On Thursday, I had the opportunity today to speak on a panel at the SAEC Global Venture Congress. Other panelists included the moderator, Scott Maxwell from Insight Venture Partners, Bob Gold of Ridgewood Capital, Robert Dennen of Enhanced Capital Partners, Todd Pietri of Milestone Venture Partners, and Roger Hurwitz of Apax Partners. Our panel was focused on helping entrepreneurs build a winning technology company. While there were a number of interesting thoughts presented by my fellow panelists, a few important highlights were the following:
1. Release early and often - It is better to release an imperfect product, get feedback, and continue evolving than trying to release the perfect product because you may never get there and run out of cash before doing so.
2. Filling the product management/marketing role early is key. Having a person who can shape the product and prioritize features by gathering the data in terms of what customers need near-term and what the market may need longer term is imperative. More often than not I find early stage companies that are engineer-driven that spend too much time on features that the market may not need. Avoid this problem early on and focus your limited resources on the right priorities.
3. Sales ramp - Do more with less and be careful of ramping up sales until you have a repeatable selling model. In other words do not hire too many sales people and send them on a wild goose chase until you have built the right product, honed the value proposition, identified a few target markets with pain, and can easily replicate the sales process and model from some of your customer wins.
While our panel was focused on helping entrepreneurs build a winning technology company, we also did have the opportunity to digress briefly and dive into business models that we liked. When Scott made all of us pick what type of company we preferred in terms of its target market from a list of enterprise, SMB, or consumer, it was interesting to hear the responses. I selected enterprise with the caveat that the company have a scalable business model (capital efficient, channel friendly, OEMable, possibly hosted, etc.) while a number of others voted consumer, SMB, and hosted software. If you asked the same question a few years ago, I am sure that enterprise would have been the overwhelming choice. While there was no consensus on SMB vs. consumer, it was quite clear that all of us had a limited appetite for investments in traditional enterprise companies predicated on large direct license sales.