Advice

PIE and PIE Shop request for startups 2019

At PIE, we’ve always been lucky to see a wide variety of startups apply — and be selected — for our accelerator program, from nonprofits to rockets. And we’re always intrigued by the breadth of companies from which we have the opportunity to select. So let us be clear, we actively encourage all types of companies to apply for our program.

That being said, part of the PIE experiment often motivates us to pursue specific types of startups. What kinds? Well, this time around, we’re especially interested in encouraging these types of startups to apply:

Autodesk users (or potential Autodesk users). PIE Shop — our collaboration with Autodesk designed to accelerate companies that are manufacturing things — is also a way for Autodesk to spend more quality time their customer base, which, in turn, helps Autodesk to build even better and more compelling products. As such, we’re very interested in hearing from companies that are using Fusion360, Inventor, or a combination of different Autodesk products. If you’re curious as to whether you might be a potential Autodesk user, here’s all of their software offerings.

Connected devices or Internet of Things. As PIE Shop collaborator Uncorked Studios so eloquently puts it, we’re convinced that Portland has all of the necessary ingredients to be a prominent player in the world of connected devices and Internet of Things. We’d like to see startups apply that are exploring these areas. We’re curious about what folks are building. And we welcome the opportunity to recruit and engage mentors who might not otherwise be motivated to work with PIE or PIE Shop. So if you’re building a connected device, please apply.

Zebras. If there’s one thing we’ve learned after a decade of working with Portland startups — and startups that are attracted to Portland — it’s that financial gain is often the last thing motivating and driving our founders. And even if there are financial motives, they do not often come with a “growth at any cost” mindset. Unfortunately for Portland and its founders, those types companies don’t often fit the venture capital model, and that means that there’s not a great deal of accelerator support for those companies. Well, we want to help support and accelerate the growth of those companies — and figure out how the accelerator model can be effectively leveraged for Zebras. Because we’re more likely to find Zebras around here, than Unicorns. So if you feel that you’re building something that can be collaborative, profitable, and improve society, we would love to hear from you.

More questions about PIE or PIE Shop? Please feel free to join us for an upcoming question and answer session. No questions? Cool. Then please join us for our 10 year celebration, instead.

Remember, PIE and PIE Shop applications close August 18, 2019.

Advice

A few frequently asked questions about PIE and PIE Shop

Super happy to have a bunch of awesome founders considering applying to PIE. Now, the questions about PIE and PIE Shop are starting to roll in. So we thought we would take the opportunity to answer a few of them.

What’s the difference between PIE and PIE Shop?
Programmatically, nothing. Focus wise, PIE helps founders building digital products, like Software as a Service (SaaS), mobile applications, and platforms; while PIE Shop helps founders building physical products that require manufacturing facilities.

What stage of company do you work with?
We tend to focus on early stage companies that are generally pre-revenue and/or pre-funding. Ideally, they have a usable prototype or product. But we’ll take a back of the napkin concept if the founding team feels right. We’ve also worked with companies that have already raised millions of dollars.

Honestly, we just like being challenged. And this is an experiment. We’re always looking for new types of companies that will help us expand our capabilities. If you feel like being part of that, you should apply.

What does the accelerator program entail?
The most valuable aspect of PIE is the mentorship, both peer and expert. But you also get free office space. And we try to feed you on a regular basis. If you’re in PIE Shop, you also get free access to Autodesk’s entire suite of tools. Plus, random people are always showing up in Portland and stopping by our office. So you never really know what’s going to happen. So, you know, it’s like a startup.

How do you decide which companies to invite into the program?
We have a variety of selection criteria that we use, but here’s the basic things we’re looking at and how important they are to us:

People (5.0x): We analyze the entrepreneurs to determine their level of coachability, the extent of their experience in business and/or the market they are pursuing, their existing knowledge and learning to be had, their ability to work in a collaborative space, and their willingness to participate in the program as a mentor to other members of their cohort (peer mentoring), as well as their potential to assist future members of the program (ongoing mentoring).

Idea (2.0x): Staff, partners, and mentors are asked to analyze the potential of the business idea, the market(s) to which the idea may be attractive, the feasibility of developing a product for that market(s), and whether the product is appropriately timed for the intended market(s).

Enchantment (1.5x): Staff, mentors, and partners assess the less tangible elements of the team and the product they are pursuing. Is it intriguing? Will it benefit other companies in the cohort? Are the founders likely to be helpful to their peers? Are there mentors who could have a meaningful impact on the entrepreneurs and their businesses? Is there a value to the community or other sponsors?

And yes, I’m sure you’re shocked to see that spells PIE.

I’m not sure that my company is a good fit. Should I apply?
We don’t know if your company is a good fit either. You should apply.

How structured is the day-to-day time in the accelerator?
Heavily unstructured and chaotic. We customize our program to each company — sometimes on a founder by founder basis. At best, it’s an independent study. While we have some programming that applies to all of the startups, the vast majority of our time is spent one-on-one with our companies, helping them get to the next stage that they define as their goal. We then take our knowledge of the startups and the challenges the founders face and sync them up with mentors who have expertise to explore those issues.

This matchmaking — putting startups together with the appropriate mentors for the specific problem that is impeding them and repeating that process with each new problem — provides the most value for both the startups and the mentors.

For accelerator managers, we tried to capture what a typical week looks like. It may help you, too.

Who are the mentors?
PIE has an extensive network of mentors spanning from founders, top-notch engineers, VCs, creatives, journalists, and a ton of other folks who are much smarter than we are. We also have the added benefit of having our alumni included in the mentor pool. And access to awesome employees at Autodesk.

How long have you been doing this?
PIE turns 10 years old in August. We’re throwing a little get together to celebrate. You should come.

How much does this cost?
Zero. Zilch. Nada. No equity. No cost to founders. From your perspective, it’s all free and clear.

How long does the class last?
The next class will probably last 6-9 months. Again, it’s on a case by case basis. We push our founders and companies to move further, faster than they would be able to go on their own. But that doesn’t mean pushing them out of the space until they’re ready to move on.

What benefits do you see in being in Portland?
Portland is a vibrant and growing city with very active tech, startup, and maker communities. The cost of living is rising but is still lower than most West Coast cities. And you can easily walk, bike, or take public transit to most, if not all, places. Companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Autodesk, eBay, Google, Mozilla, New Relic, and Salesforce all have regional offices here. The Bay is a quick direct flight away.

It’s not for everyone. But we like it.

No, really. How much does this cost?
As far as you’re concerned, PIE is completely free. For real. Free as in free.

What is the involvement of Autodesk in the process?
The companies who participate in the PIE Shop program have the opportunity to work with teams at Autodesk from helping you make better use of their software to folks who want to muck around on your platform. We look for new opportunities to engage with our existing and new corporate partners every year so don’t be surprised if other opportunities happen.

What’s the difference between an incubator and an accelerator?
In our jargon, an incubator protects ideas from the real world, sheltering them until they’ve had time to validate their concept and gain some traction. An accelerator exposes founders to the real world faster than they would be able to accomplish on their own. Incubators protect. Accelerators do not.

Using an automotive industry analogy, incubators are the production line. Accelerators are the crash tests.

Seriously. What’s the catch?
No catch. We just believe the prevailing mythology about how founders build startups is completely misleading. We want to demystify what it means to be a founder. And provide our founders with every opportunity to succeed. We’re incredibly lucky to have access to a supportive community of mentors who are willing to volunteer their time to help us achieve these goals.

Where do we apply?
Right here.

Want to help us generate more FAQs?
Great! We’ve got a series of events where you can ask your questions. And we can probably provide answers. Please consider joining us.

Advice, News

An open source guide for building the startup accelerator of your dreams

pie-cookbook-beta-complete

It’s been one year since the completion of the PIE Cookbook Kickstarter campaign, so it seemed only fitting that we let you know that we’ve reached the PIE Cookbook 0.9 beta release!

That’s right! All of the content in one spot. With a table of contents, even.

Now, admittedly, the beta still has quite a few flaws. There are any number of typos. It’s repetitive in sections. It’s repetitive in sections. And we have an ever-growing list of things we still desperately want to write.

Still, even with all of that, this release provides plenty of details and tips on how to start and manage your very own startup accelerator — and provides you with plenty of opportunities to tell us how to improve it.

In this version of the PIE Cookbook, we cover things like:

But we’re not stopping there. We remain dedicated to continuing to write, refine, and publish this guide, out in the open, so that we can create the most comprehensive documentation available to support folks who run accelerators — or who dream of building their own one day.

Read the PIE Cookbook 0.9 beta.

What’s next?

  • Realizing that a Github repository isn’t the easiest format to consume, we’re working to make versions of the current document available in a more digestible web format, in PDF, and in ebook format. Stay tuned!
  • We’re continuing to refine the document in preparation for the release of PIE Cookbook 1.0.
  • If you have suggestions for topics, find typos, or need us to provide additional content on an existing topic, please feel free to submit an issue on Github.
  • If you want to stay up-to-date on the PIE Cookbook and collaborate with other folks in the accelerator community, please consider joining our Slack channel.

More soon! ❤️

Advice

An early stage startup accelerator is an emotional rollercoaster

We’ve all heard it. “Going through an accelerator is an emotional rollercoaster.” And we’d be the first to agree. It’s not an easy or smooth experience. For anyone.

But what, exactly, does that rollercoaster look like?

At PIE, we’ve spent time analyzing the behavior of founders in our accelerator as well as other programs in which we’ve had the opportunity to participate. And that analysis has led to a rough sketch of the general ebb and flow of emotions that founders experience throughout the course of an accelerator program.

Advice, Community

Want to build a startup accelerator?

At PIE, we’re extremely lucky in that we get to talk to amazing founders and startups, day in and day out. But they’re not the only folks interested in chatting with us. We also get a lot—a lot—of inquiries about how PIE came to be. And how they can go about building a startup accelerator for their respective communities or cities.

So we took a few minutes to crank out some content in this regard, featuring the seven easy steps for building a startup accelerator.

This isn’t a guide. Or a regimen. This isn’t the answer. This is simply how PIE became an accelerator. There is no right timespan for this. For some communities, it happens more quickly and organically. For others, it takes a long, long, long time.

For more, read “Want to start an accelerator?

 

Advice, Community, Mentors

How to filter through all your startup advice this Thanksgiving

“Here’s what you should do.” It’s a sentence you’ve probably heard a lot. Friends, family, peers, mentors, investors—they all have helpful advice, but when your cousin Billy gives you business advice this Thanksgiving that conflicts with advice an investor gave you just last week, what should you do?

First, take a big bite of stuffing.

Then think about it. Advice and feedback is important, but you simply can’t weigh all feedback the same. Startups at PIE have spoken to peers, investors, and dozens of mentors over the past few months and here’s how they’ve sorted through it all.

How invested are they? How much care / concern do they have for you and your goals?

Kai, cofounder of Krumplr thinks about this every time he chats with someone. “You learn a lot of how to read people over time—customers, your bosses, people you manage, and across many different cultures. I start out by saying, ‘Does the person I’m talking to like me or not? Does the person I’m talking to care or not?’ And that’s something that you can very quickly establish. If it’s a positive relationship, I multiple pretty much any critique I get by a factor of five.”

You might meet with someone who doesn’t care and isn’t willing to put in the intellectual effort. Their feedback may be vague—platitudes in a way—like “focus your message”, “find your target audience.” It might be helpful to ask probing questions to find out if they really understood your problem.

There are on the other hand also people who don’t really care but are still willing to put in the intellectual challenge. “Those are good people to listen to,” says Kai. And finally, people who care and invest their time and effort to understanding your problem and thinking about your solution. That’s a given, pay attention to their input.

How experienced are they?

This one’s a little trickier to navigate because it’s often easy to confuse loud volume and confident delivery with actual success and experience. Aunt Susan’s confident remarks on how you should launch your business may sound extremely persuasive, but being an excellent baker doesn’t mean she has relevant experience in your industry. The same is true with anyone else who gives you feedback—investors, mentors, peers. Just because something worked a certain way in their field doesn’t always mean it’ll translate to yours. Levi from Droplr looks for people who have a track record of experience and success. He’ll give them extra attention if they’ve achieved success in his particular industry.

Are they willing to tell you the truth?

Kevin from Nutmeg appreciates individuals who exhibit a sense of trust with no hidden agenda. “The most value we received from PIE were from mentors who weren’t afraid to call bullshit right away. They’d say, ‘you should do x, and here’s why.’” Are the people you’re hearing from worried about offending you or hurting you? You might want to be careful if all of a mentor’s feedback is as sweet as that pumpkin pie. There’s nothing wrong with good feedback, especially if you’re on your A game as a startup, but make sure the person you’re talking to isn’t afraid to make you cry if they need to.

Are you receiving repetitive feedback?

Imagine arriving home on Thanksgiving day only to find your friends and family sitting in a semicircle around the front door. You soon realize that this is a planned intervention. They have a message to tell you—it’s important and everyone seems to realize it except you. (Let’s hope this doesn’t actually happen!) The point is, while there are multiple ways to run a business, hearing repetitive advice from a number of people is probably a good indicator that it’s worth listening to.

What’s your gut telling you?

Lastly, here’s the comment I heard from nearly every startup. Learn to listen to your gut. Ultimately, it’s your business. Deep down inside you know where you want to steer this ship, and you wouldn’t feel comfortable going against this anyway. Use feedback as a way to rethink your direction, but at the end of the day, if you can’t convince yourself that the advice you’re hearing is good and true, you might just have to go with your gut.

And while you’re having that Thanksgiving conversation with your friends and family, don’t forget to get seconds on that stuffing.

One can always make better decisions with stuffing.

Advice, Community, Mentors

How to find a mentor by not asking for one

I’m here to talk about building mentor relationships. I wish I could write a listicle or “how to” document. The truth is that building mentor relationships is complicated. There is nothing more personal or nuanced. I’m going to try to put into words how we over at Switchboard built our mentor relationships, and maybe parts will ring true to you.

1. The mentor arrives
The mentor doesn’t announce herself. She doesn’t arrive on horseback and blow a bugle to signal her arrival as The Mentor. The best way to describe the feeling of knowing the mentor has arrived is to recognize the feeling of wanting to be led by the person before you.

As David Foster Wallace said… “[A] real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”

When that person arrives, I feel a stirring in my heart and a desire to download that person’s brain. I follow my intuition, seize the opportunity, and figure out a way to do that that is fun for the both of us.

2. Call the mentor into service
There are a few things that I’ve learned about asking for a mentor’s help. We never ask them to be our mentor. This sounds counterintuitive. Sheryl Sandberg writes about this in a chapter in Lean In called “Don’t Ask Anyone to be Your Mentor.” And I think she has a point. Corbett Barr says something similar over at Fizzle. ” In the real world, mentors are usually organic relationships without specific titles, goals or responsibilities.”

We at Switchboard often ask people to help us solve problems during a defined period of time. Sometimes that means informal drinks every month. Sometimes that means having a jam session where we brainstorm a new feature or streamlined a process with a “think tank” of mentors (pictured above with Tom, James, and Jessica). There are many benefits to this approach: a core team is formed, we don’t have to play “telephone” in translating one person’s opinion to another, and there’s an energy of excitement and shared purpose.

We ask for unorthodox favors. For example, I once posted on PDX Startups Switchboard in which I asked if any local founders would be willing to invite me to their all hands staff meetings. Our team had just expanded. I didn’t know how to structure or lead a meeting. As you’ll see from the post, Cloudability’s Mat and Little Bird’s Marshall generously hosted me and I constantly refer to what I learned there.

If we find a mentor who is an exceptionally busy person (like Matt the founder of Metafilter, pictured), we’ll ask them to come in to PIE and give a talk so others in the office can benefit and we can hear the questions that other companies have. We also have many mentors who are younger than us (like Kaori). This is often overlooked. As Bill Nye put it, “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.”

3. Listen to the mentor
It may seem obvious, but I’m constantly working on how to listen better to my mentors. I’ll vision how I want the time to go before we meet. I say things to myself like,  “I will ask questions that start with ‘how did you…” and ‘what did you…'” “I will listen more than I talk.” “These are the points they made last time I’d like to follow up on.” Larry King put it,  “I’ve never learned anything while I was talking.” Listening, truly listening without looking for the opportunity to respond, is a difficult art.

4. Thank the mentor
This cannot be overstated. Thank. The. Mentor. We do our best to follow up. Whether we work with someone over months or just one afternoon, we make sure to follow up with the outcome of our time together. This is in the form of a quick email. “Just wanted to let you know that the feature we talked about is live!” This makes mentors feel like their time is well spent and there was a tangible outcome to our work together. We send thank you notes and describe how they helped us and why we value their contribution. I once ambushed Guy Kawasaki at a conference and, for that hour, he was an invaluable mentor who gave us input that significantly changed the direction of our product (his thank you card and keyboard stickers pictured). I’ve found that no act of mentorship is too small to be acknowledged.

The full circle of our time as mentees is that we are now called on to mentor in return. And the best way those relationships begin is not with, “Will you be my mentor” but rather “Hi. Let’s hang out.”

 

Mara Zepeda is the cofounder and CEO of Switchboard as well as a mentor at PIE. Find her on Twiter @marazepeda and visit Portland Startups Switchboard to see how they’re helping the Portland startup community.
Advice, Community, Mentors

The Next Year (& Beyond) Plan – Part 1

You’ve had a piece of the PIE… Now What?

As this year’s PIE class wraps up it’s official program and settles down to dig in and advance their products and companies, I thought it would be useful to put together some strategies for thinking about the future.

This two part series highlights the more operational areas of growing a company and supporting the product once it’s launched. It is not meant to be a “how to” but a guide to start thinking and planning best and worst case scenarios.

So what’s your first year plan look like? How should you be thinking about it?

There’s no hard and fast rules about “the right” way to grow and maintain a company except that revenue should exceed expenses to be sustainable. A business plan helps, and those of you who are beginning to look at seed investment will need to at least have a cursory version of one.

Operational Forecasting

It takes money (cash) to launch and continue running a company. From the companies I met with at PIE, many were hitting the VC trail to pitch for Seed funding. An important thing to think about at this stage is until the Seed funding comes in where is the cash coming from and how much do you think you need?

Running models which forecast out spend through anticipated Seed then spend once the check has cleared (let’s say a 12mo. cycle) is going to be helpful. On the expense side this includes travel (to pitch), legal fees, marketing efforts, money needed to support the product (hosting, licenses), insurance and current payroll. One of the bonuses of sticking around PIE after the session has ended is free rent, which alone could save your company five figures this year of expenses, so take advantage!

From here, sales/revenue forecasting (being as realistic as possible). Where do customers (or sponsors, advertisers) 1-100 come in, 101-1000, and what would be an average percentage to use for growth? (I use 3% as a safe metric).

Overlay the expense forecast against the revenue one and you’ve got an initial idea of your company’s break even point, operating costs and revenue opportunities.

I also think it’s wise to run a Plan B scenario where the company doesn’t land funding (we all know it happens) or the lead time takes 2-3x longer than anticipated. Can the company quickly produce enough revenue to be sustainable? How does that affect the growth plan?

Understanding both sides of these scenarios will help inform how the company should operate and where there might be major decision factors to consider.

Goals, KPI Creation & Monitoring

With so many moving parts required to operate a business, it’s important to set goals to measure company performance against. These goals, measured over a set time frame will allow founders and the management team to gauge how different areas of the operations are doing.

A couple of examples of goals and their associated KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) are:
Increase App Downloads 10% in next month. KPI’s could be traffic/user sources, daily downloads, social media mentions.
Increase Sales on Website 20% over a 3 month period. KPI’s could be daily sales, shopping cart abandonment %’s, and competitive pricing.

Setting goals should inform business decisions in areas such as your product, positioning, pricing, traction in the market, customer service and define areas which need help or re-strategizing. KPI’s are used to drive the actions in these areas.

There are several KPI dashboard tools out in the market which could be worth researching and investing in to help.

Hiring

Allison Krug wrote a strong piece about hiring for startups back in September. Areas I think worth expanding upon are:

Inventory the capacity your current team (I know that sounds terribly Dilbert-esq). Are they fully booked with work, and are there opportunities to cross train which would give both the company an additional skill set and the employee a chance to learn something new? Understanding where your team is now and what they can produce informs your product milestones, roadmap and operational capabilities. Running an OPE (Overall People Effectiveness) model, which supports the Lean Startup methodology, is a useful tool to understand the productive %s of your team.

When budgeting for new hires, if they are full time salaried, add ~22% to the market base salary. This will cover the company’s piece of employee taxes, any benefits given plus on-boarding costs (e.g.: a new laptop). Based on the percentage above every 5 hires will cost the company roughly the equivalent of a 6th employee.

One last (potentially eye opening) note about the realities of hiring, once you bring on a hire as an salaried employee (not consulting) the company becomes liable for part or all of their unemployment payments (in Oregon at least) should the employee file within 24 months of working for the company. The company pays into the Oregon Unemployment Insurance fund through their share of the employee payroll taxes, so take Alison’s advice to heart, make sure your hire is a good fit on all sides!

Next post, I’ll cover strategies about product and issues which could affect you as a founder. Other PIE mentors, it would be great to see additional thoughts and input to what I’ve outlined above!


Kris Pennella is a business operations and product strategy consultant focusing on start-ups to mid-size companies, as well as a mentor at PIE. Find her on Twitter: @littlepots or connect with her on LinkedIn.
Advice, Alumni, Mentors

First Step of Developer Marketing is to Stop Marketing

Developers have a keen ability to ignore most traditional marketing. Including “developer marketing” in this post’s title alone may have raised the hackles of most developers who read it. Yet, developer marketing is necessary for an increasing number of companies.

There are a growing number of APIs, which allow developers to create something new on top of data or functionality created by someone else. As an incredible side effect, many companies have found themselves with a developer audience. Perhaps more amazing are the many companies whose customers are all coders. Marketing to these developers can be difficult for marketers that don’t know tech and similarly tough for geeks that don’t know marketing.

Like anything worth doing, it’s hard work, but I think the approach is fairly simple–it just doesn’t look like traditional marketing.

I’m a programmer, but I’m also an accidental marketer. These days I write more lines about code than lines of code. For five years I tracked API growth as a journalist and analyst at ProgrammableWeb. This background led, perhaps inevitably, to working for API providers.

My approach has three parts, all focused squarely on developers:

  1. Solve their problems
  2. Make their lives easier
  3. Show them off to others

The first seems obvious, yet we’ve probably all experienced a technology solution in search of a problem. To get any lasting adoption from developers, you have to start with a problem. That’s why infrastructure APIs like Orchestrate have become so popular. Developers like unique puzzles, not repetitive work. You can help developers understand the problems you solve by providing example use cases. Write blog posts, tutorials and documentation that inspires developers to see what’s possible.

To feel the maximum impact, your solution should also make a developer’s life easier. It is absolutely possible to solve a problem in a way that becomes difficult to implement. Instead, you want to get them addicted to your simplicity. This is where developer marketing really strays from traditional marketing. To make a developer’s life easier, you need to focus on streamlined documentation and full-featured client libraries. This means you need to write code.

Lastly, make this marketing process repeat with others by showing off your best developers. Create an app gallery with screenshots and links to their website. Write blog posts that tell their story. If you’re pitching press, turn your PR machine toward promoting your developers rather than promoting your product.

These three parts of marketing will endear you to a developer audience. Nobody can raise issues with solving problems, making their lives easier and showing off successful work. Developers probably won’t even realize you’re marketing to them. And in a way, you aren’t.

Adam DuVander, Developer Relations at Orchestrate. Find him on Twitter: @adamd

PIE Demo Day is on October 24, 2014 at 2pm. Click here to join the event livestream.

Advice, Mentors

Marketing Fundamentals – Start with a Message Map/Architecture

Whenever I ask how I can help the latest crop of PIE companies, the answer is usually, “they aren’t ready for marketing help yet.” I get it. I do. You’ve got to build the product, then get someone to test/buy it, then support it, fix it, build enhancements, sell some more, keep supporting it and hiring a marketing person just isn’t the top priority. That’s ok in the beginning, but you still need a marketing foundation to support all your efforts.

Once you’ve figured out what your product or service is, I strongly encourage you to take the time to create a message map/messaging architecture. This is a 1-2 page document that clearly states your key messages. It seems easy, but I guarantee you if you do it right, it will take far more time than you expect. And since, as David Packard once said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department,” (and as we established, you probably don’t even have a marketing department, anyways), get all founders and key employees involved.

My advice to expedite the process and make the meetings more productive is for each individual involved to create a draft on his/her own before coming together. This will give you something to start from, avoid one strong individual dominating and drowning out other good ideas, and ensure more buy in across the team for the final product.
There are a number of different templates you can use (I’ve provided a couple examples below and there are others available online), but I’d start with a general one that answers three basic questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?

You should be able to answer each of those questions in one sentence. Once you get those sentences down, write down 2-3 supporting messages that clarify your main message. Watch that you aren’t simply restating a message from a different cell using slightly different language. And think about how what you are saying differentiates you from competitive products and companies. If you think your competitor could say the exact same thing, you need to keep working. Finally, if you have any proof points, list those. For example, if you say industry leaders have adopted your technology, list those companies. If you say you are a “recognized leader” and an analyst firm has named you a cool company or added you to some list, put that down. In the beginning you probably won’t have many proof points, but these are important, because they give reassurance to people who are receiving your messages that there is substance behind the words.

If you’re really ambitious, you can go a level deeper, and create a message map for your product(s) – this will be more specific than the company one, but should follow the same guidelines. What is the ONE thing you would want a prospective customer to know about your product if you were only allowed to describe it in one sentence (Main message)? If they then granted you the ability to explain further, what 2-3 sentences would you want to say (supporting messages)?

I’ve gone through this process at every company I’ve worked and with a number of non-profit organizations. In every case, we’ve gone back and forth, debating nearly every single word. And almost every time we’ve had to pause, let it sit and come back a few days later to resume and polish. It’s exhausting, but in the end, totally worth it. Because the final document will provide the foundation for every communication vehicle going forward – your website, elevator pitch, sales presentation, collateral, etc. You’ll find that you and your team are consistent in how you describe your company and product(s) and clearly articulate what sets you apart from others in the market.

 

sample templates

Bill Piwonka is the CMO of Exterro. Find him on Twitter: @bpiwonka