441. Top 50 🎩
See how the Top 50 startups position themselves (and tell me which one does it best)
Hellooo 👋 So happy to have you here. I’m Kevan. I have spent 15+ years as a head of marketing for some cool tech startups. Now I’m co-founding a brand storytelling business called Bonfire. We do coaching, advisory, and content, and we’d love to hear from you, anytime. Come say hello.
Oh, and before we get into things, check out this podcast that and I did with the amazing of Marketing Powerups. It’s all about brand, my favorite thing.
What does it take to be a “top” startup?
Well, let’s ask LinkedIn. This week they released their Top 50 Startups 2023, which is a listing of U.S. companies that are less than five years old ranked by factors like employee growth, jobseeker interest, LinkedIn engagement, and how well the companies pull talent from bigger companies.
It’s a list with some very notable names like Ramp and Liquid Death and Sparrow and Bloom.
Of course, there are lots of other ways to rank top startups. VCs would probably prefer we rank startups by growth multiples. You could rank them by revenue or by brand reach or by social impact or by TikTok followers.
What if you ranked them by their brand’s positioning and messaging?
I took a look at LinkedIn’s Top 50 list and whittled it down to a Top 10 of my favorite examples of positioning and messaging done well.
Take a look at the list below and see some neat learnings about what “great” looks like when it comes to how startups talk about what they do.
Top 10 (out of 50) startups with out-of-this-world positioning and messaging
What their website says: Spending made smarter. Easy-to-use cards, spend limits, approval flows, vendor payments, and more—plus an average savings of 3.5%.
What their LinkedIn says: The ultimate platform for modern finance teams
What Kevan says: Collectively, Ramp does a good job across its online properties of very clearly describing who Ramp is for (“modern finance teams”) and what its top feature set includes (“cards, spend limits, approvals, etc.”). But rather than just get stuck with a features list — and we all know that Benefits > Features — Ramp sticks a stinger on the end of their website messaging with a dollars-and-cents proof point
2. Liquid Death
What their website says: Don’t be scared. It’s just water.
What their LinkedIn says: Murder your thirst
What Kevan says: Catchy, clever, differentiated, and completely on brand, all the messaging you see about Liquid Death on cans and websites and social has that distinctly Liquid Death flair while being pretty clear about what the product actually is and does — it’s water, if you’re thirsty.
What their website says: From your mind to theirs, in fewer steps. Tome is a new medium for shaping & sharing ideas.
What their LinkedIn says: The AI-powered storytelling format that gives your work the edge it deserves.
What Kevan says: Tome never precisely calls itself anything, which can be a risk! But also, this choice in positioning and messaging allows Tome to capture curiosity and to not be pigeonholed into just another PPT alternative
What their website says: Free yourself from anxiety & depression with ketamine therapy. Create a customized program for whatever you are struggling with.
What their LinkedIn says: At-Home Psychedelic Therapy
What Kevan says: The LinkedIn description is short and sweet and quite attention-grabbing: many people would not put those three words and phrases together. The website does a great job following up with enough extra info to keep people curious and to feel at ease, talking about clear benefits and reinforcing with testimonials.
What their website says: Greens never tasted this good
What their LinkedIn says: The internet's favorite greens IG: @Bloomsupps
What Kevan says: Many people think greens taste gross, so right away, the website is compelling without needing to talk about nutrition facts or call itself another “green drink.” And using LinkedIn to a) brag a little and b) point people to their most vibrant social channel is a unique and effective way to make use of the headline.
What their website says: The enterprise climate platform. Run a world-class climate program that delivers real-world results. Measure, report, and reduce your emissions in weeks.
What their LinkedIn says: Watershed helps companies measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Come join us!
What Kevan says: Enterprise messaging can be hard! When in doubt, it’s nice to focus on clear and straightforward benefits with some specific time-to-value. Tick, tick, and tick! ✅
What their website says: Production payroll and accounting. All in one. From film, to TV, to commercials—Wrapbook helps you wrap faster and sleep better.
What their LinkedIn says: Wrapbook is a smart, intuitive platform that makes production payroll and accounting easier, faster, and more secure.
What Kevan says: I love how clear and targeted this positioning is, how Wrapbook is not trying to be anything other than its true self: payroll and accounting for film, TV, and commercial productions. I don’t know that I’ll ever be in the market for something like this, but I can now recommend a tool for my Hollywood friends if they ever ask! (and if I ever get Hollywood friends)
What their website says: Search with generative AI you can trust. AI-powered workplace search. Across all your company's apps.
What their LinkedIn says: AI-powered workplace search. Across all your company's apps.
What Kevan says: The one suggestion I would have for Glean’s website positioning is to elaborate on the verb “search.” Search for what? And wouldn’t you know it, the Glean team goes ahead and answers that in the animation on the homepage right next to the headlines.
What their website says: Welcome to procurement paradise. Your bottom line is our top priority
What their LinkedIn says: Visibility and control over every dollar, contract, and supplier in one platform.
What Kevan says: This is a great example of a brand universe where the main messaging connects to the company name. Tropic = paradise. As a potential buyer, this signals a level of consistency across the brand that is reassuring if you’re about to give them $1000s of your dollars
What their website says: The Unified API. Merge is a single API to add hundreds of integrations to your app.
What their LinkedIn says: One API for All Integrations.
What Kevan says: The language here smacks a bit of a Google-like mission to organize all the world’s information. But I think that’s what is so catchy about it! If you’ve ever worked with API integrations before, you’ve probably wished you never had to work with API integrations again. Merge gets that pain point and makes a rather bold claim that it knows will resonate with its audience.
Which one was your favorite?
Vote in the poll above, or reply to this email to share your thoughts. And special congrats to those of you who may be reading this and working for any of these Top Startups! 👏
About this newsletter …
Hi, I’m Kevan, a marketing exec based in Boise, Idaho, who specializes in startup marketing and brand-building. I previously built brands at Oyster, Buffer, and Vox. Now I am cofounder at Bonfire, a brand storytelling company.
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