StartupYard is a GAN Accelerator. What Does that Get You?

You probably know that StartupYard is the oldest and leading Seed Accelerator for technology startups in Central Europe. What you might not know is that StartupYard is also a member of the exclusive GAN: The Global Accelerator Network.

GAN: The Global Accelerator Network

GAN is an invitation-only network of the leading technology accelerators in the world, including TechStars (all campuses), NUMA, StartupBootCamp, and MuckerLab.

GAN is more than just a network: it offers a package of perks and free services to member accelerators and their startups, that vastly reduce the early-stage costs of starting up. In the past, our startups have used GAN perks to do everything from cloud hosting, to email management, and much more. If you can think of it, there is probably a GAN perk that covers it. And all those services, our startups get for free.

What StartupYard Members Get from Gan

$34M in Perks – In the last year, GAN startups received $34M in free or reduced cost services they needed to get off the ground successfully. But more than just free credits, partners like Sendgrid offer credits as well as guidance for any GAN company in setting up and establishing an impact email strategy

$400K invested – GAN Ventures, the investment arm of GAN, provides seed stage funding and has made investments in four GAN alumni companies so far this year.

20+ Corporate Partners – GAN founders have exclusive opportunities to connect with large enterprises for business development opportunities.

Access to global locations – No matter where your startup is based, if you need a place to work or take meetings, the GAN Exchange gives you access to GAN program offices around the world.

Mentorship from the best minds in the industry – Mentors are a key part of a startup founder’s success. GAN startups benefit from more than 13,000 mentors throughout the GAN community.

A community of entrepreneurs – No matter where you or your company are based, you’re surrounded by a community of more than 5,000 startups who have launched their business in a GAN accelerator.

Make User Projections That Mean Something

(Update: May 2017) This post originally appeared in 2014. We’ve updated it with what we’ve learned since then. 

Startups often join StartupYard right at the beginning of their journey. For B2C companies, having a few hundred or a few thousand MAU (Monthly Active Users), can provide a wealth of insights about what in the product works, what doesn’t, and what the users want from it.

But how does a startup with essentially zero confirmed users make decent User Projections based on little or no evidence?

Context

One of the key mistakes that B2C companies make is to see trends in their user growth that don’t actually hold up. Every B2C startup wants hockey-stick growth, but the less data you actually have, the less precise your projections based on that data will be.

If my user numbers doubled last week from 1 to 2, I can claim that my userbase is doubling on a weekly basis. Then I should reasonably predict that by week 26, I will have nearly 68 Million users!

Depending on your sense of what’s reasonable. Or I could as easily predict that I will have just 26 users. Regardless, I can be very sure that the real number will probably fall somewhere in the middle.

Startups need to be both ambitious, and realistic about their growth projections. This is essential to creating a plan that will actually achieve those results. In this post, we’re going to go through the process of establishing reasonable and falsifiable assumptions, that will help you achieve your user growth goals.

Working Backwards

Noah Kagan of Mint.com, discusses this process in his informative blog. He points out that the only workable approach to gaining users is to work backwards from a clearly defined goal, breaking down the channels and methods of user acquisition, their costs and their timescales, into one simple to follow spreadsheet. And while his own projections of how Mint.com would reach 100,000 users in 6 months seem wildly optimistic (including a 25% conversion rate from sponsored adds on Digg.com, with a CTR of 10%), this type of planning actually brought Mint a million users in that same period.

 

All-Your-Base-Are-Belong-To-Us

World domination comes one user at a time.

 

The Assumption Spreadsheet

Before launching, it’s important to relate your marketing goals to your assumptions. If your goal is, say, 30,000 users within the first six months after launch, you’ll have to justify that growth with something more than hope. You’ll have to show how you assume it can be done. Catalogue and quantify your methods of getting this growth, in ways that can be tested quickly and definitively, including the costs of acquisition per user.

Your assumptions for marketing costs might look something like this:

Source Traffic CTR      % Conversion CPC Users
Organic Search 100000 10% 25% $1 2500
Native Ads 500000 10% 20% $2 20000
Google Ads 1000000 %2 20% $0.50 4000
Media 500000 %5 25% $2 5000
Direct Marketing 1000000 %1 25% $1 2500

Cost Total:  $56,000       User Total: 33,000

Projections are Not a Plan

Your assumption spreadsheet is more than just a plan for user acquisition, or a marketing plan.

This is just a part of a much larger set of assumptions. Other factors include your churn rate, your pricing, your internal growth costs, etc. But everything should relate back to basic assumptions that can be challenged and adjusted before launch.

Ask yourself: what will happen in 30 days, when I find that the CTR for one source is half what I expected? Alternatively, what if my CPC for one source is much lower than I predicted?

Going back to the table and adjusting the assumptions as data comes in, helps you to see where your time is best spent going forward. If CTR is low, maybe the message doesn’t match the medium, and you need to rethink your call to action. If conversion is super high somewhere, maybe you need to increase the spend there at the expense of other channels.

Be Reactive

Death to an early stage startup is a failure to react to data. I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked at early marketing data for a startup, and pointed out the above issues, only to be met with blank stares. You must incorporate changes in your data as often as possible, and iterate as often and as quickly as you can, in order to press advantages, and eliminate disadvantages.

“Wait and see” is death to a startup. You must react to every change in the data. Data must guide your planning.

Be Inquisitive

Sometimes you need to seek outside advice. Divorcing your assumptions from objective reality can be hard for anyone. That’s why mentors and advisors exist, so use them.

For example, my spreadsheet above has a few obvious problems. First, I’ve obviously fallen in love with the idea of “native advertising,” or the kinds of ads that fit in with the content of a given site. This makes sense, as I am personally a fan of this type of advertising. But by scrutinizing the spreadsheet, I can see that native advertising is predicted to cost me $40,000 out of a total marketing budget of $56,000, or 71% of my budget. Despite that, only 58% of my users will come from native ads. They will cost me a lot, and will not be as valuable as the users I gain from Google Ads, or even direct email marketing, according to my own assumptions.

Having your plan challenged can reveal your biases and hangups. Often, just sitting down and gaming out the plan for yourself can show you that you’re locked into the wrong thinking.

Have an Answer

It’s not necessarily wrong that I would spend 70% of my marketing budget on native ads, when they will only bring me 58% of my users. After all, users are not points of data in the end: they are people. Different kinds of users will behave in different ways. Maybe the CLV (Customer Lifetime Value), of a user acquired from a particular channel is higher than one from another. I can’t know that. The best I can do is assume, and test assumptions. 

These are the kinds of details that investors will pounce upon when they are shown your user projections. You need to have an answer for why you would pursue that avenue of user acquisition over another. The conversation has to be about your assumptions, not about what you don’t know. 

Perhaps these users are of a higher value (they buy more expensive products), or perhaps they are likely to stay with your product for longer. Perhaps the market for your product in Google ads won’t give you that same CPC if you spend twice as much on them. The size of the market may not justify a bigger focus on Google ads over native ads.

Don’t Fall in Love with Unknowns

Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush, famously justified poor planning for the American occupation of Iraq in 2003 by saying: “There are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.” As many critics later pointed out, the Bush administration leaned heavily on the idea of “unknown unknowns,” to justify a lack of realistic long-term plans that matched their aims in the conflict. Anything that was inconvenient to think about or defend to the public became an “unknown unknown.”

The result was years of escalating conflict that have continued to plague the region to this day.

You can surely see the parallels between this kind of expensive, poorly planned and overly-optimistic strategy can be a cautionary tale in business as well. Refusal to undertake planning and spell out -and then recognize and react to- expected difficulties can lead you to do things that cannot be undone. You can undo a product change, but you can’t un-spend wasted advertising budget. You can’t un-launch a product that has failed to launch.

 

How Big is Your Mountain?

“How big is your mountain?” That’s the metaphor our StartupYard’s MD Cedric Maloux uses to describe this process of reconciling ambition with the need for some realism, even in the growth phase of a startup.

Ambitions to reach 1 billion users are great, if your product is the kind of thing 1 billion people can get some value from at the same time. Not many products are like that, which is why most don’t have the chance to grow that big.

But perhaps your mountain isn’t made of a massive user community. Perhaps it’s made of a smaller, quality user base, that pays a reasonable but significant amount to use your product, and gets a disproportionately large value out of it. In either case, your first six months or so should represent the first “summit” of your mountain.

Within that time, with the help of investors who understand and support your journey, you should reach a goal that is both ambitious and achievable, and you should gain valuable understanding of real users, and what it takes to make them happy.

Also no explanation for this man's success.

No fairy dust.

 

Justify the Impossible : Control the Conversation

While the assumption spreadsheet functions as a roadmap for growth, it also works as a roadmap of your thinking for investors and partners.

Blind ambition, particularly when you’re asking for money, is not an attractive quality. But qualified ambition, in which you set hard goals for yourself, but also show how achieving those goals can be possible, can be very enticing to investors.

To use the mountain analogy: you can ask investors to help get you to the first summit. A goal they can believe in. That moves the conversation about the ultimate goal to a more appropriate time; a time in which you have more data and more momentum.

Imagine two founders who have essentially identical products. Both will meet with investors. One does not prepare these predictions because, as he says, “you just can’t know what will happen.” The other makes predictions, each representing his ambitious plans to achieve benchmarks in user acquisition. One of these two has something real to talk about with the investors. The other doesn’t.

How do you think those two conversations differ? I can tell you from experience: the one who comes with predictions gets enormous value form investor feedback about those predictions. The one without them gets, at best, idle speculation. If you aren’t willing to do the mental heavy lifting of making predictions, investors aren’t going to do it for you.

To define the conversation and lead it, you have to make statements that you can back up. Instead of having investors question your ideas, have them question your predictions. They’ll be speaking in your terms, rather than theirs.

You can now apply for StartupYard Batch #8.

  • Robots
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • VR/AR
  • IoT
  • Cryptography
  • Blockchain
Applications Open: Now
Applications Close: June 30th, 2017
Program starts: September 4th, 2017
Program ends: December 1st, 2017

Friday Funnies: Thought Leaders

 

Our Thoughts

Thoughts are very important. Leadership is very important. Thought leadership may be the most important development in thinking, or leadership, since before thought leadership.

In all seriousness, this video is a valuable teaching tool for StartupYard, and we use it to show startup founders that the elements of a convincing presentation are from a separate skill-set than a deep knowledge of what you’re actually doing.

Knowledge is never enough, but nailing the format is also never enough. Always, founders must compromise between what they know, and the things they need to do to gain the trust of others. We call it “being clear,” rather than “being accurate.”

You can now apply for StartupYard Batch #8.

  • Robots
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • VR/AR
  • IoT
  • Cryptography
  • Blockchain
Applications Open: Now
Applications Close: June 30th, 2017
Program starts: September 4th, 2017
Program ends: December 1st, 2017

StartupYard will be at Startup Safary Budapest: April 20-21

We’re pleased to announce that StartupYard will take part in Startup Safary Budapest, April 20th and 21st, 2017.

What is Startup Safary?

Budapest turns into a startup exhibition for 2 days

For two days only, most of the tech community of Budapest opens its doors, and takes part in a broad series of meetups at dozens of locations around the city. This year, an estimate 3-5,000 people will participate.
As an attendee, you can register online and pick from the program sessions you want to attend. This way, you create your personal schedule, which you will follow during the event, traveling around the city and visiting various offices.

 

StartupYard Events

From Genius Idea to a Global Business: creating AI startups from Scratch

20/04/2017 17:30 – 18:00 – thehub.hu, 1061 Budapest, Paulay Ede utca 65.

21/04/2017 TBA Mosaik, 1136 Budapest, Pannónia utca 32.

StartupYard helps technically sophisticated developers and makers turn their ideas into real, growing businesses. In recent years, we have helped launch a series of high tech startups including TeskaLabs, Neuron Soundware, Cryptelo, and Rossum.ai. Find out how these startups went from a brilliant idea, to companies serving clients all over the world with cutting edge technologies.

 

Office Hours with StartupYard

20.04.2017: 13:00 – 16:00 – thehub.hu, 1061 Budapest, Paulay Ede utca 65 

21.04.2017: TBA – Mosaik, 1136 Budapest, Pannónia utca 32.

This is your chance to meet the management team of Central Europe’s leading seed accelerator for tech startups, and find out how we can help you turn your experience and knowledge of AI, Machine Learning, IoT, Blockchain, or Cryptology into a globally scaleable business. Come to find out about our program, pitch us an idea, or make a connection.

How do I meet the StartupYard team in Budapest?

There will be a few opportunities. First, we warmly invite you to join our workshops at TheHub and Mosaik, where you can hear about real-life examples of startups that have been through our program, and what they have accomplished as a result.

You can also sign up for our office hours. Because this event is happening under the umbrella of Startup Safary, you should sign up directly on their platform, and you will need to purchase a ticket on their website (tickets are just 8 Euros, and go toward organizing the events).

We will update this post when we have times for our appearances at Mosaic on April 21st.

We look forward to seeing you!

Bulgarian Tech Ecosystem

StartupYard Visits Puzl CowOrKing in Sofia, April 11-12, to meet Deep Tech startups

We’re excited to announce that on the 11th and 12 of April, StartupYard visits Sofia, Bulgaria, to meet with Deep Tech startups, entrepreneurs, and others with ideas for businesses built around AI, AR/VR, cryptology, blockchain, IoT, and related technologies.

Our visit will be at Puzl CowOrKing, one of Sofia’s most exciting startup workspaces.

This is the first of 5 visits to Central European capitals this spring, with an eye to attract brand new startups to StartupYard Batch 8.

 

DEEP TECH FOCUS

The focus of StartupYard Batch 8 will be “Deep Tech.”

Deep Tech means companies working on technologies and products that are unique, difficult to replicate, or are exploring areas of innovation where the barrier to entry remains high, and the problems scientifically complex and difficult, such as Robots, AI, IoT, VR/AR, and Cryptography.

Today, the barrier to entry for globally scalable startups is lower than ever. However, there are still tremendously complex problems left to solve. In years past, our focus on the Data Economy has shown us that there is a growing need for novel approaches to the way people work, communicate, do business, participate in the economy, and understand the world around them.

Deep Tech solutions seek to develop never-before-possible opportunities to profoundly alter the way everyone, not just the tech industry, works, thinks, and sees the future. Deep Tech companies work at the edges of possibility for emerging technologies, and so have the potential to disrupt and change whole industries overnight.

 

 

Taking the time to apply costs you only a bit of your time, and is the first step in the StartupYard selection committee and investors getting to know you and your team. There is no risk in applying, so why not start today?

StartupYard “Training Days”

April 11th and 12th in Sofia will be StartupYard’s first visit to one of 5 cities, including Budapest, Bucharest, Vilnius, Krakow, and Sofia. Unlike a typical roadshow, where an accelerator gathers early-stage startups to show off their pitches, StartupYard will instead offer workshops for Deep Tech engineers and idea makers in these different cities, about how to turn a high tech concept into a real business.

These “training days” will include a series of workshops and open hours with the StartupYard management team (myself, and our CEO Cedric Maloux).

Workshops

From AI to a Real Global Business- April 11th at 16:00, Puzl CowOrKing

cedric maloux startupyard

StartupYard Managing Director Cedric Maloux

Do you have a Deep Tech idea that could potentially become a tech startup? This is your ideal chance to find out what it takes. StartupYard CEO Cedric Maloux will walk attendees through the process of turning AI and other Deep Tech startups into thriving businesses, from proving their concepts with real-live pilot customers, to signing their first paying clients, and gaining venture investment.

This workshop will go into detail about how StartupYard has guided startups like TeskaLabs, Neuron Soundware, and Rossum, from idea phase, to seed investments and onto the market.

 

 

Deep Tech Positioning- April 12th, 10:00, Puzl CowOrKing

StartupYard Community Manager Lloyd Waldo

In this workshop, StartupYard’s head of communication and community Lloyd Waldo (that’s me), will show would-be entrepreneurs how early stage startups in Deep Tech can use practical storytelling skills to convince the earliest stakeholders (including cofounders, investors, customers, and employees), of the power of a new idea, by transforming it from dry description and speculation into a compelling narrative, that puts you in control of the conversation.

This workshop will include hands-on strategies for positioning that will provide entrepreneurs with the toolset necessary to construct a persuasive and powerful story about themselves, and their vision of the future.

 

 

Open Hours, April 12th, Puzl CowOrKing

Do you have a Deep Tech idea and a great team that you think is worthy of funding and acceleration at StartupYard? Are you ready to take the next step and run your own Deep Tech company? Now is your chance to meet the StartupYard management team, and tell us something about it.

Think pricing

Startups: It’s Time to Think Pricing. Here’s How.

Out of 7 startups that joined us just a few weeks ago for StartupYard Batch 7, only 2 are currently selling a product to real customers. Those 2 have just a handful of customers each. Most of our startups are very early stage; you have to have something to sell, before you can sell. But it surprises many of them how early it pays to think pricing. 

While we expend days and weeks and months of effort discussing features and USP, design and everything else, it’s surprising to me how difficult it really can be to talk to startups about pricing. Talking about pricing is kind of hard. People don’t want to think about it. They panic at the thought of raising prices, and they cower in fear of having prices too low. It can be a rollercoaster.

Of course, pricing is a sensitive subject. As Tom Whitwell writes in his insightful medium piece on pricing psychology, “Prices are a shortcut to our most sensitive emotional responses.” Pricing is a deeply primal part of consumer psychology, and as Whitwell shows, leaves consumers surprisingly, sometimes shockingly, susceptible to manipulation or suggestion.

I suggest you go and read that piece: The First Rule of Pricing,  to find out why. I’ll wait.

Hello! Now that you’re back, this piece is going to build on Whitwall’s, to talk about what all that means for early stage startups, and how they should actually approach pricing their products for the first time, or through the first few iterations.

Your Customers Don’t Know What They Want (Or How Much They Would Pay)

As Malcolm Gladwell explored in his best-seller Blink, and associated Ted Talk “On Spaghetti Sauce,” it has been known in retail since the early 1980s that optimum sales results could not be achieved by finding the ideal single product and price point. For decades, product companies had been simplifying their offerings in the hopes of reducing costs while optimizing their sales around best-selling lines of products.

 

The logic was simple. The attractiveness of products could be graded on a bell curve. An ideal point was where most customers would be willing to buy, whether or not any of them were completely satisfied. Simple product lines also made advertising easier, reducing the need to target advertising to specific audiences, because increasingly, products were targeted at the vast middle of the market.

As he explains, beginning in the early 80s, big food companies, and later other product companies, discovered that this tendency to optimize around single products was hurting their profitability. Instead of selling one popular product that was a mix of the qualities most customers wanted, producers began to develop products that catered to “clusters” of customers who had distinct preferences.

Importantly, research showed that customers were not well equipped to predict what they would enjoy or what they would buy. As Gladwell notes, “For years and years, the standard practice when you wanted to find out what customers would want to buy… was to ask them.”

But customers routinely used experience as a reference point for future behavior. People are bad at imagining a future that isn’t similar to the present. Likewise, they are not good at predicting their future behaviors, because they assume their behaviors will remain consistent.

Experimental field research discovered that “hidden preferences” in consumer behavior were powerful, and almost completely unknown. By testing products with “value added” features, researchers found that price tolerance was much more flexible than previously believed.

For example, about ⅓ of US consumers enjoyed “Extra Chunky” spaghetti sauce. And yet no major brand offered such a product. Customers failed to state, when asked, that they wanted “chunky spaghetti sauce,” but experiments showed that when given the choice, they readily bought it and paid more for it.

Think Pricing

The post 80s flourishing of product segmentation was slow to be adopted for the digital economy. Driven by the technical difficulty of offering and maintaining more diverse product offerings at different pricing points, and the difficulty of marketing each individually in the online space, software and online companies often adopted the old model.

But today, tiered pricing has seen a major comeback. Customers are again comfortable with the concept applied to digital products. Thus instead of we have “9.99 for Standard, 14.99 for HD,” or the “Good, Better, Best” pricing model, in which features and functionalities are limited or exclusive to different products.  

So what does this mean for your own pricing? First, there is no optimum pricing strategy- at least not in the sense that most startups tend to think. There is no perfect price, but rather a continuum of price and feature combinations, into which most customers fall somewhere. The work of a product company is to identify where pricing and feature expectations align for different categories of customers– what Gladwell calls “clustering.”

If you aren’t consistently testing the limits of your pricing and the feature expectations of your customers, then you will likely leave money on the table. Whitwell uses the example of The Times of London. Beginning in 2014, The Times began asking customers whether they would pay X amount for different combinations of features. They produced a range of prices and feature sets, to test different “flavors,” of plan to sell to their customers.

What they found shocked them. Although a minority of their customers would choose to pay more for certain features, the actual revenue to be gained from offering those features at a different price point far outweighed the lower number of paying users. They found that customers would gladly pay up to 3 times more than they currently did to retain only a portion of the same features they enjoyed at the old price. By throwing in features that customers had not needed at lower price points, The Times had co-opted its ability to upsell those features later.

The Freemium Trap

“Freemium” is generally taken to mean a product which can be used free of charge indefinitely, but which is limited in comparison with a premium version, either in offered features, or capacity (such as storage), or in other ways.

It’s not always a bad idea to have a Freemium model. Particularly, products that provide a long-tail value that is hard to see at the beginning may have to be freemium. Most casual games use freemium these days. Dropbox is also a freemium service, which makes sense, because customers typically don’t have a need to buy up to 1TB of storage in one go- instead, they collect data slowly. Slack is another example: a small team doesn’t always need unlimited message history, storage, and all the bells and whistles on day one.

It’s hard to get someone to pay for something of uncertain value. It’s even harder to get someone to pay for something for which a ready and free replacement already exists.

But on the other hand, many, many startups who use a freemium model shouldn’t. When you provide a product aimed at customers who easily understand the value, and who moreover really need what you offer, then offering them a Freemium experience may simply be giving them a handout. And addicting your customers to the free product can make it even harder to sell the Premium version.

One of our startups, 2016’s Satismeter, experienced exactly this problem. As Co-Founder and CEO Ondrej Sedlacek told me recently:

“Switching from a freemium model to free trial and ditching cheaper plans was a big improvement for us. The truth was that people who needed our product were ready to pay for it.

Freemium ended up being a barrier to selling to some customers, because they would get used to just making do with the free version. When we eliminated our free plan, we saw only a slight reduction in signups, and we increased sales overnight. Plus, free users were ironically the most demanding for support. Paying customers invest their time to understand the product and set up the whole process to get the most value out of it”

Customers who understand your product’s value are inherently better customers in the long run. Attracting people who don’t believe in your product might be necessary at the beginning, but it should be viewed as a means to an end.

Price is about Positioning

In his piece, Whitwell calls attention to this with reference to Apple (itself discussed in another piece: Why You Should Never Ask Customers about Price). When unveiling the iPad, for example, Steve Jobs had basically two options, assuming that he couldn’t actually change the price of the product significantly.

First, he could sell the iPad as an expensive version of the iPhone (something many internet trolls did anyway), or second, he could sell the iPad as a cheaper and better version of a netbook computer. He chose the latter- making a point to talk about the features of a netbook in comparison with those of an iPad, before revealing the iPad’s original price point- at $999.

Voila: the Ipad wasn’t a very expensive phone. It was instead a cheaper and better netbook- one with all the features of an Iphone, and the power of a real computer.

In pricing psychology, this is called “anchoring,” and it’s hard not to notice once you know what it is. Retailers will routinely display their best selling items next to items which are significantly more expensive, and items that are significantly cheaper, in order to give the customer the feeling that she is getting the best deal.

Often products are offered that are far more expensive than is actually justified by features. The logic is plain enough: a few customers might buy the Deluxe Collector Edition, but it’s really just there to make the more popular product look cheap in comparison. That’s how you get a $10,000 Apple Watch, or a fully loaded Mustang Cobra. Buying the next best thing is almost aspirational- the customer is invested in a product category where prices run very high, giving them a sense that they are in the “big game.”

By the same token, restaurants may list the most profitable wine on the menu in second place, just above the cheapest wine, and just below a significant jump in prices. This plays off of a human tendency to “reality check” prices based on other available evidence. $25 for a bottle of wine seems like a lot if the options are $5, $15 and $25, but it seems reasonable if the prices start at $15, and reach over $100.

In sum, pricing can function as a way of positioning a product in the market. Too cheap, and the product may not be taken seriously enough. Too expensive, and it may flash a warning to a potential customer that the product is simply not for them.

Think About Pricing: Cost and Value

There is no formula for pricing. One of the hardest lessons that many startups learn is that the value of a product as they understand it, can be very different from its value to a paying customer.

Thus, cost and value are only loosely correlated. This is why it costs $10 to use the Wifi in an airport. The cost is negligible, but the value to a traveler is worth the price. Most commonly, startups should learn much more about their own customers, in order to understand the value of their products to those customers.

That doesn’t necessarily mean doing what your customers want. But it does mean understanding what your customer’s needs and priorities really are. Anyone who has angrily paid an obscene price for a bottle of water on a train, or for a dongle they simply must have for their Mac, knows that pricing is correlated with need.

Most importantly: think about your pricing more. It rarely fails that, when asked about their pricing, startups lack key insights that would potentially allow them to make the difference between a profit and a loss. Absent a clear picture of the value of their products to customers, startups simply guess at what people will be willing to pay- and more often than not, they guess wrong.

What’s a Pain Point? A Guide for Startups

What’s the pain point? That’s a question we end up asking all the time during the first month of mentoring at StartupYard. And this round is no exception.

Every year, we begin the first month of the StartupYard program working on Product Positioning and buy personas. An essential element of this is “the problem” that the startup is solving. That problem can be surprisingly tricky to identify.

Here, I’ll talk about identifying problems, or “pain points,” and how to think more deeply about them.

What is a Pain Point?

At the root, a pain point is something that a customer is aware of (if you’re lucky), and which bothers them. It’s a problem waiting for a solution. “I can’t do X,” or “X is stopping me from doing Y.” Pain is something you react to- it’s something you try to stop happening.

Pain points can be big or small. If the customer base is big enough, and the technology simple enough to use, the pain point can be very simple. If the customer base is smaller, and the pain point much bigger, the technology to solve it can be more complex.

Anything from: “It takes too long to order a pizza,” to “I can’t accurately predict machinery failures in airplane engines.” StartupYard has accelerated startups working on both those pain points. One is a simple problem everyone has, and one is a complex problem only a few people have.

Addressing the Real Pain

One of the most common issues with startups’ early attempts at positioning, is making the “problem” too self-serving. For example, if you’re making compression software, then the problem would be: “people don’t have good compression software.”

But that ignores the fact that people already use other solutions, and getting them to switch would involve solving a still deeper problem. What about their current solution is bothersome enough to change? The first round of positioning often breaks down to: “this product is for people who don’t have this product.” True, no doubt, but also not very compelling.

Pain points can be tricky to identify, because they don’t always reflect exactly what the startup thinks of itself as doing. The above example is useful: a company that is working on compression may see themselves as “providing compression software.” But the customer may not be looking for compression software. The problem isn’t “I need compression software,” but rather, “I need to send files faster,” or “I need a better storage system.”

pain point, startups

One of the exercises I do with startups is to ask them to imagine positioning for basic tools everyone is familiar with. What is the positioning for a drill? It becomes obvious that “this drill is for people who need drills,” is not complete enough. In fact it misses the point entirely. “This drill is for people who need to make holes,” is better. Better still might be: “this is for people who can’t make many holes quickly and easily.”

This process forces the startup to stop thinking in their terms, and start thinking in end-user terms. Founders think about market opportunity, about technology, and about finding efficiencies– as well they should. Still, the question of what pain point they address must be raised. “I can’t technology,” is not a pain point. Nobody sits down and googles: “how to find efficiencies.”

Ok, maybe they do, but it probably doesn’t lead to a lot of sales. A startup can do a lot of cool and far out things with technology, but if it doesn’t solve a clear pain point -the instantly identifiable reason why the customer needs the product- then it won’t get very far.

Cost is Not Everything

A favorite mentor at StartupYard, Ondrej Krajicek, says that he wants to hear one of two things from every startup he meets: “can you save me time?” or “Can you save me money?” In a word, this is “cost.” Every second of every day costs you something, either in time, or in money.

Initially, it’s typical for a startup to begin with the assumption that the pain point is cost of some kind. Every company, and every consumer, wants to save cost. But there’s something incomplete about this as a starting point.

There are many, many ways to save time and money. The very specific reasons why a company or a person would want to save time on one particular activity, or save money on one particular cost are very important. Nobody sets out at the beginning of the day to “save time and money,” even though that imperative may drive many of their individual decisions.

The customer always has other goals in mind. And higher costs can be justified if they help meet some of those goals. If there’s a thing most customers, consumer or corporate, hate just as much as high costs, it’s missed opportunities. A tech startup can focus on either cost or opportunity, or both.

Cost is always material to new technologies. Either the pain they solve is great enough to justify spending more, or the customer is willing to endure a particular pain, because the solution is not yet worth the cost. But here lies an important point: costs do not always have to go down. Particularly with new technologies that create new value and opportunities, the attraction may be great enough to justify higher costs, either in time or money.

Everybody Hurts

pain point, startups, StartupYard

Identifying pain points is not just about semantics- it’s not just rephrasing the problem to make it sound like something a customer cares about. The customer has to actually care, and you have to show them empathy. And pain points are unique to each customer- you have to find ways of helping customers to see how a product solves their own pain points, and not just the broad ones you claim to fix.

And there’s only really one way of doing that- it’s shutting up and listening to the customer. As the folks over at Gong have shown with real data, more sales happen when the prospect, and not the salesperson, does the majority of the talking.

This is because a salesperson is limited in that they don’t know what’s most important to a particular customer until the customer identifies that problem themselves. This can only be encouraged by asking questions that reveal sources of pain for the customer.

Think back on that example about pizza delivery. You could explain to an office manager about how DameJidlo (our alum), or FoodPanda, or Deliveroo works, along with all the many benefits. But that office manager might never have a need for food delivery in the first place. Or they might feel perfectly happy with their go-to delivery options.

It’s only by talking through the customer’s routines, and their current outcomes, that you might reveal pains they aren’t considering. Maybe people complain that the delivery isn’t fast enough. Maybe it’s too expensive. Maybe the variety is lacking, and there have been complaints. Your product, in this case a food ordering and delivery platform, solves many pain points aside from the ones you assume are most important.

We actually practice this kind of selling on a regular basis, even if we don’t realize it. Have you ever explained to a friend or family member about how awesome a new technology really is, only to hear the response: “yeah, well I just prefer what I have right now.” Frustrating! But that’s not because they’re stupid or because they don’t listen. It’s because they haven’t heard anything that speaks to a real, urgent need from their side.

You can practice this kind of thinking by asking the person how they use the current solution they have. You’ll find, as they talk more, that there are indeed things that bother them, and things that could use improvement. Put enough of those together, and the new solution starts to look more attractive.

Shut up and Listen

Everybody Hurts, as the song goes. The question is how, and why. You have to talk to your customers to find out. There is no shortcut.

Try some of these open questions, starting with “how” or “what”:

what are you trying to accomplish?

What’s the core issue here?

How does that affect things?

What’s the biggest challenge you face?

How does this fit into what the objective is?

How does this affect the rest of the team?

What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?

What happens if you do nothing?

What does doing nothing cost you?

You’ll find, most likely, that the customer knows very well what his or her problems and pain points are- although they may not think of them as problems. A problem that doesn’t seem to have a solution isn’t a problem at all- it’s just an aggravation. So showing a customer that a problem exists means getting them to acknowledge pain, and then to understand the solution.

Listen, and most of the time, the customer will tell you.

The Startup Myth of “I Don’t Have Enough Time”

In advance of StartupYard Batch 7, we invited finalist 13 startups to join us for a full day of mentoring in Prague at our Startup Day. We do this every year, not only to evaluate and help decide which of the startups we will invite to the accelerator, but also to provide some value to startups that have taken the time and energy to apply, and to engage in the process with us.

What’s notable is that without exception, whether they are accepted to the program or not, when asked whether the day was valuable to them, startups tell us that it was of great value. Founders often go out of their way to let us know they’re grateful for the opportunity, no matter the outcome.

The Startup Myth: Not Having Enough Time

But every year, we invite one or two startups to the accelerator that don’t end up joining us. The number one reason? “We don’t have time for it.”

This reasoning is sometimes a little baffling. Yes, an accelerator takes time, but on the other hand, as we take care to stress, it is an accelerator. The program is about moving faster than a company would normally move on its own. This doesn’t just mean doing more work in a shorter amount of time. It also means doing more important work, and doing it at the right time.

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When founders consider StartupYard, they sometimes start to see it as a kind of zero-sum proposition. If you spend 6 hours a day talking to mentors for a month, that’s 6 hours a day you can’t spend coding or selling. But let’s be real here- you aren’t going to code for those full six hours. You’re going to have your daily routine- the one you follow because nobody is telling you to do it differently. The one nobody challenges.

Being challenged on your everyday decisions by people who don’t know your company the way you do is sometimes frustrating, but it is also highly motivating. The time spent meeting with mentors is not wasted time. Just today, one of our founders told Cedric Maloux, StartupYard’s CEO, that every mentoring session so far had led to an actionable item for the team.

We have never had a startup come to us after the program, and say that the mentorship period was a waste. Even when they become frustrated at the constraints it puts on their schedule, in the end, they always see the value that it brings as being far beyond the time invested.

What happens instead, most commonly, is that startups simply work harder and better, accomplishing more meaningful progress in the limited time they have to actually build stuff, because they are responding to a constant flow of feedback and advice from people who bring them new ideas and new perspectives on what they’re doing, and what they aren’t doing.

Creative Destruction

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The fact is that startups waste a ton of time on things they don’t need to be doing. It’s a fact of life, and it’s not a failing. Every engineer and creative knows that a huge amount of their work never sees the light of day. It’s not a mistake to waste time, because you need to make mistakes and do things that eventually won’t work out. Risks are necessary.

And yet, there are things that founders just never need to do, and never would do, if they had access to the right mentor at the right moment. We’ve seen countless examples. Startups operating without complete information just do things they don’t need to do, or that are doomed not to work at all. Mentors often know this, and know how to avoid these time wasters.

Is it a waste to talk to someone for an hour if he saves you 50 man hours of wasted effort? How many such meetings would justify one month of mentorship? Not that many, really.

A mentor driven accelerator is set up to save startups from wasting time in ways that truly don’t help them. The hours spent mentoring are usually spent stripping out many of the things that founders are wasting their time on, and prompting them to move faster in areas they are less comfortable with.

If you imagine your daily tasks piling up while you attend mentoring sessions, then consider also that the mentoring sessions are meant to savage those plans, and eliminate most of them anyway. Mentorship is not just about kicking around ideas- it’s about creative destruction.

Time Compression

Startup Myth, StartupYard

The other aspect of acceleration that is frequently overlooked is that of time compression. Acceleration puts startups in a position of having access to processes that usually take weeks or months, and having them happen in days or hours.

A startup on their own may wait a month to get a single meeting with one of our busy mentors. A follow up may be weeks more. But while they’re with us, these meetings happen as soon as they can be practically arranged. Our mentors place our startups higher on their list of priorities, and when they connect startups with other advisors and contacts, that urgency shifts to those contacts as well.

We ensure this happens by only retaining mentors who consistently engage with startups, and keep our startups high on their own priority lists. Try and get a C level executive at a Telco, a Bank, or a major software company to not only respond to a request, but to do you a personal favor. We’ll wait.

The biggest time waster for early stage startups isn’t having meetings. It’s waiting for meetings. And with an accelerator, the waiting is not a major factor. Startups frequently tell us that they accomplish more in 3 months, as a business, than they expected to accomplish in 2 years on their own. That’s the power of acceleration- we save time, we don’t waste it.

Get the most out of your mentors

5 Tips to Get the Most out of Your Mentors

As we welcome our Batch 7 startups for their month of intensive mentoring with StartupYard’s community of over 100 mentors, we start as always with a focus on two things: product positioning, and mentor relationships.

Product positioning, as you can see from our piece on that above, is essential to building the communication tools a team needs to communicate what they’re doing, and get the right advice at the right time. But being able to get the most out of your mentors is equally as important. Here are a few tips for that:

Get the Most out of Your Mentors:

Focus on Clarity, not Accuracy

One of the hardest things for founders to do early on, is to start speaking in the language of an evangelist for their ideas and work. It pays to keep in mind the difference between “clarity” and “accuracy.” A mentoring session can go fantastically wrong if the team starts leading the mentor down the garden path of fine-grained technicalities that distract, rather than enhance, the big picture.

get the most out of your mentors

Founders are likely, for example, to describe their competitive advantages in technical terms, rather than strategic ones. They are more likely to provide more detailed descriptions of their technology and its features, rather than talking about what bigger problems they solve, and what customer outcomes will look like.

Not only does this leave less for mentors to weigh-in on, but it also puts much of the conversation on the founder’s side of the table, keeping it on subjects where they are experts. It’s important to be clear about what you do, but to moderate the information you share to only that which is relevant to the mentor. Don’t defeat the mentor in detail; instead focus on helping them to understand what you do in their own terms.

Every Meeting is a Sales Opportunity

In a sense, mentors are a kind of customer. Either they’re going to buy into your idea and want to help you in whatever way they can, or they aren’t. Your job is to sell them on your potential, and to keep them on your side, helping you accomplish your goals.

Startups sometimes treat mentorship as some sort of an audition: “tell me what you can do for me”. Mentors sometimes do this too, and it’s generally not very useful. The more constructive angle is to spend the first few minutes of a meeting working to get the mentor into your thinking, and help them see the logic and opportunity in what you’re doing. A mentor that feels comfortable with your ideas and believes in them will be much more ready to help.

Mentors do become customers, but more often they become references for potential customers. We see this time and again. A mentor isn’t a customer, but knows the perfect customer, and a friendly recommendation from a trusted colleague is worth many times more than the best marketing in the world.

Do You Know Someone Who…

Mentors need help finding out what you need. Mentoring is partly about gathering advice, and partly about gathering contacts. This is a consistent point of failure for startups at StartupYard, and at every other accelerator where I’ve mentored personally.

Startups usually love the productive work of getting actionable advice, but they shy away from asking to tap into a mentor’s network. And yet this is a huge part of a mentor’s value. The advice you can get from anyone with enough experience, but each person’s network of connections is unique, and has its own strengths to consider. Don’t waste that opportunity to find out how a mentor can connect you with people you need to meet.

For the love of God, Follow Up

It never fails that when I run into our mentors or see them at our events, they will ask me about startups that they wish had stayed in contact with them. It’s usually something like: “Hey, how is [Startup] doing? I haven’t heard from them. I offered to get them in touch with [Important Person], and they didn’t follow up.”

This is prototypical, particularly among newer entrepreneurs. Failing to leverage offers from mentors is understandable, but it needs to be a strong point of focus. A mentor who promises something, and then doesn’t reach out, is not a flake. Usually, the mentor doesn’t really know how important the contact is to you, and doesn’t want to force you to waste time talking to people you don’t need to talk to.

And once a mentor makes an offer that is not followed up on, he or she is much less likely to ever offer such help again. Making mentors feel valued by following up on their offers, even if it just to be polite, leaves the door open to more constructive future offers.

Of any type of mistake startups make in mentoring at StartupYard, failing to follow up with mentors is the least forgivable. At best, it’s a symptom of shyness, and at worst it’s lazy and disrespectful to mentors you may well need in the future.

Smile

Simple, but disproportionately important. You need mentors to like you. You need mentors to want to introduce you to their colleagues, or to think of you when an idea or an opportunity strikes. You want them to feel like they can give you a call; that they aren’t bothering you, and that you like them.

It’s simple, but still, it’s hard to do consistently. Projecting your enthusiasm is a skill that entrepreneurs have to learn, and for that, I recommend one of my favorite books, the legendary How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.

Spoilers: it’s not really that hard. But it takes more than superficial manners. It takes focusing on how you view others, so that you treat them better and consistently focus on their needs and their interests. If you can do that, with a smile, you can build a productive relationship with almost anyone.

StartupYard, Central Europe Accelerator

Workshop and Pitching with StartupYard in Ljubljana, Mon. Sep 12th!

Stop 6 on our FastLane RoadShow will see StartupYard in Ljubljana, at ABC Accelerator, Ljubljana, on Monday, September 12th. 

We will host open hours, a workshop for startups, and then listen to pitches from some of the most interesting startups in Ljubljana, and hopefully select a few to be “Fastlaned,” through the selection process for StartupYard.

About The Workshop

Elements of a Killer Landing Page was hailed as Prague Startup Day’s most popular workshop in 2016. StartupYard community manager Lloyd Waldo will take a deep dive into the structures and processes that help startups build successful landing pages, as well as other types of written communication, in this funny and inspiring presentation, aimed especially at startups.

Want to know the science and the art behind a killer landing page? This workshop is for you.

Meet and Pitch to the StartupYard Team at ABC Accelerator, Ljubljana

ABC Accelerator, StartupYard in Ljubjana

WHERE: ABC Accelerator, Ljubljana

 Looking forward to meeting @Startupyard Accelerator team @abc_accelerator on September 12th! #startups #pitching Click To Tweet

How to Pitch StartupYard in Ljubjana

StartupYard FastLane is your chance to pitch directly to one of Central Europe’s leading seed accelerators for technology startups, and move straight to the final selection rounds for StartupYard 2016/2, kicking off in November 2016. StartupYard will visit 9 cities in September 2016, providing workshops, office hours, and answering questions from tech communities around Central Europe.

On September 12th, StartupYard will join ABC Accelerator, to listen to pitches from interested startups, the best of which will be offered interviews with StartupYard’s Selection Committee.

Startups who are interested in Pitching at the event should sign up to pitch, and then come to the venue during our office hours, get a chance to meet us, and tell us about their idea first.

Event Details for StartupYard, FastLane: Ljubljana

Event Agenda:

15h: Elements of a Killer Landing Page with Lloyd Waldo

16: Open Hours and Q/A with StartupYard MD Cedric Maloux

17:00: Event starts Info about StartupYard Accelerator

17:30 – 18:30: Pitching with Startups

18:30 – 19:30: Networking + refreshments

About Us

Two members of the StartupYard team will represent the accelerator at FastLane Ljubljana. Our Managing Director Cedric Maloux, and our Community Manager, Lloyd Waldo. 

What We’re Looking For

StartupYard accepts startups in the Idea Stage, all the way through to companies with their first clients, users, and revenues.

Are you a Data Focused Startup, working in Security & Trust, Iot & Big Data, or Machine Learning & Prediction? Then StartupYard is your chance to get funded, launch fast, and attack the global market with the backing of some of Central Europe’s leading venture investors, including Credo Ventures, and Rockaway Capital.

Applications for StartupYard close on September 30th, 2016 . Startups can apply directly for the program by clicking here.

Read More about the Open Call, and Find Out More About Our 3 Month Program Here.