Alex Zapesochny of iCardiac and I had a broad-ranging discussion after last’s years HTRLaunchPad program about what worked, what new things we learned and what we could have improved on. Alex serves on the LaunchPad Advisory Board and as a mentor and I work on the teaching team. As a writer I was interested in doing a concise version of the methodology for those who might not wade through the very long texts written by inventors of the lean concept.
We also had an epiphany of our own and that was that customer discovery is a process that anyone starting anything new should go through, before committing time and resources to their idea. This included community projects, new product development, local ‘mom and pop’ businesses, sales initiatives and more. So we felt our book should cover the application of the methodology in a broader sense.
The result is an ebook, available on Amazon, called The Customer Discovery Matrix: A Concise Guide To Starting Anything by Martin Edic & Alex Zapesochny. It’s our hope that we can encourage adoption of this process across a wide range of innovative efforts taking place in Upstate NY.
The Upstate Venture Association of New York (UVANY) is offering a free webinar, in conjunction with Microsoft, on scaling your venture with Azure. It’s this Thursday, February 13th from 1:30-2:30 or you can access it later on their site.
As part of the ongoing commitment to teams from this year’s program we held our second follow-on event at HTR’s Lennox Center on Friday November 22, 2013. The event was attended by Launch 2013 teams, advisor/mentors and the current TEN (The Entrepreneur’s Network) class members.
Mike Riedlinger of HTR encouraged teams to consider applying for the TEN program which teaches operational skills for startups moving past the customer discovery phase. We heard brief updates from the teams at the event and then Mario Fallone of Harter, Secrest & Emory, Attorneys, gave a presentation on business formation, shareholder agreements and options plans.
John Boersma of Adapt Courseware, a successful five year-old tech company based in Rochester, gave a presentation outlining the history of his fundraising process from seed funding to A, B and C rounds of venture funding. He showed how the dilution process worked for them and how the funds were used for rapid growth. He also discussed his use of equity options as a recruiting and motivation tool. It was a frank and entertaining discussion.
We heard from Eric Baller of Energy Wise Partners on their latest developments and from Immense Analytics/SnapEval. Both have made impressive progress with revenue generation and growth.
All Access’s Ron and Toni provided drinks and food from Aladdin’s for the reception following.
A great afternoon with standing room only attendance!
We’re nearly six months out from the completion of the core HTR LaunchPad program and it looks like 90% of our teams are still operational and out there working to make it happen.
Gradfly is riding on a string of wins including getting out of beta and signing up users for their STEM student project platform, raising a seed stage round of investment and winning several competitions. They are currently negotiating to provide a custom platform for a major regional college.
All Access presented an update at our October 27th event and showed a lot of progress with paying clients for their menus and beyond app, a huge list of content developed for their database and the realization that their market went far beyond restaurants. They now incorporate entertainment venues, sporting venues and anywhere that a menu makes for a great way to deliver information in an accessible way.
EnergyWise is implementing several paid beta projects for their platform that turns local energy-generation plants like geo-thermal and solar into energy assets that can be tracked and monetized.
The guys at Immense Analytics did a big pivot during the program and came up with a winner. Their SnapEval app helps managers keep real time records for employment evaluation purposes, creating a more accurate database of employee achievement all through the year. They have a major beta test with one of the largest global marketing agencies and are working with one of the largest accounting firms in NYS to implement their professional service provider evaluation tracker.
NewDiggs, the guys who are changing the way students and universities work with local housing landlords, has been finding that working with universities can be a challenging situation. Their platform is up and running and they are negotiating with several large university systems.
LifeSUDS, now known as Symptom Reporting has been doggedly adding users in the psychotherapy and physical therapy fields for their app that helps patients and care providers track things like drug interactions, psychological changes and responses in real time. Though Christine says it is an uphill climb, her beta tests now are laying the groundwork for wider acceptance of this important technology.
Toby from Parts Dashboard tells us that he realized this summer that he needs to rebuild his inventory management app for smaller designers and manufacturers on a more scalable platform. He is currently seeker a developer to join his team.
QMetrics has entered a new market providing 3D imaging of knee joint imaging files for research. Their process greatly speeds up this costly and time-consuming process, saving large research projects significant resources. They have also refined their product model and are raising venture funding.
NuSale/Vinterest, the integrated POS, marketing and manufacturing platform for small to mid-size vineyards is seeing rapid growth with multiple Upstate NY vineyards becoming customers. Sam tells us that he had an epiphany when he learned that he could go upmarket to larger vineyards and that a major competitor turned out to have serious flaws he can compete against. Two big opportunities to enter larger markets.
The Roc Innovations team brought their extensive learning back to their parent company with multiple opportunities to change the way large transportation providers change they way they use technology. Their original market-sizing hypothesis turned out to represent less than a tenth of the actual market for their products. Nice thing to learn!
Ryan and Nikko from Gradesnap did a pivot and decided to pursue other projects including a stint at Apple for Ryan. Their presence at the LaunchPad contributed a lot to the overall success of the program and we look forward to learning more about where they are headed in the future.
Deb from MindWrite had her own pivot with the realization that while she loved the process of developing her writing education app, the business world was not for her. She is still pursuing the project but now looks to find a partner or licensee. She finished the program and gave a great presentation at the GEVA event that told how her choice had come about. The Lean process is about discovery and discovering that your idea isn’t viable or simply being in business is not for you is a great outcome.
Looking back to nine months ago when we all sat in a room and started to learn about each other’s companies and ideas, it seems amazing that so many are doing so well. The process works and the HTR LaunchPad has been a big success from our perspective– and a huge learning experience. I think our founding team members and advisors would all agree.
Watch for the application process for the 2014 Class coming soon!
This is part of a series designed to help teams who are working towards being operational businesses rather than early stage (unproven) concepts. Once you are starting to gain customers and get feedback your priorities change. These posts help address some of these new action items.
For software startups the well-known Tech blogs are often the most desirable places to get press, even more (at this stage) than the major traditional media. Why? For a number of reasons. First, if you are fortunate enough to get written up somewhere like the Wall Street Journal or the Times, you better be prepared to take advantage of it. 99% of all startups are not and will not be for awhile. You don’t have the ability to scale to a huge amount of attention and if you screw it up it will hurt you.
The tech blogs are preferable because they target desirable audiences for companies in an early stage: Early adopters, geeks, investors, potential partners, experimenters, possible acquirers…an audience tuned into the situation you are in. If their article crashes your servers they are more likely to cut you slack and even consider it a good sign (lots of people are checking these guys out!). And it can really give you a burst of users. When I was at Techrigy, a social media monitoring software startup, we had a freemium model. We had been steadily adding users but one Techcrunch piece resulted in 4500 sign-ups in a few days. Several converted to paid and the attention also helped our sales guy add more paid users. It is powerful.
So how do you get their attention? And who are they? New ones emerge all the time and there are many niche subject sites. If you don’t know the niche sites in your sector, get to work- its critical to get to know them. The general techy sites include Techcrunch, VentureBeat, GIGAOM, AllThingsD, PandoDaily, Business Insider and a few more. Generally, if you handle it right, you can get coverage on several as they scramble to cover the hottest new thing at the same time.
He goes into the basics of press releases which I won’t go into here. But the best advice he gives is to avoid press release distributions like PRWeb and to mail them directly to editors:
You should also know that editors at the largest publications do read the emails sent, particularly to their “tips” email. I remember at VentureBeat roughly 50% of the story ideas being generated from emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is, in my experience, exactly how to get their attention, if you have a good story. If you watch these blogs daily you’ll start to see which writers target businesses like yours. Send them a note describing what you’re doing along with the release. And make yourself available 24/7 for interviews, questions, etc.
He also gets into the essential subject of embargoes which is how PR pros offer exclusives without killing coverage by other media.
To combat an incident such as this occurring, entrepreneurs implement something called an “embargo”.
In its simplest form, an entrepreneur will reach out to many media channels and will ask, “Are you interested in this announcement? If so, you have to agree that this will not be published before a certain date and time.” If the journalist agrees, the entrepreneur will send all of the information.
This is the embargo, the agreement that no media channel can publish the story before a set time.
It is really important to understand how to handle the subtleties of embargoes. Read the post for this– understanding this alone will mark you as a pro and give you a leg up on the competition for press attention– without paying a PR agency thousands of dollars a month.