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Marketing a Startup Business (1 of 3)

author’s note: I was recently asked about this essay, first published in 2000, so I thought I’d trot it back out as a series of posts. Written near the end of the dot-com boom, it still has some resonance, even with internal IT projects … jpm


Getting that terrific startup idea that has real business potential can be the easiest and the hardest part of going entrepreneurial. It’s fun to bat about ideas, look into new and exciting technologies, and chat with potential partners – but sooner or later, it all needs to be molded into an actionable, realistic business proposal.

Typically, you’re looking at the seed of a promising idea, possibly ownership or control of some critical technologies, and a few preliminary business contacts. However, that usually isn’t enough to get other folks to jump into your risky venture as employees, customers, or investors.

What you need is:

  • A clear vision – and an effective way to communicate it!
  • A commercial goal – what is the business model?
  • A list of key roles – people and talents that are critical in getting this venture launched

At this point, rattling off your visions and goals from memory won’t cut it. Sooner or later, you need to capture these critical foundation pieces “on paper” – so your ideas can grow and mature, achieve consistency, and market your ideas and vision when you’re not around.

The Critical Path

How do we capture and market our “big idea”?

  1. Create the Vision / Pitch for the “Product”: A compelling, consistent, specific, and repeatable explanation of your business idea – should include:
  • An “elevator speech”: can you describe the product and the business, succinctly and completely, in about a minute? Can you snag my interest with a relevant hook? Can everyone in your organization deliver the same message consistently? Your audience is the decision maker and/or prospective employee / team member; imagine catching a ride in an elevator with them. You’ve got a captive audience – before the doors open, can you engage them, entice them to ask for more?
  • An “executive summary” presentation: given a bit more time – maybe 15 minutes in person or on paper – can you summarize the idea, outline the business plan, and ask for something (time commitment, the sale, investment $$) without overloading on detail? Your audience is the decision maker and/or prospective employee / team member.
  • A “technical white paper”: Now that you’ve got their attention, you need to describe your “trick” in more detail. Is this a unique technology? Business model? Process? Note that this is not the business plan – your audience is the technical staff or domain expert that needs to understand how this new method / process works, and how it might fit into the current way of doing things.

Armed with these key idea-marketing tools, you can now

  1. Define and Engage a Team to flesh out your business plan. There are many details that need to be included; market and competitive analysis, technical and process architecture, financial projections, and the commercialization strategy.
  2. Capture and Resolve Critical Commercialization Issues
  3. Create and Update the Business Plan
  4. Drive to Commitment from investors and customers

next … constructing an effective executive summary

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