Robert Ochtel’s Blog

An Experienced Approach to Venture Funding

Entrepreneurs, No Matter Where You Start with Your Business “Concept” or “Idea”, Your Final Product Offering Will Often Be Quite Different

Many times entrepreneurs start with a business “concept” or “idea” with little or no real knowledge of the market, their competitors, potential strategic partners or the customer requirements. Accordingly, the genesis of an entrepreneur’s business “concept” or “idea” can be based on many different things, including a hunch, a gut feeling, a discussion with a friend or colleague, or even some real market-based experience.  Many times, this “concept” or “idea” initially envisioned by the entrepreneur is correct in terms of the underlying supposition regarding the market need or problem they are trying to solve.  But in the end, the final configuration of their product offering is often very different than their original “concept” or “idea”. The reason for this is that the market realities necessarily dictate the final configuration of a start-up company’s business “concept” or “idea”. Therefore, entrepreneurs often end up with a substantially different product offering than they originally begin with.  This is not a bad thing, and ultimately often results in a much higher level of success in the market.   This article addresses the underlying reasons that an entrepreneur’s original business “concept” or “idea” changes as they become more familiar with the realities of the market.  In the end, the result is a better final product offering that has a much high potential for success in the market.

Review the Markets

With the instantiation of their start-up company and their associated business “concept” or “idea”, entrepreneurs often have a target market in mind for their final product offering. From the beginning, this target market is their primary focus and often they are not to be dissuaded from their single market focus.  This myopic approach to looking at the market(s) is often a big mistake and can result in a failed start-up company. As such, many of these same entrepreneurs often forgo the opportunity to review all the potential market opportunities that can be addressed with their technology, product or service offering.

A much better approach is for the entrepreneur is to step back and review all potential markets from the 30,000 foot level.   With this level of market-separation, the entrepreneur can now take into consideration all of the other potential markets that may be complementary or supplementary to their initial, primary target market.  This approach of reviewing all of the potential markets available for the entrepreneur’s product offering is invaluable for many reasons, including:

  • It allows the entrepreneur to examine the underlying characteristics (e.g., size, growth, competition, etc.) of their primary target market and all other potential markets of interest on their individual merits,
  • It provides the entrepreneur with the ability to identify other new, potential revenue generating opportunities,
  • It provides a market-based approach for the entrepreneur to prioritize the necessary features, functions, and capabilities of their final product offering according to the market needs,
  • It allows the entrepreneur to prioritize all of their potential markets into primary, secondary and tertiary market opportunities, and
  • It provides the entrepreneur with necessary information to determine which markets will provide the highest potential return on investment for their start-up company.

This high-level market analysis is invaluable, as it provides the entrepreneur with the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision on bringing their technology, product or service offering to market.  Having now identified which target markets make sense for their product offering, the entrepreneur can now prioritize these same market opportunities appropriately.  As often is the case, from this high-level market review, the entrepreneur more often than not decides to target another, different market than they originally intended as their initial primary market focus for their start-up company’s technology, product or service offering.  Consequently, this change in market focus often drives the entrepreneur to develop additional and/or different features, functions, and capabilities for their final product offering than originally envisioned at conception. This is a good thing, as this enhanced final product offering can often support multiple revenue streams and a substantially higher return on investment than originally anticipated.

Study the Competition

Often, an initial business “concept” or “idea” by its very nature is half baked. The reason for this is that there is little or no market reality integrated into this initial business “concept” or “idea”.  Therefore, to get these same market realities into the features, functions and capabilities of their product offering and to further develop their start-up company’s business “concept” or “idea”, the entrepreneur must study their competition.

To most entrepreneurs the thought of developing a competitive analysis sounds like a difficult and painful task. More often than not, these same entrepreneurs do not want to spend the time necessary or the due diligence effort required to analyze the competition and their product offerings.  While it is true that developing a thorough competitive analysis is a difficult task that can take a significant amount of time, it can very beneficial to the entrepreneur and their start-up company.  Some of the benefits of developing a complete competitive analysis include:

  • Identifying all the necessary features, functions, and capabilities of their start-up company’s product offering. 
  • Defining the key features, functions and capabilities that differentiate their product offering to that of their competitors.
  • Determining how to position their product offering against their competitors based on these same defining features.

The end result is that through the development of a thorough competitive analysis the startup company’s final product offering is often much different than that of the entrepreneur’s original business “concept” or “idea”.  But, again, this is okay, because this same entrepreneur and their start-up company now has a product offering that provides a competitive advantage in the market and at the same time provides significant value to the end customers.

Identify Strategic Partners

Most start-up companies go to market with a core technology, product or service offering.  At the same time, from the customers’ point of view, this core technology, product or service offering is often “incomplete” and many times requires one or more complementary technologies, products or services to make it a “complete” product offering to properly service the market.  Therefore, to develop a “complete” product offering, it is often necessary for the entrepreneur to identify potential strategic partner candidates that can provide the necessary complementary technology, product or service offerings. These strategic partners can range from hardware providers, to software developers to service partners, etc. By identifying the appropriate strategic partners, the entrepreneur is taking the proper initiative to make their initial business “concept” or “idea” into a “complete” product offering, further ensuring their success in the market.

Finally, take the necessary time to identify and analyze potential strategic partners. Remember, great strategic partners will add significant value to your start-up company beyond their technology, product or services.  In addition, take the time to also consider their market position, customer base and channel access.  These items can add significant value to your start-up company and its ability to secure and create a long term defensible position in the market.

Talk to Your Customers

All of the market research and analysis in the world does not mean much unless it is verified with your start-up company’s customer base.  Also, it is this customer verification process that many times causes a start-up company’s final product offering to vary significantly from its initial business “concept” or “idea”. What an entrepreneur initially believes are both important and necessary features, functions, and capabilities for their product offering are often much different from the end-customers point of view.  This is a significant point, as often, entrepreneurs never talk to their customers and therefore do not really understand what is important to their customer base.  Obtaining customer feedback is invaluable to an entrepreneur and to their start-up company.  It not only allows the entrepreneur to validate or invalidate their initial business “concept” or “idea”, it provides them with the ability to prioritize the necessary features, functions and capabilities of their product offering. Therefore, by talking to their customers, entrepreneurs often find out that their final product offering will be much different than originally envisioned at the business “concept” or “idea” stage.  This is necessarily a good thing in that it provides the entrepreneur and their start-up company with a final product offering that targets the needs of their target customer base.

A business “concept” or “idea” is only the first step in the development of a valuable product offering.  As often is the case, a start-up company’s final product offering will be much different than the entrepreneur’s original business “concept” or “idea”. This is necessarily part of the process of developing a product that addresses a market need, and at the same time provide a long-term, sustainable competitive advantage in the market. So, as an entrepreneur you need to review the markets, study your competition, identify strategic partners, and talk to your customers.  Your start-up company’s final product, although much different than your original business “concept” or “idea”, will be much more valuable to your customers and at the same time put you on a path to success in the market.

This information was taken from Robert’s new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies”.  Available at www.amazon.com.  For more information on the book go to www.carlsbadpublishing.com.

Advertisements

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Business Plans, concept, Customers, Idea, start-up, Strategic Alliance, Target Markets, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | 2 Comments

Knowing Your Customers Can Help Drive Your Start-up Company to Success in the Market

Every year over 500,000 would be entrepreneurs in the United States prepare and present their business propositions in front of angel investors and venture capitalists. Many of these same entrepreneurs often over look one important item, knowing their customer base. This faux pes can be detrimental to their start-up company, as investors need to understand that you know your customers and their needs, intimately.  Also, by not engaging with their potential customers early on, start-up companies can miss the market by developing the “right” product with the “wrong” features, functions, and capabilities.  In addition, these same internally focused start-up companies may miss the best benefit of all, developing a strong strategic relationship with a customer that is a market leader. This article addresses some of the reasons it is always beneficial to engage with your customer base early and often.

Do You Know Your Customers?

As a potential entrepreneur interested in taking your technology, product or service offering to market, you need to “know” your customers. This includes identifying the market leaders, market laggards, and the up and coming rising “stars” in all of your target markets of interest. This type of familiarity with your customer base will allow you to develop an appropriate go-to- market strategy and associated tactics when addressing your targeted market space.  Market leaders of today are not necessarily the market leaders of tomorrow.  Therefore, doing your diligence on the various competitors in your market and understanding their status, product portfolio, market position, etc. is invaluable when presenting your technology, product or service offering to these same customers. What is important to one customer will not necessarily be important to the next. So, by familiarizing yourself with your customer base and you will be much more comfortable when you call on them and ultimately present your product offering to them.  Remember, Apple was not even in the cell phone market a few years ago, now they are a major player in the “smart phone” segment of the market.  Therefore, anticipating this and familiarizing yourself with your potential customers puts you and your start-up company in the driver’s seat when engaging with your potential customers.

 What Segments of the Market Are You Addressing?

Most markets can be broken up into several market segments.  This generally includes the following:

  • High tier segment,
  • Medium tier segment, and
  • Low tier segment.

These segments are often based on price, but also as such, usually have many different sets of features, functions, and capabilities for each product offering to each market segment.  Often, start-up companies entering a new market cannot afford to address all market segments of a given market space.  Therefore, as a new company entering the market you need to familiarize your company with the various sub-segments within a given market and then determine the product features, functions, and capabilities that are necessary to address these market segments and also at the same time have an understanding regarding those same features, functions and capabilities that are “nice to have”.  This market segment familiarity will drive the features, functions and capabilities of your technology, product or service offering.  Not trying to be everything to every market segment is often a key attribute of successful start-up companies.  When entering a market for the first time, it is much better to be focused on a given market segment than trying to do everything for every potential customer.  Therefore, knowing what market segment or segments you are addressing up front will provide you with focus and allow your start-up company to be successful when entering a new market.  Later on, after you are successful in your target market segment, you can expand your product offering.  This strategy worked very well for the Japanese car companies entering the US market in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Originally, they entered the low-end segment of the US car market. Today, these same Japanese car makers are dominant players in all US car market segments.

Develop A Strategic Alliance with a Key Customer

Historically, the most successful start-up companies have often had the good fortune of developing a strategic alliance or “close relationship” with a market leader in their target market space. This relationship can be mutually beneficial to both the start-up company and the market leader. From the start-up company’s point of view developing a strong relationship with a key strategic partner will allow them to focus their product features and develop a first product offering that has a guaranteed market.  This is invaluable to the start-up company, as this key strategic alliance partner knows the end market application better than they do, and at the same time will help them focus their development efforts to a product offering that will be market driven and as a result successful in the market. From the market leader’s perspective, developing a relationship with a start-up company with a unique technology, product or service offering, will often allow them to differentiate their end-product in the market, gain market share, and address new emerging market opportunities, much faster than they would be able to by developing the technology, product or service offering on their own. This mutually beneficial relationship results in a win-win opportunity for the start-up company as well as the market leader.

Allow Customers to Drive Your Strategic Road Map

Many start-up companies do not have a well defined product road map. This is generally seen by investors as a gaping hole within their business plan, as only presenting a single product offering often indicates to investors a lack of familiarity with the market, and the long-term general market trends.  Seldom are start-up companies successful with their first product offering. Often, given market competition and the rapid pace of a changing market, these same start-up companies only become successful, gaining significant market share, after their second or third generation product offering.  So, only presenting a single product offering to your investors is a recipe for disaster.  This is where your customers can have a large impact on the future product offerings of your start-up company.  By engaging early with your customers and listening carefully to their needs and the market requirements, you can allow these same customers drive your product strategic road map. This will provide you with a basis to move forward and although it may change over time, a customer driven product road map is invaluable when presenting to you potential investors.  Nothing is more valuable to an investor presentation than having real customer input, based on actual conversations with your target customers. This provides instant credibility and market expertise not available by any other means.

Develop Valued Customer Relationships for Your Future Success

Developing valued customer relationships is a key to the success of any start-up company. Doing so allows you to gather invaluable input, vet new ideas, and at the same time stay close to the market trends.  Remember a “market driven” company will have much more long term success in their targeted market than that of a “technology driven” company. So, as a start-up company you need to value your customers, listen to their input, and reflect this invaluable information in your product development plans and associated product road map.  Too often, companies tend to believe they know more about the market than that of their customers. This is not the case.  Since your customers are one step closer to the end market application they are the ones to drive the technology, product or service features for your current and next generation product offerings.  Remember to use these same customers as a basis for your decision making and learn to value this relationship, as it will provide you with invaluable insight to both the near term and long term trends in the market.   

Knowing your customers will help drive your start-up company to success in the market.  By knowing your customers, determining your target market segments, developing strong strategic alliances, presenting a customer driven product roadmap and ultimately valuing your customers, you as an entrepreneur will be miles ahead when presenting to potential investors.  This customer familiarity will help you develop successful product offerings, both near term and long term, and at the same time allow your start-up company to secure significant market share, ensuring your long term success in the market.  So get out there and talk to your customers, you can only benefit from such one-on-one interaction ant it will help drive your start-up company to success in the market place.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Customers, Strategic Alliance, Target Markets, Venture Capital, venture finance, Venture Funding | , , , , | 1 Comment