When Joshua, our young entrepreneur, was 17 years old he had an opportunity to pitch his product idea to two experienced entrepreneurs who had just left a successful company to start their own development and digital marketing firm. These guys were well known and respected in their field. Initially, they agreed to speak with Joshua as a favor to me to help us decide whether Joshua’s app idea was viable and worth pursuing. Joshua sent them some information on his product and business plan, and they all three eventually ended up around our kitchen table to discuss it. They quickly realized that Joshua had done his homework. He knew the market, the customer segments, how to implement and market the product, and he thoroughly understood the technology that would deliver the features that customers wanted. He was prepared, and because he was, he earned their respect and got their attention with his pitch.
So what can young entrepreneurs learn from his experience?
- Know the product – Joshua spent hundreds of hours researching phone technology, app features, and UX/UI design before this meeting. He had the original idea when he was 15 but didn’t have the coding experience to do it himself. As part of his pitch, he had simulated screen shots, a list of features that he knew, based on his coding and phone technology research, could be developed, and some customer data to help validate whether this was something potential customers would be interested in.
- Know the market – Joshua’s idea was an app that combined the features of console based first person shooter games and outdoor games like paintball and airsoft. This was a hybrid product that didn’t exactly fit in either existing market. Instead, if successful, it could create a whole new market that combined the most popular features of games in the two existing markets. Essentially, he had to research both markets and understand everything there was to know about crossover gamers who were active in both console and outdoor gaming. Further, he needed to understand what it would take for gamers who played only in one market to cross over to the other.
- Know how to communicate your idea – Having a good idea is not enough. Lots of good ideas never see the light of day because their originators can’t create a compelling story that explains in simple terms what their product does, why it matters, and also gets customers excited about it. Knowing your audience and hours and hours of practice are the keys to making this work.
Ultimately, the two guys Joshua pitched around our kitchen table, Joe Saumweber and Michael Paladino, the cofounders of RevUnit, liked his product idea. They were impressed that he already knew the answers to tough questions about the product, market, and development plan. Their confidence in Joshua’s ability to make this work grew as the conversation continued. So much so that they eventually agreed to become cofounders in Innovis Labs and build the product with Joshua.
THE TAKEAWAY: Despite the apparent overnight successes in startup land, there is no substitute for the hard work it takes to be successful. Thousands of hours of research on product development, market research, pitch practice, etc . . . . Turns out that the old saying about luck being the result of when preparation meets opportunity is actually true. Opportunity is often serendipitous and you can’t always create it. However, there is no excuse for not being prepared and that is completely up to us.