Category Archives: Customer Discovery

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!

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.

What is a Business Model Canvas?

The Business Model Canvas is a work sheet
The Business Model Canvas is a work sheet

The canvas is a central tool for capturing what you learn during your customer discovery process. You start by making a best guess at filling out each section, knowing you’re almost certainly mistaken. Then you go out and talk to people, focusing initially on defining your problem, solution and audience (Value Proposition, center box). Getting this right is the ultimate goal of the HTRLaunchPad process because accurately defining a value proposition means you’ve found your scalable, profitable business model.

But there are nine boxes on the canvas and each contributes to your knowledge base. You may, for example, be discussing pricing and find that the market wants the service bundled with other services by a third party (channel). Even if this was not the focus of your conversation it is valuable and what you learn should be added to the Channels box on the Canvas.

As you proceed there is going to be a lot of erasing and rewriting of your work sheet. Things you assume are correct early on get revised or completely changed. And during the process the Canvas serves as a snapshot of the knowledge you’re accumulating and the progress you’re making. It may even tell you that you’re not making progress and have to consider a change in plans (pivot).

When you’ve had your 120-150 conversations your Canvas will represent your business model. You should have a much clearer idea of how you market, operate, generate revenues, your financial requirements and more. It all fits into the Business Model Canvas which becomes, at that point, a model for your operational business plan.

It’s a deceptively powerful tool that forces entrepreneurs to succinctly define all the important pieces of their business on one page.

Mentor/Advisor Intro To The 2014 HTRLaunchPad Teams Friday 2/21

Tomorrow, Friday Feb 21 at the Brainery in Village Gate (entrance between Empada Steak and Dark Horse Coffee, go straight, turn left, it’s on the right). The session runs from 3-5pm.

This is the second Mentor/Advisor Training session and will include brief intro presentations by the new startup teams chosen for the 2014 HTRLaunchPad.