What I Learnt From 20+ Calls With Startups

I get about 8–10 requests to help with early stage business plans, fund-raising, early PMF & GTM review and another 3–5 for help with lead generation, sales engine, pricing, global entry per month. It would take a lot of time to setup meetings and coordinate via Zoom, so last month, I created a few slots on my Calendly schedule to offer FREE advisory sessions on all of these topics. My idea was to enable folks to book some time easily with me and to get some quick advice on their business and challenges that may help them. It was in a sort a “giving back” initiative.

In the last 6 weeks, nearly 20+ startups — SaaS, tech, consumer products, services have taken advantage of this and I have enjoyed each one of these conversations and learnt hugely about the startup ecosystem and the kinds of help / mentoring / advise folks need in addition to funds. This is a summary of my key learning from these sessions and also some feedback I received about the utility of these sessions. If you wish to setup a meeting for our own business, you can do so here — https://calendly.com/jalajboy/advisory.

A majority of the folks were targeting enterprise with their solutions — this ranged from automating site inspection for large housekeeping services provider to enterprises to recruitment solutions, mini ERP solutions to vertical segments to AI driven insights and dashboard solutions. The proportion serving SMEs were relatively smaller but still a healthy number. SaaS business models dominated (given my focus and specialisation on SaaS).

Here are the top issues / challenges / wants folks listed before the session. Most folks raised 2–3 top issues so the total is more than the number of sessions (This could be very useful for incubators /accelerators / mentors who are helping our startups).

As one can see, expanding business globally — which geography to target, what ICP to choose, how to setup demand generation, how to do sales in the geography, how to partner are the top challenges / interest areas of startups with some local traction, success and desire to grow. Maturing sales engine is another top need. For earlier stage startups the core issues are strategy to enter competitive markets with their innovations and GTM strategy.

(Many of the challenges, issues are long-term in nature and will lead to longer engagement in advisory / consulting roles. I am still working on a model that makes it affordable for the startup while offering some compensation and some upside to the advisor. Stay tuned on this).

I have tried to share some specific advice that I shared in these 3 medium blogs. The thought was that the larger ecosystem can get some ideas to munch on:

1. Is it possible to be successful with a horizontal product in a densely competitive & crowded market?

2. How to disrupt a well-established incumbent in the enterprise software space.

3. 5 Tips For Taking Your Innovation To The World From India.

4. To PLG, Or Not to PLG : Product-led-engine v/s Sales-led-engine — What is better for you?

One of the top weaknesses I noticed was very broadly defined positioning. Instead of describing the unique benefit/value the startups were bringing to their target customers and the specific pain points, the positioning was abstract, very high level and conceptual. This led to loosely defined ICP (Ideal Customer Profile), product-oriented communication and poor outcomes from marketing / sales efforts.

A good example of how to think about positioning is described in this article — it is not from these sessions but a real-life “tear-down” can teach all of us a lot about how to think positioning and how to evolve our thoughts.

So, have my sessions added any value to the startups who reached out to me? Here is some feedback from the folks that suggests they are indeed getting useful insights, ideas and specific help from these sessions:

  • Thank you so much for your time and great insights that you shared over the call which led us to rethink few critical points as we move forward with our product in terms of Positioning, Pricing, GTM etc.
  • Overall, I found it to be course correction session for some of the products we are working on.
  • Coming to the advice you provided — I think it was practical and achievable.
  • After the call with you. We re-prioritised few things and made a trade-off of depth vs breadth. That will reduce the go to market time as we will be addressing fewer use cases and build incrementally.
  • The session was very useful to me as this allowed me to introspect after the call. I found most of the things you mentioned were true. More than the actual solution, which is quite difficult to get in one session, the session gave me a path to think about the solution, which was actually I was expecting from the call.
  • Our conversation gave me a few things to think about — positioning the product (order management vs business transformation), studying the US market more before going after it, and also leveraging LinkedIn / emails for first few customers. It was insightful and I’d love to do another one.

ps — I am doing my “Giving it Back” sessions with B2B SaaS / Innovative Tech startup founders to listen to stories and share my insights , feedback and ideas to help as possible. If you would like to speak with me, book a session using this link.

Innovator. Entrepreneur. Mentor. Investor. Learner. Love technology, sports, arts and literature. Strive to be fair. http://t.co/UFEkCAnU