Kickstart Your Startup Credibility With A Prototype

This article originally appeared in Forbes.


These days, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, pitching their latest and greatest new idea, and looking for someone to give them money. Angel investors, like me, have long figured out that asking to see the prototype is a quick way to separate the ‘wannabes’ from serious players. Talk is cheap, but entrepreneurs who show you a working model of their idea know how to execute.

In reality, it doesn’t take a huge investment of money and time to build a prototype today. If it is hardware, look for one of the ‘makerspaces’ such as TechShop, with all the tools you need to make almost anything yourself. Software products and apps can be quickly wireframed with free tools like MockFlow, or even Microsoft Powerpoint to lay out the key screens.

Here are the key objectives that you can achieve by building a prototype, which are really the reasons that investors and partners will give you a whole new level of credibility as they evaluate your startup for potential funding:

  • Something you can touch and feel helps validate opportunity. When you wave your arms and describe your future product, everyone sees what they want to see, and it looks great. With a realistic prototype, you can get more accurate feedback from customers on their real need and what they might pay, before you invest millions on the final product.
  • Quantify the implementation challenges. Many ideas I hear sound great, but I have no idea if they can be implemented. Building a prototype at least allows both of us to ask the right questions. Visions and theory are notoriously hard to implement. A prototype has to be real enough to be convincing, without looking like science fiction.
  • Give yourself time to pivot without dire consequences. It doesn’t matter how certain you are of your solution, it’s probably not quite right. Every entrepreneur has to deal with the realities of constant change in today’s market, and it’s much easier to pivot the pre-production prototype than to dispose of unsellable inventory.
  • Show investors that you are committed, and past the idea stage. Without a prototype, most professional investors won’t take you seriously. In reality, the process of designing, building, and validating a prototype does dramatically reduce the risk, and allows everyone to hone in on the real costs of going into production.
  • Reduce the time to production and rollout. For both software and hardware technology, multiple iterations are usually required to achieve production quality and performance. Time is money, and may be your primary competitive advantage. Don’t spend your whole development budget, before finding that you need another iteration.
  • Support early negotiation with vendors and distribution channels. A three-dimensional prototype is always better than just a documented specification when negotiating contracts for manufacturing, support, and marketing. As a startup, you need all the leverage you can get.

If you are not comfortable or skilled enough to build a prototype yourself, it’s time to find and engage a co-Founder who has the interest and background to at least manage the work. You should never outsource the management of your core technology. At worst, maybe you can find a trusted friend to guide you, or a nearby university with expert professors and the proper tools. There is no magic formula for success while inventing. Proceed with your wits about you.

Overall, building a prototype is still a great way to bring your idea to life, for yourself, your team, investors, and future customers. Your target cost expectation should be one-tenth of the total commercialization cost, with the assumption that it will be throw-away. Even still, I can’t think of a better way to validate your solution early, and get credibility with the people who count.

Need help with building your prototype? Just AskaTechie!

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5 Reasons why Email Marketing still works & Our Favourite Platforms

When the Internet was new to consumers, everyone loved email. One of the best parts of logging onto AOL was the knowledge that after minutes of agonizing squeals, you’d be treated to that wonderful phrase, “You’ve Got Mail!” Is it still a worthwhile tactic for small-business owners and marketers to pursue?

The simple answer is yes and here’s why:

1. Email is an easy way to reach mobile customers.

One reason email marketing has value for business owners is that it’s an easy way to start reaching consumers on mobile without investing a lot in new technology or software. According to an April report from Pew Research Center, 52 percent of US cellphone owners access their emails from their phones. Email marketing also works with other mobile devices. In July, Forrester Research released a study that found 42 percent of retailers’ email messages were opened by consumers on their smartphones and 17 percent were opened on tablets. This means that nearly three out of every five email marketing messages doubles as a mobile marketing message.

2. It’s an effective way to keep customers informed.

Email marketing isn’t something marketers do just because they can and it’s easy. The tactic is very effective at helping business owners and consumers stay connected. In fact, consumers often seek out email marketing campaigns from their favorite brands and local stores.
Nielsen reported that 28 percent of US online shoppers subscribe to store or product emails in order to stay informed. A study from Loyalty 360 stated that 59 percent of US moms would sign up for email updates from brands if rewards were offered. And email marketing can be used as a way to deliver content to consumers.

3. Email coupons drive online and in-store sales.

The Nielsen study mentioned above also found that 27 percent of US online shoppers subscribe to store or product emails in order to save money. This conclusion is backed up by recent data from Deloitte that found 65 percent of consumers say email coupons are important when grocery shopping online.
Though consumers are looking to save money, it can turn into increased revenue for the retailer. E-coupons are big business, and email marketing is at its heart. The number of mobile coupons used is estimated to double over the next five years to reach 1 billion people. Email marketing is a good way to start reaching the growing number of online bargain hunters. The big brands are already using this tactic for that purpose. BIA/Kelsey reports that 36.6 percent of national businesses use email marketing for local promotions.

4. It’s easy to customize and integrate into other marketing tactics.

The versatility of email marketing is another reason marketers should keep the tactic in their marketing toolbox. Depending on the depth of the email database and the skill of the crafter, email marketing messages can range from simple to very complex. Emails can be personalized to include the name of the user and even more.

5. Email marketing is inexpensive.

To sum up the best reason to use email marketing: It’s easy, effective, and inexpensive. Email marketing allows business owners to reach a large number of consumers at a rate of pennies per message. For small-business owners on a budget, this makes it a better choice than traditional marketing channels like TV, radio, or direct mail. You don’t have to take my word for it. A joint study from Shop.org and Forrester Research found that 85 percent of US retailers consider email marketing one of the most effective customer acquisition tactics.

Our Top 5 email marketing platforms:

1. Mailchimp
2. Wishpond
3. Zoho Campaigns
4. infusionsoft
5. ConstantContact

Happy emailing! Have an any email marketing related questions? Just AskaTechie

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7 Digital Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Even the most experienced digital marketers occasionally have campaigns that don’t yield the desired results. But you can help ensure your next campaign doesn’t meet with failure by avoiding these 14 potentially costly digital marketing mistakes.

1. Not having clear campaign goals

One of the biggest mistakes digital marketers make is “not establishing analytics goals prior to the start of a campaign,” says Geoff Hoesch, principal, Dragonfly Digital Marketing. “In order to track the success of a digital marketing campaign, it’s necessary to define goals (sales, form completions, calls, sign ups, etc.) and ensure that analytics tracking is properly set up for these goals.”

“Without measurable objectives, it [is] challenging to measure ROI or net benefit of a campaign on product/service sales, sentiment or engagement,” says Justin Honaman, senior vice president, digital marketing solutions, Moxie, a global digital agency. That’s why “it is important to define and communicate objectives and to build insights from past campaigns into the planning process for future campaigns.”

2. Not targeting the right audience

“Even if a brand is creating fantastic content, they will miss a great deal of the opportunity if they don’t take the extra step to promote it to the right audience at the right time,” says Michelle Stinson Ross, content & outreach goddess, Authority Labs, a provider of SEO software. “Every digital communication channel is getting noisier, [and] it takes effort and investment to cut through the noise to get your content noticed.

“Define targeted audiences not just on personal descriptions but on behaviors,” she advises. “Make use of tracking pixels and cookies to reach out to people [who] have visited your site and/or joined your email list. Take your social targeting beyond age, gender, education and topic interest by layering on purchase intent and relevant life events.”

3. Not employing a customer-centric mindset

“Marketing plays a critical role in enticing, converting, engaging and retaining customers, and organizations slow to embrace a customer-centric mindset will be left behind,” says Penny Wilson, CMO,Hootsuite. “Through personalization, targeting, journey mapping and data analysis, brands are now able to deliver a customized brand experience that provides value to customers and keeps them coming back for more.”

4. Impersonal (or incorrect) personalization

“Be [it the wrong] name, gender, likes, etc., the list goes on,” says Jess Stephens, CMO, SmartFocus. “I see this every single day – my team compiles a ‘bad marketing folder’ where we store examples [of incorrectly personalized offers] we regularly receive. A particular bugbear of mine is when I shop for a present for a male member of my family [and] then get bombarded with male persona marketing. This can easily be avoided by using insights technology, which makes it easy for marketers to correctly identify the right products and offers to engage customers for their next purchase.”

5. Overlooking mobile

“Mobile is becoming the dominant digital platform consumers use, now accounting for 62 percent of all digital media time, [according to] comScore, [with] apps account for over 50 percent of that total,” says Martin Doettling, CMO, Swrve, which provides a platform for managing customer relationships with mobile apps. “With this in mind, it is important to get your mobile strategy in place.

“Start by considering how your users are already interacting with you on mobile and how you can better shape that experience,” he says. “If you have not yet developed your mobile strategy, consider whether an app would be a [good] platform for you to speak to your customers and then deliver timely, relevant and meaningful content that grows your customer relationships.”

Also, “make sure your website is compatible with all mobile devices,” says Jonathan Ceballos, marketing director, USB Memory Direct. “Then make sure sales and special offers are [tailored to] mobile sites.”

6. Writing off email marketing

“There is a lot of buzz surrounding marketing channels like mobile and social. However, neglecting email marketing is a costly mistake,” says Eric Stahl, senior vice president, product marketing, Salesforce Marketing Cloud. “As the lines between sales, service and marketing blur, email remains the customer journey’s connective tissue. A recent survey from MarketingSherpa found that 91 percent of U.S. adults say they like getting promotional emails from companies they do business with. Of those, 86 percent would like monthly emails and 61 percent would like them at least weekly. In addition, marketers can combine email with insights gained from customer data across channels and devices — for example, social media — to achieve the heightened level of personalization that today’s customer demands.”

7. Not doing A/B or split testing

“Use A/B testing to maximize effectiveness of your email,” says Adam Jwaskiewicz, director of interactive services at PHG, an advertising agency. “For example, distribute the same email to a test group, but use two different subject lines. When sending the actual email, use the subject line that performed best. Make decisions based on actual data, not your gut feeling.”

To read more tips, head on over to CIO!


This article originally appeared in CIO.