August 14, 2012
The 11th Annual Founder Showcase hosted by the Founder Institute – an early-stage worldwide startup accelerator – occurred at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Campus in July. The showcase is a quarterly startup pitch and networking event in Silicon Valley focused on launching promising startups. Here is the first of two posts highlighting key takeaways from the event.
Key lessons from VCs and entrepreneurs about what it takes to build a product that will be funded:
1. “VCs want products that solve broad solutions.” – James Chan, Trinity Ventures. Niche markets will only take you so far, think about the big picture. What can your product provide for the world? Whatever you're building, “go bolder, focus on the ‘change the world’ potential!” – George Zachary, Charles River Ventures
2. “You need to own the content your product presents, not just the functionality.” – Rob Coneybeer, Shasta Ventures. Focus on what you can provide without having to source your product’s resources – it can be messy to have to rely on other products. If your product is aggregating content from other sources, ensure that the content you're aggregating is as reliable as your product’s functionality. You need to focus on controllable variables.
3. “When building an API, focus on helping developers get through the noise.” – James Chan, Trinity Ventures. Your API should help your business grow, so make sure that it’s clear and concise.
4. “Make a dead simple product that can be distributed and shared by end users, and then use virality as your distribution model.” – Aaron Levie, Co-Founder & CEO of Box. Follow the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid!
5. “Feature parity with other sites will never work because they are always 10 steps ahead of you.” – Kevin Rose, Founder of Digg, now at Google Ventures. Be innovative and out-of-the box. Ensure that your product is unique and provides a value that hasn’t already infiltrated the market.
6. How you price your product is essential; price implies value. Think about the different models. “Subscriptions options aren’t the best way to start because people want to try without committing.” – Jed M. Katz, Javelin Venture Partners. Think about how you’ll build your user base and revenue … are freemium or in-app purchase models an option?
7. Burst the hypothesis – use the scientific method to question if your product will really work. “Get all the criticisms, find out all of the challenges, and if your mind is still set, then it’s probably a good idea.” – Noah Doyle, Javelin Venture Partners
8. Leadership is not about doing all the work. Ensure that you to get the best performance out of your team – stand for quality and the threshold to make things perfect!
And remember, if you need advice, ask for help:
“The great thing about Silicon Valley is that it’s not necessarily a place, it’s a frame of mind, and typically people are very helpful. So if you are thinking about being an entrepreneur or trying to kick around ideas, reaching out to people in the spaces or sectors that you know you want to have a play in is the first step. Reach out. Don’t be shy. Usually people are very giving. You’ll be surprised at how much people want you to succeed.” – Chris Gottschalk, Blumberg Capital
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