Digital Marketing for Startups: My Notes from Digital India Conference

Mohit Pawar Digital Marketing Speaker at Digital India Event

I spoke at the Ministry of Electronics and IT’s Digital India Conference yesterday.

My fellow speakers,

  • Mr. Arvind Thakur, CEO of NIIT Technologies;
  • Mr. Ganapathy Venugopal, Co-Founder and CEO of Axilor Ventures;
  • Senator Aubyn Hill, Special Investment Advisor and Envoy to India, Govt. of Jamaica;
  • Mr. Rajiv Bansal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Electronics & IT;
  • Mr. Sarandeep Singh, Co-Founder and CEO of WEE Foundation;
  • Mr. Nakul Saxena, Fellow, iSPIRT Foundation;
  • and Dr. Siddhartha Das, General Partner, Ventureast Proactive Fund,

shared interesting insights on the state of the startups in India, the startup cycle, fundraising, women entrepreneurship, innovation in digital payments space, the industries and trends VCs are looking at and more.

Among the insights shared by the speakers were the stats that India has the fastest growing startup ecosystem in percentage terms. In terms of numbers, we have some catching up to do because the US has 83,000 startups against India’s 10,000+ startups. We’ll eventually reach there because as of now India is witnessing more startup launches on a year to year basis.

My talk was on digital marketing for startups.

The point I tried to make was that startup growth is fine but we need to make sure that the startups that start do not die an untimely death.

Here is an overview. Sharing with the hope that you will find some value for your own startup.

The big idea for today is that MONEY FOLLOWS ATTENTION.

Baba Ramdev is where he is today because he had the attention of the people before he pushed Patanjali’s products. He won the attention by sharing free and actionable knowledge. He leveraged initial audience to gain access to a bigger audience that eventually constituted entire India. How is that for potential customer base.

There are two kinds of startups – self-funded and bootstrapped. There are numerous examples of both kind of startups succeeding in a big way. Microsoft was bootstrapped and became what it is today without any external funding. Boeing, SAS both grew without any external funding.

Closer home we have the current breed of startups like Winfigy or FusionCharts that have reached multimillion dollar revenues with global customer base, without any external funding.

Then there are the funded startups. The current crop of Unicorns (startups valued at over $1 billion) are all funded startups.

Your digital marketing strategy should depend on whether you are a funded startup or a bootstrapped one.

In case of a bootstrapped startup – go for content marketing (write blog posts, make videos that have the potential to go viral or speak at conferences that your potential customers attend). And, do that consistently.

For a funded startup it is wise to do all that can be done within digital marketing.

  • Content marketing to win attention, get permission to send updates and build trust.
  • Email marketing to educate, push sales, run surveys to learn more about your customers.
  • Social media to get in front of your potential customers in an environment where they are comfortable.
  • Pay per click marketing to create a consistent lead or customer machine
  • Affiliate or relationship marketing to boost traffic and sales through partners

If you want your startup to succeed, follow this three steps plan.

  1. Win attention first
  2. Think distribution before product or startup
  3. Go deep first before going wide – this is true for going after markets and using digital marketing tactics.


How do you win attention?

Same way as Baba Ramdev did. Offer free content/knowledge that solves a part of your prospective customer’s problem. In digital marketing this is known as content marketing.

You can use blogs, videos or a free course to do it. By doing, you will build a tribe around your brand. Ask those who engage for permission to send updates in future. This way you end up with an email list (and/or phone numbers) of these people.

You use their contact info to stay in touch and send updates about your product when you are ready to launch.


There are many ways to do. The audience (contact info) you gathered after winning attention is one of those ways.

If you want to move a step ahead, take the crowdfunding route.

Some examples of the startups that have taken this path.

Baubax (created by two Indian founders) makers of “The World’s Best TRAVEL JACKET with 15 features” launched their campaign with a goal of raising $20,000 – ended up with pledges for more than $9million.

Self Journal co-creator Cathryn Lavery launched her campaign with a $15,000 raise goal and received pledges of $322,695. She eventually went on to sell more than $400,000 worth of Self Journals and is now on the bigger things.

Markhor, makers of Men’s Handcrafted Shoes from Pakistan received pledges of $107,286 pledged against a $15,000 goal. Team eventually became a part of Y Combinator 2015 batch.

You can’t get up tomorrow and launch a campaign with this kind of success. A lot of planning and effort went into making these project successful. But in the end it was worth it. If you think your project can leverage something like this – then take some time to learn to do it right and then do it.

Try other ways of distribution also. See if you can find a big marketplace to put their clout behind your product.


Startups die because of lack of traffic, sales and visibility. They also die when they spread themselves too thin trying to expand across nation or trying to sell to everyone without segmenting the market.

Go after a certain industry, location or community first. Facebook was a network for Harvard students before it expanded to other universities and later to public.

Instagram was iPhone only in the beginning.

If you are doing social media marketing – then pick one network and rule it before you move to other networks.


If you have taken investment from a VC or angel investor to grow your startup, honour their trust and give your best. Sleep enough to keep yourself fit and then spend all your hours in growing the startup. Take time to learn how your customers behave and then change your digital marketing according to that.

Digital Marketing can help in almost all business scenarios. If you run a large software business that sells to enterprise (with high touch sales), you can use digital marketing interventions like webinars, virtual summits, and automated sales outreach to grow leads and reduce your customer acquisition cycle.

One word of caution – do not try every digital marketing strategy all at once and also do not be scared to try something new. Both will not help.

Take time to learn what you do not know. Hire for expertise that you do not have.

Hope this helps in your own startup journey.


    1. Mohit Pawar Author comment

      Yes Prerna 🙂 it was super interesting for me as well because I shared and more so because of what I learned from fellow speakers and rich interactions with the audience.


  1. Atul Joshi

    Hi Mohit,
    I was in the audience and we also briefly interacted on the sidelines of the event.
    Hope you remember me. I am the guy with analytics startup.
    Thanks for your on-point suggestions. I’ll apply them all and will be in touch for more guidance in future.
    Best wishes!

  2. Sunil

    Firstly thanks, The each and every suggestion you gave will help for the one who are interested to start a start up and I myself inspired a lot and learned something while coming across the post.

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