Seedcamp in London

Seedcamp is an innovative program that brings experienced entreprenuers together with a batch of several promising new startups from all over Europe for a week of mentoring.  The best of these startup receive 50,000 pounds, but the mentoring is worth far more than that…  Seedcamp provides a fantastic model for any region trying to replicate the startup ecology that has helped Silicon Valley thrive.

In addition to mentoring several of the startups directly, I also had an opportunity to present to the full group yesterday.  Here are the slides I presented:

Quick Thoughts from TC50: SeatGeek

My favorite startup from the third session at TC50 was SeatGeek.  Overall SeatGeek appears to have a strong value proposition – “buy event tickets at the right time and save substantially over the peak price.”  It’s very similar to farecast, but for event tickets (sports, concerts, etc.).  The product, market and business all seem to work/fit since SeatGeek is already profitable.  The big question for a startup that reaches profitability and overcomes these big challenges is: Can it scale?

Based on their stated metrics, net proceeds from the average transaction to them is around $50 (10% of $500).  Once they’ve acquired a user, lifetime value could be substantial (if we assume 10 transactions over their lifetime, lifetime value would be pushing $500).  Within that allowable acquisition cost, there should be many scalable marketing opportunities. 

I may have missed it, but I didn’t hear them address the specific way they would market the business.  My assumption is that they would market primarily through search (both SEO and SEM).  Given the breadth of events, there should be several keywords to test in order to find profitable, scalable customer acquisition channels.  They also have strong alternative monetization ideas to further improve their allowable acquisition cost and/or profit per customer.

One potential competitor is FanSnap, which is a price comparison engine on tickets across sites.  I believe the primary improvement SeatGeek brings is a price predictor, since according to SeatGeek prices often drop.

Quick Thoughts from TC50: ToyBots

It’s a bit strange that I’ve picked another “kids targeted” startup from the second batch of  startups as my favorite – kids are a notoriously difficult market to acquire online.  But in the case of ToyBots, I believe they are targeting a fantastic opportunity. It is likely that connected toys will be the next generation in toys and I love their example of having grandma read a story to the grandkids through the toy. 

I believe Webkinz laid out a good marketing roadmap for this type of startup.  My kids couldn’t walk into a Justice (previously called Limited Too) without asking for another Webkinz.  I didn’t mind buying a stuffed animal, but am a little more hesitant to offer the kids my credit card for online purchases.  From a business perspective, I was intrigued when my kids ripped off the virtual currency and threw the toy into the corner – never to be played with again.

ToyBots can create a tighter link between toys and a web experience than Webkinz, but leverage the same types of marketing channels. My recommendation would be to link the licensing to the marketing opportunities.  The toy makers already have great distribution, but very few subscription opportunities.  ToyBots can improve the ongoing engagement with kids for each toy manufacturer – increasing monetization opportunities and possibly creating a direct customer acquisition opportunity for manufactures to cross promote new toys.

It’s difficult to know how much progress they’ve achieved, but announced partnerships suggest that this isn’t a half baked idea.

Quick thoughts from TC 50: ToonsTunes

I’m at TC50 and plan to write quick thoughts about demos that catch my attention.  This is very “on the fly” so it will be pretty rough. I’ll try to clean it up later.   Videos of the demos will be posted online, so I’ll add links when they are available.

ToonsTunes is my first…

  • Who needs it/why?(They claim to be targeting Tweens, but the demo looked like it would appeal to a younger demographic.  I think children 7-12 would probably enjoy this product, but would want to validate with research.)
  • Product progress? (Great graphics, looks well developed.)
  • Are they willing to pay for it/how/how much? (business model)
    • Freemium (enhanced), Sponsorship, Merchandise
    • I’d recommend premium subscriptions to save music
  • Are there realistic ways to acquire users within economic constraints? (marketing)
    • Viral (via parents social networks) – this is a great idea.
    • I’d also recommend marketing via popular sites for kids.
  • Is the likely cost of acquiring users plus marginal cost of service less than value per user? (business economics) – This would require a lot more exploration.  But I like their idea of giving parents the ability to display their kid’s work via FB, etc.  Not sure about licensing costs to music labels if they “borrow” from popular songs.

When Should a Startup Start Charging?

I’ve recently changed my long held belief that all startups should charge immediately upon the release of a new product.  I now believe that non-enterprise targeted startups should only charge once you have achieved product/market fit.  As explained in this earlier post, I define product/market fit as at least 40% of your active users saying they would be “very disappointed” if they could no longer use your product.

The evolution in my thinking to charge only after product/market fit is based on finally working with some “normal startups.”  The first five startups I helped take to market all amazingly achieved product/market on the initial release.  For these startups it was right to encourage a quick implementation of the business model.  However, for startups that haven’t yet found product/market fit, a business model can hinder the process of figuring out how to deliver value.  Users are forced to quickly decide if the product is worth the financial investment (and we already know it’s probably not since most wouldn’t be “very disappointed” without the product – when free).

It is safest to assume you won’t have product/market fit right out of the gate.  If your initial release hits (think winning the lottery), then you can quickly implement your business model as you transition to a growth company.

If however, you are like most startups, you will spend an undefined period of time engaging users and evolving your product to better meet their needs.  When surveys tell you that you’ve reached product/market fit, the final validation is charging for your product (or a version of it).

It’s Different for Enterprise Targeted Startups

For startups targeting enterprises, it actually does make sense to charge before reaching product/market fit.  This is the best way to help the enterprise figure out how to get value from your product (somebody on the inside will be motivated to work with you to unlock value since they’ve already spent the budget).  If you haven’t charged anything, your attempts to engage the customer and find value are likely to be perceived as an aggressive sales annoyance rather than genuinely helpful.

Growing Your Startup with a Business Model

Startups often delay implementing a business model claiming “we’re focused on growth right now.” But once you’ve achieved product/market fit, most startups will grow faster with a business model (I wrote a post on this earlier).  A business model gives you rational constraints within which you can execute very aggressively – otherwise you are held back by fear that you may be wasting money on paid marketing programs.

Without a business model, you don’t know if your business is real.  Of course some prefer to hope that a business model implemented in the future might work rather than know that one implemented today doesn’t work.  If you are truly offering value (have achieved product/market fit), then there is a business model that will work.  The only way to find it is to start experimenting.