Thursday, December 18, 2014

Red Rocket's Best Startups of 2014

Red Rocket gets introduced to a couple hundred startups each year, in the normal course of doing business, or via our involvement with FireStarter Fund, TechStars, Techweek, VentureShot, Founder Institute or other startup groups or events.  We wanted to honor the best of these startups that we met, or got reacquainted with, in 2014, in Red Rocket's 3rd Annual "Best Startups of the Year".  This list is not intended to be an all-encompassing best startups list, as there are many additional great startups that we are not personally exposed to each year.  And, this list is not intended to be only for businesses that launched in 2014, it is open to startups of any age, that they or their advisers had some personal interaction with us in the last 12 months.  The business simply needed to have a good idea, good team or good traction, that caught our attention.  Congrats to you all!!

THE BEST STARTUPS OF 2014 (in alphabetical order):

Abe's Market (CEO Richard Demb) - B2C E-commerce for Natural & Organic Products

Change Lane (CEO David Harig) - B2C Mobile Oil Change Station at Your Home

ClutchPrep (CEO Marcio Souza) - B2C Video Guides for College Textbooks

Datatopia (CEO Paul Brizz) - B2B Buy and Sell Data Marketplace

DoggyLoot (CEO Jeff Eckerling) - B2C curated ecommerce and deals for pet supplies

Dryv (Co-CEO Dan Parsons) - B2C Dry Cleaning Delivery App

eForward (CEO Josh Morales) - B2C Low Cost Overseas Shipping

Fitness Cubed (CEO Arnav Dalmia) - B2C Under Your Desk Pedal Exerciser

HealthIPASS (CEO Rajesh Voddiraju) - B2B Healthcare Payments Platform

Inventables (CEO Zach Kaplan) - B2C Digital Invention Manufacturing for Masses

Legal Funding Central (President Dylan Beynon) - B2C/B2B Legal Funding for Plaintiffs

MightyNest (CEO Chris Conn) - B2C School Donations From Kids Ecommerce

MoxieJean (CEO Sharon Schneider ) - B2C upscale resale ecommerce for kids clothing

Office Hero (CEO Marcelo Lanzarotti) - B2B Lease Free Office Space Finder

Options Away (CEO Robert Brown) - B2C Call Options For Airfares

Project Fixup (CEO Sarah Press) - B2C Takes Work Out of Online Dating 

Public Good (CEO Jason Kunesh) - B2C philanthropy portal site

Ridogulous Labs (CEO Sean Kelly) - B2C Smart Dog Collar Technology

Sensor Jet (CEO Julia McLachlan) - B2C Fire Supression System for Home Kitchen

Shelfbucks (CEO Erik McMillan) - B2B in-store beacon promotion platform

Social Market Analytics (CEO Joe Gits) - B2B/B2C Social Listening for Stock Trading 

The Tie Bar (CEO Michael Alter) - B2C E-commerce for Men's Accessories

ViralHeat (CEO Jeff Revoy) - B2B Predictive Social Analtyics

Wavve App (CEO Andrew McNealy) -B2B On-Premise Marketing for Hospitality Industry

WeDeliver (CEO Jimmy Odom) - B2B Same Day Delivery Service

And, don't forget to check out the 2012 winners and the 2013 winners, many of whom continue to be doing great things.

Congratulations to you all!!  Keep up the good work.  

For future posts, please follow us at: @RedRocketVC

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Six Chicago Venture Capitalists Reveal the Best Pitch of 2014

Crain's Chicago asked six of the city's busiest investors to describe the best pitch each heard this year: the ones that got their attention and, in most cases, pried open their checkbooks. The front-running companies have two things in common: They solve a clear pain point in the marketplace and they're headed by dynamic leaders. Read on for an edited version of our conversations.

Read the rest of this post in Crain's, which published this week.

For future posts, please follow us on Twitter at: @RedRocketVC.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lesson #191: Targeted Marketing Has Never Been Easier, Especially in Social Networks

The marketing world has substantially evolved over the last few years, in terms of how you can target prospective customers for your business.  Before, your primary options for targeting, were largely around demographics or geographies through media buys on larger websites and ad networks, or through keywords through the search engines.  But, the major social networks have made some very interesting strides in the last couple years, in terms of letting advertisers drill down like a laser beam on very narrow targets within their broader audience.  Below are a few examples of what I am talking about.


If you are a B2B business, looking to target B2B buyers for your product or service, LinkedIn in the place for you, where you have a couple really good options to consider.  Let's use a case study, assuming you are selling technology that serves event marketers and you are trying to target heads of event marketing as prospective buyers.

The first option is to target your media buy around LinkedIn users that are members of targeted user groups therein.  In this example, look at all the groups that serve prospective end-buyers in the event marketing space, and target your ads only to those users.  As an example, the 20,000 members of the "Event Marketing Pros" group is probably a pretty good place to start.

A second option is to target your  media buy around LinkedIn users that have the right business title and work at the right size company you are targeting.  In this example, anybody with the title "Event Planner" or "Head of Event Marketing" in their user profile page and work for "Companies in Excess of 1,000 Employees" (if trying to get to Fortune 500 accounts), would be really great to target your ads.


If you are a B2C business, looking to target B2C consumers for your product or service, Facebook is the place for you, where you have some really good options to consider.  Let's use a case study, assuming you are selling a new line of line of upscale men's fashion.

It has never been easier to steal potential customers from established brands in your space.  Imagine that you can now target yours ads to the Facebook fans of Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger, or the male fans of logical retailers like Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue.  These people are obviously interested in men's fashion, and with the right messaging might be interested in learning about new men's fashion brands.

The same holds true for targeting followers of major media outlets in your space.  Facebook fans of  GQ, in this example, would be pretty ripe fishing grounds for your product.  And, it would be a lot cheaper trying to access those users via Facebook's pay per click model, than paying GQ thousands of dollars for CPM based display ads in their magazine or website.


And, let's not forget Twitter, whether you are B2B or B2C.  You can target your ads to users that have certain desired keywords in their profile description, or in their stream of conversations.  Or, again, piggyback on the followers of your key competitors, industry groups or media outlets, to get your messaging in front of those known users that should be really interested in what you have to offer.

Anyway, for all you startups out there on very limited budgets, or bigger companies trying to drive a higher ROI on your marketing spend, the better you can target your messaging to the right potential buyers, the higher your conversion rate, the lower your cost of acquistion and the higher your  ROI will be.  And, hopefully, examples like the above show it has never been easier or more affordable to get good levels of targeting into your ad campaigns, on this pay-per-click basis.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Top 4 Reasons Passion Drives Startup Success

Passion is one of those intangibles that drives an entrepreneur, gets them through the good times and the bad times, and ultimately dictates the success of any startup. If you are not passionate about what you are building, you might as well pack up your bags right now, as your startup will never work.

Read the rest of this post in Forbes, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lesson #190: Selling Stories, Not Products

Most early-stage sales teams lead with their products.  They are typically so excited about their new products, that they get bogged down in selling the minutia of their product's features and functionality.  They think that is what their clients will care about, and that is what is going to drive a sale.  A common rookie mistake.  As clients don't really care about you or your products (at this preliminary stage), they care about themselves, and how you are going to help them to solve their problems.

The best sales teams are masters in story telling.  They artistically layout a big picture problem in the industry, that the client is dealing with, and slowly rope them in with their elegant solution to this problem.  It is not until several meetings in does the salesperson even talk about their products.  They only detail them once the client has taken the bait, and they need to set the hook.

Let me give you a example.  Let's say your business has built a social media amplification tool (e.g., it helps clients virally spread their message through social sharing).  The wrong pitch would be talking about how great your technology is and all the "bells and whistles" you have built into the product.  A client really doesn't care, especially since you are one of a hundred other companies peddling similar products to them.  Creating a lot of confusion for them on who to trust.  Which often means them doing nothing, to not make a bad decision and waiting for the dust to settle in the industry.

But, what would they care about?  They would want to hear that instead of communicating to the 1MM fans the client has on their Facebook page, you have a product that will help them communicate with the 100MM followers of those fans, increasing their reach by 100x.  Better yet, they would want to hear how you have cracked the code on driving an ROI on their social media spend, as their bosses have been all over them to prove ROI or risk having their budgets cut.  And,  how your last ten customers have averaged a 10x return on their investment with you, turning their social media marketing into a driver of clearly attributable sales.  If they buy your product, they are going to look smart to their boss and see their budgets increase.

Did you notice the difference?  In the first example, it was all about YOU.  In the second example it was all about THEM!  And, more importantly, it got their attention with clear metrics about their business, and helped to paint the picture on how this was going to be a big financial win for them.  Hence, minimizing the risk they look foolish by buying your product.  But, to the contrary, you will help them to get bonus points with their management, and get more budgets and internal credit for the success.

This is a key point.  In this case, the THEM is them personally, not the company!! The more you can speak to them, the individual, the higher odds you will close the sale.  So, do your homework on your clients before you even approach them.  Figure out the company's painpoints, and then figure out how you are going to make your individual contact look smart to their boss.

At the end of the day, a good sales person is like William Shakespeare weaving an intricate story line or Leonardo Da Vinci painting brushstrokes on a canvas.  Artisans of their craft.  Because the truth is, nobody wants to be feel like they are being sold something.  They want the personal win of making a smart decision that helps solve big problems.  The better you craft a story that speaks to them and their pain points, the better your sales success will follow.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at:  @georgedeeb.