Once again, I had the opportunity to serve as a mentor to the companies pitching at FoodBytes by Rabobank in New York. The participants spent the first of the two days in an intensive business “boot camp”. During our boot camp mentor sessions, we had some far-ranging conversations. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the topics covered as they are germane to many early-stage brands. A quick thank you to Liz Clark of Rabobank for taking such copious notes of our sessions.
Every conversation/approach needs to be tailored to the audience based on their need state.
Pick one or two things that really resonate with your audience.
Help your audience envision how your product will help their business. Answer their question, “what’s in it for me?” The cost is then considered an investment. If their first question is, “what is the cost,” you need to adjust your argument.
Don’t defend against concern, but understand it.
The best D2C companies are figuring out how to cultivate personal relationships. They recognize that it’s about nurturing a conversation not broadcasting a message.
Alternative channels are a great opportunity for early traction.
Undeveloped opportunities: Cargo — in Uber, Lyft. Subscription boxes, micro-markets which are autonomous markets in corporate campuses, hotels, etc.
Build concentric circles around your consumer. Be where they are, work, play, shop, etc.
Pricing architecture: Start at the highest price possible that you can command. It’s very difficult to go up from a price point. You can always adjust and learn through promotion.
Some other cool questions that were asked:
How do you choose the right route to market?
Define channel strategy first.
If your challenge is that of abundance it indicates huge potential but staying focused can be hard.
What you do depends on where you are in your lifecycle, where you are in your fundraising, and where you are in resource allocation. In early-stage brands, it’s more important to go narrow and deep vs. broad.
To choose which channel, consider size of market, speed to market, and barriers to entry.
Follow where the need is most acute, not necessarily the biggest. Where the need is most palpable is where you’ll gain deeper traction.
Develop near term stage gates. If you don’t get through them, start investigating other channels.
How do you effectively network?
There is no tried and true answer. Networking can be tough and uncomfortable because people posture and are focused on what they need. I’ve learned that if I focus on what value I can add or what I can give then there is a natural inclination of reciprocity. Plus, it feels more authentic and comfortable.
What are some hacks when meeting with a buyer?
You have to know what’s in it for them and how they are being measured.
You must be able to tell them why your brand is different in terms that matter to them.
Retail is a real estate game. If you aren’t a high-velocity product, give them a compelling reason for what it means to them — ex. we are going to introduce a new consumer to your store or category.
What do early-stage companies typically miss?
They miss the opportunity to say “no”. When sitting in front of a buyer, look for the no. It’s not always about growth. It’s about mitigating the risk of failure and stacking the deck in your favor.