Home Startup Strategy Roundtable: First Validate Your Business Idea With Real Customers

Startup Strategy Roundtable: First Validate Your Business Idea With Real Customers

This morning the Online Strategy Roundtable for entrepreneurs ran very smoothly. The five entrepreneurs who presented are all at various stages of validating who their best customers are. The best conversations during these roundtables usually stem from the businesses that have already been validated to some degree, simply because I am often not the target customer for a product.

All entrepreneurs need to speak directly to their real customers – the people who are willing to pay money for their product or service – in order find out if you are solving a real problem. It is your potential customers who will give you the most valuable feedback, and these conversations should happen very early on, preferably before you have spent precious time and money building a product or service.

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 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. 

Ellen Badinelli started off by introducing her business, ScanAvert. This is a mobile dietary application that scans products’ barcodes and alerts the consumer to dietary incompatibility based on their user-created profile. For example, if you are following a gluten-free diet or avoiding certain ingredients that may cause a bad reaction to a drug you take, you can scan the bar code and quickly find out if the ingredients you are avoiding are in a given product.

There have been 5,000 users so far, giving Ellen a good idea of who the best demographic is for this product right now. She is looking to get financing to beef up PR efforts as recommended by some angel investors. Unlike advertising, you don’t get more PR by spending more money. I recommend she does some more guerilla PR herself Using the demographic information learned from the 5,000 customers who have already downloaded the app. She should target the top bloggers and media for each of the largest segments. I would like to see Ellen ramp up a bit more and get more conversions. As long as she can continue to bootstrap, she will improve the valuation. 

Next Bradley Owen presented TxtJet, which delivers email on cell phones for free, as text messages. He plans to use an advertising revenue model which will begin in six months or so to run a short ad tied to key words in the message. The ads are based on key word density and the geography of the user. I have my doubts on how well this will monetize because it would be tricky to target the ads based on the wording of email messages.

I suggested that building an ad server to do this might be a more interesting product, although Google is already working on similar efforts. We discussed using SEO optimization around the key words “free mobile email.”  I suggested he may also want to explore doing a deal with the carriers by offering a product to help transition text messaging customers into email customers. This, of course, would depend on how strong Bradley’s intellectual property is. They won’t be interested in something they can easily create for themselves. He’s launching this product tomorrow, so he’ll soon be able to see exactly where his customer base is coming from. Good luck!  

Kendra McKeever was up next to present Sock Monkeys Clothing, which offers clothing appropriate for infants with eczema in 3-month- to 1-year-old sizes. Apparently 20% of babies have eczema in the U.S. – including her daughter – and she is targeting the parents and grandparents of those children. She says there are a handful of competitors, but all are located in Europe, making the products expensive. She has great endorsements from parents and pediatric dermatologists, but this has not converted into sales.

We discussed the importance of focusing on SEO marketing; she needs to be on the top of the page for those searching for infant eczema. I suggest she does a laser-focused outreach to bloggers, especially mommy bloggers who are already discussing this topic, to see if they are willing to write about her product rather than going after the larger iVillage-type bloggers right now. Also, trying to get into publications read by pediatric dermatologists is worth exploring. Although doctors don’t sell clothing, this could also help get the word of mouth going.

Then we had Dhaval Sharma, who has been working on a back-end solution to make pooling (as in carpooling) easier to organize.  Dhaval spoke about all he has been doing and his ideas, but he has yet to speak to his potential customers to see if they are willing to pay for this. I’m not yet convinced by his value proposition because I think there are free solutions already available.

Dhaval needs to focus on one segment; mass pooling is too large. Once he has found his strongest segment to zero in on, he needs to stay with that one line of thought and go out and validate that there are people willing to pay for his solution. Don’t spray and pray! You should always try to validate your idea first, build your product later.

Up last was David Braxton presenting for HighPerformanceU, which will offer an audio program that shares a business coaching methodology he has helped to develop through his one-on-one coaching experience. They would like to eventually offer this as a reasonably priced, customized solution for a company’s sales force, for example. He has been able to sell a very similar program to two companies so far, which is a good data point for David. But he really needs to validate his assumptions with his potential customers.

I recommend he speak to 100 sales managers to ask them for feedback, and maybe offer the service for free at first and develop some success metrics. If they like the product, he’ll have his first customers. This can be done by phone or through connections on LinkedIn, doesn’t need to be done with in-person meetings. More validation needed. 

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.

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.


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