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Blast from the past: Early pitches of 5 successful startups

Looking at how startups positioned themselves before making it big can be quite inspiring to your own fledgling idea.

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Finding inspiration from big brands’ early days

It doesn’t matter how great you think your idea is. If you want it to go big, what does matter is how well you can convey the concept to others by answering the question: How does your idea plan to fill a gap in the existing market?

Through a solid pitch, these five tech startups convinced – or attempted to convince – potential investors that their ideas could grow popular, and thus become profitable. Now billion-dollar companies, let’s take a blast to the past to see where they went right.

1. AirBnB

When the idea pitched: 2008
Current value: $25.5 billion
Type of company: Travel, lodging
Early listed competitors: Coachsurfing, Hostels.com, Hotels.com, Craigslist

With AirBnB, you may find yourself spending a couple of days living in a tree house in Portland or renting a room in a villa in Spain. The app prides itself on offering unique experiences that help travelers experience a new city by living in the homes of locals.

In its early pitch, AirBnB (originally AirBed&Breakfast) noted the problem, or gap, in the market: Hotels “leave you disconnected from the city and the culture” and there was no easy way for people looking to rent cheap accommodation to get connected to those looking to provide it. The company’s solution was to build a mobile platform to “save money, make money and share culture.”

AirBnB has the most unique origin story of these five companies. Since original investors were skeptical that a blow-up air mattress business (how the startup originally presented itself) could work, the founders turned to creative means to fund their idea.

How creative? We’re talking designing and selling McCain-Obama election cereal, dubbed Obama O’s and Cap’N McCains.

Check out all of the pitch decks here.

2. AppNexus

When the idea pitched: Late 2007/early 2008
Current value: $1.2 billion
Type of company: Global cloud service, ad tech
Early listed competitors: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Rackspace/Gridlayer, Google/Yahoo (not involved in cloud space, but ability to enter)

What initially started as a global cloud-based hosting service for all applications specified its focus to digital advertising. Its global angle worked; headquartered in New York, the company has offices in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

AppNexus’ pitch deck was incredibly detailed, including revenue sources, short-term and long-term differentiators and a growth timeline divided into three phrases.

3. Buzzfeed

When the idea pitched: 2008
Current value: $1.5 billion
Type of company: Media, tech, advertising
Early listed competitors: Mahaloo, Squidoo, Wikipedia, Reddit, Digg, Y! Buzz, viral agencies, BuzzMetrics, BuzzLogic, Rich Media Ads, Social Media Ads, FB’s beacon

On the first slide of its pitch deck, Buzzfeed included a quote from CNN: “We looked at Buzzfeed and saw the future.” On a later slide, Buzzfeed describes its potential to become “the most advanced network-aware, social media-aware system for publishing content,” a sort of YouTube or Wikipedia for viral content.

Now bringing in over 200 million unique views per month, these predications rang true.

4. LinkedIn

When the idea pitched: 2004
Current value: Over $28 billion
Type of company: Social media, networking, recruiting
Early listed competitors: Monster, Lexus Nexus

LinkedIn listed this problem in its pitch: “There is no effective, trusted way for professionals to find and transact with each other online.”

Outlining the difference between Internet 1.0 (search and transact via flat directories and Internet 2.0 (search and transact via networks), it labeled itself “a professional people search 2.0.”

5. YouTube

When the idea pitched: 2005
Current value: Acquired by Google in 2006 by $1.6 billion
Type of company: User-generated video sharing
Early listed competitors: Google Video, dailymotion, Vimeo, putfile

In a pitch that was released to the public in 2010 through a court case, the company’s purpose was clearly stated: To become the primary outlet of user-generated content on the Internet, and to allow anyone to upload, share, and browse this content.” The problem YouTube listed was how difficult it was to share video due to size (too large to email and too large to host on most websites) and a lack of format standardization.

The company’s goal was to create a community where videos became interconnected among Internet users, instead of wasting away as individual files on persona computers.

#StartupPitches

Staff Writer Larisa Manescu cringes at the question "Where are you from?" because it's a long story, but it's one she loves to share if you ask her. Her interests include storytelling, social justice and choreographed group dance classes.

Business Entrepreneur

MediaTech Ventures and The Cannon partner for 6th location in Houston

(ENTREPRENEUR) MediaTech Ventures’ startup incubators and media platforms partner with The Cannon community to launch The Cannon Sports + Media hub.

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Screengrab of the new MediaTech Ventures and The Cannon workspace in Houston, focusing on sports, media, and entertainment. Photo example of an internal conference area.

The Cannon established an important role in the Houston startup community just a few years ago with their launch in 2017 to create an ecosystem to serve Houston’s entrepreneurs. This month, they’re opening their 6th Houston area location – The Cannon Sports + Media – as a global hub for Sports and Media Technology, along with startup programming from MediaTech Ventures

“From my point of view in Chicago and our work in media technology here, it’s clear that physical infrastructure drives innovation. Meaningful use of space fosters communities, and the resulting concentration of attention from professionals, mentors, and investors, in a sector they know and love, mitigates risks that creators must undertake as they change the world. Space, purposeful space, reduces those risks while connecting people who help one another thrive. We do that here in Chicago, whether in Chicago’s notable startup space, 1871, or in Fort Knox Studios work with 2112 and our MediaTech programming, it’s evident that much of what’s causing Texas to boom is the investment in property that fuels the economy,” says John Zozzaro, President and Founder, MediaTech Ventures.

Today, Houston’s largest entrepreneurial community closes ties with teams in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Austin, bringing MediaTech Ventures’ startup incubators and media platforms to The Cannon community in conjunction with the launch of The Cannon Sports + Media.

Leveraging their growing community of startups, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, advisors, and investors, The Cannon works to democratize access to the resources innovators need to succeed. This new space has been designed to build a community of innovators focused on revolutionizing sports and media, as well as anyone with the desire to build their business in a space custom-designed and programmed for the sports fanatic.

Started in Austin, TX, MediaTech Ventures works with cities, investors, and developed companies, in media, to fuel entrepreneurship and the rise of the creative class of the economy. Drawn from experiences throughout the United States major media hubs, from Silicon Valley to Los Angeles and New York, they developed a proprietary model for startup incubators that leverages technology to connect the community worldwide, while leading with a curriculum teaching founders with an emphasis in media, the marketing, and the community and content development that enables founders to start a venture more likely to succeed.

The Cannon and MediaTech Ventures have formed a strategic partnership to better serve the media industry and entrepreneurs through MediaTech Ventures’ incubators and technology.

Two story dining or conference area in the workspace.“We’re excited to be teaming up with MediaTech Ventures as a programming partner inThe Cannon Sports + Media space,” Lawson Gow, Founder and President of The Cannon. “The space intends to be a hub for all things sports and media innovation and activity. And MediaTech will be a huge driver of this kind of community in Houston.”

Zozzaro states, “The Cannon’s community and property developments caught our attention immediately as a critical piece of the Texas startup ecosystem and in MediaTech Ventures’ work with the region’s best and brightest founders and incubators. Lawson Gow’s vision of democratizing access to the physical resources that cities and entrepreneurs need fell right in line with our commitment to doing the same in education and capital development. As Texas booms as an epicenter of innovation, Houston’s amazing culture, history in technology, and impact in the arts is unparalleled; aligning with The Cannon’s vision means even more access and resources to creators, and the introduction of The Cannon Community to our startup programs throughout the world.”

“And throughout might be the most notable of what we’re building together. From here in Chicago, I’m working closely with our friends in the 2112 music community to help Italian startups develop into the United States through the Italian Trade Agency. ITA’s other notable location in the United States? Houston, TX, working closely with Mass Challenge and other startup programs passionate about working together for entrepreneurs. And now in MediaTech, we’re bridging the distance even more, between Houston and Austin, Texas and Illinois, throughout the United States, and across the ponds to serve founders better, throughout the world.”

Among the most impactful platforms and ecosystems in Texas’ innovation economy, the close collaboration crosses the chasm between two of the largest and growing cities in the United States while enabling entrepreneurs and investors to access, learn from, and get connected throughout much more of what has the region in the spotlight of the world.

“Let’s do more of this, together, from property to programming that focused on innovation, having a social impact on the world is rather easy – we help people become creators who thrive.”

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Business Entrepreneur

What to consider before you pivot your business model

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Many businesses have had to pivot during the global pandemic but maybe yours isn’t one of them. Consider these questions first!

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Two women working at a laptop, no need to pivot business.

When Ross asked Rachel and Chandler (Friends TV show 1994-2004) to move a couch, many of us will never forget his voice inflection and how many times he yelled “PIVOT”! It’s actually a really funny scene and if you’ve never seen it, it might be worth 3.5 minutes of your time. Ross had the best of intentions by starting with a sketch and enlisting help from friends but even that ends up in hilarity as getting his couch in to his apartment doesn’t work and he ends up being offered $4 when he tries to return it (stay for the end of the clip).

The best plans and intentions for your business are often met with what the market and customers demand, where technology grows, and where your ROI is the best. You often know that your original plans will grow and evolve, even in uncertainty and now… a global pandemic.

Many entrepreneurs and small businesses have had to lean on technology to add virtual services (or expand their offerings) to meet our current norm where people are just not out and about like they used to be. Some have seen this work well and others have had to completely re-design their offerings to maintain safe and socially distanced considerations.

The thing is, businesses that have pivoted are being highlighted. But it is also worth looking at what has worked for some businesses that didn’t have to completely shift their strategies in 2020. It is likely that they had to adapt but maybe not a ridiculous Ross-type “pivot” that resulted in a complete failure of the mission.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) shared an incredible article, “You Don’t Have to Pivot in a Crisis” with great insights about what to consider if you think you need to make changes or if you want reassurance you are still on the right track.

HBR shares a powerful thought:

“The lesson here is that when a crisis hits, it pays to resist knee-jerk reactions on how to handle external shocks and ask what is going to work best for your company, based on the particular realities of its business. Ignoring the playbook of rapid cuts plus strategic pivoting can be the smart move… However, staying the course doesn’t mean inaction.”

Here are three thought starters you may want to consider for your business:

  1. What product line or service is best serving your customers right now? Is that one of your strongest and/or could it use some attention?
  2. What product line or service is not quite meeting your needs or customer demands at the moment that had seemingly always worked (not forever! Just right now)? For example, in person gatherings and promotions like events, conferences, trade shows.
  3. Is there something you’ve always wanted to explore? And could now be a great time since people want things more virtually? Examples: Selling branded swag, workbooks, content subscriptions, educational webinars.

These are three simple things but could help point you in the right direction of where to focus your time and energy – at least for now. You may not need a complete re-design or to take a new road, it might be some tweaks and adjustments to hang on to what you’ve worked so hard to build.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software products for your up-and-coming company? Use these questions to decide which kind is best for you.

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It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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