Online Strategy Roundtables, this morning I worked with three new entrepreneurs, each at a different stage of validating who their customers are and building their businesses accordingly. Two have e-commerce businesses, which I love. In fact, my Forbes column tomorrow will discuss the shift from brick and mortar shops to e-commerce and how such businesses are so well poised for Web 3.0. Main Street America is changing as small business owners move online and get rid of the expensive real estate costs.As part of my ongoing
Sramana Mitra is a technology entrepreneur and strategy consultant in Silicon Valley. She has founded three companies and writes a business blog, Sramana Mitra on Strategy. She has a masters degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her three books, Entrepreneur Journeys, Bootstrapping, Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction, and Positioning: How To Test, Validate, and Bring Your Idea To Market are all available from Amazon. Her new book Vision India 2020 was recently released. Mitra is also a columnist for Forbes and runs the 1M/1M initiative.
Up first was Ellen Sinreich and her company Green Edge Workshops. Ellen is a consultant with expertise in sustainability and real estate. Based on her practice, she has designed some workshops that enable employees to develop strategies that will drive down a company's carbon footprint. She is looking to reach mid market companies in her geographic region (New York), but to date has no customers.
Clearly this is a business that has yet to be validated. I believe Ellen is trying to reach too broad a market based on her experience. I recommended she narrows her value proposition to align better with her expertise by targeting companies that deal with facilities and building issues. She asked for advice on finding clients and unfortunately there is no obvious way to find clients when you are a consultant. What worked for me early on was using my personal network for referrals and I suggest she does the same to connect with her target market.
Later on, while discussing the Entrepreneur Journeys methodology, I also suggested that folks should read the Finisar case study in Entrepreneur Journeys Volume One to get a good feel for what it takes to get a business off the ground through consulting, and then build a product company through that process by getting close to customers, while generating cashflow all along. Finisar, for those of you who don't know, went public in 2001 at a $5 billion market cap, and was largely a bootstrapped case study.
Danny Wong presented Blank-Label, an e-commerce site that allows men to co-create and custom design dress shirts at affordable prices. This site was launched five months ago and has seen a steady increase in sales but has not yet hit its stride. While Danny is well-versed in SEO traffic optimization, he needs to narrow his market to target the exact psychographic interested in being this involved in buying shirts- in other words, style conscious men. I recommend he target his PPC campaigns to the more fashionable zip codes across the country and to go slowly. I believe focusing all their efforts on the correct psychographic will make all the difference. This is a business for a small niche market, but definitely worth building.
Catherine Wood Hill gave a heart-felt presentation of La Grande Dame, an e-boutique for plus-sized women that she started with her mom. Having launched a year ago, and with thousands of customers already, this business has been well validated. Their target is women between the ages of 30 and 55 who are looking for high-end designer clothes in sizes 14 and up.
I like it when a business is so tightly focused. This allows you to do so many things inexpensively through the Web. We discussed ways to fine tune customer acquisition so the business can scale faster. She said their PPC advertising has never yielded a good return on investment, so I suggested that she targets the most affluent zip codes in the country.
I also suggest she continues to do more PR and all the SEO marketing, blogging, Tweeting, etc., that she is already doing to reach more customers. I believe this has the potential to become a very large business. I did research on this segment myself when I ran Uuma, my personalized fashion company for busy, professional women which Ralph Lauren was interested in acquiring in 1999.
The roundtables are the cornerstone programming of a global initiative that I have started called One Million by One Million (1M/1M). Its mission is to help a million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond, build $1 trillion in sustainable global GDP, and create 10 million jobs.
In 1M/1M, I teach the EJ Methodology which is based on my Entrepreneur Journeys research, and emphasize bootstrapping, idea validation, and crisp positioning as some of the core principles of building strong fundamentals in early stage ventures.
Photo by Svilen Milev.