- Have first-hand experience in the market you’re trying to address. You can develop empathy easier, you may have a network of like peers, etc.
- Absent first-hand experience, be a sponge and do a lot of customer discovery to explore the problem and present your idea of the solution to get buy-in
- Selling on the dream is hard. Instead, sell on the primary value and benefit you’re providing with your MVP. You can share the dream, but sell hard on what you do provide
- Focus on the problem you’re solving and the benefit you’re delivering. Don’t try to jam-pack more features that deliver incremental benefit. Focus on what delivers the most benefit in the shortest amount of time so customers get it
- Launch, learn, iterate, repeat as fast as you can as long as you have sufficient “gut-feeling” on how the current approach is going
- Customer discovery up front (early and often) mitigates significant cascading risks down the line
You’ve permitted magical to walk on by. Not to mention good enough, amazing and wonderful.
Waiting for the thing that cannot be improved (and cannot be criticized) keeps us from beginning.
At that point, we’ll probably look back at our starts and laugh how it was all imperfect, but to get to where we are and who we are, we wouldn’t change a thing. We made those imperfect opportunities… perfect.
- I go to the same office everyday. I don’t actually have to go into the office everyday, but at our stage, it’s important to be amongst the team to iterate our sales and marketing strategies. However, I still switch my afternoon environment to find new energy and meet new people.
- I’m reluctant to use outside resources. Having bootstrapped startups in the past and working with other startups with little funding, I can appreciate not only wearing multiple hats, but also using every resource I do have to accomplish a need. However, now, I have resources (in the team or externally) to help produce what I need.
- Food! Now working at ATV, I essentially have free breakfast and snacks. Additionally, my company does team lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays + Startup Chowdown on Fridays. This means that I can conserve a lot of cash by forgoing some grocery shopping.
- My time has been incredibly focused and in overdrive on SalesWise. I used to do a lot more high-level strategy in consulting. Now part of an early-stage startup, I’m back to an early morning, late night, and much-of-the-weekend grind… fully dedicated to a single company’s cause. Time management has become even more important.
- I’m pushed farther and faster by everyone around me. The team is made up of highly successful, bright team members. They push me to think bigger, faster, more creatively, and they’ll provide support, too. I’ve learned a lot so far from everyone on the team, and it’s been overwhelmingly good.
- I have benefits and consistent flow of money! It’s strange to know money is coming in after years of… “instability”. I can save even more now as the company pays the majority of health insurance. It’s interesting how having this job has been saving me more money than when my income was far less steady.
- I’m working so deep in the tactical that I’ve been lacking at more strategic thinking. We’re iterating so fast that I’ve been managing website builds and changes, performing sales, building marketing campaigns, assessing marketing content, etc. I have not stepped back enough to assess the grander picture. This worries me as this created many blindspots while building Body Boss – so deep in the weeds I failed to realize the greater picture to optimize direction and tasks.
- Product was ripe for ABC’s Shark Tank. He knew a guy who could get the company on-air. In fact, they started on the path of filming.
- Reached out to several local businesses as points-of-sale for the product – 1000 units preordered.
- Went to community events and locales to interview prospective consumers – got hundreds of great feedback and buying interests.
- Secured seed investment to make production runs.
- The list goes on…
- Never start without a contract. Similar to the entrepreneurs I spoke with months ago, being explicit and documented in expectations early on helps mitigate problems that willarise when there’s an inkling of success.
- Know who you’re getting into bed with. Startups are difficult, and having the right team in place for success is sometimes serendipitous but needs great consideration. The early team should be aligned as the culture starts from the beginning.
- Inventions are not businesses. Companies have products, but they don’t necessarily have revenue. Companies only exist as long as they stay solvent. The founders of the company believed having a product automatically equaled sales. Nope!
- 100% of 0 is 0. I remember at Body Bosswhen we were a bit greedy in sharing equity with a potential strength coach to become an Advisor. We didn’t end up asking him to be an Advisor and saved our ownership. Problem is that he ended up becoming the strength coach of the year and a Super Bowl coach while we kept 100% of a shut-down company.
- Your brand persists through ups and downs. My buddy made sure to meet face-to-face with each retailer he presold to to tell them the company wasn’t moving forward. He had to go back to his main investor to stop the check. As hard and shameful he felt about not moving forward, he ensured his contacts were in-the-know. His personal brand is fully intact and even strengthened due to his integrity and honesty.
My buddy is a great sales professional. He’s a great networker. Even though this opportunity fell through, he has many more opportunities available. But now, he approaches them with a lot more diligence.
|Scott Hightower speaking at the Emory Entrepreneur Network Breakfast Series on February 25th at the Morris, Manning, and Martin|
- Focus on cashflow and profitability/ focus on recurring revenue. Scott saw a grand opportunity in the security company he bought in its relationships and a gap in providing monthly services. Scott implemented a recurring revenue model that helped his company through the economic downturn in 2008-2011, and it is recurring revenue that will drive the valuation of his company.
- Ask for help and connect with others. Scott worked at Cox Communications in media production for 15+ years and didn’t know anything about security. He realized he needed to reach out to others for help and to learn as much as possible as fast as possible. He enrolled in educational classes. He networked. He grinded to be a successful leader.
- Figure out the sales process and automate it. Scott cites Aaron Ross’s book Predictable Revenue as a source of great inspiration for his business. To accelerate sales, he figured out what would be too costly to serve or too far outside the company’s services and said no to them. Meanwhile, he streamlined and set out the structure that would enable selling to be a repeatable, scalable process.
- Work on your business, not too much in it. Scott cited how difficult it was to grow the business and focus strategically when he was in the weeds addressing anything and everything. It’s easy as a passionate entrepreneur to get tied into the weeds. For Scott, his task list kept growing and he spent too much effort on tactical tasks rather than strategic tasks. As the owner and driver of the company’s vision, he needed to delegate and prioritize.
- Don’t try to do too much – specialize. (Scott said he was going to list his top 10 to which he actually provided 12. Emulating Scott, I’m over-delivering with this fifth point.) This was a key learning for me as well from my early startup – build a focused product, not bloated with too many features and functions. Scott focused on his differentiators so as not to be trapped in a commoditized business where price competition ruled. Additionally, to succeed in efficiently addressing sales, services, and customer support, the company needed to specialize its services, not a broad stroke.
I enjoyed Scott’s lessons and the many books he pointed out as great teachers – added a couple to my list already. I’m giving next month’s talk on Thursday, March 24th so I’ve got my work cut out in following in his footsteps. If you’re involved in Emory at all, come hear the talk! Emory Entrepreneur Network Breakfast Series.
- Disney’s Brainstorming Method: Dreamer, Realist, and Spoiler. One of the largest, creative companies in the world has a process to identify new opportunities by establishing “rooms” where all ideas are brought to the table with little prejudice. After the ideas are brought forth, the team evaluates the realism of each idea (shortening the list). Then, the team runs through a “spoiler” room where each idea is scrutinized for actual value and viability. Here, ideas are tested for sustainability. Disney’s method compartmentalizes the ideation process so all ideas are brought to the table before shooting any of them down. Based on their track record, seems helpful.
- Six Thinking Hats. We’re all aware of the “Jack of All Trades” associate in the office. He wears “multiple” hats – each hat representing a specific role (product development, marketing, developer, etc.). In the Six Thinking Hats method, team members are designated specific hats which Edward de Bonosays represent the way the brain thinks in six distinct ways. The hats represent: Managing, Information, Emotions, Discernment, Optimistic, and Creativity. By designating resources to each hat, ideas can be thought of in a cohesive, challenging, and holistic way.
Most brainstorming sessions like my recent ones (and many others) are unstructured. Here, individual(s) must step up to fill a gap the team lacks to help shape an idea more holistically. This could be tricky, however, if teams don’t know what they don’t consider. Structured brainstorming methods could help mitigate these oversights. Things to ponder…