Pre-Launch PR for Early Stage Startups

The teams in the 2014 HTRLaunchPad are past the halfway point and we’re seeing exceptional progress as evidenced by the refinement of their business models and their stories. What typically started as ideas expressed vaguely has coalesced into specific solutions to targeted problems with a marketable audience. There are a few struggling with the end game but we think they will be seeing  things come together before the demo days here in Rochester and in NYC.

So it’s time to start thinking about publicity– getting the word out about the teams. PR is something that can be done with a small budget accelerated by some hard work and creativity. The LaunchPad process helps get that going as each team works towards their goal of talking to 120-150 people about their concept. We’ve had some local news coverage for the program as a whole but it’s now time to be thinking about using the media to tell each company’s story.

Fortunately the FounderDating blog has an excellent post, written by an entrepreneur, on early stage PR for startups:

Pitching Practice: A Public Relations Launch Checklist for Early-Stage Startup Founders

This is comprehensive and I’m urging our teams to study it and begin developing their pitch, their story, their relationships with bloggers in their field and all the other pieces that go into a compelling story for the media. It’s an important part of their customer discovery process and each bit of coverage increases the value of their startup, often in significant ways.

120 Conversations

120 people!

120 people!

We’re entering the fifth week of our twelve week program at the LaunchPad. As we experienced last year, many of our teams are opening up more questions than answers via their Customer Discovery process. Many are having a hard time getting people to talk to them and several are questioning their core hypotheses on multiple levels. It’s a little scary but experience tells us that this is a good thing- it means they are cracking open their business model and finding out where the real value may be hidden.

And a few may be discovering a key thing about doing a startup:

“If you can’t find 120-150 people to talk with about your startup, over three months, then you might ask yourself: Do I actually know anything about the problem I’m solving?”

This is the key to the uncertainty and questioning we saw at our last round of presentations. The word ‘pivot’ started appearing. A few changed focus, probably prematurely.

What’s really going on is they are just starting to talk to enough people. Typically at this stage they have talked to 15-25 in total,  well below the expected 10-15 per week. This is where you discover how  persistence, and making full use of every resource you have, are the keys to startup success. It’s also where teams discover that focus is critical. The more focused you are the easier it is attract interest and feedback.

While it seems that solving more problems should lead to more connections, it’s simply not the case. When you accurately define the problem -the main problem-  that your startup is attacking, you become a lot more interesting. Why? Because you are starting to acquire expertise which you can share, adding value to your conversations.

But, ask yourselves: If after four weeks we’ve only had a handful of conversations, what are we doing wrong? Are we in the wrong market? Solving a problem that isn’t urgent and painful enough? Or maybe not really all that interested in what we thought we were doing? These are important questions to ask…and they can lead to breakthroughs. We saw it last year across the board.

So, hang in there and keep having conversations!

HTRLaunchPad 2014: Teams, Lab & more

From our most recent Press Release:

HTR LAUNCHPAD SELECTS TEAMS, OPENS SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT LAB

Thirteen software developers to participate in a highly focused software accelerator program that helps them commercialize their innovations, can now use a dedicated software development facility at HTR’s Lennox Technology Enterprise Center

Modeled after the highly successful Lean LaunchPad program developed at Stanford University and funded locally by a grant from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, the HTR LaunchPad has selected 13 teams for its second season. The 13 selected were from an application pool of 33, an increase over last year’s pool of 29.

The HTR LaunchPad provides support for start-up companies by offering one year of advisory services and access to HTR’s incubation facilities, including an initial 12-week program – an intensive, action-oriented workshop requiring development of working prototypes and first-hand customer interviews to refine and validate ideas for new products and services. HTR LaunchPad is for Rochester-area software and web-based teams and entrepreneurs developing new software applications: internet-based systems, mobile apps, and enterprise software products including those for smart phones, portable web-based devices, more traditional markets and technologies, larger scale enterprise IT, and “cloud” computing.

The 13 teams, their leading founder and their areas of interest are:

• Providentia Healthcare Analytics (Karan Mehrotra) Healthcare decision support system
• Digitronik Development Labs (Stephen Mokey) Industrial automation optimatization
• Kavyar (Justin Kramer) Community for creative professionals
• Coterie (Letitia Elizabeth) Mobile shopping system for boutiques
• CityWhisk (Stacey Lampell ) Custom itineraries for travelers
• eStork (John Loncz) Buying incentive programs for hospitals
• DogWays (Andy Simon) Social platform for dog owners and service providers
• TourBlend (Brian O’Keefe) Location-based tools for tourism professionals
• GlassPay (Guy Paddock) Mobile payment systems
• Clinical Trial Innovations CTiX @iCardiac (Thuan Pham) Digital archive for heart monitor data
• DealerTeam.com (Adam Grossman) Web-based tools for independent car dealers
• 12 Parsecs Design (Robert Handsfield) Software tools for analysis of human motion
• Quantum Prep, Inc. (Anuradha Tanwar ) Online math SAT/PSAT /ACT test preparation

“Each team has great potential yet all could likely benefit from experienced advisors and additional resources for bringing their concepts to the marketplace,”

says LaunchPad program director Mike Riedlinger, HTR’s Program Manager of Technology Commercialization.

“By using the HTR LaunchPad approach, a start-up team learns what needs to be done to address specific customer needs, rapidly adapt to market requirements and build viable business models to make money from their venture.”

HTR LaunchPad Lab

To foster a community of software developers, and to offer software development and customer discovery resources to participating teams, HTR LaunchPad has created its own LaunchPad Lab, a dedicated suite at HTR’s Lennox Tech Enterprise Center, located at 150 Lucius Gordon Drive (off of Bailey Road) in West Henrietta. The new facility offers a wide range of hardware, including iMacs, iPad Airs, Android tablets, Kindle readers, wire framing tools, self-paced web coding curricula, video editing, and Chromecast and Smart TV. In addition, the Lab boasts a collection of reference materials including interface design for iOS and Android, user interface design, market research and business building.

“With our new LaunchPad Lab, individuals on the participating teams have access to popular mobile devices, computer hardware and the latest in reference materials,”

says LaunchPad director Riedlinger. “We’re grateful to the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation and to Merkle Donohue helping High Tech Rochester equip and furnish this facility.”

More About the HTR LaunchPad Experience

In addition to offering the free 12-session to participants, HTR connects participating teams with regional business vendors, professional advisors, and engineering resources for rapid development and market testing. Investor presentations and demo days will be held in Rochester and New York City in June.

Working closely with the participating teams will be “successful serial entrepreneurs, seed-stage venture capitalists, software engineering and business experts who’ll provide one-on-one mentorship and support,” says Mikael Totterman, an HTR LaunchPad advisory board member. Totterman is a co-founder of VirtualScopics, iCardiac, and Innovocracy.org

“Thanks to a grant from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, HTR has developed this new program which we believe will benefit the Rochester community in the way of new and successful businesses and the economic benefits that come with them,”

says HTR President James Senall.

“The mission of the HTR LaunchPad is consistent with HTR’s larger mission of commercializing innovative technology developed in the Rochester area and helping entrepreneurs create successful and profitable ventures.”

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Google Analytics Academy

Google Analtytics copyMetrics are a very important part of the Lean Launchpad process. By keeping track of interactions with customers in a variety of ways you are building a convincing story about the viability of your business model; a story that will be invaluable when you start selling, acquiring users or raising money.

Some of the things you’ll need to be measuring can be tracked with a simple spreadsheet:

  • Customer conversations
  • Development milestones for your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  • Customer roles and relationships

Interactions that take place online, via the Internet or mobile, are a different story. Google Analytics is free software activated by placing a line of code into your site or app. That line of code gathers a wide range of information about those interacting with your site or product including:

  •  Where, when and how (what device or browser was used)
  • Length of interaction and where you ‘lost’ them
  • Hotspots on your pages
  • Behaviors within apps and sites
  • Their ‘path’ through the experience you are providing

…and much, much more. So much, in fact, that even experienced users of Analytics often miss important stats and metrics or don’t understand how to use them to do testing. Fortunately Google offers a service called Analytics Academy that provides both structured and self-guided courses for both beginners and experienced users.  Find out more here.

This really isn’t optional, though many startups don’t take full advantage of it. The reason I say that, is it gives your startup an incredible advantage as you gain sophistication with these powerful tools.