Any entrepreneur will attest that starting a company is anything but easy. As business gets off the ground, entrepreneurs wrestle balancing long hours, wearing multiple hats, and figuring out problems and issues that distract from the ultimate goal of building a successful company.
Just ask Michael Skok. Michael spent the first twenty one years of his career building companies as an entrepreneur. For the last ten he’s been helping entrepreneurs build their own startups as a Partner at North Bridge Venture Partners. His portfolio includes companies like Acquia, Apperian, Demandware and Unidesk, among others.
I first met Michael a few years back while pitching North Bridge on a company I was starting and had the pleasure of working with Michael. More recently, Michael founded Startup Secrets, a resource and framework for entrepreneurs and innovators to think through some of the key steps that could accelerate their success in starting a business.
I had the chance to sit down with Michael to chat about the mission of Startup Secrets and learn his vision for the future of the group.
Thanks for taking some time this evening Michael. Recently Startup Secrets held a physical event at the Harvard Innovation lab. Can you tell me a little bit about what you covered?
As part of the Startup Secrets series, one of the key areas we are exploring is ‘go-to-market’. For this event we assumed that you’ve built a great value proposition, you have a great team behind you, and you can take your company to market with a business model that can make you money. Ultimately, it then comes down to one of the key aspects of execution, which is, how can you go to market in a profitable way. So this last session in the series focused exclusively on that step. And as usual, we brought it to life with some great case examples from companies like Spotfire/Tibco, Hubspot and others — all available on my site.
How close did this session tie back to business models?
It’s actually the other side of the coin from business models. And these two are so closely tied together in for example pricing and packaging for the right distribution. For this session we made the assumption that the business model was proven and now we are in the process of taking this product or service to market.
How did it go?
The audience was a fairly typical mix for the Startup Secrets series. The room was full of grad students, under grads, and executives from local startups. I spent a lot of time meeting with executives to learn what they want before starting the series and what I uncovered was that they are looking for practical advice. How can they execute and do so by implementing best practices and avoiding mistakes made by other companies. So we spent most of the time presenting practical advice. However, I’m very clear that these are not answers as I don’t believe in prescriptive learning for startups. So the frameworks and examples were designed to structure some of the key areas to consider and examples to highlight and inspire possibilities.
Can you tell me a bit more about how the sessions are structured?
We approach each topic in two parts; the first being the framework. The framework in the case of the last session was ‘here are the things you need to consider in a go-to-market plan’. Go-To-Market is such a broad subject. In fact, it is probably the biggest subject we cover. So within that, we break down GTM further into small digestible bits like ‘how to architect a sales cycle’ – from awareness all the way through to closed-business. We then dig into the ways or methodologies for accomplishing that. For example, inbound vs outbound marketing, positioning and messaging, budgeting, etc.
We then illustrate the topic through featured case studies and speakers. For the session focused on ‘inbound vs outbound marketing’ I had HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan stop by to speak with the group. We then spent some time talking about messaging and how you want your company branded. For that portion we had Jamus Driscoll, CMO of Demandware, chat with the group.
That is great. Two heavy hitters like Brian and Jamus come in and give practical advice to start-ups. Is this appropriate for established, more mature companies as well?
Absolutely, in fact we have been seeing an increase in established companies attending and benefiting from the content. Demandware is one of my public and more mature companies for example and another of my companies Acquia is #1 on the Inc. 500 as the fastest growing software company in America – so again, a more mature company on its way to an IPO. And then others like Apperian are in between. Also, I’m always looking for great case examples outside my portfolio such as uTest who did a great case example. Actually, many of these have been the most vocal in praising the content and value they get from the session.
How can people join the group and benefit from the content you are producing?
The easiest way to get involved is to visit www.mjskok.com and sign up. I recommend you review the frameworks in the following order, though you can pick and choose whatever suits you from any section and explore a growing number of Videos, Slideshows, Articles and Case examples in each area.
The logic behind this order is that you probably don’t have a company to start without a value proposition. Then as you start it, defining your vision, mission and culture become critical to hiring the right people. Next, thinking about your business model and go-to-market strategy become key elements. And finally – putting it all together in a pitch you can use to raise money rounds it out.
Additional topics will be covered in the 2013 series, kicking off March 7. Details on those sessions can also be found on the site.
It was excellent catching up with Michael but I’d like to share your feedback with him. What do you think of the topics? Is there anything else you would like to see covered? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.