You got an idea.
You have taken that idea through to a product or a service.
You are ready for customers.
There is always an element of “Built it and they will come” in every startup founders thinking when they come to launch day, 10X if it is an Internet business because every potential customer just needs to click on a link to your site, and “kaching!”. Of course this is completely delusional thought. Even just getting a link in front of a potential customer is pretty hard.
Again, same caveat as before, all I can do is share what I did and hope that it was right and is good advice. If not, well at least I got you to click on the link to my blog post.
Before I even had a working version of Vend I was looking for every piece of exposure I could find, any opportunity to tell the world about what I was doing. I had a working(ish) prototype on my laptop and I sat and had coffee with anyone who would listen and look at what I was doing. The list got pretty long. In a way I was testing the market, making sure what I was building was actually needed and wanted. Of couse a lot of people thought I was mental, and didn’t think I would even get Vend off the ground, and if I did, it would most likely burn. My prototype was ugly and I was hopeless at demos. I really wanted to show off an idea, with broken code and a good story. I probably wasn’t doing myself any favours with my Adobe Fireworks skills.
But something was working, amongst all the people I spoke to, some were already telling others about this crazy/awesome/ludicrous (pick 2) idea that I shared with them. Even if they didn’t like it, they were telling people about me and Vend. Simple word of mouth was spreading my idea, albeit slowly. I was already starting to talk to future investors as an outcome which I talk about elsewhere, but how do you get the all important validation from CUSTOMERS, the real people wo will pay you money?
Ben Kepes was one of those early people I barraged over coffee and Skype and any other channel open to me, including airport lounges. He liked the idea, and suggested I enter for the Cloud Connect Launch Pad, an event in the Valley. All I needed was a pitch, and a video demo. Easy, I can use iMovie! I was working on something at the time to help me with explaining my grand vision, so I did a quick recut (yes, seriously in iMovie) and submitted it to the Cloud Connect LaunchPad just to see what happened. I don’t know if it was the charm of my kiwi accent narration, or my awesome iMovie edit skills, but VendHQ (as it was back then) was selected as a semi-finalist. Whoohoo, I had no idea what the Cloud Connect conference was, or where exactly Santa Clara was, but if things went my way I would be there on stage as a finalist pitching my idea. All I needed was 18 bazillion people to vote for me online.
Webstock was rolling up the following month, and a couple of weeks before the voting ended for the Launch Pad event. And so I spoke to as many people before, during and after webstock making sure everyone knew Vend was a semi-finalist. The levels of interest in what I was doing were increased somewhat, what was this Cloud Connect thing and why is Vend a finalist? My demo video was doing the rounds, where I extolled the virtues of Vend and what it could do. Part vapourware, part good iMovie edits, but it was working. I had two retailers introduced to me, as a result. Someone knew someone opening a store who needed a POS, and so I was introduced via email at Webstock.
These two retailers became my first beta users, and are still big Vend fans.
As part of my video I waxed lyrical about how awesomely Vend integrated with Xero, which it didn’t at the time, but I was working on it! Tony from the Xero API team got in touch and invited me over to Xero HQ. We sat around the board room table, and they eyed me up looking very seriously.
“You can’t use our logo and tell people you integrate with Xero when you don’t” he told me sternly. “But tell me more about Vend and when can you get the integration ready?” he continued. They thought Vend would be a smashing add-on.
VC’s were watching the video, and sending me emails to find out more. Having something that people could watch and see what I was going on about for over a year made opening doors much easier. Emails, Skypes, and phone calls.
Vend was not picked as a grand finalist, but just being a semi-finalist gave us exposure, our first two customers, and also introductions to a half a dozen VCs as a result of my video doing the circuit. Well that and id being a smashingly good idea.
At Webstock one of the people I bored to death with Vend Vend Vend was Matt Cooney, Editor at Idealog at the time. He was used to founders telling them why their next big idea was worthy, hoping for a plug in Idealog in their new future. Matt was bored, and I wasn’t doing a great job of it. Possibly the hangover post Webstock closing party was not helping. But I smiled a lot. I think that helped. A year later Matt recounts that hungover pitch, and my face is on the cover of Idealog.
Me banging on my drum constantly got me talking to the majority of my future investors. Sam Morgan, Rowan Simpson, Christoph Janz, Sacha Judd, Lance Wiggs. Each of them I shared coffee, or lunch, or a bike ride, or a Skype. It was never the case of me sitting down with them, telling the story of my vision, and them saying “Great, how do I invest?”. These relationships took several coffees, bike rides, and Skypes. The more I spoke to them and updated them on the vision and progress, I painted a picture of where we had been and where things were going. On overage, 6 months from first coffee to them joining the team. These things take time, so you need to start telling your story as soon as you can.
I also was not shy in approaching people either. What have you to lose? New Years in 2010, I was at my summer home at the beach and was following Robert Scoble on twitter. I tweeted him, on the off chance he might be interested in Vend and doing a post. A few months later I was in his house at Half Moon Bay California telling the Vend story. I sold him in 140 characters on Vend enough for him to invite me to his house to do a video.
Then I spoke to NBR, originally about getting Sam on board as an investor, and then to talk about our PayPal partnership..
Then there was the time I presented at Under the Radar.
Then the time I presented at Webstock Mini.
Then there was a geek talk about HTML5 at WDCNZ.
I am terrified of public speaking (can you tell?). But any chance to tell a story and I was in, even if speaking in front of a room of people smarter than me make me feel physically ill.
Then there was the time I blagged my way into the board rooms of PayPal, Xero, Intuit, Google, Groupon, Square… the list is a long one. The point is you have to start somewhere, with something that tells your story. I didn’t even have a product, but I could sell the idea on day one. And these stories I told, let on to introductions to journalists, investors, partners and perhaps even future investors and acquirers. But most importantly it led to CUSTOMERS. My first half a dozen customers came from referrals from people who had heard the Vend story. They liked it enough to tell someone else.
Have you got your story? It wont be perfect at first. You just need a story. I cringe when I look at all our early pitches and promo videos. But they did the trick. Your list of intros will eventually get very long too. But everything starts at the number 1.