education. 

The first step of our work was an entire positioning and messaging process for a comprehensive suite of products dedicated to high-ed research. The target audience of the research and discovery tools are not the researchers themselves, but the research offices in universities.

We crafted the messaging and updated the website accordingly to reflect this new product positioning. This was done in 2018, and in 2019 we rolled up our sleeves and implemented it.    

We knew we wanted to make a splash, to make Ex Libris an authority in the convoluted space of high-ed research. So when Ex Libris commissioned a BIG study (when in Rome…) covering more than 300 researchers in the U.S., UK and Australia, we helped manage the process and produce a report on the findings. Around that we created a whole lot of content to be utilized in a massive marketing campaign. 

Another interesting realization we had during the planning of this campaign was to focus entirely on Twitter in the social media realm. The common thinking with social media is to spread your reach to as many channels as possible. But after a close examination of high-ed research on social media we’ve concluded that the most effective one is Twitter, so why waste your ammo on a battles already lost? Focusing our social energy exclusively on Twitter paid off big time. It created a substantial following for ExLibris and combined with the results of the study, is rapidly turning into a true thought leader in their target market.

5. How Strategic Positioning Can Lead to a Major Business Pivot 

With PerfAction we had our first entry to the medical device field; that’s already exciting, venturing into uncharted waters.

PerfAction is an established company with a high end device, the Enerjet 2.0, of treatment modalities for aesthetics and dermatological applications. What was needed was a renewed strategic planning, to devise from scratch their go-to-market. 

We always start our strategic planning with the market, not with the product. By analyzing the market we are able to recognize the need and according to that, how we’re going to introduce the product. The same principles that worked for us so well in the high-tech and software markets proved to be as efficient in the medical device market as well.

With PerfAction we realized they were casting their net too wide. Their Enerjet 2.0 device was positioned as ‘one for all’ solution, a position that is very hard to push in specialized fields as medical device. Together with the PerfAction team we focused their position to one specific niche, scar treatment. This new product position allowed us to construct a lean and focused marketing strategy.

Learning an entirely new field, and needing to strategize and act forcefully in it, was a great experience for us; we would like to thank Dafna Katz for being a valuable source of knowledge for us in this process. As we are known for our expertise in the high-tech / software field, it was important for us to prove – to ourselves mostly – that we are capable of applying our experience and skill-set in other industries as well. And once we’ve ‘opened’ a new market, we are now looking to expand further in the medical device market and utilize our new-gained knowledge and understanding for the benefit of other companies.    

6. The Event That Never Happened

We’ll sign off with an anecdote, a funny-little-tale about how things don’t always work the you planned. The saying goes that the TLV high tech bubble is practically unaffected. Well, we learned better. For this tale we’ll introduce innogy Innovation Hub in Israel, the innovation arm of innogy, a leading European energy company. 

innogy Innovation Hub in Israel invests and accelerates startups in a few areas, with a focus on Proptech & Contech, Cyber Ventures, and an overarching arm of Energy of the Future. 

So here we were, planning and executing innogy Innovation Hub major event of the year, bringing together VCs, selected global partners, and a lineup of startups. We’ve orchestrated the entire production of the event, down to space setup and catering. More than 250 attendees registered for the event, including some Europeans that flew in especially.

And then, on the day of the event, just before 8am, a single missile was fired from the Gaza Strip to Tel Aviv and the Home Front Command issued a total lockdown on the greater Tel Aviv area; schools and workplaces were ordered to shut down, citizens were instructed to stay in their homes.

It could have been a great event and for us, it will always be. But we were taught a once-in-a-life-time lesson – that outside the marketing bubble there’s an actual world that keeps spinning on its axis, and no value proposition will stop it. And hey, isn’t that a great lesson to learn on a Tuesday morning?