Start Up Advice

ffwd-logoYesterday I returned for an afternoon of mentoring on the first day of the new FFWD London Pre-Accelerator cohort.

Here are six themes that recurred:

1). Where is it you personally are trying to go?
I asked a number of founders where they actually wanted to go with their product – what was their personal vision? Some were after an exit and others wanted to be the CEOs of their business seeing their roadmap through to highly profitable businesses.

The responses were interesting in that not many had considered this question and once we played out the various answers, the relevance of asking the question early on became apparent. For example, take a business offering software packages to automate accounting processes: If they were building to sell out to one of the big four, they are more likely to focus their product set and proposition to client and personnel within those large organisations. If they were to be a self-managed independent business, they might be more likely to adopt a licence fee business model that caters for smaller sized firms and even to consider targeting the end clients / companies who employ the accountants, with offers that could reduce their accounting fees.

2. The Gift of a Physical Offering in a Digital Space
If your offering has a physical element to it there are a whole range of opportunities open for you to engage with and market to your end customer. Example: a “find a flatmate” business – why not set up a Meet Up group that invites those looking for flatmates to get together and meet each other? What a great way to find out what questions they ask each other – informing the questions you are going to build in to your online / mobile form. You will also be able to spot trends that help you to identify your market segments – as an example, perhaps this is very attractive to females of a particular age and situation?

It is interesting to draw a parallel with Match.com, who started fully online and have now integrated physical meetups and events to bolster their offering. As an ongoing strategy, having a physical element to your offering helps people to engage more deeply with your brand as they meet you, feel the atmosphere that you create and at the same time, help you to develop your offering. Win Win!

3. Understanding all the People in your Universe: People Centred Innovation
As we try to identify our target user and customer, we also come across different people that are in our scene / our “universe”. I tried out a quick exercise where some of the founders listed out the different groups of people that are in their universe. These are not necessarily customers or users, but potential collaborators, influencers and people in the value chain. Understanding all of these different people is incredibly useful. Profiling who is in your scene is an important piece of research – it can challenge what category you have put them in to – perhaps you discover new distribution channels or new end customers. This really can only be carried out in person. Look in to the eyes of people; feel their emotion; see their response; understand their motivation; then you can talk from a position of knowledge rather than assumption. I guarantee you will always find out something that you didn’t know.

Example: A discussion around the accounting landscape identified that a group initially thought of as potential customers could actually be a distribution channel.

4. Start on your Doorstep
The start up London scene is immense – with so many accelerators, courses, incubators and so on. If you are lucky enough to have a proposition where your target user is in this scene already, then it is somewhat of a gift – you are already on the inside! For example, the people that run the FFWD London programme are linked with a lot of the other players on the scene and no doubt have ways to get to the various co-ordinators of the many programmes and their databases. So, use it!

Another variation on this theme of doorstep starting with a fashion duo working on a new idea to offer affordable but high end dresses. They suspect their prime segment to be working women in their early 30s – many of whom you will find in this scene – a great place to start. An interesting follow on question came from this fashion duo – they knew that it was not a great idea to carry out early concept testing with their friends – although they are target market. The advice in this case is to ask friends and colleagues to introduce you to someone that fits their particular profile, so you are quite rightly more removed from the respondent.

5. Opening the Kimono
Creating an MVP is critical to getting your product out of the door. As we all know, it enables you to gather early feedback, create an early adopter base who will help co-design your future product and it starts your brand journey. I found myself encouraging some of the founders to be bolder in their brand vision. I think that it is good to sell a vision as long as you are not making promises to deliver particular functionality in specific timeframes.

Example: An App that enables restaurant go-ers to find out more about the menu is part of a broader vision to bring smaller restaurateurs the kind of analytics that are available to larger establishments, without the accompanying price tag. The business model is that the restaurant will be paying to be on the system. So why not sell them the broader vision; they are an early adopter of the first feature set and the intention is that they are in for the long haul journey.

Open the kimono – give them a flash of what you have – there is a strong marketing message associated with being the first in. Often benefits (usually price related) will follow for them in the longer term. Again, these early adopters will be the ones that inform your future product. Stay close to them. There is no harm with labelling your MVP – “BETA” is a known and accepted label for example – it means that there may well be clunks and a limited product set as this is an early stage of the product.

6. Don’t hide your Light under a Bushel
I met three founders who were building products based on their own insider-industry experience. With so much digital innovation out there, it is really important to show credibility and not be afraid to shout about it!

Example: One of the founders is 25 and is building an online training offering for entrepreneurs of “lifestyle” businesses. It sounded initially clichéd, with concepts like “gamification”. I boldly asked his age and what experience he had that qualified him to be coaching others. He went on to tell me (in a very modest way) how he had built up three successful offerings all profit-generating. I suggested that part of his elevator pitch would be to start with a bio of his top three successes (I don’t apologise for always thinking in threes!). Instant credibility. Not just another online training platform: a business built around sharing his personal experience.

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