Provo, UT — Utah power couple Shauna and Andrew Smith will share their startup story with a live audience of entrepreneurs on Feb. 7 at RevRoad University. The event will take place from 11 a.m. –1 p.m. at RevRoad HQ, 1555 N. Freedom Blvd. The Smiths work in tandem as president and CEO of Four Foods Group, a restaurant operations company that owns franchises across the country. Their brands include Kneaders, R&R Barbecue, Little Caesars, Swig, The Soda Shop and Mo’ Bettahs. Four Foods fills the role of owner and operator for its franchises, with a focus on growing and scaling emerging brands, Andrew Smith said. The pair will talk with RevRoad’s Rebecca Palmer about how they built the business from a single Kneaders franchise 10 years ago. They’ll discuss the role tech has played in their growth, their business partnership as a married couple and more. To see a preview video, visit https://youtu.be/PRDQRsMZNmI. February’s RevRoad University will also include a legal workshop with RevRoad Chief Legal Counsel Joel Beus. He’ll discuss intellectual property, including what kinds of information qualify for trade secret protections and how to prevent misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential information. The free event will include complimentary lunch, courtesy of R&R Barbecue, and invitees are encouraged to come with questions for the presenters. The event will be streamed live at https://bit.ly/2oJw2mR.
Anyone interested in learning the story behind the Homie billboards scattered up and down I-15 is welcome to attend RevRoad University on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 11 AM. The free event will feature an interview with Homie founder Johnny Hanna and his wife, Paige. They will talk with RevRoad’s Rebecca Palmer about the beginnings of Homie, the struggles they have faced trying to grow a company as they grow a young family, their successes, and their plans to take Homie nationwide. Audience members are strongly encouraged to come with questions of their own for the Hannas. Complimentary lunch, courtesy of Homie and RevRoad, will be served after the live interview and Q&A. In addition to the interview, RevRoad University will include a free workshop on how startups can “create their own rainmaker machines.” “No one has a job until someone sells something, and generating revenue is one of the most important things a business can do,” said RevRoad CEO Derrin Hill, who will lead the workshop alongside RevRoad Chief Sales and Talent Officer Dave Myers. “Join us to learn about several key aspects of creating a sales machine for your company.” For a sneak peek of the December event, click here: https://youtu.be/5lBGjJeiKLE. Attendees can add their names to the Meetup event at https://meetu.ps/e/G3RrP/2Qr1p/f.
We continued RevRoad University series in July with a focus on marketing video and the value of lean growth strategies. The free series is focused on business leaders and startup employees, and was open to the public.
Each RevRoad University event includes a workshop about an important element of business growth. Then, over lunch, I get the opportunity to interview local serial entrepreneurs about their experiences.
This month started with a presentation on the importance of storytelling in video from RevRoad Video Director Tigran Mirzoyan. He talked about the history of visual storytelling, the importance of asking the right questions and having humility, and how to create a story arc.
After lunch, sponsored by Squire & Company, PC, Sara joined me on the RevRoad stage to tell her story. She talked about how she transitioned to entrepreneurship after working as a patent attorney, and how much the landscape has changed for women in tech since 2007.
In fact, much of that change may be due to her efforts. Sara cofounded Women Tech Council in 2007, and has helped lead the nonprofit organization ever since. The group is laser focused on providing only what the community needs, and was careful to listen to feedback at every stage of growth. Today, the organization has 10,000 men and women members around the country, has helped thousands of college women in STEM careers and has inspired 12,000 high school girls through the SheTech program.
The complete transcripts and video recordings of the event will be available soon. To watch previous #RevU workshops and interviews, visit us on Youtube and be sure to follow our channel and let us know what you think in the comments.
Then, mark your calendar for our next edition of RevRoad University. We’ll host San Diablo Churros Founder Scott Porter, and focus on branding and raising capital.
RevU July – Gallery
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Here at RevRoad, we recently held our first-ever Give Your Business a Shot competition for entrepreneurs, and we were delighted to see so many promising founders making serious progress. There were excellent companies at many stages, from idea to early customer feedback to post-revenue and seed funding.
Since the competition, we have talked with many of the 18 judges about what they saw (in the name of transparency, both myself and my co-author Rebecca were among the judges). Many of the judges are active investors, and all have experience in helping businesses grow.
One of the most important themes across the board was traction. We saw examples of companies that had made great strides in this area, and our 3 prize winners were definitely among them.
Judges also noted that companies that were further along had made great strides in a short timeframe. Focus was the primary differentiating factor. Companies that focused on proving out their business model, early and simply, showed that they are winning.
What Makes a Winner
We also saw some companies that still had work to do in terms of getting traction and problem validation, so we decided to put together a quick guide that we hope can help.
First, let’s talk about what we mean by traction. In the world of entrepreneurship, traction is evidence of demand for your product or service. Ash Maurya put it more specifically:
“Traction is the rate at which a business model captures monetizable value from its users.”
For investors, the best proof of traction is sales. But depending on your stage, other proofs of traction may be more relevant:
Insights from customer interviews (specifically, problem interviews and solution interviews)
Letters of intent (LOIs)
Testimonials from experts in the field (or recruiting them to your advisory board!)
The competition provided some great examples of young companies that had already gained significant traction. Check out the great line-up below.
$1,000 Fan Favorite Piero
The founders of this portal (doorway) management company interviewed facilities managers and wheelchair-bound students to identify a problem important enough to build a company around. They started with the premise that life is more difficult than it needs to be for the disabled. Then, they identified 4 possible solutions, only one of which had anything to do with doorways.
Their interviews showed that building entry and exit is a huge problem for both wheelchair-bound students and facilities managers. Automatic door buttons for the disabled are often difficult to find, doors often close too quickly, and facility managers have no easy way of knowing whether they are functional.
Focusing on doors, Piero built an initial solution of automatic doors that could be opened by a smartphone based simply on proximity. Their problem is focused and specific, and they know exactly what their customers want. They also know they’re addressing a large market.
$2,500 Runner-up Neighbor
Neighbor, which connects people with extra space to people who need storage, has also gotten far in terms of traction and problem validation, and it shows in the company’s go-to-market strategy. It all started when one of the co-founders, Preston Alder, couldn’t find affordable storage space when he was headed out of state for a summer internship.
“We launched with little more than a Google Sheet” Alder said.
Through renter and host signups, the company proved that Alder was far from alone in wanting more reasonably priced and conveniently located storage space. Next, the company built robust, geographically focused technology solutions. They’ve avoided expanding too fast while they optimize their solution.
$10,000 Champion JourneyFront
JourneyFront, our overall winner, offers predictive hiring technology to help companies find better employees. In terms of traction, this company hit it out of the park. It has earned the business of 20 corporate customers since launching in February of 2017, and has given 16,000 assessments. This has resulted in annual contracts worth tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, the team represents a deep bench of expertise, proving that some of the best people in the business want to be part of its success.
Final 12 Contestant Mentionables
Mentionables has done a ton of validation interviews and has learned who their main 3 early-adopter customer types are. Having learned exactly what problems their customers face and who their best customers are makes them highly focused and efficient. They can reach these customers in highly cost-effective ways.
Final 12 Contestant Unbird
Unbird, which helps product managers understand and react to customer feedback, proved traction by the best available metrics: signups and sales. Already, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company has 110 customer signups, 31 companies in its system, 2 sales, and 10 companies evaluating its solution for purchase.
Final 12 Contestant Portal Power
Portal Power, which provides charging for phones and devices via one simple cord, did a lot to validate that heavy power packs and a mess of cords are a problem for many people. The company learned focus during its participation in the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah, conducting a market outreach survey with 500 potential customers. Nearly 80% said they would prefer a portable charger that was in the form of a normal charging cord. Next, Portal Power ran simple advertising tests with online ads, proving an ability to reach new paying customers in a cost-effective way.
How to Get There
Entrepreneurs are impatient by nature, and they often focus on getting big before they focus on proving they have a compelling solution to a widely held and painful problem that people are willing to pay for.
For example, many entrepreneurs try to raise capital before gaining meaningful customer traction — nearly always a no-win path. There are surprisingly simple steps entrepreneurs can take to gain traction very rapidly and thus dramatically improve their chances of startup success:
Find people who would be your early-adopter customers, meaning people who would be most willing to pay for your proposed solution. Then, ask these questions and keep careful track of the answers:
Some people say X is a problem. Is it for you?
Why, how and how often?
How do you currently get around the problem?
How big a problem is this for you?
Are there other elements of the problem we have not addressed
This is your next step. Once you’ve identified and documented the customer problem you are solving and built a prototype or even mockup solution, select several customers for a follow-up conversation. Ask these questions:
We found many people had problem X and we’ve developed this solution. Do you share this problem?
Would this solution solve it?
What do you wish were different about this solution?
Will you sign up for our pre-launch to be notified when this is available?
Will you pay $X now to reserve you solution and be among the first to receive it
Landing page with sign-up for notification on launch:
This is great for software companies, social networks and even e-commerce. Set up a landing page version of your site. Craft an offer but keep it simple — just find a way to showcase on one page your value proposition, a demo of your solution and pricing. When people visit, ask them for:
Did you attend the competition? What did you learn, and which contestants did you find most inspiring? Let us know on our social media channels @revroadutah. Rebecca Palmer, RevRoad Strategic Communications Champion, contributed to this article. Big thanks to Freepik for the use of the header illustration on this article.
RevRoad HQ was packed full of promising entrepreneurs last week for #RevU, the second edition of the 12-month RevRoad University series.
Legal 101 Workshop
The morning kicked off with a Legal 101 workshop from RevRoad Legal Counsel Joel Beus, with help from RevRoad Co-founder and Finance Manager Bart Skalla. The focus was on legal business entities for startups and founders.
“What’s the upside, and downside, of an LLC?” he asked. “You have ultimate flexibility and you can do whatever you want.”
Later, RevRoad Co-founder and Finance Manager Bart Skalla weighed in.
“If you’re not yet organized, I strongly suggest you consider organizing as a C Corp,” Skalla said, explaining that C Corporations make it much easier to raise capital down the road. They also provide flexible ways to include employees in stock plans, and come with many other tax-advantaged fringe benefits.
If you were one of our guests at February #RevU and are interested in seeing more slides from the presentation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
RevRoad Builders Series — Little Bee Speech
After lunch, the crowd took their seats for the RevRoad Builders Series. Featured Founders Chris and Heidi Hanks, of the app development company Little Bee Speech, joined me on the stage to talk about their growing pains, successes and inspirations.
The Hanks’s shared the story of how they started building language development apps for children. When it all began, Heidi had a private speech pathology practice and found herself creating study materials for her students from scratch. At the same time, Chris was developing his skills in multimedia.
Then, just before a long-awaited family trip to Disneyland, Heidi saw an iPod touch for the first time. Immediately, she realized how helpful it could be for her students and their parents.
The couple spent the whole vacation talking about the app idea, and the next year and a half building concepts and designs for what would become the first app from Little Bee Speech. Soon, they hired a developer on contract and were ready to submit to the App store.
There were great success and great failures along the way, and eventually the business was so successful that the Hanks’s transitioned to doing it full time. They learned valuable lessons learned about when to go to market, what happens when you accidentally shrink your market, how to beat the competition and how to keep passion alive even when your full-time cofounder is also your full-time spouse and co-parent.
To hear the full interview, visit ht.ly/KfGy30iar5F. If you like what you see, please comment and share. You can also check out the live tweet stream from the event at https://www.twitter.com/revroadutah. #RevU will be held every month in 2018 on the first Thursday of the month, except for the month of April. If you would like to be invited to a future event, please subscribe to our newsletter.
Provo, UT — Utah business accelerator RevRoad is pleased to announce RevRoad University, February edition.
When: Thursday, Feb. 1, from 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
Where: RevRoad HQ, 1555 N. Freedom Boulevard, Provo UT
Why: Inspiration, education, networking and free lunch
In its second month, #RevU will feature a Legal 101 Workshop with RevRoad Legal Counsel Joel Beus. Then, while enjoying a free lunch sponsored by Hill Insurance & Investments, attendees will hear a RevRoad Builder Series interview with Featured Founders Heidi and Chris Hanks of Little Bee Speech. #RevU will take place the first Thursday of every month, throughout 2018. At its kickoff in January, dozens of local entrepreneurs turned out to learn about using the lean canvas model to create business plans for their companies. Then, they heard from local businessman Brad Creer about serial entrepreneurship and how to rely on your team to overcome challenges on the road to revenue. For a sneak peek of the February event, click here: https://youtu.be/RxyYj8LtbjM. To see who’s coming on Facebook and add your name to the list, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/2057386887808173/. Guests are encouraged to RSVP at email@example.com.
For media inquiries, interviews or additional information, please contact RevRoad Strategic Marketing Champion Rebecca Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 801-668-7073.
How to Know if Your Entrepreneurial Solution Makes Sense
Part 1 of the series “Risk & Reward: Navigating Your Road to Revenue”
Nov. 10, 2017
Starting a business is always challenging — statistics show that more than half of all companies fail in their first 10 years, and 75 percent of startups never return seed money to their investors. To paint a picture that’s even more dire, nearly 9 in 10 innovations fail in the marketplace.
There are many reasons for these failures, probably as many as the failed ventures themselves. At RevRoad, our team of experts has seen it all. We’ve had a lot of successes, and we’ve failed a few times too.
In this series, we plan to share many of those lessons with you. We are builders by nature, and we believe in entrepreneurs. We are confident that creativity, hard work and innovation are the building blocks of a better world for us all.
Starting from Scratch: Find Your Problem
The best business ideas don’t jump into their founder’s heads fully formed and ready to go to market. Instead, the best innovators spend a lot of time thinking about problems.
It starts with a basic premise: if you want to make money, you need to create something of value. The easiest way to do that is by solving problems for people, by fulfilling the needs they already have.
Fortunately, we are surrounded by problems. Next time you feel annoyed or feel the need to complain, jot it down in an idea book. Do the same when you hear other people complaining. Then, analyze what’s causing the problem. From there, start filling your head with ideas about how those problems could be solved.
Soon, you’ll have more solutions than you know what to do with. The next step is to decide on the right problem (and solution). First, your problem has to be a painful, either physically, financially or in terms of wasted time and energy for your potential customer. Next, it has to be a problem for a large number of people. Finally, it has to be a big enough problem that you can convince people to pay for your solution.
5 Simple Steps to Problem Validation
But how do you know if your problem meets that criteria? This process, known as problem validation, is difficult. But it’s not impossible. Below, I’ve laid out a few steps you can follow to make sure you’re on the right track.
1. Craft a predictive customer persona
This doubles down on the idea of a classic customer persona. It’s more than just a description of who you want your customer to be. Instead, it should describe the kind of person who is suffering from your problem, and suffering enough that they would buy your solution. I really like the way Laura Klein described the idea in the InVision blog. Note: Don’t feel like you have to take on a large-scale market study here, but spend at least some time on research. Try typing your problem into a search engine to see what comes up. Look for discussion boards and forums, in particular, and read as much as you can.
2. Find at least 10 people who match that persona
This is where the real work begins. Do whatever it takes to find people who fit your predictive persona. Steer away from friends and family, as these people will be biased toward your idea because they naturally want to support you. Instead, find these would-be customers out in the wild. Organizations such as 1 million cups and industry-specific groups on social media can be a good place to start. Note: If you can’t find at least 10 people with your problem, it may be time to go back to the drawing board. This is a pretty clear sign that your problem isn’t widespread enough. Just don’t give up too quickly — it’s normal to have multiple iterations at this early stage in the problem validation process. Go back to thinking about solvable problems and start over as many times as you need to.
3. Interview your customers to make sure solving your problem is a top priority
The next step is to schedule interviews with your would-be customers. This can be on the phone or in person. Start out by asking them about the problem you have chosen. Make a point of letting them talk; the more you get them complaining, the more information you have about what your solution should be. After they’ve said their piece, ask them if solving the problem would be a high priority for them. Have them rate the pain on the scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most painful. Note: If you find people who have your problem but rate it below 7 or 8 on their personal pain scale, it might be time to pivot. To grow a successful enterprise, you will need to make sure you’re relieving a significant amount of pain. Think of it this way — you want your solution to be a “need to have” rather than a “want to have.” Looking for inspiration? Check out the remarkable problem validation story of GoPlug, one of RevRoad’s Champions on the Road to Revenue.
4. Get customers to name a price
When you get your would-be customers to tell you they truly have a problem and that it is a painful one, they will be primed to hear about your solution. Before the interview ends, pitch them your idea. Tell them how you intend to fix their problem. Then, ask them how much it’s worth in monetary terms. Note: If your would-be customers want your solution but aren’t willing to pay for it, it’s a sign that you haven’t chosen the right problem, or that your solution isn’t quite there yet. Don’t ignore this valuable piece of information. Getting it right before you start building will save you time, tears, and treasure in the long run.
5. Find multiple buyers, or pivot before it’s too late
You don’t need to get all 10 of your would-be customers to commit to spending money on your project. But if you can’t get at least a handful of them to do so, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Note: If you can’t get traction at this stage, be sure to ask would-be customers what’s stopping them. Really listening to their objections is your path to a good pivot and, ultimately, to profitability.
Conclusion: Pitch Before You Build
We’ve laid out some pretty specific steps for how to validate your problem, but you don’t have to follow them precisely to ensure you have a good idea (the serial entrepreneurs here at RevRoad haven’t always, anyway). But whatever you do, make sure that you’re solving a real problem and that the market for a solution is big enough. It’s the only way to be confident that your idea will make you money.
About Rebecca Palmer
Rebecca is a seasoned writer, editor and strategic communications professional with 10 years of experience telling important stories. She started her career in journalism and transitioned her skills into marketing, public relations and content management. She believes in entrepreneurs, and believes in the power of research and analytical thinking to propel them toward success. When not helping other entrepreneurs achieve their dreams, Rebecca reads voraciously, runs a small violin studio and is (slowly and awkwardly) learning west coast swing dancing.