Last week’s Ultra Light Startups Investor Forum proved another exercise in highlighting the importance of understanding not just how your company started, but where it’s going. Investors John Ason, Bradley Harrison, Habib Kairouz, and Mediabistro founder-turned-angel-investor Laurel Touby repeatedly asked (and jovially quarreled over) how the evening’s presenting entrepreneurs were turning their ideas into grounded businesses, and how they could solve more problems through them than their original visions of success might allow. In other words: think bigger.
In a shifting tech landscape, too slim a pitch can obscure otherwise perfectly viable business ideas and innovations. Alex Cooper’s underbanking solution Rezzcard, which provides users a “proxy” credit card and electronic account to securely pay for and monitor their rent payments, could add much-needed control and greater accessibility to the murky paper trails associated with money orders. Duy Huynh’s virtual marketplace API, lookboard, is also in the business of streamlining the norm, offering a service that allows business owners to find specialized vendors and products for their own wholesale storefronts. While both services offered a tidier solution to conduct traditional business, both product pitches didn’t explicitly reveal how either was adaptive enough to disrupt their respective markets, while providing an alternative sense of value to consumers. As both products rely on more traditional processing fees and commissions, Touby encouraged them to better manage the digital and physical aspects of their products to find additional, sustainable means of revenue.
For FitBark founder Michael Chiang, whose canine-calibrated pedometer allows dog owners to monitor their pets’ health, the path to revenue growth meant protecting his nascent brand from having its thunder stolen. While Chiang’s unrealized product space has led him to explore ways of using his system’s collected doggie data to leverage partnerships with veterinarians and pet brands first, Harrison noted that the technology might be simple enough to leave room for formidable imitators.
Even one of the night’s most actualized products, key storage service KeyMe, was encouraged to diversify its already public services beyond producing keys. When CEO Greg Marsh described the company’s soon-to-go national key-cutting kiosks as able to support more than their own software, Kairouz urged him to rally developer support to service them, creating apps that can provide supplementary revenue beyond their core product.
Better opportunity proved to not only be a matter of nimble revenue streams, but equally flexible identities. The panel urged Will Sacks to expand on the service of Kindara, a Bluetooth thermometer marketed to women that allows them to monitor fertility and hormonal tendencies through temperature patterns, which can be stored and measured through a free coinciding smartphone app. When realizing that the hardware strictly measured temperature, the panel suggested that repurposing the thermometer’s app to track more types of biometric data can broaden its capability and potential install base.
Knowing your enemy while striving for market traction can help in securing a noticeable identity in the marketplace. Kairouz thought Nicos Hadjiangelis’ online urgent care service, Blitzcare, needed more than simply an Internet-based presence to edge out telephone competitors in other regions, while Harrison urged Hadjiangelis to build a network of physicans beyond himself to better manage and treat patients, a move that would also lend greater credibility and confidence to the product.
Davin Daly’s 3D imaging company Glyphr clearly knew where it stood among its competitors when touting how its proprietary robotic photo technology delivers clearer images for tablet-based magazine content, but the panel told Daly to apply focus to products beyond that space, keeping the company free from the wax and wane of any sole market – especially the still-burgeoning print-to-digital market.
With his personalized video newsletter service, RUKUS, Chris DiNicolas was also encouraged to further elaborate on its functionality, which would not only better serve the platform’s original intent, but would also clarify the “call to action” of each message for individual consumers, allowing them to immediately see the appeal and function of their carefully-curated messages.
Active angels and venture capitalists aren’t looking for distinction for distinction’s sake. It’s a matter of providing a product’s backers – and customers – with deeper, more lasting value.
Image credit: CC by Gilles LEFEUVRE