By Francis Moran and Leo Valiquette
While there will no doubt be the occasional post that will still fall into the Commercialization Ecosystem category, today marks the official end of this series with which we launched our new blog back in February. Next week, we will introduce several new series, but first, let’s conclude our three-part recap of what we have learned about getting technology to market.
We began with insights and practical advice on securing investment capital and finding champions to help get your technology to market. Then, we continued with commercializing university IP, the value of mentor capital and what it means to be lean. Today we conclude with the strategic role marketing must play from day one of a startup, engaging with your community and what role government should play.
21: Practise good IP hygiene
Consider having in your organization someone who educates themselves on all matters related to managing your intellectual property. This “IP coordinator” is not a replacement for outside legal professionals. Their job is to see that the things that need to be done do get done and done properly.
“Your IP coordinator can help maintain cost control over your IP expenses; is this technology really worth patenting? Do we really need to obtain trademark registrations in Australia? Your lawyer, when questioned, is likely to reply, ‘I’ll get you the best IP rights that you deserve wherever you require.’ But your lawyer is unlikely to tell you whether your product is a good business investment and whether having a patent on a feature of that product will be money well spent,” wrote guest blogger and senior Canadian patent attorney David French.
22. Have an MVP for your MVP
A Minimum Viable Product is an essential component of a lean approach to market which allows you to test the waters and solicit the feedback to iterate product development in the right direction. To solicit that market feedback, it must be combined with an effective Market Validation Plan.
“An MVP is simply the minimum set of features that provide the initial value to the user of your product. It is crucial that this first incarnation of your product show your value differentiation. In other words, not only must it provide that initial functionality for your first users, it also needs to show off why your product is different or unique in the marketplace,” wrote Peter Hanschke, one of our associates.
23. Engage early, engage often
Getting technology to market is all about engagement. Entrepreneurs need to get out and talk to people, lots of people. They must get involved with networking organizations and go to industry events where they can meet with veteran entrepreneurs, potential investors and partners. Most important of all is to seek out and listen to potential customers and the pains they express which you hope to solve.
“Your success is not based on your core ideas, it is based on how fast you can respond and reiterate the feedback coming back from your market.” Entrepreneurs must “get their heads out of the sand to see what competitors are doing, what is happening in the market, and where there are dead ends and emerging opportunities,” said John Stokes, partner with Real Ventures.
24. Don’t undervalue strategic marketing
“Companies that can’t clearly articulate their customer and market are not real serious companies, they are research projects … Engineering and marketing need to work together from the get go,” said Ronald Weissman, chair of the Software Special Industry Group at Band of Angels.
For Weissman, defining the market opportunity and ensuring a product is the right fit is so important from the outset that when he is building the management team for a startup, he will often hire a head of product marketing and head of business development before a CEO.
“More new ventures fail because of poor marketing than because of poor engineering or poor financial management,” Denzil Doyle, founder of Doyletech, wrote in his book, Making Technology Happen.
25. Have a clear sales and product migration strategy
A product migration strategy is crucial to keep the market engaged with compelling new products as older products mature.
“Any new venture which starts out with only one product in its portfolio is probably doomed … follow-on products should be clearly visible at the outset,” Doyle wrote.
Startups often “don’t think about the post sales support infrastructure sufficiently to scale the company. This is where growth is hindered or delayed … sprinters must hand off to the middle-distance runners,” said Phil Newman, CEO of Pergali and one of our U.K.-based associates.
26. Don’t be the biggest barrier to your success
“You have to be a well-centred individual. If I am a highly insecure individual and I need you to stroke my ego, then that’s likely going to cause all kinds of problems downstream. I’m not saying those people don’t become successful business people … but nine times out of 10, people who are not centred in their own personality create all sorts of wasted baggage,” said Andrew Fisher, executive VP at Wesley Clover.
“I would much rather work with someone with a good idea who is coachable, than someone with a great idea who is not,” said Iain Klugman, president and CEO of Waterloo’s Communitech.
27. Take advantage of whatever public programs are available to you
Jason Flick, co-founder and president of YOU i Labs and president and CEO of Flick Software, blogged about the importance of landing that initial customer and providing them with the first mover advantage as an incentive to take the risk on your venture. But what’s the next step once you have them?
“Once you have this first customer, it isn’t time to just buckle down and work hard on the deliverable. Rather, this is the best time to go in search of additional funding from government sources, angels, and friends and family. Don’t wait until the few dollars you’ve secured from the customer are running out to start this search. Government programs such as IRAP, the Investment Accelerator Fund managed by MaRS, and Ontario Centres of Excellence are amazing resources if you are based in Canada,” he said.
“Now the capitalization of a company can be a whole combination of different resources and sources of funding,” said Klugman.
28. But don’t become a taxpayer charity case
“Bad businesses learn how to do a really good job of sucking up a lion’s share of the available subsidies. Instead of working to generate strong sales channels and scalable businesses, they become quite good at wooing various funding mechanisms and taking advantage of various programs. They have to; it’s the only way they know to survive,” said Andrew Fisher of Wesley Clover.
“The good businesses, meanwhile, don’t really have the time to futz around with those government folks and operate at a bureaucratic pace. Instead, they go out and sell their product, raise capital, whatever it is they need to do to get the job done.”
29. Understand what government’s role should be
In his book, The Way Ahead: Meeting Canada’s Productivity Challenge, Tom Brzustowski, RBC professor for the commercialization of innovation at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, wrote, “I believe that it is only the private sector that creates wealth.” The public sector, on the other hand, is a consumer of wealth in order to bankroll the two fundamental roles it plays.
First, it provides the “supportive and normative framework for wealth creation by the private sector” through laws, regulations, treaties, incentives and so forth. Second, it is a “concentrator of resources assembled through the tax system” to pay for things like education, healthcare and infrastructure.
“Government doesn’t start companies. Individuals do,” said Klugman.
30. And lastly, be nimble
Take advantage the fact that, as a small company, you can typically react and adapt faster to volatile market conditions than larger companies.
“As entrepreneurs we can redirect our efforts to wherever the opportunities lie. We can redefine our business model. We can create partnerships and alliances with a single phone call. If your plans called for new capital, look for other ways to grow; if your market is shrinking, change sectors; if your market is asking for concessions, add costless value; if your market has no CapEx budget, rent it to them,” wrote Andrew Penny, president of Kingsford Consulting.
This is the 32nd article in a continuing series that examines the state of the ecosystem necessary to successfully bring technology to market. Based on dozens of interviews with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, business leaders, academics, tech-transfer experts and policy makers, this series looks at what is working and what can be improved in the go-to-market ecosystem in the United States, Canada and Britain. We invite your feedback.