Over the past couple of months I’ve been talking to startups in the Kitchener/Waterloo ecosystem. These conversations mostly about their story, vision and starting up in KW lead to some larger themes about the start-ups in general:
There are no silver bullets in marketing:
While talking to Decision.io co-founder Josh Wright, I was struck by how they had already acquired paying customers during their closed beta - ‘Our first customer was the first to pay us’ were his exact words & they tell a strong story. Josh and his co-founder Jesse and Duncan kept their day jobs while working part time on their startup until the early customers were happy to pay for it. Decision.io is currently in New York as part of the Angel Pad Incubator and they have moved into the Green House. This is an excellent example of selling from Day 1. All too often I’ve talked to startups that are either waiting to finish their product development process without leaving their rooms or vaguely refer to ‘PR & social media’ as their marketing and sales strategy. There are no silver bullets. A feature on TechCrunch may land you a couple of thousand page views but the question becomes how many of those actual translate into cold hard inflow of cash? Marketing - especially the free sort take’s time to build up. Blogs, social media and ads and other inbound and outbound strategies take time to show results. There is a lot of experimentation involved with tweaking the strategy as well as tactical decisions to see which channel works best for your company – if your selling manufacturing software, it may make little sense to have a Facebook Page. Alot of early stage technology companies undermine the value of building up a marketing engine from the start. Communities aren’t built over night - they’re a labour of love and time. All too often a marketing guy or girl will be brought on post soft launch and expected to bring millions of page views, thousands of twitter followers and 80% conversion rates within months if not weeks. Don’t fall in love with your technology: Ramli Jon from Family Tales mentioned how Family Tales started out as a Facebook for Dead People (Yes…). But while having a potential user testing out their app something surprising happened she put in her baby’s name instead; ‘When we asked her about it she said my baby is my everyday life’. Afterwards they had to pretty much start from scratch changing the focus of their whole product and re-designing it from the ground up. It’s a common problem for technical founders to fall in love with technology and lose sight of the problem they are trying to solve. As a startup you are solving a problem for X number of people. That problem might be solved with better technology or it might even be solved by a manual process that can later be scaled with technology. Currently the team from Family Tales are putting their venture on the back burner to peruse other opportunities. Which brings me to the final thought. Celebrate failure: I don’t mean pop champagne over it. Rather don’t be ashamed of it and be open about sharing your learnings. Post-mortems seem to be popular in the blogosphere right now so write your own. Ryan from Coachd; mentioned how the part that eventually proved to be a bottle neck was the gathering and filtering of content. After having been through Hyperdrive in the first cohort they were running out of funding and capturing and filtering content from professional athletes proved to be inefficient. They shut down soon after. All is not lost - There’s certainly a lot of exciting things happening in KW - Roger Pensky, Tom LaSorda and their venture firm IncWell dropped by at the Communitech Hub today to meet the local start-ups and even invested $300K in a local company. Wriber - a startup building an intelligent blogging platform raised $50,000 from local angel investors and Apartmint aims to replace Craigslist and Kijiji for the rental market. As the ecosystem matures - hopefully there will be some technology companies that can become the next Blackberry of Waterloo Region.