Posted by & filed under Entrepreneurship, Startups, Team.

To create something new and innovative you need to also be ready to fail and fail the right way. Failing has become such an essential part of the startup world that there is even a day for it.

So, contrary to the popular belief failing isn’t necessarily bad, it might be even good and necessary. But there are also the failures that should be avoided. The common mistakes that cause the whole startup to break down. Here are 5 of the common ones.

 

  1. Bad validation

Not all problems are worth solving. Some startups think they have the best idea ever. But they forget that is not enough: someone also has to want to buy it, or preferably: need to buy it. It is always easier to sell and get successful with products that solve a critical problem instead of ones that just ”could be fun”.

Still, many startups get so caught up in their brilliant solution that they forget that to get money from it someone needs to see it so valuable that they are willing to pay for it. Often those startups are also the ones that say everyone are their potential customers. If that’s you, stop now and think. The only thing everyone absolutely needs is air. Good luck capitalizing that.

Do you really solve a problem and is the problem critical enough for people to want to pay for your solution? Emphasis on the word ’pay’. Lots of people want free stuff, but that doesn’t put food on the table. Here’s a post that can help you out with validating.

 

 

  1. People need to know your product exists to be able to want it

Your product or service might really be amazing, and not just on paper. You have validated and found that you really do solve a real problem, and problem people are willing to pay to get solved. But that’s not enough.

There are still startups who think that as long as their product/service is good the customers will come automatically. Sometimes that is true: companies get new customers through referrals from their old customers. But you still need to get those first customers. They won’t find your product nor service if it’s hidden in your garage… You need to talk to people. Though of course, sales and marketing are not going to save you if your product is bad. But at the same time, it’s easy to sell a good product.

So, unlike many seem to believe, people won’t run to you if they don’t know about you. Most likely they don’t even know you exist! You need to tell them and you need to explain it simply enough.

 

  1. …and you need to tell them about it clearly enough

Sometimes this is the most difficult part. You know what you are doing, but your customers and investors don’t. And unless you are a coder and your customers are coders, using industry jargon is going to do more harm than good. You need to use the kind of language your customers use and what investors understand.

Don’t talk about how amazing the “UX” of your product is. Talk about the things your customers really care about, and do it in a language they understand and would use themselves. The way of speaking of for example a parent and a coder are very different…

And it’s the same thing for investors. Considering the amount of jargon startups want to use in their pitches, they must think investors are geniuses. How else would they know everything about every industry? Well, I have news for you: they don’t. When the investors don’t understand what you are saying, they automatically stop listening. And jargon usually does exactly that. And then you are wasting both of your time.

So, forget jargon and explain things as simply as possible. Pretty much like you were pitching to a child (no, you are not offending their intelligence by doing that ;)). In fact, if a child can understand you pitch, your pitch is probably going to be really good!

 

Great team ensures you will have great execution of your idea

 

  1. Wrong kind of team

As it has been said over and over again, it’s not the idea, but the execution. And successful execution is all dependent on the team. Jari talked earlier a bit about the importance of team on here, and how important it is to build your team well. But it is not just about having the necessary skills in your team, but how your team works as a whole.

It is surprising how often internal conflicts destroy the whole business. In those cases, the focus goes to drama and not building your success. Or it might be that your situation has changed and for example, the CEO you had at the beginning stages might not be the best person now. You need to hire well and know when changes in the team are needed.

Hire with care, nurture your team and the team environment and adjust when needed.

 

  1. Failing to fail early enough

At the beginning of this post, I pretty much called startups the masters of failing. I should have probably said the successful startups are masters of failing. There are still startups who do everything they can to avoid failing. While not giving up is good, you need to know when to say “this isn’t going to work”. Then you can pivot and start working on something that will work.

The earlier you realize the that the less time and money you are going to spend building something that is not going to work. Thus startups should remember that failing isn’t alway the end of the world, but something they can use to become a much better business.

And there you have it: 5 common mistakes startups make and destroy all their hard work. Remember these and you won’t be one of them! ;)

 

You might also be interested in: How to pitch to an investor to get funding?

 

Posted by & filed under Entrepreneurship, Startups, Team.

Having the right kind of team is one of the key features of a successful startup. Even more important than your idea (read this if that comes as a surprise). There were search engines before Google, social networks before Facebook and so on and so forth. We all know that. What made Facebook and Google be the successful ones was that they executed the idea better. That’s why sentences like ”Execution is king”, ” Ideas are good, but only execution matters” are heard all over the startup world.

Now think about it: what is the difference between good and bad execution? I.e. who are 100% responsible for making your brilliant idea into reality? Your team. It blows my mind when startup founders just hire their childhood best friends, cousins, someone they know who happens to need a job. Noble – yes. Useful – if you’re lucky…

Hiring someone you don’t know means spending hours and hours trying to get people to apply. And then spending much more time on looking through the applications, interviewing and still you can never know what kind of people they really end up being. You just have to take a leap of faith. Or you can just hire someone you know, or at least someone you trust knows. Easy, simple, done. So, hiring someone you know is understandable and even makes sense. But that’s where many startups go wrong. Here are what to look out for.

 

Danger point 1 – just hiring someone you know without thinking what they can really bring to your team – skills, experience, their network…

The problem is hiring someone just because you know them. That’s what many do and then notice the person doesn’t have the skills they need. Then you face the dilemma: should you fire your childhood friend to be able to hire someone your startup really needs or just stay quiet and not destroy your relationship with him or her. Startups just don’t have the money the keep hangarounds in their team. And sooner or later you will have to sack him/her or risk failing. Thus it is better to hire sensible right away.

Each and every member of your team needs to have the skills and/or experience you need in your team. And of course, fit into your group dynamics.

 

Danger point 2 – hiring someone who doesn’t match your team and/or way of working.

Some startups have the opposite problem. They get so charmed about someone’s skills or experience and don’t care about how that person will fit into their team. Those are the teams that will spend their days ripping each others hair out.

Now, you don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but too many startups fail because they spend their time fighting each other instead of working. A cohesive team is not only more pleasant to work in, but cohesive teams also get better results. That is why it is equally important to make sure the new hire also fits into your team.

Also, make sure your company’s working style fits with the person you will hire. For example, if that person would prefer to have steady working hours but your startup needs lots of flexibility. Or you would want employees to work at your office, but that person would prefer to work remotely, you might have to reconsider.

Again, think before you hire and you will save yourself from many headaches.

Team fighting instead of getting things done

 

Danger point 3 – team full of similar people

If your startup has 3 members who all are introverted coders who only want to code, no matter how amazing they are at coding, your startup won’t get far. Yes, your code will be brilliant, but that’s it. Let me repeat: THAT’S IT. Even if your business idea was to be a coding subcontractor, you would still need other kinds of people in your team. You need diversity and diversity in all areas.

 

Have the right skills in your team

You need a diverse group of skills, complementary skills that make executing your brilliant business idea possible. You all might be coders, but someone also needs to know how to sell, pitch, do marketing, accounting…. When you only have coders who are interested in coding, you end up with brilliant code. But like I said, that’s going to be it. That’s what they call hobbies. If you want to make money you need more than that.

I overheard a mentoring session in a hackathon of such team. The whole session was spent by the mentor asking who would use their product/idea and the team answering ”but the code is sooooo pretty, anyone. It’s just so so soooo pretty.” They were completely unaware that someone would actually need to also buy it, i.e. someone has to want the product. And that they were not even selling code, but something to make people’s lives better. The whole idea of ”thinking from your customers’ perspective” was completely alien to them. The team also spend the first minute (!) of their pitch explaining how they are uncomfortable pitching/selling, how bad they are at this, this and that…. Let’s just say it didn’t go too well.

You need the dreamers, the organizers, the doers, the specialists, the whole package that gets the work done. Think about it: if you all are dreams, all you get is dreams. If all of you are natural organizers all you end up doing is organizing each other and not doing the work.

The best results require different minds

You need people who have the diverse skills and working styles needed to make your idea into reality (and success!). But you also need diversity in experiences, in the minds you have in your teams. You need diversity of all kinds. Of skills, personalities, life experiences, cultures, genders, what have you. Studies say that by having more diverse minds working on a problem they are going to look at it more thoroughly. That is how you will take all the necessary things better into consideration and how you will create more innovative ideas.

So, while it is important to make sure your team is cohesive, you should avoid the trap of only hiring people who are similar to you. When you work with people who are different from you (from a different culture, education, sex, etc.), you will have to put more effort into working together, solving misunderstandings and so on. But also your results will be so much better. So so much better.

TL;DR: Make sure:

  1. you have all the needed skills and personalities in your team.
  2. your team dynamics work
  3. you have enough of different kinds of minds working together. That’s how you will reach the best results.

 

A post you might also find interesting: You need more than mentoring hookups

 

Posted by & filed under Accelerator, Entrepreneurship, Startups.

Sooner or later on your entrepreneurial journey, you will face the question whether you should go for an accelerator. And if, for which one.

Accelerators can really help you accelerate your growth (hence the name). But only if you find the right accelerator for you. And if you are ready for it. Just going with the most famous one or the one closest to you can do you more harm than good. The accelerator needs to fit your startup’s needs.

Here are a couple of things to take into consideration when looking for The One for you, or if you really should even go for one.

1. How committed are you?

If I had to choose just one word to describe accelerators it would be intense, both in good and bad.

During the accelerator, you are going to work hard, probably harder than ever before. Everything is accelerated. And what’s everything? Well, that depends on the accelerator (and you!). But things like learning, making right and wrong decisions, changing routes accordingly, reaching customers, pivoting, maybe even more than just once. In essence: a lot of things will happen and all of it will happen at the same time. Though only if you are there and putting in the effort. Accelerators accelerate, they don’t do the work for you. And intense results require intense work.

So, you need to figure out what is your commitment level, if you are ready for all that. Will you be able to put in your 100% and more during the months of the program? Or would something less intense work better for you instead?

Accelerator = hard work

 

Think about your life realistically.

Are you just testing the waters if your idea has any potential and want to still continue in your day job just in case? Then an accelerator that requires fewer hours might be the best option for you. Or do you have a baby coming, sickly parents to take care of, pet, hobby, anything that prevents you from giving your all during the accelerator?  Most likely you also need to relocate for the accelerator (unless you are super super majorly lucky and the best accelerator for your startup is right next door). Is that possible? Yes, some things may be worked out, but those kind of compromises always show.

For some accelerators, it is even a requirement to work full-time on your startup. That’s because they know how big of an effect it is going to have on your results. And not only does it show that you are committed it also proves you truly believe in your idea. If you don’t believe in your own idea enough to work on it full time, why should they?

So, think about your day to day life and be realistic about how committed you can and will be. If you put your mind into you will find the accelerator that is going to help you the most. AND can actually work with your life, even if it means joining an accelerator a bit later in your startup journey.

 

2. What kind of network do you want to build?

Accelerators are great at helping you grow your networks and be known where you need to be. But only if you choose an accelerator that makes it possible. Not all networks are made equal. If you go to an accelerator where you can grow a good-sized network, but of the wrong kind of contacts or in the wrong market, does it matter? No. You won’t really get anything out of it. At least when compared to if that network was filled with contacts that were actually relevant to your business.

Let’s say you are a fintech startup and big banks are your potential customers. Then a fintech accelerator that is done in collaboration with bank(s) is probably your best bet. But if you are a biotech startup, going to a bank accelerator will not the best choice for you. No matter how close it is to your home or how great the people behind accelerator are. Accelerator is great for you only if it helps achieve your goals.

 

So think: What is your industry? Are you a B2B or B2C startup. Where is your target market located? Who are the people, the influencers you need to reach? Can the accelerator give you direct contacts to your customers? Accelerators will not only help you create networks with your alumni but also with the key people in the industry, customers, investors, advisors and much more. That is why it is important to find the accelerator that matches your goals.

Ask yourself: which accelerator can connect you to the people and create the networks you need?

 

3. Your preferences & musts?

Every startup has different needs. After you have figured out your realistic level of commitment and what kind of networks you want to build, there are still many many things to consider. Things that are specific to your startup. Some of the key ones include:

Accelerator’s style:

What type of accelerator are you looking for? Do you want more hands on approach where you get help specifically for your startup? Or would you rather just hear tips from the ones who have already done it?

There are as many kinds of accelerators as there are accelerators. There really isn’t an official definition of an accelerator. That’s why the spectrum of different accelerators is also quite wide. When we talk about accelerators we mean intensive, time-limited coaching and business development programs that offer investments. Some accelerators offer investments, some don’t. Some accelerators emphasize building networks, some coaching, and more hands-on workshops. Figure out what would be most helpful for you.

Mentors & mentoring:

Different accelerators have different kind of people as their mentors. They even mean different things with the word mentor. Are the mentors they have relevant to you? Knowledgeable of your industry, issues you struggle with, do they have knowledge from your customers’ side?

And what does the accelerator mean by mentoring? Is the big name mentor going to give a lecture and a short Q&A or will he or she sit down with you to work on your startup? How important it is for you to have that one-on-one time with the mentors? What do you really want mentoring to be like?

After accelerator:

Do you want to get help from them also after the accelerator program itself ends? If you do it might be better to go to one that invests in the startups in its programs. That is because they probably want to make sure their investment is doing well and are much keener on helping you, their investment, also after the program. Or would you rather just get the learnings during the accelerator and not be bothered with keeping in touch with it? Also, what does it really mean get help after the accelerator ends? How much effort is the accelerator willing to put into helping you after the program?

Funding:

Do you need funding and how much? How much of your equity are you willing to give away? Do your numbers match with the accelerator’s? When thinking about the investment from the accelerator, you need to consider the overall package: for example, the coaching and other support in addition to the invested money.

Though remember that you should never do it just for the funding! It is not going to take you far, far from it. Though I am sure you are one of the smart ones and the thought didn’t even cross your mind ;)

 

4. Are you coachable?

I.e. are you ready to learn, accept others’ advice and in general, know you cannot know everything needed in this world. In short: your attitude.

If you already know everything, attending an accelerator might not be for you. I mean, accelerators are for learning, why would you go to one if you already know it all? You’re just going to waste your own and the accelerator people’s time. Though of course, if you do it to build a network then accelerator might still be worth your time (but are you worth the accelerator’s time, that’s a different story…).

 

Being coachable is also the very same thing investors are looking for. Nobody likes the know-it-alls that only want money, especially not investors.

TL;DR Do your research. Think what are your needs and what you can give, and apply to the the accelerator(s) that matches those. And remember: there is no one ‘best accelerator in the world’. It is different for everyone!

What are the ‘musts’ you are looking for in an accelerator? Share in the comments, we’d love to hear!

 

Related post: How to build the next startup unicorn?

 

Posted by & filed under Customers, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Social Media, Startups.

They say social media is amazing for companies, especially startups. A must even. But in your experience, it’s just a waste of time. Usually, the reason is that you post the wrong kinds of posts, but also that you are on the completely wrong channels.

Here is a lesson that could not be simpler and even more obvious. But a lesson I want to share because, in practice, it seems to be nothing but obvious. Startups know they should be on social media, but they waste a lot of their time on wrong things. And surprise surprise they don’t get the results they want. It is about what they post, but many if not most startups get an even more basic step completely wrong. They don’t use the right social media channels, the channels that would really bring in the results. Meaning no matter how amazing posts you are putting out none of it matters if your customers don’t see them.

Only the channels where your customers are matter

What startups usually do is that after deciding they need to be in social media, they think which channels are hot and start creating accounts. The end result is they will have too many accounts and they don’t have time to do them well enough. And most likely they are wasting their precious time on channels that will bring them no results no matter how well they do on them.

The only channels that matter are the channels that bring you results. And usually, that means the channels your customers use. Like everything your startup does, also marketing and social media should all start from your customers. Let’s say you have a fashion brand and your customers are females in their 20s. Then Instagram is probably your best bet, probably also Facebook. Linkedin? Not so much. But if your customers are professional males in their 50s or 60s Linkedin (or nowadays also Facebook) is just the thing. And then Instagram, probably a complete waste of time.

So, creating great content is the number 1 thing that will make or break it whether you will get something out of your social media efforts. But if you are doing it all on wrong channels your effort is 100% waste of time.

How to find the right channels for your startups

Like I said earlier: be where your customers (and other important stakeholders) are. The best-case scenario would be that you know what those are for a fact. If you don’t, you need to start making educated guesses and change accordingly when you get more information. Also, just ask. You are talking to your customers and potential customers anyway, so why not ask about where they are active.

If you have no idea, you can start from thinking about your customers’ demographics. The Internet is full of information about who uses what social media channels. Then you can start using facts like your customers’ gender, age, income level, interests etc. help you make an educated guess. Here is one website to help you out.

 

Social media demographics age

 

These are just some of the most popular channels. …which is why it makes no sense for startups to try to be on all possible channels.

Demographic factors usually help you a lot, but don’t be blinded by them. Let’s say your target group is photographers, male and 35+ years old. Then just by looking at demographic factors alone, you wouldn’t go for Instagram. But that would be a grave mistake! What is Instagram? A photo sharing app. It’s filled with people interested in photography and pro photographers.

Also, remember not to focus only on the buyer, the one who actually makes the decision of buying. Think about the people who have an influence on that buying decision. A clear example is toys. An adult is the one who pays for the toys, but it’s kids who say ”I want that!!! Buy it!”. Then you should be active where the kids are, and of course, not completely neglect the parents either. Or if you are selling something to the government or bigger organizations. The decision makers are important, but so are the assistants who actually scour through the options and present them to the decision maker.

Be realistic about your resources and what even is possible

Think of your resources and what makes sense. Even if your customers use ’all’ social media channels, you probably shouldn’t be in all of them. Unless your startup is strongly tied to social media, you just won’t have time. That’s coming both from personal experience and seeing what happens with startups. It’s better to focus on the most useful channel(s) and do them well than to do poorly on many channels. Doing social media well does require time and effort, so don’t spread yourself too thin.

Another thing to consider is what even is possible for you. For example, let’s say your customers use a lot of Instagram and quite a lot of Twitter. Instagram would then be an obvious choice. But for some companies, it might be harder to create good content on that platform. If you have a fashion brand, it is easy to take good photos that create value, something that makes people want to follow you. If you do IT consulting, not so. Then it is a safer bet to focus on the number 2, Twitter. Though of course, if you can actually figure out how to do Instagram super well, you will reach your customers where they are AND where your competition isn’t.

In short:

  1. Only be on the channels where your customers are
  2. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Start only with the most important channel(s). You can always take over more later.
  3. Create value. Just pushing your products and services will not work.

And that’s it for today! Do you have any learning about choosing the right channels? What worked, what didnät?

 

You might also be interested in: How to talk to your customers and build better products?

 

Posted by & filed under Customer development, Entrepreneurship, innovating, Product development, Startups.

How to be a successful entrepreneur? How to create the next Airbnb/Uber/Dropbox/startup unicorn? Hands up, who hasn’t googled something like that even once? Or at least clicked once on those millions and millions of articles about creating the ‘next big thing’.

But if that’s what you are asking you won’t succeed. Might sound harsh but it’s true. Hey, I do understand; who wouldn’t want to be the founder of the next SpaceX. But the thing is that if you just want to have a successful startup for the sake of having a successful startup, you are focusing one the wrong things. You are focusing on the fame, money or whatever fancy thing you are imagining, not on what can get you there. And that is having a startup that is actually worth it.

All successful startups give people something they are dying to get. They are solving a problem, a crucial need people have. The more people your startup can help, the more desperate they are to get that problem solved, and the better you solve it the bigger your success will be.

So, how do you create a successful startup then?

Didn’t I just tell you to stop thinking about it!?!? …juuust kidding. In all seriousness:

 

Have an idea (well, duh)

Often what happens is that the founder(s) sees a need. That something could be done better and figure out a solution for it. They start thinking ”why is it like this. Why can’t it be like that.” Boom: an idea is born! (in a very very simplified form).

 

Validate that idea

Ideas are an essential part of founding a startup. But we all have ideas and only a few of us are successful entrepreneurs because of them. That’s because not all brilliant ideas really are brilliant. You need to validate your idea. Is it something that would make only your life better? Is it crucial enough and for enough people? Or just ’nice to have’?

Is the need big & crucial enough?

I.e. are people actually willing to pay for you solution and are they enough of them. If they want your solution but not to pay for it (=the need isn’t crucial enough for them), you won’t make any money and your business will die. Or if only a few want your solution (=the need isn’t big enough), you won’t make enough money and again: your business will die.

 

”But everyone needs my solution…”

 

Stop you fool!

 

If that’s what you think, stop! Stop, sit down and think again. You might still be able to save your startup.

Unless you have found a way to capitalize air, there is nothing everyone needs. ”Everyone” is the easy answer many go for, and the answer that will ruin their all chances of success. When you think that everyone will be your customers, you try to please everyone. And that doesn’t work. You will end up doing compromise after compromise and then your solution fits no-one. Or you just don’t even try and create a solution that only solves your problem and nobody else’s.

Bad validation is one of the most common reasons startups fail. They get so blinded by their ’brilliant solution that everyone in this world will buy’ that they forget to check the facts. Don’t be like them. Validate, and do it properly. Here’s an excellent post from Startupgrind to help you with that.

The best case is when your product is not just a ’nice to have’, but a must to have.

 

Execute it awesomely

”Ideas don’t matter, only execution does.” – pretty much every successful entrepreneur.

No matter how brilliant your idea is, the idea that is executed the best will win. After all brilliant idea is just an idea, still a long way from becoming reality. And rarely there are any truly unique ideas (there have been search engines before Google, social networks before Facebook and so on). We now ’google’ things because Google had the best execution of the idea, same with Facebook and many many other businesses.

No-one will see the brilliance of your idea if the reality of it just screams bad execution.

And a key thing to remember is that execution is 100% up to your team. It’s about their skills, experience, connections, everything. Many entrepreneurs just hire their relatives, friends, old acquaintances who need a job. That’s very noble of them but only works if they have the qualities needed to make that brilliant idea into reality. And if you ever dream of getting investments, you better have the kind of team that gets them. After all, investors usually look at the team even more than the idea itself. More about that here.

Learn from the unicorns – real-life examples

Let’s look at Airbnb. The economy was (and unfortunately is) tough, and many were looking for extra income. They also had empty space in their homes. Unused rooms, or whole apartments due to traveling. At the same time, people wanted to travel but not spend that much money on their accommodation. There was a demand and then there was a solution: Airbnb.

Or Uber. Again tough times. People need an extra income and they have an idle car. At the same time, others need convenient transportation, like taxis but without the price tag. Again: big need many really want to get solved.

In short: they had a great idea, an idea crucial for many and they knew how to execute it well. And now Airbnb is worth 31 billion dollars. Uber 62,5 billion dollars (as of March & April of 2017).

 

Related post: Startup mistakes to avoid

 

Posted by & filed under Accelerator, Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Mentoring, Startups.

Most collaboration between startups and corporations shows very little results. The reason is that they are just trying to improve bits and pieces of, for example, the offering. That’s not enough. The winners will be the ones that can renew their attitude, learn to adapt and embrace the change. Startup collaboration is the best tool for that, but it needs to be done right.

Startup collaboration is not an innovation band-aid

Startups are not innovation band-aidMany corporations still try to filter out the perfect startup candidates before starting to work with them. They usually end up with companies that have a product that can be easily integrated with the current offering. Good for them if they can provide something useful for their customers, but that approach rarely ends up in changing anything. It usually just turns into an incremental improvement.

It doesn’t help you if you do the same thing a bit better than before. Not when in most industries you don’t know how your business will look like in just a few years. Corporations need to break the familiar ways of doing things, break the patterns to get ready for the unknown. Companies need to build skills to be ready for the future. The old skills may not become obsolete, but everyone needs to find new ways of using the old skills in new environments. We need to be experts at finding new uses for the things we’re good at. We also need to become experts in the new things that are needed to solve our customers problems.

While startups can learn a lot from corporations, also the startups can teach the corporations many things. So, why do many corporations go only for the incremental improvements and one-by-one collaboration with startups? Because this way fits their existing way of working. They have used subcontractors and other types of partner forever and startups are no different. Corporations are really good at buying products and services. They have developed efficient procurement models and processes that they want to use also with startups. But that is not enough. In fact, I think that this way of working totally misses the point and the big opportunity.

Turning from individual innovation partnerships to powering the renewal at corporations

Nestholma started with the idea of helping startups and corporations to build new innovations and make deals together. In our accelerator model, we make the startups and corporation work together with clear business goals in mind. That has worked really well in the 20 accelerators we’ve done. Still, over the past two years, we’ve realized that it’s much more than making a few deals happen or arranging a great Demo Day pitching events.

Couple of interesting things have happened: HRD and entreprenership

To make the impact of the accelerators as big as possible, we’ve ended up coaching not just the startups and also the corporation’s employees. Regardless if you talk in the context of change management or broader transformation, our work has been more and more about helping the employees to learn from the startups. This has helped them to become better at facing whatever challenge may lie ahead of them.

Many times the management is a bit worried that the employees may not have enough time to work with the startups. Our experience is that the employees love to work with the startups and find the time if there’s good support for them. Also, we’ve found that it’s not just the innovation people, but everyone in the organization that wants to join from customer care to sales and tech. After working with startups many corporate employees have told us that the work with startups has given them new boost on working with the other things, as well.

The other interesting thing has been the work we’ve done for the ex-employees of Microsoft and Nokia. These companies have laid-off thousands of employees in Finland over the past couple of years. As a Finnish company we wanted to see if we could use our business coaching and accelerator model to help them to find their new path in life as entrepreneurs. In great co-operation with both Microsoft and Nokia, we’ve coached hundreds of ex-employees from these companies. Some have become entrepreneurs, some have gone to work in small companies and some are just using the entrepreneurial mindset to pursue whatever else they want in life (read more in Finnish). Not everyone has ended up being a growth company entrepreneur, but we have found it important give back a little by using our expertise to help them.

Nestholma's startup accelerator and entrepreneurship coaching model.

Business leadership and HR can drive the change with startups

Still, what started out as an interesting experiment and an effort to share our knowledge, turned out to be one of the biggest learnings for Nestholma. This experience in coaching the entrepreneurs has helped us to develop a deep understanding on how to help also the employees still working inside a corporation to change. In fact, we find ourselves increasingly in the same tables with the business leadership and HR. They want concrete business results fast, but they also want to make sure it’s not just what I sometimes call an innovation band-aid. They want to see sustainable impact in the entire organization and business as well as sustainable renewal of the company.

Business leadership and HR want to make sure the entire company is able to quickly

  • adapt to new market conditions
  • find out what are the problems worth solving
  • learn new skills while they are working
  • move effortlessly between different types of internal and external operational models (startups, internal ventures, line organization etc.)
  • reinvigorate the employees to pursue new paths in their personal professional growth
  • turn high level strategic goals into real business initiatives

And we’re very happy to be there. With our two-part accelerator and entrepreneurship coaching model, we can provide the tools to tackle these needs and more. The great thing is that this is also the best way to help the startups learn and succeed.

Topi Järvinen @topij

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Let’s talk how Nestholma can help to renew your entire company and find new businesses with startups and beyond.

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Posted by & filed under Entrepreneurship, Mentoring, Startups.

As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably been mingling in startup events. You have probably met knowledgeable people, with experience in areas where you and your team are quite lost. And you should take every chance to talk to them. Many of those events — or accelerators, or incubators — call such people ‘mentors’. They are likely to share with you their opinions on your ideas, as well as give you interesting tips.

But tips are… well, the tip of the iceberg (sorry for the terrible pun). Tweet this. They might be missing context information about your business. They might not know about your market. They might not understand your idea, maybe even because you don’t understand it. Or you might just not have the time to get into the juicy details.
We believe that mentoring shouldn’t stop there. Tweet about this!

You need to build a relationship

It’s much more valuable for both sides — the mentor and the startup — to have a longer discussion, where both sides have something at stake. This makes sure that the mentor understands well the startup. It gives the mentor a reason to look more into the specific market or business of the startup. It gives the startup the chance of knowing the rationale behind the mentor’s thinking, and when and how to apply it to their business.

Of course, our mentors also attend events to meet the startups, but that is often only the beginning of a relationship. At the end of the day, for entrepreneurs, it also pays off to go beyond one-night-stands with some people.

 

When we match startups and mentors, we try to make sure that both of them will benefit, one way or another. And that requires knowing their needs and motivations very well. They typically discuss a few times about the startup’s business, to see of they are a good match. At the end of the day, with a good advisor, you want to make sure that there is some “chemistry” between you. Tweet this.

At that point, both have gotten a bit better, but there’s still a long road to go.

You need to make it stick

If you really want a mentor to contribute to your startup, you need to be serious about it. If you’re asking the person to give you tips every now and then, it will stay like that: tips every now and then. That means that the entrepreneur is treating mentoring as a hobby. Even if the mentor is happy to do that for a while, on a midterm they’re likely to find another hobby.

If you want to be high on the mentor’s priority list, you need to make the mentor be an extension of your team: an advisor. Tweet this.

Our expectation when we match startups and mentors is that, if things work out, the mentor becomes an advisor of the startup. They explicitly discuss how much dedication the mentor will have: it can range from a meeting per month to having a secondary role in the company.

They also explicitly discuss a compensation, e.g. a percentage of shares of the company, provided the advisor stays with the company for a number of years. It’s important to find a level in which both parts feel that the compensation is fair and that the relationship could go on indefinitely. You want to make sure that if the company wins, everybody involved wins as well. Tweet this.

You need to know what you’re getting

Advisors can be very different to each other. There are several roles that they can take. Advisors can be:

  • Great coaches for the founder team, and making them think about the right things. Tweet this. They will make use of their experience to make sure you are considering the right factors, but they will not push you in any particular direction. They are likely to focus on your development — as an entrepreneur or as company — instead of the direction that you’re taking.
  • Great sounding boards: you can tell them what your plans and ideas are, and they will give you a reality check based on their experience and industry knowledge. Tweet this. Everybody believes their own ideas, sometimes you need somebody else to confirm or defy your thoughts.
  • Great door openers. One thing you need in a startup is contacts, and some people are particularly gifted at connecting you to the relevant people. Tweet this. It might be potential customers, it might be companies that can help you grow, or it might be people that you don’t know yet how they will help you.
  • Investors in the company. And some of them help you in funding rounds later on. In any case, some advisors are particularly useful for you to find resources for your startup.

 

Most of them end up being some combination of all of those. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand the value that different advisors are bringing (and to look for the right ones). At the end of the day, your advisor is part of your extended team, and that’s one of the most important success factors in a startup.

In short, the best mentors are the ones that will become advisors of your startup if things go right. Tweet this.

Dr. Daniel Collado-Ruiz, @ErCollao

Do you like the content? Do you disagree? Are you interested in hearing more about other related stuff? Drop us a line in the comments or on twitter, and let’s chat!

 

You might be also interested in: One-night stands, dating and marriage – 3 phases of working with startups

 

 

Posted by & filed under Customers, Entrepreneurship, Startups.

You’re an entrepreneurial individual, and you have an absolutely brilliant idea. Should you talk to others about it? And how much should you tell? Of course you should! At the moment, your business idea is only in your head. And everything makes sense there. You need to cross-check with reality. It’s going to be hard… but also necessary.

I know what you’re thinking — many people ask it in our workshops — “what if somebody steals my idea”? But… really, is that a risk at all?

In the early stages of your startup, people are not likely to understand your business idea at all.

NDA product startup idea

 

Sure, they’ll get a general vague idea. And they’ll tell you they understand. Because they’re nice (or IF they’re nice). But they’ll be missing the big picture. And why is that?

  • Firstly, you’re probably hiding most of the information. There is so much you take for granted. So many assumptions. All the know-how that you need to make sense of the idea. All those things that seem so obvious to you, that you have problems articulating. Talking to others, you will find out what your assumptions are. Tweet about it!
  • Secondly, you probably don’t have such a clear idea as you think. You’re probably quick to imagine details of your solution. But that doesn’t mean that you know about your business, that means you can imagine very fast. Others won’t. It’s a good sign if others they believe in your startup idea half as much as you do! Tweet about it!
  • Finally, they’re not going to drop everything to pursue your idea. Everybody’s doing something, be it our job, starting our own company, etc.. If somebody is so inspired by your business idea, you might be better off getting them to be a co-founder before they get busy with something else. People don’t have the time, the understanding or the skill set to steal your startup idea! Tweet about this!

Think about it: if after talking with you for a couple of minutes, somebody can steal your idea and beat you, you don’t really have such a great idea. Tweet about this! As Mark Cuban said, ideas are overrated, it’s the execution that counts.

This doesn’t mean that you should be that annoying guy that keeps constantly blabbing about their business. That won’t get you anywhere. The person talking can only learn from him or herself (and they rarely do).

So, how should we talk to people?

The whole purpose of talking to a lot of people is to get to listen to a lot of people. Tweet about this!

Entrepreneurs have the tendency to explain their business, to try to prove how smart they are. By doing that, they defeating the purpose of the conversation. Instead, try to really understand the person in front of you. How do they feel the problem that you’re solving? Do they know people who have that pain? How do they currently deal with that? What experience do they have? What ideas do they have?

Listening talking to your customers your idea

You’ll soon also run into the question:

Who should you talk to (or rather listen to)?

I personally think you should listen to many. Take any chance to get more understanding about anything related to your business. And worst case scenario, you’ll be training your skills in asking questions. Don’t look for confirmation of your own ideas: you’ll only end up tricking yourself. Instead, ask questions and understand how the person in front of you thinks. You’ll be surprised how much information you get. Tweet about this!

Now a different thing is how many people you should listen to. You should only pay attention to some. If the person in front of you is your customer, then you should definitely listen to them. If they know your customer, you should listen to them a bit less (and go to the original source instead). You should end up speaking your customer’s language fluently.

And if they’re not at all your customer, you shouldn’t care too much about their opinions. Tweet about this!

They might give you some insights, or some pointers to interesting stuff. But their opinion is no better informed than yours (and often worse). Even if they’re friends or family. Especially if they are. The fact that they’re related to you doesn’t make them an expert on your startup. It only means that they care about you, which is likely to bias their answer in one way or another. Even if you listen to many, you should follow the advice of very few. Make sure you always check for yourself and go to the source: your customers. Tweet about this!

 

Millenials talking to your customers idea false information

 

In short: listen to many, pay attention to some, follow the advice of very few. Tweet about this!

Dr. Daniel Collado-Ruiz, @ErCollao

Do you like the content? Do you disagree? Are you interested in hearing more about other related stuff? Drop us a line in the comments or on twitter, and let’s chat!

 

You might also be interested in: How to pitch to investors to get funding?

 

Posted by & filed under Entrepreneurship, Startups, Team.

An often undervalued part of building a successful startup is the team. Many entrepreneurs just hire their friends and people around them without giving much thought on what they can really bring to the table and if the combination of skills, experiences, personalities etc. is right at all. They forget that it is an important if not even the most important part of becoming a successful startup.

Like Guy Kawasaki famously said: “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” And successful implementation is all dependent on the team. It does not matter how great the idea is if they cannot pull it through. Actually, it often is better to have just a “good enough”  idea and a great (or promising) team as a starting point than the opposite.

It doesn’t matter how great your idea is if your team cannot pull it through. Tweet!

 

Even more important than the business idea?

You are going to hear the same gospel about the importance of the team also when talking to any VC investment professional or experienced serial entrepreneur. In fact, it is often seen even as the main asset of the startup. You might even get the impression that the value of the” obvious” core i.e. the business idea or product, is downplayed. This is not the case, but the team is as much core as the value proposition and product.

Building the team and company is like institutionalizing the right thing to do to do things right. You build an engine to do and repeat what seems to resonate with the real, validated market need. Steve Blank talks about startup as “ … a temporary organization looking for a repeatable and scalable business model.” Building a great team is one important step in getting the engine working. Unfortunately for many entrepreneurs, it is not that obvious.

Why the importance of teams is so misunderstood?

One of the reasons for that is that many (if not most) of the commonly used business tools don’t cover the team properly. Take for example the Lean Canvas. From it, we learn that a well-functioning business model with all the ingredients in place calls for the right balance: value proposition and solution resonating with the real market need, channels built to paying customers and so on. However, the Lean Canvas only regards the team as cost element. But why? Don’t they see the importance? Yes, they do, but you must keep in mind what the canvas is about: helping to iterate and find the right product-market fit. So, it does not downplay the role of the team, you just need to remember to cover it separately.

So, remember to not only focus on building the business model, product and what have you, but also building a team that can execute it all. After all, it is all about execution.

Posted by & filed under Accelerator, Entrepreneurship, Funding, Investing, workshop.

Pitching to investors to get funding can be scary. Typical professional investor listens to hundreds of pitches every year, and this makes them busy and impatient. If you don’t make it easy for them to understand why you are the next big thing, they’ll throw you out. You have to earn every second with the investor. Here’s the simple pitch deck structure that the Nestholma startups have been using successfully when pitching to investors for funding.

When you get a meeting with an investor for 20 minutes, don’t expect it to last for 20 minutes. It’ll last as long as the investor thinks you’re interesting. If you have five minutes to pitch on stage, don’t expect the investors to listen for the entire time. If you’re not making sense, they’ll start looking at their phones while waiting for the next pitch. Investors value their time – make sure you value it, as well.

You need to deliver the punchline right in the beginning: what is your big idea, what is the real problem you’re solving and how you do it. Tweet this!

If these seem interesting, only then the investors want to listen to the details and consider funding you. Start with these three first:

1. The elevator pitch needs to say the essentials in 10 seconds

Bankiton pitching for funding at Nestholma Demo DayIn the first 10 seconds you need to convince the listener that you have something interesting to say. Saying your value proposition is a great starting line. Personally, I’m fond of Steve Blank’s value proposition formula “We help X do Y by doing Z”. You need to get the investor excited and curious to hear more why you should get funding from them. The investor may only listen to this!

2. Problem worth solving and funding

What is the problem that needs to be solved (not all problems are like that)? How have you validated that the problem really exists? Don’t over-do this, but make sure that the investor can understand what you are solving and why. If you want to tell a short personal story, this is the place to do it – not in the beginning.

3. Solution that customers are willing to pay for

How can you solve the validated problem in a way that customers are willing to pay for? Be as concrete and specific as possible. Screenshots, workflows or even a short video are great. Stay away from meaningless jargon, such as “Our solution provides unprecedented ease of use and scalability”.

Now you’ve covered the most important things. If you’re still in the room, you can go into details in your pitch to get funding from investors.

4. Real and addressable market and customers

Your opinion about the market doesn’t matter. Numbers are great but explain clearly what is the significance to your business. “We are working in a $3 billion market” may sound nice, but it is meaningless fluff. Show your traction or explain the logic for getting the customers (deals in place, access to customers or distribution channels etc.). Testimonials are always good. When you have a paying or just a potential customer (at early stages) say nice things about you, it’s always powerful.

5. Revenue model for monetizing the value you provide

If you solve a real problem, the customer will want to pay for it. It can be with money, their data, time or, for example, with services that they provide in turn. Give a clear outline of how your company makes money with the idea. What value are your customers paying for, how much and often and who are your partners etc? Focus on the logic. The details – such as $4.99 or $9.99 a month – may change.

Especially at early stages, it’s more important to convince the investors that the logic behind the revenue model makes sense. Tweet this!

6. Your unfair advantage that keeps others away from your market

Do you have something that competitors don’t have or cannot get easily? Be critical about this! It has to be something unique, or don’t say anything. It can be existing deals, IPR or, for example, unique experience. It’s not “great and committed team”. Not everyone has an unfair advantage in the beginning (just think about Google or Facebook in the early days). For an investor, it’s an added benefit but not a showstopper if you don’t have it.

7. Marketing and getting customers

How do you reach your customers? This not a list of the obvious channels (blog, some, Adwords, PR etc.), but your recipe for success. Everyone uses social media channels, but how will you make them work for you? Explain in your pitch what are the most important channels to reach your specific customer base. What is the cost or, for example, conversion rate you’ve validated? Does your product have a growth engine or can you use some clever growth hacking tactic to boost your growth?

8. Why are you better aka positioning

The thing about what makes you unique and why your customers are paying for your product. Make a 2X2 matrix the two most important things in your product as the x- and y-axes. Place your company and the competitors on the matrix. The aim is to give an easy way to see how you compare with others at a glance. You can provide the feature-by-feature comparisons to investors as background materials if requested.

9. Running the business with the numbers

Provide an overview of the business with a simple cash-low estimate. Don’t just make Excel fantasies. Justify the numbers with deals, traction, benchmarks, sales funnel, customer development etc. Your business logic is more important than the plain numbers. Remember that these may end up in the actual funding decision, so don’t treat them lightly.

Don’t show Excel fantasies to investors! You need to justify the numbers with data. Tweet this!

10. The team worth funding

Explain why you have the perfect mix of people and way of working. Why can make a big business out of the idea? Show the core team, but also mention interesting advisors, investors or board members. Unless you have 100 people and a real organization, don’t use titles like SVP of Product. That may sound nice to your mother, but for an investor, it sounds funny. Most investors will tell you that the team is one of the – if not the – most important thing in funding decisions. Therefore sometimes startups start with their team slide. I’d advise against this unless the investors know the team members. Another “greatest full-stack developer in the world” is interesting only if you have a good idea. But if you have Mark Zuckerberg in your team, put that on the cover slide.

11. Roadmap and how you’ll use the funding

Present a timeline that shows what you are going to do and how much money you need for each step. Explain how you are planning to use the investors’ money. Pay also attention also to working capital needs if your solution has, for example, hardware unit costs. Make sure that the roadmap and spending is aligned with your overall message. It sounds strange if you claim to have the best developer team, and now you say that you need to hire more developers. You may need them, but you need to have justified the new hires with, for example, the market opportunity.

12. Make the last words count

We remember the first and last things. Don’t waste time and space on Thank you’s or contact details. They’ll find them if needed. Instead, end with your value proposition. It reminds the investor why you are interesting, what value you provide. And why they should join the ride.

Collectly pitching at Nestholma event

 

Every investor has their own preferences for the pitch content. Depending on your company stage, you will be expected to deliver different types of things. Also, take into account who are the persons in your audience. What interests them, do they like technical details, numbers or something else? Before every investor meeting, make sure you find out what is the expectation. Talk to their portfolio companies, read their blog posts and tweets or just ask the investors.

This blog post is based on one of the more than 20 workshops run during Nestholma’s accelerator program.Check out also how our startups pitch to investors at our Demo Day.

Topi Järvinen @topij