"Trendy" often wins, but if you are starting a company, it can be quite advantageous to go with the under hyped. "Boring" problems can remain unsolved for decades because few have the will or the experience to tackle them. By rising to the challenge, you can create new value within an old industry, which can mean a huge return.
My company, Artivest, was founded in an increasingly hot space, "fintech," but we're not one of the crowdfunding or lending plays you may have heard so much about. Instead, we offer an integrated software solution that enables private equity and hedge fund firms to efficiently raise capital, direct cash flows and customize reporting across multiple funds for a diverse investor base. If you finished that sentence and are still awake, congratulations! If not, then you've discovered the main issue with this type of company: it can be challenging to excite the best team, investors and prospective customers. Here are some tips for keeping these key constituencies engaged.
Turn an unknown problem into a story of success
You may have heard this narrative a few times before: a vast group of customers approaches a task in an inefficient way, but they are so entrenched in the status quo they don't even see a problem. You might be surprised to hear that this is often the opening arc for a huge success story. Amazon began before a need was apparent. Few would have imagined that the popular 1990s practice of camping out at Barnes & Noble or Borders with a coffee and stack of books would be disrupted by an online upstart. Viking Range Corp. was also launched into an unsuspecting market. Before most home cooks knew what they were missing, founder Fred Carl Jr. anticipated household demand for restaurant-grade ranges that had been adapted functionally and aesthetically for home use.
In less accessible pockets of commerce than books and kitchen appliances, older habits are even more entrenched and technologies more archaic. This makes the upgrade in user experience presented by a true innovation that much more notable and, therefore, valuable. If you have a real home run opportunity on your hands, play up the value of the opportunity itself. You have a new, exciting narrative that is yours to sculpt. Stick to the big vision here and don't get caught up in tedium when painting the picture.
Stand out from stodgier employers
As a player in a less-heralded corner of your industry where innovators have been spare, your main competitors for experienced talent will be legacy firms using outdated processes and technologies. In comparison, it shouldn't be hard to make your nimble, fast-growing firm shine like a technicolor dreamcoat in a sea of dark suits.
Artivest is unique among startups in recruiting mainly from leading financial institutions. We have hired subject matter experts in areas ranging from securities law to financial operations to UX design.
To fulfill talented employees' expectations, make sure they get to spend their time on the parts of the business that excite them most. They will welcome the opportunity to shape company strategy and to play a broader role than they had been able to previously. At the same time, when hiring be sure to balance the big picture story with a realistic depiction of what employees can expect to work on day-to-day. Otherwise, you may find yourself with more turnover than you'd like.
Secure the backing you need, but forget the popularity contest
Unlike your competition for talent, your competition for funding will be as shiny and new as you are (or shinier, if you're talking to generalist investors chasing the latest trends). A unique mission is an asset, but not if your idea is too far afield for early stage investors. Early on, talk to the investment community, focusing specifically on people and firms that have demonstrated interest in your space. Successful alumni of your industry can also be terrific sources of guidance, connectivity, and perhaps capital.
Once you establish your backing and brain trust, evangelize your story with excitement. And don't worry about being the hottest startup on the block. It can be somewhat lonely to address a problem of whose existence the majority of people are unaware. But by doing so--and doing so with your eyes open to the inherent risks--you set yourself up for a better chance at success, the deeply satisfying kind that can create a whole category. Will you lose a few pitches, recruits, or clients at first? Sure, but anyone who fell asleep back in '94 listening to the boring intricacies of online book sales has likely had many a regret-fueled nightmare since.