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Don't Use Agencies - Build Your Own Muscles

Why startups should never use agencies for product, marketing, sales, BD or community building

This is an extension of the article I wrote recently about "Innovation & Distribution", that new projects need to figure out only two things - what to make (innovation), and how & whom to sell it (distribution). Since I keep hearing about hiring agencies from different teams and projects (web2 or web3), I was tempted to write a separate argument on why this is a bad idea so I could pass it along with my short negating speech in the future.

TL;DR: In short, outsourcing things like marketing or sales might seem helpful initially, but it's not a good idea for the long haul. Your startup needs to learn and handle these parts itself to really understand your customers and grow successfully.

I am not anti-agency

I am fortunate enough to meet mostly technical founders' teams, and they'd never think about hiring an agency to make their product. But without hesitation, they will think about E It seems like a quick way to get things done, especially when you're trying to grow fast. The reverse goes for marketing founders. There's a big downside to this approach that can and will hurt your project in the long run.

I have worked with agencies of different types and budgets in different parts of the world. I'm not an anti-agency guy. Not at all, but agencies have their time and place elsewhere, not at the early startup growth.

An agency brings nothing good to early projects

Let's say you hire external agency, in the short term, it may look like it's working and it was a good idea to have this awesome external DevOps team build MVP (Minimal Viable Product), have this UX/UI superstar freelancer figure out the design of your app, or have this well-connected agency execute your PH (Product Hunt) launch or CES visit. But by doing this, you're missing out on learning important stuff about your business and customers. If someone else does the work, you won't learn these lessons.

All these activities are also a way for you to interact with your community, customers and users. They're a way to build their trust. Especially in Web3 - you should never outsource that!

I've heard it countless times: "We tell them what to do and we do it with them. Nothing gets lost. We are there every step of the way ..." or so they say.

Of course, they'd find out later that externals can't possibly understand nor capture the small but important details about their business. It's not the agency fault. Those nuances when customers talk about the product, its delivery or functions are hard to spot for anyone who's not living & breathing the product.

I've seen people trying to prove me wrong and recording everything only to find out that you don't have time to watch weeks-worth of recordings from multiple meetings. That's just to show you that I've seen it all and it (almost) never works.

Think of it this way: if you let others handle key parts of your business, it's like driving blind, but on top of that there's a different person driving each of your four wheels on the business highway in high speed. What good can come out of that?

Build the muscles to survive

Let me reiterate because this is important; the reason why I advocate so much for building muscles in critical parts of your business - aka DISTRIBUTION & INNOVATION - is that there's a lot of learning to be made and collected along the journey as you try to figure things out. Those learnings are the base of your future success. And not only learnings to be made but also trust to be gained with your community and you will need that for the success as well. And I am using community - in broad sense as fans, friends, clients, customers, partners, investors, etc.

By not doing the work yourself, you don't learn many things relevant to your product, future or even current customers and community. There are countless details and often subtle hints that will go unnoticed by external people. They will not get captured in your org knowledge base, and so they won't inform your next steps. It will result in two possible scenarios:

  • a/ you will have to "pay" twice for figuring it out - the second time someone from your own team has to go and figure it out;

  • b/ even worse, you will not figure it out and your product, or growth, or community (or all) will suffer.

The famous business thinker once said: "Nothing else matters in business except innovation and marketing." I'd say it's nothing matters except innovation and distribution.

Marketing, PR, community building, business development, sales, events, and creation of unforgettable experiences; all of these functions are just integral parts of building your distribution: They may be separate or joint teams of any size, but they only have one function - to tell your story and get that "innovation" to the people who will appreciate it the most.

By doing the work, you interact with your customers and community. You build relationships and loyal fan base. That's how you find your PMF (Product Market Fit). An agency won't find it for you. Without PMF, you don't have anything useful to ask from an agency anyway - everything until PMF is WIP (Work-in-Progress) and learning.

The best teams and startups do everything around distribution and innovation themselves. That's how they learn about the market and their target customers. That's how they build that sixth sense for good or bad adjacencies, good and bad features, partners, distribution channels, etc. You can't fake this - you either do the work and gather that knowledge internally or don't.

Final word - Do Not Do It

I hope by now you are scared of using agencies and excited about jumping on building those internal core muscles. You want to start building the knowledge base for future growth. It may seem tougher, scarier and maybe even slower, but it's the only sustainable way to win. You will probably need to hire for it outside of your comfort zone and that's ok. Ask for help or support but do it!

Remember that all actions you take are visible to everyone. Your community notices, your customers and clients take notice, your competitors see it, your potential future colleagues or investors see it. You want them to see that you are putting in the reps - they may not be perfect at first, but they'll improve over time.

II hope you will stick around, if you like - bring your friends - and let's support each other!

Find me as BFG (aka BrightFutureGuy)
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