Cleantech companies are particularly prone to intellectual-property paranoia. Caution is reasonably called for: do get those patents filed before gabbing.
Industrial innovators burn a lot of capital before reaching healthy revenues. Some directors cut cost corners by keeping portfolio companies in stealth mode for years. A small executive team is expected to reach key customers and get sites installed with little more marketing than a cursory website. Supposedly, this not only saves money but also hides their brilliant innovation from imitators.
Companies may be lingering too long in the shadows, simply because their leaders don’t understand the power of the strategic communications sword. How many VCs or board members do you know who have a strong marketing background? Yet history shows the best technology does not always win. The good-enough solution that is fastest to penetrate the market and relentlessly defends its leadership will win the lion’s share.
Even in situations where staying under the radar might give an edge versus competitors, it also brings a downside: it hides the company from customers, potential talent and the investors needed for each new round. A company that does show market momentum also has a better shot at winning approval for its ARRA application. Smart PR accelerates all those initiatives. So, what is not invested in public relations may instead be lost on a longer sales cycle, larger sales force, costlier executive-recruiter effort, more expensive capital and far more CEO time spent courting reluctant investors.
Shut off from a real market response, a company can get trapped in a self-referential box. Unable to outgrow its anti-marketing culture, it may be on its way to cleantech Betamax, to being Novell instead of Microsoft.
The transition from hiding your light under a basket to being able to dazzle your customers is as difficult for a company as puberty is for a teenager. Luckily, unlike puberty, you can hire people to help you through it.