Posts Tagged 'sales'

The Startup Vision

It is a typical startup scenario. Start with big dreams of that product/service/solution that will make everything else everyone has done so far in the space seem irrelevant (ok I’m kind of exaggerating…but lets face it that’s who entrepreneurs are, that’s how we are wired). But of course, this cannot happen without “customers” who pay. So, willingly/unwillingly the founders begin their journey of customer discovery.

What happens next is chaos. Whether enough thought was put into the process of customer discovery, segmentation and business model or not – accounting for everything you hear, assimilating the information so that it makes sense (without biasing it with your own wishes and wants) and then coming up with a close to accurate sense of what the customer wants (whether they know it already or not, whether they acknowledge it already or not) is not an easy task. Here is where the vision actually plays a crucial role. It cannot (and mostly should not) keep changing with a few naysayers day in and day out and it helps define the very crucial strategy of what to do by clearly stating who you are/want to be and who you are not/don’t want to be. (If you think by saying who you are, who you are not is obvious to your stakeholders, think again. It really helps to articulate it clearly so that everybody in the team and outside is on the same page.)

Every piece of evidence you look at, prospective customer input you look at should be through the eyes of this “Hypothesis”, this Vision, and see if it stands the test. If and only if, it does not stand the test and there is overwhelming evidence from your “desired” customer segment that this is not something that will work, then one needs to go back to the drawing board before taking any steps further or start pushing your own vision down the customer’s throats. Mind you, you can always find a few “polite ones” or “overawed ones” to bowl over – but it is in the lack of scale that you will eventually get stumped!
What is important is this:
1. Each and every member of the team should be on the same page as to the “vision” of the company (and no – this is not some PR/marketing ho-ha, it has to be what you want to be known for when you grow up, so it requires an effort to put together)
2. When you meet the customer, set the right expectations as to why you are there (not to SELL) and get prepared to LISTEN (really and literally with your ears open and not through the filter of your hopes, dreams and biases) – trust me, the more you have been in the system and the more of a slick sales person you are, the more difficult this is for you to do! So, check your biases and tendencies at the customer’s door and tread carefully in.
3. Document the inputs received. Collaborate and discuss with each other on what happened while taking a realistic view against the initial “hypothesis” and vision that was set for the company to check how things are holding up – this can be done for a set of every 5-10 solid customer meetings.
4. Be willing to pivot, if required.
A lot of thought and interesting discussions about this topic are present – my favorites are the book  “The four steps to the epiphany” and the ever insightful Steve Blank‘s blog – you should check them out!
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Ideas come dime a dozen…

I recently took a session on Ideation at SIMB (thanks to Nandini!). We both believe that the entrepreneurs need to realize the potential of thinking big and start looking around them for ideas. More often than not when participating in entrepreneurship workshops we tend to look upon it as another course and turn to traditional sources of information (read Internet) to get ideas. When starting up a company/thinking of starting up a company it is as important to look within yourself as to look outside. It is somewhere in the intersection that the magic lies…

Here’s the slide deck that I covered at the session. It is just pointers to different ideas that people have had over the past few years – some successful, others not as much, but great ideas nevertheless and that is where great things begin to happen.

 Ideas are dime a dozen

One of the myths I wanted to dispel was related to the statement many people used “ideas are dime a dozen”. I asked the students to come up with a few business ideas – I got less than 5 from a group of 50 and later I heard about 3 more  – thats all. While it is easy to dismiss this statement, I take the following stand – what the statement really means is that “talk is cheap”, it really doesn’t mean that “ideas are easy to come by”. Also, an idea in itself is not going to execute itself and being an entrepreneur is a tough job. One needs to brace oneself for the roller coaster ride and not delude oneself that a “cool” idea is going to see you through.

Having covered some ground on that, I asked the students if they believed all of them had the capability to come up with ideas. The answer was a resounding yes – more confirmation to the fact that I was standing amidst potential entrepreneurs!!! It all starts with a belief that then gets tuned into your system that then constantly seeks for ideas or gaps in the current way of doing things that can be potential opportunities. So, it is very important to believe that you can do it and then start thinking and looking around for ideas like a habit (like breathing)

Lastly, we played a game together. I seed funded the 9 teams in the class and gave them one hour to make as much money as they can. What happened in the next 90 minutes was beyond my imagination! So, I will just narrate it. Each of the teams started with some idea and iterated through it quickly, with quite a few of them changing the initial idea that they had started with. One of the teams rotated their capital and did the same business twice over in the given time and the others realized that the customers will pay only when there is at least a chance of  them winning and hence, positioning matters. Most of them figured out a “good enough” market opportunity to address within the constraints of the “budget” and “time” given to them and set about their tasks. Some of them sold juice, some burgers, some bike rides to the nearest bus stand and a few others resorted to gambling (card games and sports bets).

The most interesting of the lot were two teams – one of who made the most money by throwing in a lucky dip contest and got about 90 people to sign up with them and the other team started offering an “internal services” to me for managing the various teams, their members, amount collected etc!

At the end of it all, we all had a lot of fun and made some money too! Loved the energy of the group and their enthusiasm to get going. Hope it was as much fun for the teams too…looking forward to more such interactions.

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