Nail it before you scale it

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from The Meaford Group written by Peter Smith (LinkedIn). This post was originally published in January 28, 2012 on The Meaford Group.

The Homer by Carlos Bisquertt © 2007

I love working with Robin Hopper, my co-EIR at the Innovation Factory, for the simple fact that the guy has more catchy cool acronyms and phrases that make me sound so smart when I repeat them. “Nail it before you Scale it” is one of his latest.

Put simply, too many start-ups try to scale their marketing and sales organization before they have nailed their value proposition and the sales story that goes along with it. The consequences can be disastrous.  Over a beer, ask Robin about the story of how he blew through $3,000,000 in investment capital on one of his early start-ups because he expanded too early without really having the customer-compelling value proposition figured out.

Howard Gwin talks about the need for first time founders to create momentum and velocity in order to overcome the investor bias against funding first-time teams. (The Three P’s of a Technology Company). If you haven’t read his blog, do so now. He offers sage advice to wait before seeking VC funding until you have “proof points and a traction story that is damn near breathtaking”. Beyond that, don’t fall into the trap of trying to create that momentum before you fully understand why the market wants your technology and how you package it for consistent, reliable and predictable sales.

At the Innovation Factory, we work with many start-ups. Most go through one or more “Pivots” before they find the kernel at the core of their product or idea that will really sell.  Unfortunately, some will never find it because even though the idea or technology was interesting or cool, the product will never be compelling to an intensely competitive marketplace. Good entrepreneurs figure this out fast and kill the idea but then move on to another.

I recently met one of these entrepreneurs. He built and sold his first company when he was 19 for $100,000. (It may not sound like much but I wish I had a hundred grand when I was 19). His second company was a professional services company. He built it, had success and then killed it because he realized he could never scale it fast enough to fulfill his dream. His third company was a software company and dealt with project management infrastructure. The idea and technology were good but the market was crowded and more importantly, the sales process would be long. There also were too many factors out of his company’s control in the value chain of customers getting value from his product. He had arranged Angel funding and was ready to launch but instead he listened to advice and killed the company before taking the investment. His fourth company looks like a winner. It is in a hot space, has uniqueness, has the ability to scale quickly around a solid value proposition and he has surrounded himself with a good team. He has also already pivoted at least once on his value prop in order to get ready for traction.

So, if you are early in your game, my advice to you is simple:
  1. Figure out your value prop
  2. Keep pivoting it and your company until you have proof points that you can create massive momentum and traction quickly
  3. Use Friends & Family and Angel funding to keep you going through these phases
  4. Then go talk to VC’s.

In other words, “Nail it before you Scale it.”

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from The Meaford Group written by Peter Smith (LinkedIn). This post was originally published in January 28, 2012 on The Meaford Group.