Week 3 - Techstars NYC

Mentor Madness = Confusion

Mentor Madness is an interesting time – you repeatedly get questioned, given opinions, and you usually end the week feeling as if you have no idea what you’re doing.

After a couple of days, and some organization, however, you can interpret trends that permeate throughout, and focus on the most common threads.  And usually they aren’t opinions on what you should do, but rather common questions that continue to surface, and suggest you need to think more about certain aspects of your business.

For us, there were a few things:

  • We needed to figure out how to simplify our explanation of the business, and what our vision looks like.  It’s clear for us, but it obviously wasn’t clear for others.
  • Many people are interested in why – as two logical thinkers with science backgrounds, we tend to narrate our plans/goals/etc. without providing the underlying motivation, which is important.
  • Explanation of our product also needed to be simplified.
  • Portions of our differentiation need evidence to be believable, and we need to figure out how to provide it clearly.

As a result, we did a lot of thinking about these topics throughout the week.  We got closer to resolving some more than others, but the biggest progress during the week for me was a result of some of the reading I did, at the suggestion of Moisey Uretsky.

While I read several of the books, and a couple others that weren’t on his list, the big breakthrough came with reading Crossing the Chasm

Customer Acquisition

One of our biggest areas of focus (as it is with most startups) is customer acquisition.  And, being adamant in staying focused, we picked a couple very specific verticals to target, even though our product is applicable across a variety of industries.

And, as it turns out, Crossing the Chasm provided the answer to our struggles in thinking about this process, though it wasn’t the focus of the book.

We had picked a couple verticals, and believed we needed to produce sales materials, schedule demos, etc., when that wasn’t strictly the case.

We’re an API-based product which does one thing extremely well – optimization.  By contrast, most of the industries we are targeting have legacy products that do a ton of things – but often don’t offer any sort of optimization. 

The result, though, is that many people expect to be sold an end-to-end product, which we clearly don’t have to offer, and don’t plan to offer anytime soon.

Targeting Visionaries

Instead, we realized there is a very specific type of person we needed to find, regardless of industry – the visionary; the type of person who realizes the potential of our ideas and current product, and is willing to help get the product off the ground and implemented.   They don’t necessarily reside within a single industry - you find them in many.

This understanding gave us the freedom to explore more leads, and at the same time, the freedom to turn down pursuing others.  We realized that at our stage, we need to focus on closing those who understand our value immediately, and come back later to those who need further educating and convincing.

But what about the focus we are so adamant about maintaining?  We found out how to redefine that focus in a way that didn’t constrain us within an industry.  Instead, we took our product roadmap, the result of some work we did in clarifying our final vision, and we now evaluate customer opportunities based on the roadmap.  If we stick closely to developing the product towards our eventual goal, we’re happy to service customers in a wide variety of industries.  The background of the customer matters much less than their attitude and profile – they must be visionaries, and their problem must fit our product.

TL;DR:

  • You must have a clear vision or goal as to what you want your company/product to eventually look like.
  • Maintaining focus is key, but sometimes that focus isn’t one industry – rather, especially in early startup stages, it’s a type of customer – the visionary.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no or be okay with not pursuing leads that are clearly customers looking for a more complete solution (or those that don’t fit the visionary profile).
  • Being realistic about your startup stage is extremely important.  Acknowledge that you don’t yet have the necessary evidence for well-defined sales materials.

Read about Week 2 here and about next week (Week 4) here.