Sharing with the Class: What Your Peers Are Up To

Like a local grocery or neighborhood barber, here at we’ve begun to recognize our “regulars”. We’re thrilled to see that the sense of community we’re striving to promote is forming, and also growing. This ain’t no ordinary classroom–your instructors are your peers and you certainly won’t be sent to the principal for talking in class! We respect our students and value their ambitions, hoping to give you the extra knowledge and insight you need to excel in your field.

As new classes unfold, our student body is expanding, with new faces in every class. But one face remains a constant–Stuart Angus. You better believe Stu caught our attention when he signed up for almost every single class during our first month in action. He’s a man with a plan and a commitment to learning the skills he needs to win. Meet Stuart Angus of!

What’s your story and how were you introduced to our program?

SA: I think I found out about the classes through BostInno or Greenhorn Connect. I’ve been wanting to launch a tech startup, ideaphi, for the past 6 months. It’s my first time trying to do this, and I lack a lot of the knowledge of how to do it, so the classes touched on startup education that was very relevant to starting my business.

Tell us a little bit about the new startup you’re working on. What problem are you hoping to solve?

SA: is the new startup i’m working on, and it replaces the dreaded chain-email! Nobody likes getting CC’ed on a long chain of emails; ideaphi provides a way to easily structure online discussions to minimize this. Although the functionality is still being developed, it will allow an easy way to create a summary message containing the important decisions made from an email discussion thread. I think this sort of tool can be very helpful for managers.

Where did you find the inspiration for the business?

SA:  ideaphi was created to solve one of my own pain points. I found that collaborating via email was inefficient, especially when I was working with a few people, trying to reach a collective decision. Email just isn’t a good tool for back-and-forth discussions around issues. I wanted to build something better suited for that.

You notoriously signed up for almost every class we offered during our first month–what’s the deal?! What was your motivation?

SA: I remember really liking the looks of the first couple of classes, and then I think I got trigger-happy with ordering more classes. I got in the mindset of, “This is great!” and before I knew it, I had signed up for every class. I don’t regret it though!

What are some of the key takeaways you’ve learned during the classes you’ve attended?

SA: There’s been a lot of information, but I’ll try to give a few general takeaways here. I found that the speakers were all excellent. I don’t know what criteria the team is using to select speakers for the classes, but it’s working! All the speakers gave me the impression that teamwork is what actually makes great businesses, not ideas or individuals. They also showed me that there are many ways to get a message across to an audience.

Any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

SA: The classes are some of the best I’ve ever taken. I would highly recommend everyone signs up for classes now–before people start to realize the classes are worth a heck of a lot more than $30/class!

Sharing with the Class:  What Your Peers Are Up To

Open Minds, Full Stomachs, Can’t Lose!

Last Wednesday, hosted our first ever Community Potluck. The concept was simple—you bring the bites, we bring the booze! We’ve had such an amazing time getting to know all of you this year, we wanted to come together for good food and good times just to celebrate each others’ company. Nothing like a little homemade lasagna and fresh baked cookies to get us through the mid-week “hump day”! Community Potluck We were truly blown away by the turnout and the spread! Missed out? Your mouth should be watering when you read this menu: fried rice, broccoli salad, fried shrimp, spaghetti, Swedish meatballs, buffalo chicken dip, pulled pork, roast chicken, pizzas on top of pizzas, cole slaw, hash brown casserole, veggie and fruit spreads, pasta salad, calzone, buffalo chicken dip, chicken wings, and homemade lasagna. You better believe we had room for dessert: ice cream, cookies, peanut butter squares, brownies, and, perhaps the most coveted desert of all, a jumbo whoopee pie. Izze and Deep Eddy Vodka were on hand to quench our thirst, and no one went home hungry!

As cliché as it may sound, the night was really all about community. I’m half-way through college as I intern for this Summer, saying goodbye to my teenage years and hello to adulthood. To be able to be a part of something like this, witnessing first-hand a diverse group of professionals meeting up in such a relaxed open setting was really cool for me. Classes are an opportunity for the best to learn from the best, and I’ve been impressed by how highly motivated, optimistic, and driven to succeed you all are. Everyone on campus is smart, but no one thinks they know it all. That’s what we strive for here at, the idea that learning never ends.

On the behalf of the rest of our interns and myself, I would like to thank Sarah Hodges and Dave Balter for making this evening a success, and also for making our opening summer such an interesting and beneficial one for us. And we also want to thank you, our students, for coming out and getting involved night after night to learn, to win.

Building a Financial Model That You’ll Actually Use

Bottom Up Financial ModelThis week at, Dan Allred, Senior Relationship Manager of Silicon Valley Bank, and Matthew Nichols, EVP Operations/ Board Member at Gemvara were in the house tag-teaming as they walked students through a “Bottom-Up” approach to financial analysis. From revenue to expenses, they used hard examples to illustrate the importance well-informed assumptions and separating fact from fiction (we all want to aim for success, but c’mon, ya gotta be realistic!). Clearly a critical topic for startups looking to grow, we saw the biggest turnout we’ve seen yet!

Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up
Starting with a top-down approach is all about gauging your startup’s opportunity and your potential market share. A bottoms-up market analysis means you’re more focused on what it will take for your business to capture it. Money promised is rarely the same thing as money received, so analyzing financial variables, such as investments and expenses, becomes much more simple. In the end, you should have a model that will allow you to project reliable results that are highly manageable.

Key Assumptions When Forming Your Financial Model
Money, money, money, money. Think about how you make it. Do you offer a service? Sell a product? Who are your prospects? This includes sales, both inside and direct, channels, freemium/premium, and traffic. Consider the range of products that you have to offer and how they’re each priced relative to their value. Which class of clients buys which product? Customers often times aren’t one-time buyers, even if they one buy one product (think subscriptions, upgrades, or product maintenance). Make sure to account for all your revenue channels.

On the flip side of money made, there’s money lost. Ask yourself what Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) are associated with your sale. This includes implementation, customization, material cost, and commissions, to name a few. Look for any opportunity to lower COGS, like network effects of volume inflection points.

Fully understanding how your sales funnel works allows for more accurate sales assumptions.  How many more prospects you need to convert the projected revenue based on your current conversion rates? Are there previously overlooked costs associated with reaching and converting these prospects? Don’t forget that there’s also a period of adjustment for channels and sales people before they become productive. On the marketing front, what do you need to do to optimize for your success metrics? When you’ve figured out what your specific business needs to address to answer all of these questions, your revenue, sales, and marketing expense assumptions should work together to help you manage your business and move forward, providing a much needed reality check.

Tips for Building Your Model

  1. Build a monthly model all the way across
  2. Standardize your employee build
  3. Clearly identify inputs
  4. Check a random moth- BY HAND
  5. Spot check big jumps
  6. Re-check your out years vs. public companies

Selling to Goliath: How to Build a Relationship with BIG Companies Classroom SpaceGone are the days of schmoozing. Gone are the days of wheeling and dealing. The art of convincing a prospect that your company is the right fit via a meeting, a night out on the town, or drinks all around, is a dying one. By today’s standards, it just doesn’t make much sense. The game has changed for buyers. They’ve started identifying vendors proactively, hopping on the interwebs and narrowing potential candidates before making any contact at all.

Matthew Bellows, founder and CEO of Yesware, stopped by this to tell us what’s new in the world of sales, and what to do about it. During class, he emphasized the transition from convincing to building a relationship with your prospects. The point of starting a business is to make money, and this is crucial in deciding which customers to target and which ones to set aside. Regardless of which business you’re in, the cost of customer acquisition has to be less than the cost of customer lifetime value. You’re lose a few accounts along the way, but in the end, it’s just a matter of minimizing the losses.

5 Kinds of Sales (defined by David Skok of Matrix Partners)

  1. Freemium: In this model, some version of the product or service is given away, with the goal of up-selling or cross-selling over time.  (e.g. Yesware)
  2. No Touch Self-Service: Here you drive traffic to the web site using SEM/Pay per Click ads, SEO, Inbound Marketing, Freemium, etc. Visitors convert to paying customers without any need for salespeople. The product needs to be simple to understand, and have a compelling value proposition. (e.g.
  3. Light Touch Inside Sales: In this model, you might provide some light level of human touch such as email exchange to answer questions and provide customer support. A slightly higher level of touch might involve a phone call with an inside sales person.
  4. High Touch Inside Sales: Here you still sell your product/service over the phone, but the amount of work in closing the deal requires several phone calls, sales engineers, and/or web-based demos.
  5. Field Sales (classic sales guy): Now you require an on-site visit using a field sales organization. You might also need multiple on-site visits, selling to several decision-makers, use of SE’s (sales engineers), and perhaps on-site proof-of-concept installations that take considerable SE time.

As you progress down the list, complexity and costs rise. The higher your contract value, the more complex the sales style you can afford. If it’s over $100,000, then you’re ready for field sales. If not, keep it simple, starting with Freemium if possible.

Cold-calling is your friend. Life is full of simple pleasures, and cold calling is not one of them. However, if you try it you’ll find it being the most effective way to get through to someone. It’s about being a genuine person. If you’re unsure about whether you qualify, you have bigger issues than sales to worry about.

To push or not to push? There’s some debate on whether or not to push your message or to ask, “Do you have a minute to talk?” On one hand it’s crucial to get your message out there quickly and efficiently. However, Matthew’s not sold that this is the best way.  If someone’s not in the mood to talk to you, then what are the odds of you having their full attention? What are the odds of them resenting you as a faceless bother? Pretty good. It’s much more effective to ask for a better time, perhaps a happier, friendlier time, for them to consider you as a business partner.

The second best answer is a quick no. There’s no point waiting around for an unreliable prospect, making calls, sending emails, trying to set up meetings, just be told “no” later on.  No means no, regardless of how semi-interested they want to come off as. If you feel like you’re being lead on, this is a never fail subject line to send to the slowpoke:

Don’t waste your time. Someone’s too busy or not interested? This will result in either, a) them telling you they’re not interested, saving both of you time, or b) them realizing they’ve been neglecting you, either carelessly or with good reason, and recognize that if a deal’s getting done, it needs to happen now. It’s like an ex-girlfriend that you probably won’t run into again. Done and ready to move on.

Find your Champion. Crucial for selling to big businesses, a champion is someone internal to the organization that’s going to carry your flag, trust you to not screw up, and be willing to bet the next 2-3 years of raises on the fact that you’re going to deliver.  Sometimes the biggest hater can become the best champion. If Luke had converted Darth Vader earlier on, he could’ve been making moves instead of being stuck in the moisture farm business.

For more information on David Skok’s Sales Complexity, click here, or learn more about classes.

Brand Positioning: Easier than Mad Libs

In early May, kicked off this season’s schedule with “How to Tell Your Startup’s Story Effectively”. Taught by Mike Troiano, Chief Marketing Officer of Actifio (arguably one of our city’s greatest marketers), it was the perfect way to start off a summer of classes focused on startups and innovation. Last Thursday, Troiano was back in the house schooling Boston’s brightest with a proven framework for developing a winning brand positioning statement.

Brand Positioning

A successful brand positioning statement tackles two goals: first, it sums up what your business does, and next, it explains what makes your company or product special and unique. Competition among startups can often feel daunting, especially when you’re still just trying to get noticed. Taking the time to brainstorm and conceive a positioning statement that captures your business’s mission gives you an edge over the crowd, conveying a clear vision for you and your customers around the value you provide.

Positioning Statement Elements

  • Target: The actionable universe of buyers.
  • Segment: The key, predisposing attribute. Within the target audience there’s a segment of people with a specific attribute that makes your product or service appealing.
  • Brand: A name you call yourself.
  • Category: A competitive frame for the buyer.  Think about who you are competing against, and then separate yourself from them.
  • Distinction: What makes you unique, setting you apart from the competition.
  • Proof: A perceived evidence of truth to back up your distinction.

You can’t tell someone who you are and what you do without already having clear-cut definitions previously determined–at least not effectively. These six terms, once customized with definitions that represent your business most accurately, can form your positioning statement. The trick is organizing them.

“You’re betting on your livelihood in a value proposition you believe is significant… So you should write it down,” Mike said, referring to people losing focus on what they stand for, simply because they don’t have an unchanging, visible reminder. This next sentence is the backbone of your brand’s positioning statement and is applicable to any brand you might conceive in the future…so you should take notes:

“For target who are segment, brand provides the category with distinction because of proof.”

If you’ve ever completed a Mad Lib or color-by-numbers, you have the ability to create your statement. By taking your definitions of those six terms and plugging them into this sentence you have the most effective positioning statement style possible. The tricky part is getting the wording right. It’s key to keep it simple while including all crucial information that will convince your employees, investors, and customers that you have something unique and valuable to offer.

Winning Examples

“For drivers who value auto performance, BMW provides luxury vehicle that deliver joy through German engineering.”

“For people around the world, Coca-Cola is the soft drink that has been the real thing since 1886.”

Your final statement should follow the guidelines, while simultaneously manipulating the English language in ways that move people. To learn more, view slides from Mike’s class.