On September 27th, the HTRLaunchPad Team hosted a post-Launchpad session, the first of a monthly series. All of the 2013 teams were invited and we had a great turnout. In addition we had the current TEN (The Entrepreneur’s Network) class joining us. Three guest speakers were heard, the teams shared a quick overview of their progress since the Demo Days in June and we heard in depth from All Access Menus regarding their progress. We’ll be covering these and future events here on the HTRLaunchPad blog. We’re going to start with Gary Fishman, Managing Director at Anreder & Company in New York City who offered a concise case for building a PR reputation as you do you customer discovery and develop your business model.
Customer discovery and the other steps you take as you go through the LaunchPad process constitute an intense learning process. You’re going out into the field and acquiring expertise until you’re at the point where you have (or don’t have) enough to start a business. It is a concentrated form of research and in the end all of our teams were immersed in their business sector and on their way to becoming experts. While this is essential to success it has a corollary benefit: Expertise is a leverage-able asset that can get you attention from the press, industry media, at conferences and across the many channels that PR pros use to promote companies. Not a minor thing when you’re trying to make a mark with your startup.
When people consider you an expert and come to you for insights, you bypass the skepticism that greets promotional marketing like advertising and selling. Your word is considered of high enough value that it gets featured in places where customers go to get help making buying decisions. So building a reputation as experts should be an integral part of your business model, one you build as you do your discovery and utilize after you launch.
A big part of the discovery process are those insights you learn when you get out of the building and talk to real people about your startup idea. These insights have value to the general business sector you are targeting. As you gather them, start thinking about how you can share them in relevant places. Here are some suggestions:
- Send a progress email to the customers and supporters you have reached out to and include insights you think would be useful to them
- Use those same insights as blog posts on your web site
- Offer to write guest blog posts for industry influencer blogs and media sites
- Post links to them on relevant social media sites
- Write a white paper, case-study style covering how you applied an insight to your business model. Distribute to the same lists.
Essentially you’re using the same content in a variety of places to start the process of being recognized as an expert. You don’t have to do this while you’re pre-launch. Save up the insights and the media ideas you have and use them after you go public with your product or service. If you’re bootstrapping you can do this through the network you’ve developed. If you’re funded consider using a PR professional to polish them and get them where they will be seen.
The goal? To begin being seen as an asset to your industry or sector. The results? Invites to appear at conferences, on panels and as an interviewee in targeted media. These credible appearances stamp you and your company as legitimate and established even if you are early stage, making those first sales and partnerships a lot easier– and more lucrative.
Our Roc Control Innovations team posted a blog post about their search for an elevator speech. I’ve done some coaching in the comments (which were in moderation as I write this, but should be live soon). Here’s why this is important. Getting your value proposition down to one sentence means you are very close to discovering your business model. I took their speech and refined it down to a sentence and then added a few variations for when they are talking to non-railroad people (in the comment chain).
So you get something like this:
“We offer railroad operators reliable, cloud-based switch and crossing gate status reporting at a fraction of the cost of existing systems.”
Now if your audience are not railroad people you might want to add a note about safety issues:
“This is a safety issue. Unknown switch positioning and stuck crossing gates are a leading cause of railway accidents.”
The audience will get it.
I would like to see every team phrase your value proposition, on your canvas, as an elevator speech. This one defines the audience/market (railroad operators), the problem (switch and crossing gate status), the solution (cloud-based reporting), and the value/return on investment (fraction of the cost of existing systems, implied safety improvements).
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs
As expected, we have some teams who are actively using their blog to tell the world about their progress and others who are not making progress with their blog. I have a pretty good understanding of why this is the case and I’m going to spend a few minutes discussing why blogging is important, and how to make it easier.
First, the LaunchPad program is about networking. If your team did nothing but make the required customer contacts over the 12 week program you’d be pretty far ahead of the average startup. Contacting strangers and asking for their input on your idea/hypothesis is hard. But blogging your progress can make it a lot easier because it gives you something to point people to that helps them understand who you are, what you’re doing and why they might care. It also helps your team formulate this message. And it helps potential mentors, advisors and connectors find you and help you out.
The other primary goal of your blog is to establish expertise. Show that you know your market and subject area.
So, what do you write about? Remember, a post doesn’t have to be long or complicated. It might be an anecdote, some thing you learned, etc. Here’s some ideas:
- Team bios. Not formal, just an introduction to each team member (with a picture!), their background, skills and interests, even if they are not directly related to your startup. Why? Because shared interests are a way of making connections. Are you a runner, a sailor, an amateur woodworker? Tell us because someone might read that and be into the same stuff- and that might be enough of a connection to get them to talk to you. Don’t forget school connections!
- How you got your idea. There’s a story in there somewhere. Tell it.
- Who you talked to today and what you learned.
- Things you’ve got wrong, and what you learned.
- Things you got right, and what you…
- A problem you can’t figure out
- Some blogs on your subject (do some research and share links. Then reach out to those bloggers for help) and news stories relevant to your market.
- Pictures and screenshots
- Example of use cases/war stories
- Thought Leader pieces. What are the latest developments in your area? Offer up some insightful information and always include links.
- Anything funny you learned along the way
The idea is to keep up an informal dialog with the world around your startup including other teams, mentors, teaching team and anyone else out there. If you don’t have a world, blogging will help you create and nurture one. That what we’re doing here on this blog!
Rochester Control Blog
The Roc Innovations Team has a bit different charter than the other teams in the HTRLaunchPad. They are a skunkworks team formed out of RailComm, a successful local railway signaling tech company. The team has set up in a space in the HTR Lennox Center and are working full-time, using LaunchPad methodology, to open a new market and adapt their SaaS control technology to the needs of that market. And their blog reflects their commitment to the process. It’s a great way to understand their progress!
MindWriter changes the way writing is taught
The MindWriter team has created software that could radically change the way writing is taught. It gives the teacher insight into the student’s process when they are out of the classroom. Yowsa!
Gradfly has been working on their idea for a while now and they’ve jumped into the LaunchPad blogging process with both feet (or wings). Check out their video and their progress reports on the G-fly Nest blog!
We’ll be calling out a team blog or two each week so stay tuned!
HTRLaunchPad founder teams are required to create a basic WordPress blog and to post to it regularly. The posts cover their experience talking to customers, discovering what works and doesn’t work with their business model, changes they’re making and the general experience of doing a startup. These blogs are public and offer a way for other teams to see how their fellow founders are doing.
Another big benefit of blogging your LaunchPad experience comes when others in your area of expertise find you via the blog. This is a great way to expand your customer discovery process. You can also point people to your blog so they understand what you are trying to accomplish through this program.
Setting up the blogs is easy. Just go to WordPress.com and register for a free account. Free accounts may have ads on them and you have the option of paying for a Pro account to remove them; however a few ads really don’t matter for our needs. The exception is if you decide you want your WordPress site to become the primary website for your business. Then you’d want to register a domain and pay for a pro account.
Once you’re logged into WordPress they offer a great tutorial for setting up your blog. I recommend checking it out before you even open your account. Just follow their instructions and you’ll be up and running in minutes. And if you have any questions, just shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BTW, this blog was built on WordPress.com.