With a career steeped in marketing and brand building, Marc Karasu joined the CTNext Mentoring Network to help Connecticut’s early-stage companies connect with consumers through authentic stories. He shares his thoughts on the potential for startup communities to thrive across the state.
Tell us about your background.
I’ve been working in marketing for over 25 years, starting with a number of creative storytelling agencies and for companies like HotJobs, which had a real business model during the dot-com bubble and actually changed the way people looked for jobs. I’ve tried my hand at entrepreneurship with Measuredup.com, a customer service review company that gave me great experience in building a platform and infrastructure. I’ve worked at a number of VC-backed startups in emerging fields, including the fintech space. After moving to Connecticut about five years ago, I started a consulting practice to work with founders and management teams to help them establish their brand, messaging and go-to-market tactics and pursue funding. I’ve been an instructor at The Refinery, sharing my experience in the startup space, navigating boardrooms and raising money, and am I’m currently working as CMO at BioWave.com, a health technology startup based in Norwalk.
What are you hoping to accomplish as part of the CTNext Mentoring Network?
I would like to use my background and experience to help Connecticut companies create authentic stories that will connect with people, drive users and new customers, and ultimately validate business models to result in more funding opportunities. I’m looking forward to helping founders avoid unnecessary mistakes, pivot quickly and find opportunities of value, growth and scale. From my perspective, it’s all part of a broader effort to build companies that want to stay and build their brands in Connecticut.
Why do you think Connecticut is so well suited for startups?
The state has much more to offer than simply being halfway between New York and Boston, which is something I’ve heard thrown around a lot. There is a huge concentration of senior executive talent throughout the state, many of whom would love to give back and be part of building an innovative, technology ecosystem here. I believe some of our biggest towns are underutilized in how vibrant they can become as technology scenes. We live in a world where commuting and being in an office in a city hub is less important. Startups don’t have to be exclusively in New York and San Francisco any more. I think there’s an opportunity to build thriving startup communities in any number of Connecticut cities, and I am hoping to add value in an effort to make this happen.
In your past work with founder-led companies and startups, what are some of the common challenges, beyond raising capital?
Startups have a million challenges. You have to have a product that works, the right price, a distribution system, funding, the right people, just to name a few. Even assuming those things are all in place, startups often miss the opportunity to build an authentic brand positioning from the outset that allows them to build a story and stand out from the crowd. Too many startups fall into the trap of talking about how their thing is faster or works better, but they don’t talk enough about how it makes your life better. They fail because they can’t tell their story right – it’s understanding what the consumer needs to hear and why their service or product helps them.
What drew you to the CTNext Mentoring Program?
As I’ve gotten older and have accumulated experience and wisdom, I find it interesting and fun to help people earlier in their careers and help make their dreams come true in a way, frankly, that I wish I had had when I was starting out. The idea of being an entrepreneur is an accepted career path now, whereas it really wasn’t quite as established 12 years ago. I’m trying to give back and offer the help to people that I always wished I had. With lower housing costs, good schools and a critical mass of experienced executives, Connecticut is a special place. I don’t see any reason why our cities can’t become innovation hubs on par with others.