TSF Graduation Day
Yesterday was graduation day for six startup teams as Triangle Startup Factory sent a new class out into the world at their Fall Showcase in the Fletcher Opera Theater in downtown Raleigh (next to Memorial Auditorium). The morning started with networking and great blues influenced folk music from Look Homeward Folk.
The Triangle is gaining a reputation for innovation, technology and startups. Triangle Startup Factory’s founders Chris Heivly and Dave Neal are about halfway through their intended $4M investment in nurturing startup talent in the Triangle. If you don’t know Triangle Startup Factory or “startup accelerators” you should. Startup accelerators create an intense 8-week “course” to help entrepreneurs gel ideas and get ready to talk to the first round money people. Think of startup accelerators as school for entrepreneurs.
Interesting to hear Dave Neal explain how only half of this TSF “class” of entrepreneurs came from our area. As if to illustrate Dave’s point, perhaps the strongest presentation came from a Stanford B-School graduate discussing how to dominate and disrupt interactive Christian gaming and online publishing by thinking and acting “mobile first” (4soils.com).
TSF’s Showcase started with Bob Young. Bog was one of Red Hat’s first investors and LuLu.com’s founder. Bob is a man after my heart since he has never met a Big Hairy Audacious Goal he didn’t love. Red Hat took on Microsoft (and one could argue is WINNING big) and so of course no less than Amazon is LuLu.com’s next Goliath (been there, done that Bob and wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy). Bob’s life, like so many, has been touched by the Big C. He lost his brother to leukemia.
The story of how one of Bob’s brothers was against investing $1M in a fishing camp was inspirational. Seems Michael, Bob’s brother who invested in Red Hat too, loves to fish for pickerel, a love I share btw, he wanted to buy a fishing camp. Another of Bob’s brothers was advising Michael NOT to buy the camp. “The only people that make money from this kind of investment is the person who sold the camp,” Bob’s brother insisted.
Bob did the math differently. He saw how much his brother loved fishing, and this must have been before he was sick, and approved of “investing” in what he loved even if returns where mostly in his passion for fishing. I would LOVE to have Bob’s take on CureCancerStarter.org, our new crowdfunding cancer research and empowering cancer patients website. Bob, if you are reading this, please let me buy you coffee.
Chris mentioned Jonathon’s Startup Summit presentation in his introduction of FortifyVentures.com’s founder. I attended that conference too and remember how ADVANCED Jonathon’s discussion of content and social marketing was. Most startups pay little or NO attention to content marketing and social media and that is a mistake. Jonathon’s Startup Summit presentation along with many interactions with startups and knowing how much of a paper chase creating a startup can be (having created 4 companies and looking at a 5th here soon) led me to write The Social Startup. I may see if Jonathon is up for a more detailed GUIDE to content and social marketing for startups since he is a leader in the space (great presentation yesterday insisting social is HERE and NOW and ignore it at your peril if you are a startup).
TSF Fall 2013 Showcase: SIZL.it
Sizl.it seems to be a content curation tool, kind of a RSS reader on steroids. The SIZL.it team has several startups under their belt, but they should take a lesson from Jonathon Perrelli or read my Social Startup post. The content opportunity exists BEFORE any APP launch (theirs launches is in a week). No way to find out more information about the company since they don’t blog, YouTube or Scoop.
SIZL.it provides a great content and social media marketing lesson for startups. Launch your content strategy before your alpha or beta websites. Create a blog NOW and share the journey of creating your revolutionary new personal curation tool app thing. The MOMENT you start sharing bloggers will begin riffing your content (sharing the link) and comments and feedback will follow. Don’t buy the idea your widget is so special it must be kept under wraps since the cost of such thinking far exceeds its benefit (in almost all cases). Execution is where ideas live or die not drawings on napkins.
Being a “Social Startup” is more important than any VC money because content and the feedback loops even a minimal amount of content marketing create (blog, Twitter, GPlus) is how an idea becomes an app and how an app becomes a beloved tool. Since I didn’t really understand much of what was presented and can’t find any content to clarify I will reserve further comment.
One more important startup note. When picking a name LOOK at what you will be up against from a content and social marketing point of view. I’m a content and social marketer these days and I would never advise a name where there is such a red ocean of competition already piled up.
TSF Fall 2013 Showcase: 4Soils
If I had the money I would write a check to this team from Stanford. They are DISRUPTING the Christian publishing and gaming space because they think “mobile first”. Smart, well-trimmed, against the wind and with almost a million downloads already means WINNER. Chris taught me to invest in TEAMS not ideas. I hear him, but this idea is perfect. By thinking “mobile first” 4Soils.com rides two HUGE converging waves – mobile and gaming. Throw in their faith based content positioning, an area currently dominated by print players, and if you have an extra $100K WRITE THE CHECK.
TSF Fall 2013 Showcase:RocketBolt
“RocketBolt helps websites increase sales and online engagement with automated social tools and drop-in customer loyalty/rewards programs.” Here is another chance to learn a content marketing and web design lesson. I found the sentence explaining RocketBolt.com’s mission on their Facebook page. The rub is their current website creates dissonance with their stated mission. Here is their homepage:
The RocketBolt.com homepage and content feels like a B2C gamification engine, but their TSF presentation was about helping “websites get what they need” from the web (so B2B). As much as I agree with many of their market defining statements such as how overwhelming it is to be a small business in time dominated by content and social marketing AND as much as I believe gamification will be the answer I can’t understand how RocketBolt gets THERE from HERE.
If you asked me how B2C Ecom teams I’ve managed made more than $30M with AOV (Average Order Value) NEVER higher than $62 (so more than 500,000 transactions) my first recommendation would be to always know your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and manage to them. I think RocketBolt can help, but I only have their founder’s word and a single example from Durham’s Thundershirt to support that claim (at the moment). Yet another example where a little more content could move me (and other visitors) from curiosity to advocacy.
Dissonance was death I noted during my 7 year Director of Ecommerce tenure. Confused customers do many things BUYING and SHARING is rarely among them. Right now RocketBolt.com confuses me.
TSF Showcase: Brevado
Would write a check here too. Brevado.com solves a problem we (agencies like Atlantic BT) are having RIGHT NOW. In fact we are having the problem this great tool solves with CureCancerStarter.org. We can’t find a single tool to share what we are doing with our four cancer center partners. These are important shares since we are trying to build one of the first crowdfunding websites for cancer research. We debated sharing our BaseCamp, but who wants to do that?
Basecamp is spaghetti that it is possible to understand IF you cooked the dish. If you are on the outside looking in forget about it. Brevado recognized the missing Lego block needed for agencies like Atlantic BT to communicate with our customers AND the value such a tool could bring. Worth many times the$21 a month they now charge (after a free trial).
Kudos to team at Brevado for programming the APP and creating the website. Would I like to see testimonials and PEOPLE on their homepage? Sure, but solid presentation and great idea!
TSF Fall 2013 Showcase: CourseFork
CourseFork.com is another well-defined market niche, helping teachers and professional instructors, and a solid team with a great grasp of content and social marketing. Potential investors take note, when a team already has 3,600 Facebook likes they know what they are doing. I have a few design nits and would recommend adding GooglePlus (especially for the IT audience they seek), but tweak this engine 10% and it makes lots of money.
TSF Fall 2013 Showcase: HomeWellness.co
Homewellness.co is another team that gets it or got some LIFE SAVING advice from Chris and Dave. I’m NOT a big fan of alternative URLs like .it or .co since they don’t SEO as well as .com or .org. The GOOD NEWS is the team at HomeWellness.co has figured out alternative distribution that makes SEO objections moot.
The team at HomeWellness.co will sell their service as a HR add-on. Big companies like to keep valuable employees. A company like SAS should engage with HomeWellness.co to have another important service to provide their most valuable assets – the ones that walk out the door every day. By finding alternative distribution SEO isn’t as important. HomeWellness.co becomes a B2B play and so doesn’t have to swim with the sharks as much.
Since I used to work for the kinds of companies HomeWellness.co will be pitching AND I pitched large Consumer Packaged Goods companies as a Sales and Marketing Director at NutraSweet, here are a few tips that can make the journey easier:
- Fortune 1,000 companies are very competitive. The minute you sell one ask for a testimonial and the ability to use their logo (should be granted since it reinforces how pro-employee they are).
- Read Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey Moore (very important book for how to relate to you target audience and “cross the chasm”).
- Lose the canned graphics. I know original art can be expensive, but how you LOOK determines if you get a second look from the big guns.
- Remember your website is a “pass along” and will be used to sell the concept, so pepper it with testimonials from UP and DOWN the food chain (assistants to C level execs).
- I would trade all the copy on your current home page for 3 testimonials because BIG GUYS buy when they are COMFORTABLE and they get comfortable fast when one of two things happens: A. Competitors are already using something or B. Trusted sources tell them to use something.
- Find a “trusted source” like my old boss from M&M/Mars J. Langdon (former Hickory Farms CEO) and pay them some consulting money so you know HOW to pitch and WHO to pitch. In Fortune 1,000 companies you will need to pitch people who RECOMMEND ideas to decision makers you may never meet.
That last bullet is where RUBBER will meet ROAD for the team at HomeWellness.co. If your content is so compelling it can survive climbing the corporate ladder where some levels like the financial guys live to say NO then life will be good. My single warning is Fortune 1000 sales can take TIME so hunker down and hone your look and feel for when your website is how some C level executive learns about HomeWellness.co from someone in HR.
TSF Showcase Summary and FREE Offer
Great class of startups from one of the Triangle most important ideas – the idea WE can become a startup mecca. Chris and Dave are to be commended for putting everything they have into the mix and spending their life helping others. Sure they get a piece of companies that come through Triangle Startup Factory, but the service they provide all of us is so much greater than the money they are paid! Their contribution goes into the “give back” and “make better” category.
I’m a believer in giving back too. Supporters of our Story of Cancer Foundation know my money is up on the table too. If any of TSFs startups would like a couple of hours of my 15 years of ecommerce, content and social marketing experience it is FREE and there for the asking. Paying back with these talented teams is the least I can do for being so nitpicky. I work at Atlantic BT near Crabtree Mall, but live in downtown Durham so a stone’s throw from where most of these companies currently have offices. My contact is Martin.Smith(at)Atlanticbt.com (until January) and call me at 919.360.1224 (and I will leave the number there until it gets spammed).