Jim Harrer

STARTUPS, TURNAROUNDS, APPDEV, AGILE & LIFE...

Selling what you believe, the power of Why before How and What.

The work with our startups intensifies this week as we continue to work on Customer Development and The Lean User Experience. As our Founders move closer to defining their Minimal Viable Products (MVP), they have gone out in the market and interviewed potential customers of their products. As a result, some of our startups have made pivots in their business plan.

I like to celebrate these pivots with our startups. We're six weeks into the process, we've saved monthes of development time by not building software no one will purchase. We're learning more and more about their market segment each and every day. One interesting observation is, with each pivot, the founders are becoming even more passionate about their business. I contribute this to the fact the nine founders are going through this together\, and they're gaining positive energy from the team. This is another benefit of an accelerator; you push through the challenges at a much faster pace.

why how whatThe importance of WHY, before HOW and WHAT.

Simon Sinek, an adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world. He wrote a best seller, "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action". Yes, his principles focus on leaders and the importance of communicating "why". I could write about this topic for pages, but I want to stay on point for this post, so...

Sinek believes you should communicate to your customers: WHY your product/solution matters, than HOW it does it and finish with WHAT it does. We believe most companies do this in reverse. Starting with what features the product has, how it does it so well and finishing with why you should but it.

"Sell to people who believe what you believe." Says Sinek. "People don't buy what you do, they purchase why you do it."

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The heart of a startup entrepreneur.

As I discussed in my previous post, we’re finishing up week 3 in our VentureBox Venture Launch class. The course is 12 weeks.  Each week the founders meet every Wednesday from 3-8pm for a formal class and workshop. Dinner is included halfway through. Here is the 20k foot view of what we’ve done with the 7 companies in the program:

  • Week 1: Curriculum review, format discussion, introductions and company pitches. This was the first time all the founders got to meet each other. We have 7 companies, with 2 companies with co-founders, so we have a total of 9 founders in the room. The majority of the night was spent having the founders do their 10 minute investor pitch, followed by 20-30 minutes of Q&A from the rest of the founders.
  • Week 2: Our partner, LUXr,  traveled to Bend from San Francisco and conducted a train-the-mentors on their Lean Startup Customer Development and User Experience curriculum using their Bento Box training materials. Then the Mentors (yep, me included) taught the materials the next day to our VentureBox class with Janice and Kate guiding us all the way. Each of the founders developed their first customer persona for their product. Their homework was to go out and do in-person interviews with people who match the persona's they created.
  • Week 3: Tackled market segments and helped each of the founders understand how to figure out their first, highly focused, target market for their minimal viable product using The Lean Startup framework. I was privileged to co-teach this class with Steven Curley, a local marketing genus and one of VentureBox's Subject Matter Experts.

Alright, with this foundation set. I’m going to change gears and discuss my observations and less on the materials and process, at least for the rest of this post.

The five traits of a startup entrepreneur.the_heart_of_the_startup

It’s hard to not fall in love with each of these founders and their ideas. Each of the 9 founders are amazing in their own right. They inspire me with their ideas, questions and drive to succeed. Since I have the privilege to work with each of the founders, I thought I would share with you some of the commonalities I have observed among the founders in the class.  

Not in any specific order, here we go:

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Copyright

© Copyright 2012 James A. Harrer, all rights reserved, worldwide.

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VentureBox–A business accelerator in Bend, Oregon.

startup-sign

VentureBox is a business accelerator in Bend, Oregon, where I live. Each accelerator is a little different, so let me give you some background.

Business accelerators are different than business incubators (which focus on product ideas) primarily because all of our founders already have a business concept and a basic “pitch” of what their business is and what problem it solves.   Last December (2011) we started with 37 businesses applying to VentureBox and through our vetting process we selected 7.  Most are all in the “Early Concept”, pre-revenue stage.  We have  high-tech web based SaaS products, a mobile app and one physical product in medical devices.  The VentureBox class meets every Wednesday from 3-8pm for a class and workshop.  Each week we teach, then have a workshop on what they just learned and apply it to their business concept.  Then they go home with homework and goals for the week.

The course runs for 12 weeks and concludes with an investor day where Angel Investors get to meet the companies and hear their pitch. The cost for each company to attend the course is $1,500  plus 2% founder equity. The business community in Bend, Oregon, was kind enough to step up and sponsor each of the 7 companies so none of the Founders had any out of pocket expenses to participant in the program.

VentureBox’s executive director is Jim Boeddeker (JimBo) who I met after the Bend Venture Conference last October. He is a servant leader, and coach, over a pool of past founders and local business leaders who make up the Mentor team. Not an easy job managing all of us type A personalities, but he makes it look easy.  The Mentor team is experienced and deep. It’s made up of Founders, Subject Matter Experts, creative and talented individuals who have a passion for startups.

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