Today quite a variety of entrepreneurs presented their business ideas at my Online Strategy Roundtables. Several times I brought up how precious our time is and we need to treat it as such. So many people become enamored with technology and the building of the product before they ever think to validate that this is a business service or product that a customer wants to pay for.
I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs wasting precious years of their lives, and I sincerely try to discourage anyone from wasting his or her time on an idea that does not have legs based on concrete customer feedback. One of the entrepreneurs said he thinks of me as the Simon Cowell for entrepreneurs after listening to some recordings of previous roundtables. I think my advice is only valuable if I’m being honest and direct. Plus, I don’t want to waste my precious time either!
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 master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her Entrepreneur Journeys book series, Entrepreneur Journeys, Bootstrapping: Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction, Positioning: How To Test, Validate, and Bring Your Idea To Market and her latest volume Innovation: Need Of The Hour, as well as Vision India 2020, are all available from Amazon. Mitra is also a columnist for Forbes and runs the 1M/1M initiative.
Dawson Fercho started off by introducing Temetic Research, an software services company that offers advanced tools based on digital sociology that can offer a deeper understanding of social media buzz (beyond just words) than social listening and monitoring products currently do. Launched in January, they already have half a dozen communications firms who deal in brand awareness and management on board as clients. They offer a base analysis report as a service, and they hope those who like the report will become clients of either the software products or of their ongoing service.
Dawson asked if he should position his business as being similar to social monitoring to help potential clients fit them into a category. He tells me there are several metrics that his technology is able to track because of the algorithmic sophistication that others cannot, so my advice is to lead with those metrics to differentiate. He needs to ask customers if they are interested in measuring X, Y, and Z to validate that these metrics are indeed of interest to them.
Dawson said all of their money is going into development, and my advice is to ramp up the base analysis service to help fund their development and continue to bootstrap. I also suggested he explore partnering with SaaS PR businesses like Vocus PR who I think will find this technology intriguing. I asked him to check out my case study on Vocus PR.
Next, Griffin Boyce presented PsycView, a software to help eliminate the distance between doctors and patients. Griffin discussed how this software can help doctors manage patients over great distances, and also how patients can use it to get treatment from rural and frontier areas. Griffin is trying to do too many things at once with his business and is going in too many directions. He spoke about having an iPhone application to serve people living in frontier areas, but the iPhone is not widely used in such places. He said he thinks addicts are a strong segment to target, but I don’t think people in the depths of addiction will be checking their phones for solutions.
I think there could be something interesting in Griffin’s pool of ideas, but he needs to do a lot more focused work to figure out what it is. I told him it’s like an uncut diamond that still needs to be shaped and pared down to get to the gem. He needs to focus his software on doing one thing really well – zero in on one idea, a specific disease or whatever. Spraying and praying does not work. I suggest using the Clarify Your Story framework to focus.
Gustavo Hernando was up next to present daFoodie, a website that allows diners in Orlando to share photos of their plate of food at a restaurant to help others decide where to eat. He sees the sharing of such photos as a growing trend and does not plan to include ratings or reviews.
I’m very concerned that there is no reasonable way to make money doing this. I question how many people base their dining decision on photos alone rather than reviews. Perhaps he could partner with some other review sites, but what will keep them from doing this themselves? I hate to discourage any entrepreneur, but Gustavo may be better off using his considerable skills elsewhere. It is very expensive to go to market in this area; OpenTable has spent a ton of money. I hope Gustavo will find an opportunity that will monetize better for him.
Then we had Rudy Santamaria who has designed a line of kids clothing called Look Mommy! Clothing. These clothes convey positive images depicting what a child would like to be when he or she grows up. He has sold 750 of these shirts by hand in the past six months, validating that this is something parents are interested in buying for their child. If he would like this business to scale, the next step is to figure out how to sell these shirts without Rudy being physically involved in the process. Since baseball player and rock star shirts are his best selling, I suggest he start exploring what the best channels are for each category and remain very focused on each niche. Personally, I’m aware of a high level effort to interest young girls in science, so I suggested he do a Look Mommy, I’m A Scientist design for girls and target the organizations that are leading this movement.
Up last was Matt Walters for Sports Spray, a line of water resistant spray products to help amateur and professional athletes excel. His product line includes a stick spray (to enhance grip), slip spray (for under padding and blisters), no sweat spray (antiperspirant for hands or feet), more sweat spray (enhances workout and weight loss), and shoe spray (to keep from slipping). He is ready to go to market but is wondering if he should lead with a product whose competition retailers would already be familiar with or should he introduce the slip spray product, which is totally unique.
I suggest he start with the new, more differentiated product, the slip spray, and manufacture that first. He should focus all the branding around this new product and getting it reviewed by bloggers and social media influencers interested in sports. We discussed very targeted advertising to coaches since he believes it is a cost-effective and reasonably priced channel. I suggested he validates that the demand for this product exists by selling online before chasing retailers to get broader distribution.
I started doing my free Online Strategy Roundtables for entrepreneurs in the fall of 2008. These 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.
In addition, we are offering entrepreneurs access to investors and customers through our substantial channels. Our newly launched 1M/1M Incubation Radar series this week profiles La Grande Dame, and you can also read about several other 1M/1M entrepreneurs on my Forbes column, These Companies Are Built To Enjoy.