Coming up with a great idea is only the beginning. Bringing it to market successfully is a whole other challenge.
You may have figured out what you need to build your business, but bringing it to market is an entirely different challenge. After all, no great idea survives a dearth of customers.
To get some perspective on go-to-market strategies, I decided to talk to the founders of DogVacay, a start-up that offers a real home for dogs when pet owners are away. It's a new form of dog boarding that's offering an alternative to the traditional kennel.
Launched by Aaron and Karine Hirschhorn in March 2012, the company has already gone from a backyard idea to a thriving community, with 9,000 participating dog sitters and revenue growing 60 percent month-over-month.
How did they do it? Here are Aaron's tips for taking a great idea to market:
Validate the idea. First, ensure you have a real business. Are you solving a real problem, and are people willing to pay for the solution? There are a number of ways to do this. Aaron hired freelance designers from ODesk to build a website, bootstrapping it all out of his own pocket. He then reached out to dogsitters with ads on Craigslist to invite them to sign up for his service. He called 200 sitters--100 picked up the phone, and 60 signed up. Aaron now had supply--all he needed to create was demand. Use similar tactics, such as ads on the Web and cold-calling, to determine if others are seeing the same gaps in your industry or niche.
Start with a local market. Aaron and Karine started by acquiring users in their local area, L.A. Once they gained a userbase there, Aaron traveled to San Francisco to introduce himself to petsitters. Then DogVacay moved into New York and other major metropolitan areas across the U.S. and Canada. This slow approach to growth makes sense for many Web start-ups. Do research on local markets to determine their specific needs--and make sure you serve them well before moving on to other markets.
Go get funding. Now that you've validated your idea and proved people are willing to pay to use your service, it may be time to seek out more funding. Aaron and Karine built DogVacay using their own funds, but eventually they raised a $1 million seed round almost exclusively through angel investors who had a passion for dogs. Once they had almost $500,000 committed, they started to get the attention of early-stage VC firms. Crowdfunding on sites like Kickstarter might be an option for you. But don't discount friends and family, angel investors, or an accelerator.
Get press. A big reason DogVacay has seen early success: it garnered local press in each area where it launched. You won't get very far if you don't get into the eyes and ears of the public. For DogVacay, hiring an independent PR firm was the way to reach out to key technology press around their launch. But, only after your idea takes off and you've gained traction with users, should you think about hiring an independent PR contractor, firm, or writer to pitch your start-up.And of course, establish a social media presence for your company, and start engaging with your audiences there.
If your go-to-market strategy worked in one location, do the same in another.
ILYA POZIN is the founder of Open Me, a social greeting card company. He founded his first company, Ciplex, a digital marketing and creative agency catering to small businesses and start-ups, at age 17. @ilyaNeverSleeps