Earlier this year we rebranded TechColumbus to Rev1 Ventures. It reflects our dedication to helping entrepreneurs build great companies and our enthusiasm for this region as the ideal location for startups.
We’ve learned a lot about building great companies from working with hundreds of entrepreneurs. Each startup is in some way unique, and yet all face many of the same challenges.
Consider all the firsts: First product. First customer. First revenue. First employees. First advisers. First board. First service providers. First partners. First investors.
It’s a steep hill to climb. Entrepreneurs must recognize, prioritize and create a business model that considers each of these firsts and then build relationships with people who can help.
Validate the market before investing in a prototype. A lot of entrepreneurs jump from “I have a great idea” to “How much money do I need to raise?” Don’t be one of them. The first step is finding out if your idea solves a problem or fills a need that potential customers are willing to pay for.
There are many ways to validate — interviews, surveys or face-to-face meetings. It’s a mistake to think that you can’t talk to anyone before you have a prototype. Product and market validation is about contacting people in the markets you hope to serve, including potential customers, people in distribution channels and even competitors, and getting candid feedback.
Build a team of mentors and advisers. For a while you and possibly a co-founder likely will be the only employees. Entrepreneurs need advisers, especially business and industry advisers with startup experience, who can help steer around early stage pitfalls.
You also need accounting and legal services. Ask other entrepreneurs for referrals to practices that understand the limitations and demands of an entrepreneurial business. Then invest in a few hours of consulting. You’ll gain an understanding of the questions to ask and a sense of what you want and need in these important relationships.
Consider the benefits of working around other entrepreneurs. Once you’ve validated your concept and moved onto building a prototype, check out local incubator options. Don’t just seek out affordable space. Ask if venture advisory services are available, too.
Connect with regional corporations.There are hundreds of corporations in the Columbus region spending money to solve problems. Wouldn’t it be great if more of that investment stayed local?
As part of your market validation, identify firms that are potential customers. Then use mentors, advisers and incubator relationships to establish connections.
Build a bootstrapping mindset. Startups that create solutions to solve real market problems have a better chance of signing up paying beta customers. Beta customers can help you achieve the milestones that attract angel investors’ attention.
For a startup, finding and building relationships with the right people — customers, advisers and partners — is as important as raising the right capital.
Columbus is developing as an innovation hub, a place where entrepreneurs and a connected business community can together build the products people want and the companies people need.
Tom Walker is the President and CEO of Rev1 Ventures. Tom is a seasoned founder and manager of venture funds and entrepreneurial initiatives. He has been a leader in entrepreneurship and turning innovation-based discoveries into commercial opportunities for 20 years. He is the author of “The Entrepreneur’s Path: A Handbook for High-Growth Companies,” a step-by-step guide to commercialization fro entrepreneurs with big ideas.