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Lessons from C1M in Toronto

August 22, 2010

We wrapped up another amazing C100 Mentoring (C1M) session the other week with mentors in San Jose talking live and in-person to a group of great companies in Toronto via Telepresense. As with all of these “TP” meetings, the wonder of the technology quickly melts away and the groups on either side of the video wall were able to really get down to business.

We were fortunate in this last C1M session to have Rick Spence of the National Post sit in on the session and he shared his main take-aways in a recent article headlined:  Startups get face-time with Valley veterans.

It is always interesting to read what main points a third party to a C1M session zeroes in on. From Spence’s point-of-view (with some of my commentary) the main things that the recent C1M start-ups need to think about are:

  • Keep it quick; or as he put it “sum up the pitch early.” He highlights that companies need to perfect the elevator pitch. Say what you do quickly and simply. Spence says 30 seconds but I would argue that event that is too generous for the real world (we give you some leeway in C1M, so 30 seconds is OK.) Out there, keep it to 15 to 20 seconds and keep it punchy!
  • K.I.S.S me! That’s right, when you’re out there trying to explain what it is you do, keep it short, sure, but please also “keep it simple, supplicant”* If your technology or application or web service or whatever cannot be explained in simple language then what you are doing is either (1) too esoteric for these crude Earthly market or (2) not explaining it right. If the answer is (1), you’ve got bigger problems but more often the answer is (2) and you need to step back, detach yourself from your product/service, and figure out how to articulate your value-proposition in a simple, compelling manner
  • “Focus, Focus, Focus”- I won’t add any commentary here. Just focus on those three words and the point is made
  • Note when I said “K.I.S.S. me!,” specific reference was made to articulating a“value-proposition,” that was on purpose. Sometimes we love to talk tech and how great our little service or gizmo works. If you’re after engineering brownie points, that approach works great. But if you’re after customers, forget the tech and focus on value.
  • Sales is what it is all about. There is only one group of people that can make any business successful, start-up or otherwise. No, it isn’t investors, partners, or event the founders themselves. The only group of people who can make a company a success is customers and securing their support is called selling. Make sure you find someone who knows how to do that.

These insights are a very good summary of the conversation across all three companies. We touched on each of these points in one way or another with each company we met.

In addition to the points listed above, the mantra that I was repeating for each company was segment and prioritize.

I know that a lot of new companies have to throw whatever they can against the wall and see what sticks. That approach has its place, but it can also burn precious resources with little return. I’m a huge fan of looking across your (potential) customer based, segmenting them and then having a laser-focus on the ones that will be most profitable. Too often, I got the sense companies were trying to do everything all at once. Even if a product/service has multiple applications, there needs to be the discipline within a company to figure out which application has the most immediate promise and then going after the relevant customers.

*I have to admit, I had to look up what “supplicant” means. The Dictionary.com definition was “a person who supplicates”, which wasn’t very helpful.

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