Ignoring Innovation: Lessons from Kodak

kodak

In 2007 I joined an innovation swat team at Cornell in the Johnson Graduate School of Business. It was called the Business, Science, and Technology Initiative (known to the cool kids as BSTI). We were working with Kodak to come up with a completely new product that would appeal to our age group, the early 20s.

For the next two years our team of nine would meet biweekly to research, experiment, and learn more about our fellow peers. I remember walking into the room on our first day. We sat down to write science fiction stories about how the world would look in 10-15 years. I really had no idea how this would pertain to Kodak or innovation at all. Were we going to build robots? Surprisingly our stories weren’t crazy fantasies. We were pretty level headed and realistic people.

We broke down the stories into motivations, desires, fears and needs. Then we made a motivational profile. We zoomed out to a 176 need and want statements, and then zoomed into 20 key ones that we would work with.

Here’s some of them:

  • I need to feel in control of my image.
  • I want to know what others think about me. (Later proved not to be a good idea by the infamous Juicy Campus)
  • I want to be able to act my age and not worry about how it will affect my search for internships and jobs.
  • I fear being judged or punished for one aspect of my identity.
  • I want to minimize inaccurate data/reports that are easily accessible.
  • I want to be able to be in different social circles and not have one circle judge me because of another circle.
  • I want to know what people expect from me.
  • I don’t want my identities mixed/mashed between my different social groups.

To understand these needs, you have to also understand the timing of 2007. We were one of the first classes that were completely on Facebook from day one. We were constantly checking status updates, broswing people’s profiles, and uploading every possible photo from the party the night before. I recently had to detag thousands of photos of my friends who now have babies, so I got to fully reminisce about how many photos we actually took back then.

I remember starting Cornell taking a digital point and shoot camera with me to every party. A few months later, I was using my stupid 1.3 mgpx flip phone to take most of my photos. Then, the first iPhone came out. It changed the game. Now we had better quality cameras in our pockets every day. Photos piled up. More people started getting iPhones. We were constantly connected to Facebook all day. Texting, monitoring, uploading.

Then a year later we got a reality check – internships. Everyone was applying for work over the summer. We knew the recruiters would be looking for drunken Facebook photos. These were the horror stories spread throughout school. You’d see people crying, “Lehman Brothers turned me down because I had a beer in my hand!” Security cracked down. We started filtering who could see our profiles. We were more careful about what we posted online. Those who weren’t could be seen crying around campus.

All this played into what we were doing for Kodak. After figuring out our own needs and wants, we went out to interview our peers and get their perspectives. We each ran interviews to learn more about them and empathize. We came out with similar results, but the key focus was really around managing our identities in an online world, enhancing your image through photos, and community management.

The key needs became:

  • I need to gain as much relevant information as possible about my outer network for reducing the social “cost” of interacting with my outer network and for efficiently recruiting new friends to my inner circles.
  • I need to gain as much relevant information as possible about my relevant relations in order to impress them.
  • I need to be able to control my image and images, and when crossing the intended boundaries, they irrecoverably self-destruct.

After understanding the needs, we went into brainstorm mode to figure out what Kodak could do. We spent time talking with their team to understand their mission, their technologies, and their business. Over the next few months we came up with ideas, got feedback from peers, and refined them. Finally, we finished a presentation for Kodak in which we suggested many ideas, including the following:

  • Build advanced camera technologies into a phone that can produce high quality photos.
  • Build software into that phone that would allow you to do basic editing of photos to make them look better.
  • Tag the photos with GPS location so they can be uploaded to albums easily and shared with friends or individuals.
  • Tie photo albums to events in your calendars.

There were other aspects we included about mood boosting and event hosting (which you’ll find in our write up called Market Driven Innovation) but these were the core elements I remember very vividly.

We were pretty excited about what we came up with. We could see the value for both Kodak and ourselves. I left that last day energized and waiting for a new product to come out. Then months passed. We heard nothing. Years passed. Again, nothing. I checked in at one point and heard they were evaluating it and waiting for a team to work on it. Years later I heard from former employees that point and shoot camera technology has been more appealing at that time to the management than phones.

Five years after we started in January 2012, Kodak went bankrupt. Four months later, Instagram was acquired by Facebook for $1 Billion. In 2013, Kodak emerged from bankruptcy. Two years later, and seven years after our suggestions, Kodak launched a phone. You probably haven’t heard about it.

There’s a few things I’ve learned from working with Kodak that make more sense to me now after working with many companies trying to innovate:

Having an innovation team doesn’t make you innovative.

When you treat innovation like a standalone part of the business, you lose your competitive edge. You’re not able to act on the ideas you come up with. Waiting for buy in, resources, and budget will push faster moving competitors ahead of you. Innovation has to be woven into all your product development teams. It should be something they think about on a daily basis, and are ready to start acting on immediately. Execution is 9/10th of the battle.

Don’t get distracted by what you’ve always done.

Kodak fell into the common trap of doing things the same way they have always done. While they were enhancing their point and shoot cameras and film, the market was going full steam towards phones. There were definitely people at Kodak who recognized this (and spun up programs like BSTI), but corporate structure prevented those on the ground floor from getting good ideas to market.

Failing to recognize market signals is a great way to kill a company.

Your customers can provide an eye opening way perspective. You just have to listen to them. The research we did showed pretty vividly where the market was going. Many companies don’t even incorporate these learnings into their product development timelines, instead falling into an endless loop of building things no one wants. Getting outside the building can change your perspective. But, make sure you are the ones going outside. It’s more powerful for the people building the product and making the decisions to hear it themselves.

In reflection, I learned a lot through this project. It just took me a while to realize it. It ties into the premises that I teach today about talking to your customers and building products that solve problems. If you’d like to read more about the entire project, we wrote an article called Market Driven Innovation.

5 Lessons Learned in 2013

Giving the Prime Minister a Shirt

In 2013 I spent 210 days in Europe. Lived in 2 countries. Visited 8 countries, 5 of them for the first time. Had 3 different jobs. Founded 1 company. Raised €25.000. Spoke at 2 conferences, 3 meetups, 2 accelerators. Made friends from 19 different countries. Flew my dog 8000 miles. Went to 1 hackathon, came in 2nd. Took a spontaneous trip to Slovenia. Skied the alps once. Participated in Oktoberfest. Moved across the world, and then came back home.

2013 was a rollercoaster of a ride. I got the chance to do many things I’ve always wanted to, and for that I’m thankful. There was also a lot of hard lessons to be learned along the way, making it a pretty stressful and by no means easy year. Worth it though? Yes. Keeping the same tradition as last year, here’s 5 of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. Trust your gut

I have always given things a fighting chance to work out. Jobs, relationships. I am a fixer by nature, and I try to fix broken things. I keep telling myself “but it might get better and then you’ll want to be here so try your best to figure out what can be mended.” I do like the concept of giving things a fighting chance, but somewhere along the way, I started giving things a chance for too long. I stopped listening to my gut.

In Italy, I formed a company with three other people. One left at the very beginning and we were down to three of us. Soon, problems started arising with one of the cofounders. Big problems that just couldn’t be shoved under a rug. I stuck around for about 4 months after the warning signs emerged, hoping things would get better, trying to make them so. My subconscious was telling me it never would, but I thought in my head, if we could just fix this relationship, we could make a successful business and keep going. It came to a point where I had to make a decision to finally trust my gut or keep fixing. I chose to leave. The next morning, I felt like a load of weight had been finally lifted from my shoulders. I started to feel better too, less stressed and more healthy. I started hanging out with a lot of other people in the program, and made many friends I intend on visiting and working with in the future. Everything finally got better.

Your body can tell you a lot that your mind can’t. Have you ever made a decision but felt sick to your stomach? I have. Something inside you is telling you that it’s the wrong decision. Don’t ignore it. I spent too much time listening to my head this year. Next year, I’m going to listen more to what my gut tells me.

2. The grass may be greener on the other side, but its not your grass

I always wanted to live in Italy. It’s a more relaxing life there. There’s thousands of years worth of history that we don’t have here. In these cases it is better than the US, but we always want what we don’t have. Living in Italy was a great opportunity. I learned a lot about people. About cultures. About bureaucracy. I would never have been exposed to these things had I stayed in NYC. But, I also learned a lot of what we have right here is better. I’m thankful I can come home to that.

When you work in startups, like me, the US provides you with so many more opportunities than many countries in Europe. The bureaucracy I witnessed there was astounding. You’d go broke just trying to incorporate a company in Italy. Most of the people I worked with were trying to come here. I wish our immigration laws would let them. There’s a slew of talented people who could be creating jobs with their startups in this country. For me, I learned this is the right place to be when I start a company.

I by no means want to stop traveling. In fact, I want to travel more. There are still places I want to see, cultures I want to experience. I want to live somewhere else for a while too, experience that city, it’s highs and lows. Berlin is looking pretty good. But I will not take for granted the excellent opportunities we have in the US when it comes to smoother processes, salaries, and starting companies.

3. You don’t have to settle

For the first time in my life, I’m not 100% sure what I will be doing next. I’m fortunate to have many opportunities, and I want to be sure I pick the best one before I dive in with both feet. 2 years ago (hell, last January) not having a full time job lined up would have scared me to death. I couldn’t fathom leaving one company without knowing where I would be next. When I was no longer happy at OpenSky, I started looking for my next opportunity. At first I couldn’t find anything I liked. I had a list of things that were very important to me, but none of the companies I interviewed with fit the bill. After a few months of searching, countless interviews, and many offers turned down, I was offered a job at Conductor. I had reservations about the company culture and the size, but for the most part it looked like a really good fit and I was tired of searching. I took the offer and started quickly after, excited to get to work. After only a month though, I could tell it was the wrong place for me. The culture and the size turned out to be quite different from the environments in which I thrive. It just wasn’t a match. When the opportunity to go to Italy arose, I jumped at a chance to build something of my own.

This time I’m not settling for anything less than “Hell Yes!” I want to find something to work on that keeps me up at night. For now, I am consulting on UX Design, Product Strategy, and Lean Methodologies, something I really love doing (so reach out to me if you want to chat!). I’ve been advising various startups and teaching classes and workshops. By doing the things I love, I’m confident I’ll find something I really want to be a part of instead of settling for something less.

4. Surround yourself with people who make you better

Ever have a friend that always said they would hang out and never followed through? How about a coworker who always put down your ideas? I’ve had quite a few in both categories. This year I learned to cut them loose.

I met a lot of different people this year. Some awesome, some not so awesome. I met people who made me want to stay up until 4am trying to hack things together. I had my first brush with men who could not stand to have a woman CEO. I made some friends who’d let you invite yourself over for dinner on a bad day without warning. I saw firsthand people who would do anything to be perceived as important. There’s a lot of people in the world, and who you choose to associate with has a huge effect on your happiness and productivity. I spent quite some time this year on people who brought me down. They chided my ideas. They ignored my calls. They didn’t support me.

Near the end of the year, I started making some changes and cutting out these people. Turns out, once you get rid of those toxic people, you have room to surround yourself with people who make you better.

5. Let go of your things

I lived for 6 months out of 2 suitcases I brought to Italy with me. When I got there I bought a hair dryer, a toothbrush, and necessarily toiletries. Oh and a fan, because it was DAMN hot in August. Wish I bought that sooner. I didn’t wear some of those clothes because, well, startup life. Also, I only had 2 pairs of shoes once it got cold, but if I had one more pair I probably would have been set.

I opened up my storage when I got home and felt like someone from Hoarders… and it’s really just a small storage! But now all the things I own seem to weigh me down. Why do I keep all those college t-shirts from slope day? Every time I thought about moving in the past I always had some excuse to tie me down. My apartment is too awesome, and I love living with my roommates. I have too many things and I’ve been moving the past 9 years. I REALLY need a tortilla press and 7 coffee makers, so obviously I should just stay here. All these things ended up being a huge burden while I was away, even with a lot of help from some very special people. There were arguments, payments on storage, and just a ton of stress. If I didn’t own so many things, where could I go? Where could I move to if I wasn’t worrying about them?

I’m taking a look at everything I own this year and reducing the clutter. I’m keeping my Cole Haan boots though and by god I will wear them all over NYC, even if I want to sit down, rub my feet, and cry a bit every 5 blocks.

So here’s to 2014. Travel often, work on things you love, and spend time with people who matter.

Lines Not Dots

When you first meet someone interesting, you usually start slow, talking about yourselves and getting to know each other. We don’t normally start discussing how awesome we are, and hit someone up for a favor… unless you’re an asshole. So why do we do that with investors?

This past week I was at Web Summit in Dublin. There were 10,000 people there. 600 startups (one of them was FlowsBy). Very very few investors. So when the startuppers did see a purple investor badge, they panicked and started running after them. I watched as Dave McClure got off the stage, and was immediately pounced upon by at least 30 people. They were shoving papers in his face, wildly trying to put a business card in his pocket, and pretty much screaming pitches at him. It was like a scene from animal planet. Dave looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but there.

I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want the person you are trying to get money from to feel like they have to run away from you as soon as they meet you.

The last night at Web Summit, I actually ran into Dave at a small party. Well more like he kind of fell backwards into me and we started talking. We chatted about the conference and random things. I told him I saw the gang of people descend on him when he left the stage. When I asked if that pretty much came with the territory, he sighed and said “Yeah… but I have no patience for that at all.”

As startuppers, we tend to think of investors as “higher beings”. They can make us successful, or make us fail. We give them hero status, look at them in awe, and by doing this, forget that they are actually human beings who need to be treated like so. We need to start having normal conversations with them, and stop asking for things right off the bat.

One of our first presentations at Techpeaks was from Evan Nisselson. He quoted a line from a post by Mark Suster on investing:

Investors invest in lines, not dots. – Mark Suster

Evan’s advice was to talk to people, get to know them, and build a relationship before asking for something in return. In this way, you’ll be remembered AND you’ll also get to know the person. I don’t think any of us want to do business with someone we don’t know, or with whom we can’t have a normal conversation.

There were tons of awesome people at that party – Robert Scoble, Elon Musk, CEOs, Investors, Founders. I got the chance to talk to all of them for hours (yeah even Elon!), but I never pitched anyone. When we talked about what we did I would tell them about FlowsBy. Some people wanted to hear more so we chatted and I received some great advice and feedback. But no one was there to hear me pitch. They weren’t there to hear anyone pitch. They were there to have fun, relax, and party their asses off. And we did. Until 6am.

The next time we run into each other, I’ll ask them how they are doing, and how’s life. There’s a better chance they will remember the person they had great time talking to and partying with at the only place open in Dublin that one night than the hundreds of people who pitched them at Web Summit as they passed by. That’s because we started to form a relationship. We took the time to get to know each other, even for a few minutes or hours.

So I challenge all startuppers out there, to fight the urge to pitch to every investor you just meet. You have to actively work to build relationships with people. Relationships last, even when companies don’t.

5 Observations About European Startups

For the past 5 months, I’ve been living in Italy starting my company, FlowsBy, at the Techpeaks Accelerator. I’ve had the chance to work with some amazing people from 19 different countries, right here in Trento. During August, I also had the chance to visit iCatapult’s accelerator in Hungary to speak to their new class of startups.

There was no end to the shock when I told people I was going to start a company in Italy. “So you’re leaving the second biggest startup hub in the US to go to the middle of nowhere Italy to build a company. Makes sense…” “Does anybody even work in Italy?” There was also lots of encouragement, but I also think those people saw this as more of a sweet 6 months “working” vacation and told me to have fun and “YOLO”. Not quite what’s been happening.

For me, a major reason I chose to come here was to get out of my comfort zone. We are incredibly innovative in the US, we have lots of things going for us. But, at a certain point you forgot there is anything else in the world but the US. I got very wrapped up in my own way of living and working, and I got complacent. I hate being complacent. It doesn’t force you to work harder. It doesn’t force you to be creative. So I came here not only to work, but also to learn how other countries work and think and live.

After 5 months, a few things have stood out to me about the startup community in the countries I’ve been familiar with here. Most of this relates to Italy and southern Europe, since that is what I know best. None of this relates to Germany, Switzerland, Austria or any countries up near Sweden, Finland, etc since I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them yet. 

Europeans are great problem solvers

When I was in Hungary at the iCatapult accelerator, one of the participants asked Zoli Piroska, a question.

“What’s the difference between entrepreneurs in Hungary and entrepreneurs in the US?”

Zoli’s answer hit it on the head for me. He responded that Hungarians are great problem solvers, but Americans were great executors. I’ve also seen this in Italy and other countries as well. Europeans are used to dealing with terrible bureaucracy, people not wanting to do their jobs, and everything being closed on Sunday (this still gets my goat). They have been problem solving their entire lives. Every time I got a bit stressed out from some bureaucratic BS at Techpeaks, my cofounders from Rome would be calm as ever. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.” As mafia as that statement sounds, that’s what Europeans do. They work around the problems with a calm and grace we don’t have in the US. We’re used to things working, and when they don’t we get stressed out or pissed off. Europeans on the other hand, are used to almost nothing working, so they’re immediate reaction is to go into problem solving mode. This is a wonderful trait to have in cofounders, and I’m really lucky that both of mine have it.

On the other side of Zoli’s statement, he said Americans are better executors. I have to agree with this. In the US, we have the motto of “get shit done”. We’re incredibly efficient so that we can get more done in less time, and we know how to prioritize. I’ve seen quite a few startuppers here get hung up on things that just don’t need to be done now, or are a lower priority. Some of this is just lack of experience, and some of it is the environment they live in. I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day as the checkout lady slowly read every one of the 200 items in front of me and then commented on them to the purchasers. It was my own personal hell. Life tends to move at a slower pace in Europe, and it’s a wonderful pace if you want to relax, but it takes a toll on the work that European startuppers can get done. When the services you need to operate are closed, or people don’t care if it takes 3 weeks to get you a document, you are forced to move at that pace.

There is a different way of speaking

On the topic of inefficiency, one of the biggest challenges for me working with Italians has been learning their way of speaking. Not the Italian language, but the manner in which people speak. In Italian, there are a lot of pleasantries that are common practices. Some of these pleasantries don’t even exist in English, for example the formal “you”. For the others, we have similar ways of speaking in English, but most people would never talk like that. We prefer to get to the point quicker and be direct (without being an asshole). It’s something we’re taught in writing and speaking from an early age. Unfortunately, this can be seen as incredibly rude to any latin language speaker. I’ve run into this problem a few times here, which has made incredible strains on working relationships. Worried that I was being incredibly rude (because I know I can be short sometimes) I talked to people who worked regularly between the US and Europe. They experienced the same problems I have about the language differences, and told me I need to learn to adapt. So everytime I’m about to say something I normally would, I take a breath and really think about what I’m going to say. It’s hard. It’s not natural to me. I find it really inefficient to take 20 minutes to say something I could in 2 minutes. But it works and it’s something you have to do if you want to do business with people in latin speaking countries.

On my team, we’ve come up with our own working language. We all speak English, sometimes there’s Roman thrown in (and sometimes I understand it), and every once in while my cofounders will speak Italian and I’ll answer very slowly in Italian. But the most important thing is, after a lot of conversations, that we found a way of communication that we can all respect, knowing that we come from different backgrounds. That’s critical.

There are fewer women in startups than the US

One of the more disappointing things I’ve found about European startups is that there seems to be fewer women here than in the US. Out of the 65 people in Techpeaks, only 6 of us are female. That’s a damn low number. I’ve met a handful of other women cofounders around Europe. One I met at the Mind The Bridge Bootcamp, where she was pitching her first startup with another female cofounder. She is originally from the US and lived in Milan for the past 7 years. She asked me why I think there are not more women founders or women even working in startups. I’ve also heard this question from 2 really great women cofounders in Hungary. It’s a hard question to answer.

One of the reasons is that we don’t tell our young girls it’s a possibility for them. But, when you’re older and you’re thinking of entering the field, it’s not easy. I’ve heard it said “misogyny is a full time job” for developers in the US, but it’s doubly so here. I don’t think Europeans intend it with as much malice as some of the brogrammers in the US, but they’re not used to working with women. I’ve heard so many conversations here which would end up as an HR nightmare at home. Also, a lot of things that I’ve heard developers say at home in general about women, have been directed solely to me by peers here. It takes it to another level, that is incredibly uncomfortable.

One of the advantages we have in the states (which shocked the Hungarian founders) is that we have groups like New York Tech Women and Girl Develop It, that were driving initiatives to get more women into the field and also support them. That support would do women well here. In order to include more women in the startup world (which can help you be more successful) I think many European cultures need to first recognize this as a problem, then learn to be more open to women in the industry, and definitely women leaders.

The Startup camaraderie needs some help

One of the things I love most about working in NYC, is that I know there are so many people out there who support me and want to see my succeed. We go to events together regularly, we run into eachother at meetups, and we always ask “What are you working on? How can I help?” This camaraderie makes work enjoyable and motivating at home. I think this is what makes us a powerful nation for starting companies. That’s one thing I’ve seen missing from Italy. Silicon Valley got to where it is today because of the community. When I first visited San Francisco, the whole community was buzzing with startup events, meetups, and people who were doing interesting things. Everyone I talked to was willing to sit down to have a coffee with me, introduce me to someone, or invite me to an event. It’s a magnetic place, and if you are in startups, you finally feel like you’re home, surrounded by likeminded people.

Italy, and Trento, has a long way to go to get to this place. Bringing in startups and entrepreneurial people is a great way to get started, but a true community has not formed yet. One contentious debate we got into with a community of startuppers in this area was on Facebook. We had been asking people in “Startup Spritz” to help us out with sharing surveys, giving us feedback, and just telling them what we’re working on. Some of the members of the group (not everyone) went on a rant that they shouldn’t help us and we weren’t “contributing” to the community so we don’t have the right to post. Meanwhile, one of the Techpeaks requirements is that each one of us does 40 hours of work in the startup community to help leave some knowledge and work in Trento. So the reaction in the group shocked me, as we had talked to these people and exchanged ideas before.

I’ve always been of the mindset of pay it forward, and if someone asks me for help, I will help. Then, when I need their help at a future date, I don’t hesitate to ask for it. This mindset just isn’t dominant here yet. I was really happy to see after this incident a lot of Techpeakers felt the same as me. We help each other out, we don’t expect things in return. We know that we’re a community that will support each other, and that lets us thrive.

It is expensive to start a company here

I am certain that the entrepreneurs in Italy are doing everything they can to make their companies happen. To some extent, I think they are also more driven and passionate about what they’re doing than some people in the US. Why? Because it’s damn expensive to start a company here. You have to shell out so much money, jump through so many bureaucratic hoops to incorporate in Italy, that you better be passionate or crazy to start a company here. Let’s compare:

USA: In the US, you can incorporate in Delaware for $239. If you make no revenue, you pay no taxes. If you do not personally get a salary, you do not pay any taxes. So for these costs, you pay about $239 to start a company, and $225 to maintain your company while it’s not making money.

Italy: In Italy, you have to go to the notary public with lawyer’s documents to incorporate. The fee for the notary was €1700, the fee for the lawyer is about €1500. You also need to contribute share capital, which was just lowered from a minimum of €2500 to €0, thankfully. If your company makes no revenues every year, you have to pay a flat tax determined by the gov’t, which we believe will be around €4000. If you are a shareholder for a company, but you make €0 a year, you need to pay €4500 a year in taxes. So for these costs, you pay about €3200 to start a company, and €8500 a year to maintain your company while it’s not making money.

Many people who want to start a company in Italy, are asked to fork over their life savings to do it, so you better believe they are going to work their ass off to make it succeed.

 

I’m really happy I decided to come to Italy to work. Although it’s been nothing but a rocky ride, to say I’ve learned a lot would be an understatement. Entrepreneurs in Europe may be few and far between right now, but they are driven. The government and cultures make doing their jobs hard, and most of them want to come to the US where they can raise money and do good work. I hope that we reform a lot of our immigration laws so they can do just that.

For the US people reading this, don’t underestimate the European startuppers. I have met some really amazing, hard working people here. For the Europeans reading this, keep chugging, don’t be too proud to accept help, and learn about American culture if you want to go there. There is a budding startup community here, a few years behind the US, but give it some time and the right mix of people, I think we’ll see it grow.

Why You Should Wait to Pitch for Money

Pitching for money too early can distract you from creating the best product. I know mine is sort of an unorthodox situation, but let me tell you a story:

When arrived at Techpeaks our goal for the first month was to form a team, come up with an idea, and then pitch for 25K euro.  We had one month to do this. Just remembering everyone’s name was a challenge, especially with 3 Riccardos and 4 Alessandros.

Having done Lean many times before, I thought this month would be plenty of time. My attitude was “I can validate anything in a weekend, no big deal.” And it’s true – you can validate a problem rather quickly. The hard part is creating a business that solves that problem.

When you pitch to investors, they care about your business. How do you make money? How many people pay you money? We learned exactly what to put in pitch decks: problem, solution, business model, traction, team. If you look at these middle 3 parts of a pitch deck, you can see they take time. They take iteration to get right.

Pitching too soon doesn’t allow you the time to get traction and figure out what business model your customers respond to. In this early stage of a company, you should be creating or testing great product ideas. Pitching is a distraction. You can spend so much time saying “No that won’t work because we can’t make money” and pass on an opportunity to engage thousands, even millions of users.

After being together with my team less than a month, we created a pitch deck and got the 25K in the first shot, something not too common at Techpeaks. We had all the right materials: a strong problem, companies who agreed to test us, and a solid business model. After a month of creating tests and getting companies to agree to add us to their websites, we realized we were missing something: validation of our users. We spent a good amount of time before the pitch talking to one side of our market: the buyers. We needed this validation for pitching – it was the middle three parts of our slides. The response from them was really good, so we were encouraged to keep going. We received our funding and started building our MVP.

It wasn’t until a month later that we realized we neglected the most important part of our market: the users. These people were not the same as the ecommerce companies that would buy us. They had different problems. After interviewing tons of potential users, we found they did not have the problem we thought they did. We pivoted and found a different problem in the same area and we’re proceeding with that.

Techpeaks is unconventional to say the least. I know this can’t even be possible for most people, but if you think that you are far along enough to raise money, take a step back. Have you validated all parts of your idea? Do you have users? Are they coming back to your site often? Are you making money? If the answer is no, then this should be your focus. Don’t get distracted by money. Focus on your product, make sure users love it, and then find the money. Had we not been scrambling to make a presentation that sounded good to investors, we would have been validating and learning much earlier in our process. Just wait.