Your Go-to Guide to Keeping Up With Startups

A Portfolio-Management Approach for Keeping Track of What's New and Next

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Brands will always crave what's new, which might explain the obsession with startups (no matter how long this phase lasts). Marketers tend to seek out what has forward momentum, and startups are businesses that are the most likely to grow rapidly. On the other hand, they're also the most likely to fail.

With startups proliferating more rapidly than ever, how can marketers keep track of it all?

The best approach is to diversify your investment, and this is especially important given the investment is almost entirely of time rather than money. Here's a portfolio-management approach for keeping track of what's new and next:

Marketing and technology press
Everyone has his favorites, and right now there are plenty of pretty good publications and a handful of great ones. If you're reading any that feel redundant, pick a favorite and unsubscribe from the rest. Anytime I've done this, I haven't missed the ones I've left, and it's opened me up to new outlets that provide different perspectives.

Startup founders
If you thought the agency world was incestuous, start playing "two degrees of separation" in the startup community. Make a few good relationships with founders, and they'll want to introduce you to everyone they know. The challenge is that if you're at a major brand, they'll never leave you alone. In such cases, you can refer them to one of your agencies to see if what they're doing matters. Read more on agencies below.

Venture capitalists
Building relationships with VCs opens doors across their portfolios. Startup founders also tend to take advantage of their VCs and know the founders of other companies in their portfolios. Marketers should care less about the size of investments and exits and more about how interesting and exciting the portfolios are. Check a VC firm's site and see which startups are listed. Firms such as FirstMark Capital, First Round Capital, Greycroft Partners and Lerer Ventures each have quite a few companies in their portfolios that marketers should be keeping track of.

Social networks
This comes down to a personal choice, and even here it helps to diversify. LinkedIn and Facebook can be great resources. Even if you're not friends with people who share information about startups, you can follow others who do.

On Facebook and Twitter, you can also curate lists of people and companies you want to follow. For instance, my "Startups and Emerging Tech" interest list on Facebook tracks more than 150 pages -- and anyone can follow it.

PR professionals
Anyone with a blog or trade-publication column has a library of stories about awful pitches; I keep a file of them in Gmail. What doesn't get discussed enough is how the good and great PR professionals are constantly a source of new information.

There are some conferences such as South by Southwest that are important to attend even if it's just for the opportunity to meet people connected to the startup world. But it's easy to get lost and overwhelmed. Smaller gatherings tend to be more appealing, whether they be part of a massive event or a local one within your city. Some meetups are great, but massive ones like New York Tech Meetup remind me of the Berra-ism, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Assuming you can't get to every event you want to attend, look to see if they're being covered either by officially affiliated outlets or attendees who have a soapbox.

For those working on the brand side, there can be the tendency to let an agency take care of all of this. One of the jobs agencies have always played is bringing new ideas to clients. Yet at some point, agencies need to have discussions with their clients about what's part of the job, what's a value-add or exemplary service and what's out of scope to the extent that it's taking resources away from achieving mutually agreed-upon goals.

Family, friends, and colleagues
Ask people what sites and apps they're using. When someone takes out her phone in a store, see if you can tell what she's doing with it. Pay the most attention to those who have no connection with marketing and advertising. Keeping a steady stream of multiple sources will make it more likely that you'll be among the first to know about what's out there. All that information only matters to the extent that you do something with it. Processing and acting on it come later. At least this way, you'll get access to the best material to work with.

David Berkowitz is VP-emerging media at 360i.
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