No matter how great an entrepreneur thinks their idea or product is, it doesn’t mean anything if there’s not a customer for their solution.
“The sooner they find out what customers really want and really think, the better off they are going to be,” says Wayne Embree, vice president of venture acceleration & investments at Rev1 Ventures.
When the incubator rebranded from TechColumbus to Rev1 Ventures earlier this year, a new program was developed to help budding entrepreneurs do just that. Rev1’s Concept Academy is an intensive three-day workshop that aims to help startups achieve early market validation.
The process helps startups identify their customers and what that really means.
“For a lot of products and a lot businesses the user and the buyer are not the same,” Embree says. For example, a surgeon may use a specific medial device, but often aren’t the individuals buying it. A startup needs to understand the dynamics surrounding the purchasing process and the relationship between the buyer and the end-users.
“This is a framework for their business forever,” Embree says.
Businesses like SocialMLS, a Facebook app for real estate developers, are already reaping the benefits of the academy.
“As someone who has a lot of ideas, I often find myself developing around what I want,” says SocialMLS Founder Chris Sauerzopf says. “The advisors at Concept Academy didn’t care about my idea or what I wanted. They cared about whether or not my target market cares about my idea.”
SocialMLS had launched a previous version of their app before attending the academy. With experience in the industry, they thought they knew what the market wanted.
“We missed the mark on the overall experience of the user and the why/how of what would make the product successful,” Sauerzopf says.
Thanks to the insights they gained, SocialMLS is getting ready for a relaunch and Rev1 is leading an early round of funding for the app.
The Concept Academy helps entrepreneurs gain these game-changing insights through surveying.
“We teach them how to do direct surveys,” Embree says. Students of the academy are introduced to sophisticated but readily available surveying techniques utilizing a number of tools and services.
Rev1 largely works with technology-based businesses in various sectors including information technology, software, life sciences, therapeutics, medical devices, healthcare information technology, advanced material, agriculture & food technologies and energy. Most enter with a certain market segment in mind, like SocialMLS did, but the academy serves to refine that segment. Sometimes it’s a major shift, sometimes it’s minor.
Those startups that understand that sometimes a major shift needs to happen are the ones that tend to be the most successful. Embree says that more than idea, it’s a type of personality that succeeds in the academy and as an entrepreneur. Rev1 looks for teams with a passion for learning that are after the right answer. That right answer is being open and honest to what a market for a product or service really is.
Rev1 runs the academy every two months with the three days of intensive training spread across two weeks with homework in between. The objective is to touch 150 companies a year, with 20 – 25 businesses each session. While it’s doing great things for individual businesses, the program is also helping Rev1 develop its next generation of portfolio companies.
At the end of the two weeks, Rev1 and the business owners will evaluate if it is a mutually beneficial relationship.
“We engage with about a third of those companies and we work with them very closely,” says Kristy Campbell, chief marketing & communications officer. “This is the process that we really urge everyone that we engage with to go through.”
So far, those businesses they have engaged have increased their time to funding by 31 percent.
The academy is a reflection of the brand relaunch that was really meant to hone in on their work with startups at their earliest stages. It’s addressing one of the most fundamental steps at the early stages and it’s one that leads to more successes. Campbell says there’s a theme with companies that are successful – they are all closely tied to their customers from the beginning.
Campbell explains the bottom line. If a startup is able to explain their product in terms that customers use and understand how the product is more valuable than another solution or benefits them, they will write a check before it’s built. If a customer says they want to see a prototype first, the startup is after the wrong audience.
For more information, visit rev1ventures.com/entrepreneurs/concept-academy.