Home Startup Strategy Roundtable: Early Stage Business Building

Startup Strategy Roundtable: Early Stage Business Building

As part of my ongoing Online Strategy Roundtables, I met yesterday with four new entrepreneurs, all at the early stage of validating who their customers are and building their businesses. Entrepreneurs who are just starting out need to ask themselves some hard questions in order to develop a crisp go to market strategy. I pulled together a list of such questions that you can find here and in my Positioning book to help you “Clarify Your Story”.

Up first was Martin Calle and his company OraQuel. Martin worked for years on product development for companies like Procter & Gamble and FritoLay, but eventually wanted to create a product that would be his own.

i>Guest author 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. /p>

After researching what type a product would be best to get behind, Martin came across research showing a strong correlation between gum disease and heart disease, and came up with a heart-smart oral care product. Since large retailer stores won’t work with a “little guy” in this category, he has started to approach social media groups like mommy bloggers and TwitterMoms to try to build up a grassroots following. I believe Martin’s product does answer a real need, but he has positioned this as a product just for kids. I think he will get better pickup if he positions this as a product for the entire family – a much larger segment of the market. Martin will need to do some controlled experiments to validate whether or not my hunch is correct, and then move forward with his social media PR campaign.

Nick Quay presented for BluNami, a mobile marketing company that has developed a technology to help clients connect to Bluetooth users in a certain proximity. Nick and his team have been working with a wide variety of clients looking to use their technology a many different ways, from a city using it to make emergency announcements to restaurants offering deals to lure in customers.

(As soon as I hear anyone is trying to work with a government entity, especially a startup venture, I immediately want them to stop wasting their time there. Unless they are paying you upfront as some type of consulting situation, most startups need their cash flow and can not sustain the government’s slow 12-24 month sales cycles.)

Like many entrepreneurs with a versatile technology, Nick is trying to do too many things right now – the old “spray and pray.” While there may be many different segments interested in the product, each requires a unique go-to-market strategy. The best way to scale this business is to figure out what is the best value proposition and the easiest segment to sell to, and then focus time and energy on that while continuing to bootstrap your way to profitability. Later there may be time and money for exploring other avenues.

Frederic Guitton gave a nice presentation for ActivSalesAgent, a business that combines its software with call centers as a way to help convert visitors on client websites into better qualified sales leads. This business is further down the road of validation than the others, and is profitable. As I questioned him about price point, Frederic was ready with metrics to show that what they are doing is indeed working.

We discussed how using solid statistical information along with references from early customers is the best was to convert potential customers into clients – and those reference accounts do not need to be the biggest clients. Small business references work just as well. That’s how Salesforce.com did it. I think this business has legs, but urged Frederic to be open to doing some type of offshore chat centers down the road because I think reducing costs will become a bigger issue as this business continues to scale.

Then Linda Muncy, who is just starting out, presented her business idea. She is hired to provide photo-related entertainment at events. Guests are creatively photographed and given the image in some form as a giveaway. She has started reproducing the images onsite on a material similar to Skinit so guests can attach the image to their handhelds, laptops, etc. She would like to develop a product kit so other event planners can do this as well. Linda has yet to truly validate her product and service. I always tell entrepreneurs to validate your idea before building any product. I think Linda will be amazed by what she learns after calling 100 event planners to get their feedback. This may only be a small business, but that is perfectly okay – as long as it is profitable.

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.

If you are an entrepreneur working on an idea or an early stage business, I am also very interested in hearing what you are looking for from 1M/1M. Please weigh in here. We are crowdsourcing the design of 1M/1M, and requests that have come up include Receivables Financing as a way to bridge to a validated business without giving up precious equity, I would love to hear your thoughts.

i>You can find the recording of this roundtable session here. Recordings of previous roundtables are all available here. You can register for the next roundtable here./p>

em>Photo by Svilen Milev./p>

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