2 birds and a rocket?

Great projects
We met 19 startups during the Lean Marketing Days at PSE @EPFL. We discovered some amazing projects and a lot of great entrepreneurs at our first coaching session. Although the projects are all at different phases, the founders proved to be very open  during the coaching sessions. This was very exciting and encouraging all round.  As the results were so fruitful, we are planning to extend the Lean Marketing Days coaching sessions to other locations.  Watch this space!
Great discussions
All the feedback was very positive. Each company came with either specific challenges upon which they wanted advice or to review the homework we had asked them to prepare to ensure a useful and fruitful discussion. 45 minutes proved to be shorter than we thought when engaging in rich dialogue and learning about new technologies and business. Nonetheless, we managed to give advice and encouragement for their next steps. We look forward to following up with each of the groups and learning about how they get on.
Great challenges
Depending on the development phase, the technology, the entrepreneur, the maturity, the market, etc., startups face different challenges. Based on this we can roughly divide the startups we met with into 3 groups:

The early birds
For those in the early stages, the challenges are immense. Most come from an engineering background and have spent a lot of time researching and developing the idea or even the product. However, little time has yet been invested from a marketing perspective: product/service definition is not always clear, customer targeting and value proposition rarely defined.
What to do:
In this phase, methodology is key. Support is clearly needed for them to integrate the marketing thinking process. You need to have the customer perspective in mind and review the project. There might be opportunities you miss or threats you have underestimated. If it feels unclear, then it is unclear. Review, challenge, rework until it is customer & marketing proof.
The road runners
These startups already have some customers and some have been in existence for a few years. But the magic has not yet happened. They focus on producing. And because business is working - more or less - marketing was not set as a priority (no marketing skill internally). They need an intensive care because the entire foundation has to be set up.
What to do: You need a marketing strategy. You need to review the branding. It also means hiring or engaging a marketing person. You need to define your vision and your next 3 year objectives. And this should be done quickly with savvy experts. As business is running, the entrepreneur should delegate the operational tasks and lead this marketing project.
The rockets
They feel like rockets. They are about to blossom. Rocket blossoms anyone? But seriously, they are targeting, delivering, producing effectively with often a highly differentiated offer. Marketing is THE missing piece to ultimately provide the polish to a successful business which, on the whole is market proof, highly demanded and very well structured.
What to do: Hire a professional to get things done. Start with priorities and laborate for the next needed steps. Define a plan and stick to it.

Marketing should not be a foreign concept
From these sessions, we have seen two types of Marketing issues to solve:

  • Basic issues (mostly common sense) like defining a customer target, a service and a value proposition that is clear and unique.
  • Branding & Marketing issues which are more challenging because involving both skills and money

But the good news is that all you need to do is to proceed step by step. And 20% of the effort, will provide 80% of the result.
What do you think? We would love to hear back and have your thoughts.