Aug 7, 2023
Startup Growth
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 min read

Web3 startup marketing without proven playbooks

It’s no secret that web3 startups have been gaining momentum over the last 18 months. If there’s one clear indicator of this momentum, it’s VC funding. $7.1 billion was invested into web3 startups in 2022, a significant bump from the $4.8 billion in 2021.

I recently spoke with Garrison Yang, who leads growth efforts at Avalanche, a decentralized contracts platform which is redefining the ways people create value with web3. Garrison’s previous positions include working with Meta, helping fast-growing startups with their paid social strategy. He was also VP Marketing at Incredible Health, helping lead their $80M Series-B at $1.65B valuation. 

We chatted about web3 startups, and how to think about growth strategy without tried-and-true tactics or marketing playbooks within this new environment. Keep reading for insights from Garrison, who is definitely in the trenches, building out a future in uncharted web3 territories. 

  1. What does marketing look like for a web3 startup? How does it differ from web2?

Marketing in a web3 startup is wildly different from a web2 startup. There are some characteristics in web3 that immediately make it significantly trickier. The most obvious is that web3 companies are inherently global, and unlike web2 companies you immediately have to build out the capability to support a community across the world. Add in the channel level policy considerations, regulatory nuances for messaging, and the fact that most of web3 from the industry to the talent pool to the companies themselves are constantly shifting and reinventing the playbook, and you get a lot of ambiguity that just doesn’t exist in web2.

This is both the headache and the attraction of web3. In web2, most marketers are just running a slight modification on an existing playbook, and companies tend to be so homogenous that it takes an incredible amount of work to simply stand out in the noise.

  1. What’s some tactical growth advice for startup founders in web3?

Don’t play by someone else’s rules. web3 is still a game of momentum, and most of web3 hasn’t even come close to the end game. If you’re building a real project - something that you believe is differentiated and valuable - the worst thing you can do is try to copy someone else’s marketing playbook. We’re here to innovate, and that includes how we go to market and grow our companies.

The principles are still the same - defining your users, removing friction, creating engaging content, delivering value, and focusing on effective communication - but we shouldn’t box ourselves into the playbook of another project or company, especially a competitor.

This isn’t a space where anyone has it figured out, so copying someone else at best puts you one step behind them.

  1. What are ways web3 founders can approach innovation when there’s no playbook? 

I say this in the nicest of ways, but most founders (and non-founders) are unremarkable. I say this because innovation tends to be a combination of speed, luck, and the ability and willingness to exert enough effort at the right time. Web3 founders should always optimize to get themselves as many at bats as possible when it comes to marketing. In web3, market cycles are quick, sentiment shifts quickly, and what didn’t work yesterday might all of a sudden be a golden opportunity today. 

Absent a playbook, I do find that searching for white space is usually a fantastic way for founders to figure out where they should focus first. Crypto is a small space, and since projects tend to pop up so rapidly, over time things start to look homogenous. One simple way to beat that trend is to simply do something different than everyone else.

  1. How should web3 founders navigate regulatory compliance with marketing?

Be water, and go with the flow. web3 is not only one of the most complex regulatory environments to go to market in, it’s also one of the most ambiguous and rapidly changing. As a marketer, this means that we need to constantly be ready to shift messaging, reposition and rebrand, and to quickly cycle out and cycle in new channels.

What is compliant today may not be compliant tomorrow, and channels that aren’t crypto friendly today may suddenly decide to enter the web3 arena.

Like a lot of high growth and innovative industries, the best marketers need to be more than just marketers. Our edge comes from being able to apply marketing expertise to some other skillset, whether it’s business development, technical concepts, and yes, even compliance.

  1. Outside of compliance, what are some areas web3 founders should look out for in the coming year?

I remain very bullish that more viable businesses will be born out of web3 in the next 12 months. Crypto has mostly been financialized social marketing schemes and experimental projects, but we know that there are real enterprises trying to apply the tech to innovate their existing business models. web3 founders should be trying to skate where the puck is going instead of trying to copy pasting the same playbook, both for their businesses and in their marketing strategies.

We’re living in a unique time as entire technologies and related mindsets, change the world through web3, AI and VR. As web3 startups consider their growth efforts, it’s important to understand one of the core principles of growth marketing: exhaustive testing always wins. As Garrison has shared, getting more swings in the form of growth tests will only increase your chances of making it on top of the web3 landscape. I’m a big believer that the next five years will bring the next wave of Ubers and Airbnbs, through web3 technologies. 

If you’re interested in staying ahead and learning how to make growth marketing work for you, continue reading my blog.

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