20-year startup veteran and key player in three acquisitions. Founding CEO of Y Combinator-backed Earbits. I raised $1.7M from Y Combinator, Charles River Ventures, Wordpress founder Matt Mullenweg, YC president Geoff Ralston, and 30+ angels. I was in charge of product strategy across desktop, Roku and both mobile platforms, where we had 4+ star apps. Grew the company to 15,000 artists, 600 record labels and 500,000 mobile app downloads before our acquisition in 2015. Most recently I was CMO for a Bosch-backed cooking app maker where I oversaw product strategy and marketing.
I've built a startup from concept to acquisition, as well as taken over a company and grown it from $19M to $48M in two years. I can add value around marketing, product strategy, strategic partnerships, seed stage fundraising, product optimization and general business strategy, especially for very early startups, even in the concept phase.
Make a list of every word that you feel is associated with what you do, or that invoke a feeling you want associated with your brand. Some of them can be things like "rocket" or "super". Make the list long and then just start stringing two of the phrases together to see which ones sound good. My digital music startup ended up being called "Earbits" (ear = music, bits = digital). I recommend staying away from things that are spelled incorrectly or that will require clarification when you tell people the name. Make sure the .com is available, although you can get away with other domains if you plan to have a strong SEO strategy. You can also do names that have nothing to do with what you do, like made up words, but again, if you have to explain how to spell it, you're fighting an uphill battle.
How to get funding for a startup depends heavily on your goals for the company, where the company is at, whether it is a business with early cash flow or something that will need to scale in order to start driving revenues. If you have friends and family with money, that is the easiest place to start. It's also a good way to gauge your pitch and ability to get people excited because if you can't get your former rich boss who likes you to invest, you're going to have a hell of a time getting a stranger to.
Most startup founders start to think about fundraising far too early. These days, unless you have a tremendous professional background and an idea that is in your area of expertise, most investors will want to see a working product with customers/traction before they will write a check. Fundraising too early can be a tremendous waste of time and can burn your contacts if they think you are delusional about where the company is at and whether it is investable.
You can look into government grants, pitch competitions and other sources of revenue. You can also try to find paying customers whose need for your service is so bad that they would be willing to pay to help you develop it.
There are too many variables on this to provide a concise answer. Feel free to schedule a call with me if you want to provide more details and get better feedback.
You can certainly come to a profit sharing agreement and there is some good feedback from other experts listed here about how to structure that to protect yourself. However, most technology startups and mobile apps need to be reinvesting their profits back into the company, so even though money may start to come in, it doesn't mean you want to spend it on paying back the designer you worked with. When I started my company, I gave a designer 1% stock to design my logo, business cards and the four main pages of my website. This was a great deal for me and would have been an incredible deal for them if we sold for a big amount in the end. But most importantly, it didn't use up any of my precious cash in the early stages of my business.
You may not have a lot of money coming in for awhile. I would try not to spend any of it at all if you can find someone willing to work for equity instead.
Giveaways can be expensive and attract users for the wrong reasons unless the thing being given away is incredibly aligned with what you offer. Many startups spend a lot of money trying to give things away only to find that a month later none of the users they attracted care about or use the product.
If you have a social network, your best means of attracting more users is to get the ones you already have to invite people. Although you can give them incentives for doing this, the best investment you can make is in making the product great, and specifically communicate how much better their experience will be if they invite their friends or colleagues. Figure out where in the user flow it makes the most sense to ask them to share the network or some content within the network with their friends. Perhaps right after they post, ask them if they want to share their post to Facebook or LinkedIn. Appeal to whatever emotion is driving their engagement, whether it is vanity, feeling good about doing something for a cause, or whatever, and encourage them to tell their own network in order to amplify what they will get out of it. If it makes sense, ask them to share their Google contact list and invite people en masse.
Once you figure out the smartest places to ask them to spread the word about your platform, get very focused on making it as easy as possible for them to do it. Measure the % of people who share the network and keep iterating how your sharing or contact invitation flow works. Push those metrics upward until you start seeing diminishing returns. Whatever is working, double down on it. Figure out what is causing it to work and see if you can duplicate it, or get more people to fall into a similar funnel.
Just keep in mind that nobody shares things that suck with their friends. First and foremost, make sure your product is loved by your users. If they love it, help them spread that love as easily as humanly possible.
The best and only real tool for defining a customer avatar is speaking to actual customers in one on one interviews. There are so many ways to interpret data and misreading what it means that using any tool without speaking to customers can lead you in the wrong direction. Imagine that FB insights tells you that your audience is mostly single. Why are they single? Are they single and looking or are they happily single? This kind of information is not available in FB or any 3rd party platform.
Long before you create an avatar, you should have brainstormed all of the markets your potential solution or product might serve. You want to do this with the end users in mind. If you are targeting teachers, different segments would include primary school teachers, high school teachers, subject-specific teachers, special needs, you name it. To the extent they are likely to have different needs from a product or service, they are different markets. Most people focus on too broad of a market with too many types of end users.
Once you have a healthy list of possible markets, you want to narrow it down to the 6-12 that seem the most promising. From there, you want to conduct primary (first-hand) research by speaking to 3-5 end users from each market segment. Check out CustomerDevLabs.com for great info about how to conduct these interviews. Find out who seems to have the greatest need for a solution, can afford one, and is adjacent to other markets. You want to narrow your markets down to one beachhead that consists of only one type of end user. The market should be as narrow as possible but be sufficiently big that, if you captured 100% of the market share, you would surpass break even and have a full solution developed. This allows you to stay narrowly focused on a simple set of customers and get to the point that prevents startup death as easily as possible.
Once you know your beachhead market, you will interview several more customers and begin to compile the customer avatar. You will find out what they all have in common and what is different. You will find out where they congregate offline and online, how they speak about the problem, what their top priorities are when considering a solution, and much more. This kind of information would never be gathered by using FB Insights or something similar. You can only know it by talking to the end users.
Once you feel like you really understand the end users you will be serving in your beachhead market, you want to pick one actual customer who most exemplifies the end user. Literally, pick a customer who is the perfect customer for you, and then take the customer avatar one step further by finding out all of the details you can about this one person. Even things that seem irrelevant - what kind of car they drive, how to do they dress, where did they grow up? You want to know this customer like you know a good friend. As you think through product decisions, sometimes you will simply say, "Would Sam want this feature or find this value proposition compelling?" And, you'll often know the answer because you know Sam well. When you don't know the answer or there is internal debate, you will literally ask Sam for the answer. What they say is final.
This process is outlined in a book called Disciplined Entrepreneurship. I highly recommend reading it and doing this the right way. If you feel like chatting about it, let me know.
This is not a question you should ask experts. You should be having this conversation directly with your potential customers and clients.
Before you build anything more, you should check out the book Disciplined Entrepreneurship, which outlines the steps to take to answer questions like these in the fastest, cheapest way possible, by conducting a very specific type of customer interview. You can also find a lot of information on a website called CustomerDevLabs.com.
Additionally, building a two-sided marketplace is far more challenging because you have to solve a problem for two parties at once, and most startups fail to solve an adequate problem for even one set of customers. If there is any way at all to do so, I would focus on solving the problem for one side of your market first. Rather than have half bookable, half unbookable, make a directory of resorts or providers that is focused on a narrow niche, like yoga retreats, or something similar, and make it as easy as possible for the customer to book themselves through the provider's website. Once you have created a website that is very useful to tourists and they are using the site to go 90% of the way to a booked reservation, then you can go to the resorts with customers in hand and immediately provide considerable value to them.
I have built a lot of two-sided marketplaces and solved the chicken and egg problem many times. Let me know if you want to talk through strategies for this, but first I would suggest reading at least the first nine steps in Disciplined Entrepreneurship.
Lots of partially good ideas here but many of them still skip steps or suggest spending money you shouldn't. There is an MIT-based framework outlined in the book Disciplined Entrepreneurship that combines Lean Startup principles with other proven best practices to tell you exactly how to do this without spending much of anything.
It starts with identifying as many markets as you think might be yours based on what your proposed solution is. If you have a solution for teachers, your end users could be high school teachers, elementary teachers, private school, subject-specific teachers, special needs, etc. To the extent that these people will have different needs or will use the product differently, they are different markets. You want to identify all of the markets you can think of, then narrow it down to the 6-12 most promising.
Then, you want to conduct customer interviews with 5-10 people in each of your top markets. Your goal is to find out what their pain points are, what they currently do to solve their issues, whether they have the budget to pay for a solution, the most important needs for a solution, and more. Your goal is to narrow your markets down to one beachhead market that, if you dominated it, could get your startup to break even. That allows you to build a very specific solution meeting the needs of only one narrow set of users and, if successful, prevent startup death. From there, ideally, the next market only requires mild changes or additional features to expand into.
Once you narrow your markets to a beachhead, you would do more interviews and start finding out where these users aggregate online and offline, what solution they need exactly, what features are the most valuable to them, how they describe those features (specific keyword phrases that resonate with them) and so on. By the time you're done, you should know exactly what to build first, how to describe it in a way that the users will respond to, and exactly where to market to them online and offline.
Next you could design a solution using a prototyping tool and conduct interviews to see if people understand the product, whether it's intuitive and so on. By the time you actually start spending any money on developing the actual product, you should all but know that it's exactly what you need.
Hit me up if you want to chat.
I typically end up doing this in Excel in order to get more granular.
Although your KPIs are supposed to be the most important overall metrics of your company, each major source of candidate leads, each of your sales teams, the role types, all ultimately drive these KPIs. Monitoring the health of the most important segments you have independently can help you identify changes in performance or help you allocate resources to better performing areas.
For that reason, I usually create a spreadsheet that calculates all of my KPIs, then duplicate it onto additional tabs and plug in the individual data for my most important segments. In your case, segments might be teams (or individual reps if there aren't too many), certain role types you're trying to fill, candidate leads that came from particular sources, etc.
Then, I usually create one tab of graphs that show me how my overall KPIs are trending, and then a long tab with graphs for each KPI broken down and showing me how my most important segments are trending vs one another.
This allows me to see my big picture numbers easily, and also monitor the underlying performance that affects them. Without it, I have found that you can get wins in an area while performing poorer in another and not even notice that your business has started to fare worse with leads from certain sources, or in filling certain roles.
Based on other answers here, it seems Home Depot has a standardized process for considering new products, but there are always ways to increase your chances. Do you know leaders from other companies that have their products there? Do they work with a buyer closely who they can introduce you to? Would their endorsement help your application chances? If you are not already connected with someone whose products are sold there, can you build a relationship with someone?
Although I am sure their decisions are made mostly by the numbers, it never hurts to have the endorsement of someone they trust, or to be the partner who established a relationship today and is remembered when a need arises tomorrow.
As for other partners like builders and developers, your strategy to that would depend a lot on your market. Are you nationwide, with many thousands of companies to target? You might need a solid advertising or content marketing strategy. You may need a lead generation strategy with a solid and optimized follow up process.
Are you local with only 30 companies to target? You need a more refined strategy for approaching them and building relationships, probably in person.
Interviewing your existing customers is a good way to find out how they think, where they go to locate information when they're buying a service like yours, what made them want to work with you, whether they know anybody else who might benefit from your service, etc.
Happy to talk partnership strategy anytime.
I had a fantastic board of advisors with some heavy hitters. Unless you know for a fact that someone will be very involved or they plan to introduce you to a ton of clients, partners or investors, the standard is pretty much 0.5%.
The most important thing I learned was that the people who wanted more ended up being the least helpful. Two people on my BOA negotiated for 1% and, although one of them provided a catalog of content that was super valuable, he was difficult to get much out of after that and not more valuable than the many people who accepted 0.5%. My most valuable advisor would not accept equity until we basically forced him to.
Look for people who dive in and help without any incentive. They should be doing it because they like you and think your business is super interesting. If they are in it for the equity, run the other direction.