All posts by April Dunford

About April Dunford

April is a marketing executive with a broad range of experience at technology companies. She specializes in bringing new solutions to to market including messaging and positioning, market strategy,go to market planning and lead generation. April has a technical background (Systems Design Engineering) and deep practical experience in marketing, product marketing and sales.

7 Ways To Rock a Startup Accelerator Mentor Day

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur and marketing executive April Dunford who is currently the head of Enterprise Market Strategy for Huawei. April specializes in brining new products to market including messaging, positioning, market strategy, go-to-market planning and lead generation. She is one of the leading B2B/enterprise marketers in the world and we’re really lucky to be able to share here content with you. Follow her on Twitter  or RocketWatcher.com. This post was originally published in August 31, 2012 on RocketWatcher.com.

I spent the day yesterday at FounderFuel for their Mentor Day. If you aren’t familiar with FounderFuel they are a very successful startup accelerator based in Montreal. And what a day it was – 8 startups pitched and then did roundtable breakout sessions with over 50 mentors including VC’s, angel investors, entrepreneurs and senior executives. Here’s my mentor’s perspective on how a startup can really get the most out of a day like that:

1/ Pick your Target Mentors Ahead of Time: 50 mentors is a lot and they represented a wide cross section of folks that have deep experience in different consumer and business markets, and have a range of skills from technical expertise to sales, marketing, finance, and legal experience. Selecting a subset of the mentors with experience relevant to your business will help you target your discussions.A handful of the teams that needed marketing help reached out to me by email before the day and that helped to make sure that we connected at the session which I thought was pretty smart.

 7 Ways Rock a Startup Accelerator Mentor Day2/ Ask for Feedback on your Pitch: The mentors are both experienced pitch artists, and listen to pitches a lot. What better folks to give feedback on what worked and what didn’t work with the pitch you just gave? In this case the companies are all still in the early stages of the accelerator program so it’s a great time to get feedback that will improve the ultimate pitch you give on demo day. The feedback will also give you a feel for the differences in what an Angel investor might be looking for over what the more traditional VC’s are looking for in a pitch. “Tell me one thing that would have made my pitch better” or “What was missing from my pitch?” would both be great ways to start that discussion.

3/ Ask for Specific Help: The mentors are ready and willing to help but they can’t guess what you need. Coming with a set of specific requests helps shape the discussion in a way that is most helpful to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific introductions – even if the folks in the room don’t have the answers you need, chances are they know someone who does.

4/ Listen, Ask Questions (and Filter later): – The mentors yesterday came from really different backgrounds and had worked in a broad range of industries (consumer, gaming, retail, enterprise, financial services). Sure we’re all smart folks but you wouldn’t believe how different our opinons were about questions the startups were asking. For example, at my session with Openera – a tool for automatically organizing files and attachments –  we got into a discussion about selling to consumers versus enterprises as a starting point. I ALWAYS tilt toward enterprises when people ask me that because I know/love enterprise sales. The mentor beside me, Yona Shtern, the CEO from Beyond the Rack on the other hand thought selling B2C (or B2C2B) was just fine. Only Openera can decide who’s got smarter advice for their business (yeah OK, in this case it’s probably the smarty-pants Beyond the Rack guy but hey you get what I’m trying to say here). Another example – in the discussion with InfoActive (a very cool tool that lets you easily create beautiful interactive data visualizations), I immediately saw the applicability to creating interactive marketing materials. I’m a marketer, that’s the obvious use case for someone like me.  The mentor beside me (James Duncan, CTO at Inktank) on the other hand saw the value in selling to IT departments that needed a way to easily create good looking dashboards to help IT communicate to the business side of the house. That’s a great use case that a marketing person like me would be unlikely to immediately think of. Both ideas might be worth investigating but only InfoActive can really decide that. Avoiding “mentor whiplash”, as the FounderFuel gang refers to it, is a critical skill for startups in accelerators that have deep rosters of active mentors. Remember too that time is limited so you don’t want to waste it having a long debate with a single mentor over a specific point. Listen, probe a bit if you need to, and then move on. You can always schedule follow-on time with a specific mentor to explore an idea later.

5/ Take Notes:  You put a couple of CEO’s a VC, a senior exec and a CTO at a table together and guess what happens? We talk. A lot. Not only that but the conversation moves very quickly from one point of view to the next. Some teams were recording the sessions but the room was loud (did I mention we talk a lot?) and figuring out who said what later might be a challenge by voice alone. Having someone taking notes is a good idea to make sure that you’re capturing ideas as they are flowing.

6/ Work the Edge Time: By far the best way to get 1 on 1 time with a mentor yesterday was to do it over the break or over lunch. That also gives the mentor a chance to ask questions they might not get a chance to in a round table session.

7/ Don’t Forget Everyone’s a Potential Investor : The VC’s are easy to spot (and there were a lot of them there) but most of the mentors I talked to are also doing a bit of angel investing as well. For companies at this stage anyone that’s willing to invest time with your company might also be likely to invest cash as well.

So there’s my advice. I’m sure the other mentors all have different opinions – yep, we’re funny that way.

Startup Marketing: Does the Competition Matter?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur and marketing executive April Dunford who is currently the head of Enterprise Market Strategy for Huawei. April specializes in brining new products to market including messaging, positioning, market strategy, go-to-market planning and lead generation. She is one of the leading B2B/enterprise marketers in the world and we’re really lucky to be able to share here content with you. Follow her on Twitter @aprildunford or RocketWatcher.com. This post was originally published in April 12, 2012 on RocketWatcher.com.

CC-BY-20 Some rights reserved by Paolo Camera
Attribution Some rights reserved by Paolo Camera

I have heard people make the argument that startups shouldn’t think about their competitors. I agree that many spend too much time worrying about how their feature set stacks up against another offering’s feature set. On the other hand, prospects are evaluating your solution against alternatives (which may not be products) and communicating how you are better than those alternatives is a key part of great startup marketing. Simply put – you should care about competitive alternatives if your prospects do.

Startups are not Big Companies

I very rarely see useful competitive analysis done by startup marketers, mainly because they are trying to do it like big companies do it. The big companies I’ve worked for have had departments dedicated to creating large detailed check mark matrices that showed how our feature set compared to competitive offerings. These matrices almost never included any feedback from customers. Needless to say, the products and their markets were very mature.

This approach completely falls apart within the context of a startup. Your competitors, from a customer point of view are almost never so easily defined. For startups, your offering is often competing with “do nothing”, “hire someone to do it”, use spreadsheets/documents/paper, or some other solution that might be completely unsuited to the task but is free/easy/what has always been used. Comparing features of one of these alternatives to your startup’s offering to makes absolutely no sense in this context.

A More Customer-Centric Approach

In the context of a startup the only competitive analysis that makes sense is the one that is happening in side the heads of your prospects. The more you understand about that, the more you can use that knowledge to improve your marketing.

Instead of the traditional competitive comparison matrix, a more useful competitive alternatives snapshot for a startup would look at what customers perceive to be the major benefits of the alternative, what risks they see that might stop them from choosing your solution and how you might address these issues in your messaging.

An Example

Here’s an example for CRMster, a fictional solution aimed at mid-sized consulting businesses to help them manage their customer information. The points here are just to give you some ideas about how this might look:

Competitive Alternative Benefit customers perceive Risk in selecting your offering Value of your offering Proof points
Do nothing – we don’t use a CRM tool and that’s fine by us Free
Zero effort required
Budget spent on this will mean less money for other thingsConsultants will have to learn the tool and record data they don’t today More accurately predict future workloads so you can budget/staff accordingly and increase your profitability.Gives consultants access to more complete customer information making it easier to do their jobs. 3rdparty data: Research shows companies using CRM are X% more profitable.Customer data: CRMster customers have x% average increase in revenue/profitabilityEnd user quote “CRMster makes collaborating easy. I want to marry it! ”Customer case studies
Manage customer data in spreadsheets FreeEveryone knows how to use a spreadsheet Budget spent on this will mean less money for other thingsConsultants will have to learn the tool Eliminate the need to consolidate spreadsheets – a process that is time consuming and introduces errorsEasier, more effective team collaboration means projects are delivered on time, on budget. Customer quote: “Consolidating spreadheets was a pain and our data stank. CRMster lets us accurately forecast our business.”Customer quote: “CRMster got our teams working together better so we could deliver projects on budget”End user quote: “So fun to use I gave up playing Angry Birds at work!”Analyst opinion: “Folks using spreadsheets are big losers”
Use CRMFree, a free CRM tool Free Budget spent on this will mean less money for other things Expert customer supportProvides features for consulting companies that generic CRM tools don’t have. Analyst data: X% of CRM deployments fail because end-users don’t get good support.Customer quote: “Their support is so great we send them chocolates on valentine’s day”Press quote: “If you are a consulting company you are an idiot if you buy anything else”Customer logos, case studies
Use BigWig CRM, a CRM tool for mid-sized businesses of any type A safe bet: an established brand CRMster might go out of businessThe software might be unproven, buggy crap CRMster is way cheaper.Provides features for consulting companies that generic CRM tools don’t have. Pricing and guarantees.Screen shots, product demosTeam bios – emphasizing successes and background in this market.Investor profiles, investment announcementsCustomer logos, case studies

For this example, only the last couple of rows get into any discussion of product features and even there those aren’t the only considerations. The other thing to notice is that the feature discussion can happen as part of a higher-level theme (we’re better because we are cheaper, more targeted to this market, or a more elegant solution) rather than a checklist of niggley esoteric features like you would for mature products in a mature market. If you are going head to head with an established player in the market you’re doing it because you have something radically different.

The Output: Better Messaging

The next step is to look at the themes and develop key messages that highlight your differentiated value while addressing the potential big concerns. I’ve written about messaginghere and here and I’ll talk more about how you would take the next step and construct messaging upcoming post.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur and marketing executive April Dunford who is currently the head of Enterprise Market Strategy for Huawei. April specializes in brining new products to market including messaging, positioning, market strategy, go-to-market planning and lead generation. She is one of the leading B2B/enterprise marketers in the world and we’re really lucky to be able to share here content with you. Follow her on Twitter @aprildunford or RocketWatcher.com. This post was originally published in April 12, 2012 on RocketWatcher.com.

Pre-Launch Marketing for Stealthy Startups

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur and marketing executive April Dunford who is currently the head of Enterprise Market Strategy for Huawei. April specializes in brining new products to market including messaging, positioning, market strategy, go-to-market planning and lead generation. She is one of the leading B2B/enterprise marketers in the world and we’re really lucky to be able to share here content with you. Follow her on Twitter @aprildunford or RocketWatcher.com. This post was originally published in January 3, 2010 on RocketWatcher.com.

CC BY-NC-SA Some rights reserved by Stuck in Customs
AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Stuck in Customs

Some products and services don’t have a pre-launch phase.  For companies where building a minimum viable product isn’t a months-long effort, it makes sense to just launch a beta and then start talking about it.  For other companies however, the product might take a bit longer to develop and talking about it before it’s been released in some form could be pointless (because you don’t have a call to action yet), risky (competitors position against you or customers get confused because there aren’t enough details) or both.

One of the techniques that I’ve used in the past is to engage with the market by talking about the business problem that your product or service is going to solve, without getting into exactly how you plan on solving it.  At IBM we sometimes referred to this as “market preparation”.

For larger companies this often entails spending a lot of time (and money) with industry analysts and industry leaders sharing your company’s unique point of view on the market and why it is currently being under-served.  If you do this properly you’ll come to a point where your point of view starts to align well with that of the influential folks you’ve been working with.  By the time you launch, these folks will be standing behind you saying that your view of the market is one customers should consider.

Pre-launch startups generally don’t have the time, clout or cash to change the way Gartner Group thinks about a market but that shouldn’t stop you from taking your message out directly to the market you care about.  There’s never been a better time for startups to get the message out.  Here are some considerations:

  1. Create a clear message about your market point of view – you will need to create a set of messages that clearly illustrate what the unmet need is the in market and why that need has not been met by existing players.  You can go so far as to talk about the characteristics of the needed solution (without getting into the gorey details of exactly how you plan to solve it).
  2. Develop case studies that illustrate the pain you will be solving – Gather a set of real examples of customers you have worked with that have the problem and clearly illustrate the need for a new type of solution on the market.
  3. Spread the word – Launch a blog, write guest posts for other blogs, comment on relevant blog posts,  write articles, write an e-book, speak at conferences and events, open a Twitter account and start sharing information that illustrates your point of view.  There’s no end of ways to get your message out there.  Do your homework and find out where your market hangs out.  What forums do they participate in?  What blogs and newsletters do they read?  Get your message in front of them in the places where they already are.
  4. Engage and gather feedback – Starting a dialog with your potential customers about how you see the market gives you a chance to test your messages and see what resonates and what doesn’t.  You’ve made a set of assumptions (backed up by customer research hopefully), the more folks in the market you can talk to the more you can fine-tune your market story.
  5. Capture where you can – If it makes sense you can start capturing a list of potential beta customers or a mailing list that you can use when you launch.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur and marketing executive April Dunford who is currently the head of Enterprise Market Strategy for Huawei. April specializes in brining new products to market including messaging, positioning, market strategy, go-to-market planning and lead generation. She is one of the leading B2B/enterprise marketers in the world and we’re really lucky to be able to share here content with you. Follow her on Twitter @aprildunford or RocketWatcher.com. This post was originally published in January 3, 2010 on RocketWatcher.com.