Monday, December 17, 2012

Red Rocket's "Best Startups of 2012"

Red Rocket meets with 150-200 startups each year, in the normal course of doing business here in Chicago, or via my FireStarter Fund involvement.  I thought it would be nice to honor the best of those startups, in Red Rocket's first 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 I do not meet with each year.  And, this list is not intended to be only for businesses that launched in 2012, it is open to startups of any age, that had some personal interaction with me in the last 12 months.  The business simply needed to have a good idea, good team or good traction, that caught my attention.  Congrats to you all!!

THE BEST STARTUPS OF 2012 (in alphabetical order):

AutoFlipr (CEO Brian Killen)--B2B interdealer used car marketplace

Cartavi (CEO Glenn Shimkus)--B2B real estate closing documents platform

CouponTrade (CEO George Bousis)--B2C gift cards marketplace

Crowdspring (CEO Ross Kimbarovsky)--B2B graphic design crowdsource

Elicit (CEO Eric Heneghan)--B2B search-box marketing platform

EvzDrop (CEO David Rush)--B2C location-based communication platform

GiveForward (CEO Desiree Vargas)--B2C donations platform for healthcare needs

Hireology (CEO Adam Robinson)--B2B  HR candidate screening platform

JSTN (CEO Roger Stanton)--B2B video job postings & B2C video job search

Kapow Events (CEO Marc Halpin)--B2B group event planning marketplace

Koupon Media (CEO TJ Person)--B2B mobile couponing platform

Live One Group (CEO Tim Ganschow)--B2B social video watching platform

MakeBuzz (CEO Christopher Skinner)--B2B marketing optimization platform

MotiveQuest (CEO David Rabjohns)--B2B next generation market research via social data

Mystery Tackle Box (CEO Jeremy Gwynne)--B2C fishing tackle subscription service

Retrofit (CEO Jeff Hyman)--B2C data-driven weight-loss management

Rivs.com (CEO Dave Wieland)--B2B high-volume hiring automation

Shiftgig (CEO Eddie Lou)--B2B job hiring and business networking for service industry

SocialCrunch (CEO Alex Griffiths)--B2C online behaviorial targeting via Q&A

SpartzMedia (CEO Emerson Spartz)--B2C publisher of community websites

SpikeBall (CEO Chris Ruder)--CPG sporting goods product

SpotHero (CEO Mark Lawrence)--B2C discounted parking application

StyleSeek (CEO Tyler Spalding)--B2C men's fashion discovery engine

Tiesta Tea (CEO Patrick Tannous)--CPG flavored and functional teas

TrainSignal (CEO Scott Skinger)--B2B online education for technologists

TrunkClub (CEO Brian Spaly)--B2C men's fashion service

UpCity (CEO Dan Olson)--B2B SEO and digital marketing platform

viaForensics (CIO Andrew Hoog)--B2B mobile application security


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

For future posts, please follow me at:  www.twitter.com/georgedeeb

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lesson #131: How to Design a Logo & Tagline

Your company's logo and tagline are often the first visual experience a person has with your brand and company.  And, you always want to make a good first impression with potential customers, employees, partners and investors, coming across as someone they want to do business with.  This post will address what research should you do in preparing for a logo and tagline design project, what creative elements should go into designing a logo and who can help you with the actual design itself.

In terms of research, it is always good to get a sense to how others in your industry are marketing themselves first, to see what you are up against.  So, visit a bunch of sites in your industry. You always want to come across as equal to, or better than, the other players in your space.  Your logo and branding can't feel like 2003 in design, if you are trying to come across as a 2013 next-generation product or service.  And, you want to think about colors and logo treatments that won't easily get confused with others in your space (e.g., if other companies are using blue, perhaps you use orange to stand out).  Unless, you need to bias colors that are the default color for your industry (e.g., green for eco-friendly companies), or you want to use colors to create a certain brand mood (e.g., red for speed or excitement).  And, don't forget about unintended missteps, like picking a red color (symbolic of losses) for a company that helps drive profits (in the black or in the green).

As for the logo design itself, I am typically a fan of a clean company name in a sharp font, a memorable graphic image to the left (which is optional) and a company tagline below the name (also optional, but much preferred for startups).  The font style of the company name should be representative of your industry (e.g., block university letters, if appealing to college sports fans), as certain fonts will help you to better communicate what your business does.  The graphic image should uniquely tell your company story (e.g., an airplane encircling a globe, for an international air travel business), and be easily identifiable on a stand alone basis (e.g., as your Twitter profile image, or mobile app icon).  And, the tagline for a startup should best describe what your business does, in as few words as possible, being careful not to be too vague to start.  For example, for Nike, "Just Do It" works well for a 40 year old brand that the world knows for high performance athletic wear.  But, for their startup years, "High Performance Running Shoes" would work better, helping to simply explain what the company does before any brand awareness has been built.

In terms of the designer doing the work, you have many options if you need an outside resource.  Here is my list of reputable design firms in Chicago.  Focus on the ones with branding and logo design expertise.  But, frankly, why hire one firm for a logo, that may charge up to $5,000 for their design, when you can get over 100 logo samples to choose from, for only a few hundred dollars, when working with crowdsourced designer sites like Crowdspring, 99 Designs or DesignCrowd.  I just used Chicago-based Crowdspring for a logo design project for one of my clients, and was very pleased with the results.

As a case study, take a look at the Red Rocket logo and tagline on this site.  I wanted to come across as a professional consulting and fund-raising firm that knows how to help startups get their businesses off the ground at warp speed.  I think our logo and tagline does a good job of telling that story, otherwise it wouldn't have caught your attention to keep reading the content of this post.

At the end of the day, you only have a few seconds to make a good first impression and clearly communicate "your story" and brand message.  Your logo, graphic and tagline can go a long way to telling that story and getting the attention of your target audience.  So, take the time, and get it right.

For future posts, please follow me at: www.twitter.com/georgedeeb.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lesson #130: Driving Sales Requires Driving Key Metrics

Many startup CEOs think "if we build it (a sales team), they will come (customers/profits/success)".  Which is largely true, especially if you are hiring a great team and giving them the marketing support they will require to effectively do their jobs.  But, I think it is missing a key point.  Most sales teams are managed on their ability to drive revenues, not gross profits, which is a better metric to focus on, as detailed below.  And, many startup sales managers typically do not focus on the key metrics that build up to revenues (e.g., leads, conversion rates, average ticket, upsells), which is even more important for growing and optimizing sales.  This post will give you some helpful guidance in this area.

Firstly, why focus on gross profit, and not sales, as your key number to manage your sales team by?  There are two primary reasons: (i) anybody can give products away at discounted prices, helping salespeople hit their sales targets for commissions, but hurting the company's bottom line in the process; and (ii) helping to educate your sales team on your gross margins, the number their commissions will be driven by, will help them to bias selling higher margin products, further helping your bottom line profits.  So, where you can, use gross profit, and not revenue, as your key driver of sales management and commission planning.

Secondly, revenues are not comprised of one number calculated in isolation; they are calculated based on a series of key drivers that build up to revenues.  These key drivers include: (i) number of calls/unqualified leads initiated by the salesperson (base level productivity each month); (ii) number of qualified leads (prospecting rate on initials calls); (iii) number of proposals sent (engagement rate on qualified leads); (iv) number of transactions closed (conversion rate on proposals sent); and (v) average transaction size (upselling and cross selling rate).  In addition, if you are selling more than one product, you will want to build in tracking for the mix of such sales, to identify key upsell and cross sell opportunities.  These all build up to total revenues and gross profit, and each should be tracked by person and by department to identify key success stories and training opportunities within the organization. 

And, this works for both B2B and B2C companies.  As an example, I would use metrics similar to these when I was at iExplore selling adventure travel.  I would study our initial contact rate divided by website visits (looking for web design or product improvement opportunities); our conversion rate on qualified contacts (to see how well our travel agents were converting leads into sales); our passengers per booking (looking for ability to talk traveler into bringing friends); our trip price (looking for ability to sell our highest ticket trips); our trip margin (looking for ability to sell our higher margin tours); and our sales of related products or services, like airfare or travel insurance (looking for upsell efficiency).

So, when building your sales organizations, not only look for great talent, but make sure your team truly understands your business/margins, and manage the key metrics that really matter to driving maximum financial success.  And, be sure to incentivize your team based on their hitting the key metrics that matter most for your business.

For future posts, please follow me: www.twitter.com/georgedeeb