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Stealth mode is back. Long live stealth mode!

Recently Dan Frommer over at the Silicon Alley Insider wrote about the reemergence of “stealth mode”. While I’d argue that it never really went away in the first place, it seems that more people are seeing the virtues of staying under the radar as they build the basics of their business (despite TechCrunch’s declaration that stealth was stupid…). After some hazing from my Foundry partners about several of the companies that I work with remaining silent about their operations (and in some cases off of our website so as not to attract attention to the fact that they’ve been funded) I wrote a post on the topic here.

With one of our portfolio companies, Trada, recently emerging from 18 months of quiet operations, we’re taking the subject up once again (very timely if Frommer’s post is any indication). In the case of Trada, staying quiet about the expert SEM marketplace they were building allowed the company the room to develop their platform in relative quiet and without tipping off any actual or potential competitor to what they were doing. To be clear, we weren’t completely secret about it. We launched with a large number of customers and an active marketplace – we were just selective about who we told what we were up to. This allowed us to both work out the kinks in the system before we put it under the load of the public eye and to be able to launch and talk about not just what we were planning on doing, but what we were actually doing (and had been for some time) for many advertisers who had been users of the company’s platform for months.

Niel Robertson, the CEO of Trada, wrote one of the best articles that I think I’ve read on the subject of stealth on the Trada blog that further describes our thought process around operating the business stealthfully for a number of months. I’d strongly suggest you take a look at it.

And with all this discussion of “stealth” I think Niel and I may have won over at least one of my partners. Brad put up a post yesterday talking about how a number of companies in the Foundry Portfolio have benefitted from keeping all or parts of what they were working on under wraps and then announcing with a bang what they were up to (AdMeld, Oblong, Zynga as well as at least one more that still hasn’t announced it’s existence).

Perhaps all this conversation leads to the conclusion that stealth isn’t the problem – it’s how companies use it.

April 8th, 2010     Categories: stealth    
  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ryan4747 Ryan

    Seth — just wanted to tell you that I've funded a new company in the Foundry Group portfolio. But it is so stealthy, I can't even tell *you* about it. I'll tell you more about in a couple years when we are ready to launch. Trust me, it is great!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/sethlevine675 sethlevine

      well played ryan!

  • http://www.rollinglobe.com Clarke

    Totally agree… and in many cases I wouldn’t classify your example with Trada as Stealth Mode. It’s more a matter of using time and resources most efficiently. Social media startups/apps need to tap into big PR and marketing avenues early to get those early adopters as “first customers”. Stealth mode for those types of products are a bad idea as they have to get simple products out that a mass audience can understand or fail fast. But most businesses take time and effort to build something capable of addressing the void/opportunity out there.

    Congrats to you for shying away from the groupthink against stealth mode and sticking to your guns. It’s great that you have more than just an opinion to back up your point.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/sethlevine675 sethlevine

      exactly. i also think that companies often confuse company launch from product launch (you can do the latter w/o really doing the former and wait for the right time to really let people know what you’re up to).

  • http://www.rollinglobe.com Clarke

    Totally agree… and in many cases I wouldn’t classify your example with Trada as Stealth Mode. It’s more a matter of using time and resources most efficiently. Social media startups/apps need to tap into big PR and marketing avenues early to get those early adopters as “first customers”. Stealth mode for those types of products are a bad idea as they have to get simple products out that a mass audience can understand or fail fast. But most businesses take time and effort to build something capable of addressing the void/opportunity out there.

    Congrats to you for shying away from the groupthink against stealth mode and sticking to your guns. It’s great that you have more than just an opinion to back up your point.

  • Nasser Shamim

    Nice post Seth…I guess staying in stealth mode is contingent on number of matters such as: whether it is B2B or B2C…whether the target market is niche or not…whether the barrier to entry is high or low….whether there are competitors working on the same idea or not and etc….