I have a new idea for a product or technology. Should I consider patenting my idea and if so, what is the first step?
Instead of wasting time trying to patent your idea (which is both pricey and time consuming) I always recommend entrepreneurs work on building their business. It may sound harsh, but your idea is worthless. Execution is everything and your ability to execute on your idea or use your new product is what will determine success.
Remember, patents are only useful if you have the means to defend them in court (read: money to pay lawyers to debate endlessly in a courtroom). At the end of the day if you fail to execute and go out of business, it doesn’t matter if you have an entire war chest of patents because you will be back at square one with nothing to show for it.
Is it ever better to raise money than to bootstrap? Explain why and be specific.
Traditionally, there are 2 ways to build a business: slow growth (i.e. bootstrapping) and fast growth (i.e. raising venture capital). Raising venture funds allow founders to build their team faster as well as spend capital to learn faster. However, it may not be the best approach for everyone. Remember, when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. When your company is flush with cash it’s very tempting to solve your problems by throwing more capital at them.
Before determining if you want to raise money at all, you first must decide how you would like to build your business. If building your business slowly is feasible, I always recommend entrepreneurs choose this route. While a bit riskier, I tend to see that the founders make more intelligent business decisions and are able to establish long term businesses that are more stable without diluting their ownership stake. This stems from the fact that when you bootstrap, the business is built from the ground up to prioritize cash flow and getting to the break even point so that the business can float itself and be self sustaining.
What should tech founders specifically look for in an accelerator or incubator? Why?
We’ve gone through 2 accelerators now and by far the most important thing they’ve done is given me connections and opened doors. Although accelerators provide mentors and advisors, no one knows your company better than you do, so don’t expect accelerators to provide you answers or solutions to any of your business needs. Instead, look for accelerators with outstanding reputations and connections with mentors and advisors that can help your business succeed from a business development standpoint. If you want to be connected with a person or a company, you should be able to go to the accelerator’s advisors and say ‘I need an intro to person X’. If the accelerator isn’t able to connect you, then chances are you should look for a better program.
Larger companies swallow up a lot of great talent immediately. How does a young company attract the best talent?
Large companies often grab talent by offering high salaries, with which most early stage companies cannot compete. However, not all talented employees are motivated by salary alone and if you want to attract top talent to your company you must find out what motivates them the most. We’ve used flexible work hours, increased vacation time, the ability to have more ownership of the product, as well as equity options as tools to hire highly talented people. In fact, we’ve actually used these same techniques to poach many people away from ‘Larger Companies’.
Do you go after the big fish or the small fish first when it comes to attracting clients? What are the risks/benefits of your preferred approach?
We used to have the saying ‘Whales, not minnows’ in my previous company. We instituted it after we realized that we were spending a lot of time on boarding new clients who were often not much bigger than ourselves (at the time we were about a 50 person company). Since it often takes roughly the same amount of effort to attract and land a large client as it does a smaller client, I always advise people to spend time landing larger clients. The outcome is often much better in terms of larger/longer deals as well as more stable income.
There is a lot of pressure for businesses to create apps for their customers, but what is one reason why a company should NOT build an app right now?
There is no reason to have an app just for the sake of saying you have an app. Business should come up with their mobile strategy first and then decide if having an app is the best course of action. If you create an app just to say you have one then you run the risk of creating a mobile experience that feels like a disjointed afterthought, which will disengage and alienate people more than cause them to love your product.There is no reason to have an app just for the sake of saying you have an app. Business should come up with their mobile strategy first and then decide if having an app is the best course of action. If you create an app just to say you have one then you run the risk of creating a mobile experience that feels like a disjointed afterthought, which will disengage and alienate people more than cause them to love your product.
What’s one way to sniff out a potentially toxic employee during the interview process?
Behavioral interviewing is the best way I know to weed out toxic employees. This technique involves asking situational based questions and having candidates give you concrete examples of how they behaved when there were in certain situations. It is next to impossible to fabricate a story from your past, especially when the interviewer drills down deep to get to the bottom of the situation. It’s never failed me!
What sort of things (parties, white elephant exchanges, etc.) does your office do during the holidays? Why (or why don’t you) do them?
CoachUp organizes and participates in the Holiday Tech Co-Party every year. The premise is simple: when you start a company, you get to know a lot of other entrepreneurs and startups. But most startups are small and can’t afford large holiday parties. So instead of having a bunch of small holiday parties with just your company, CoachUp organizes an event in December where all startups in Boston are invited to come Co-Party. It results in everyone being able to have a larger party in a bigger venue with more people … and it’s way more fun!
Do you ever tie your marketing to the seasons? Why or why not (and if you do, how do you do so)?
Absolutely! In fact, almost all marketing we do is tied to the seasons. Private coaching, and sports in general, is a seasonal business. So each year before the start of the athletic season, we tailor our email campaigns and SEM keyword bidding towards the sports we know are going to be starting. Now that we’ve been around for a while and have a couple years worth of data, we can actually pinpoint exactly when our customer base will change sports/seasons and begin looking for coaches in different sports.
What is one thing you should considering adjust about your pitch for different investors?
Every pitch you make should be tailored specifically to your audience and also tailored to the medium you are using. For example, the slide deck you email an to an investor to read through should be much different than the deck you use when giving a presentation in person. We had about 8 different decks at any given time while starting CoachUp, depending on if we’re giving a 3 min pitch vs. 10 min pitch, whether the pitch was in person or not, and how knowledgeable the investor was about our industry.