Is it a feature or product?

During the last month I have spent more time looking at Angel investments as I believe it is a great time to start a business.  However, one key question I keep asking myself after meeting with entrepreneur after entrepreneur is whether or not what they have is just a feature of a larger product offering, a standalone product in and of itself, or a business for the long term with multiple products.  Each path provides a unique risk reward perspective for both investors and entrepreneurs.

To be honest with you, many of the companies I have met with seem like features of a broader product offering.  That is not bad in and of itself as focus is key when starting a company and going to market. As a start-up, you always want to be the innovative player with the new easy to use technology.  However, just being the mobile version of what is already existing in the market is a cause for concern as it doesn't take much for a larger competitor to replicate that effort and use its marketing muscle and existing customer base to freeze a start-up out.  Sure, you may get some customers early on as you are the only one, but in the long run you need to think about what broader feature set you will offer to be a true standalone product. 

A product is typically a couple key features tied together to solve a problem for a customer.  This means that you can provide more value to your customer and consequently extract more dollars from your end-user.  The opportunity for many companies that are just features is a quick flip, but the risk is if that doesn't happen the large player may just develop the feature in-house leaving no exit for you.  The more seasoned entrepreneurs know that starting out with a killer feature is just a launching pad to bigger and greater things.  They know it is just a go-to-market strategy that is part of a larger vision and a step towards a broader offering down the line.  These entrepreneurs know that they may never get there, but also understand that without this they have a limited market and return opportunity.  yes, I know start-ups are inherently uncertain and many times it is difficult to even calibrate how big the market is, but don't forget to lay out the broader vision beyond the initial killer feature when building your company.

On the flip side, what I don't advocate is coming out of the gate as a complete and whole product solution.  This brings you right into the crosshairs of large, incumbent players and makes your life much more difficult as you have to sell against a much larger salesforce with significant marketing muscle.  While your goal may be to grow to that kind of solution, start highly focused, features are ok, but have a broader vision to show a path towards building a great company.

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The Gartner Magic Quadrant – a necessary evil in IT

The Gartner Magic Quadrant – a necessary evil in IT

Lately, I feel as if I have been spending an inordinate amount of time with my companies talking about marketing.  Related to this, one of my portfolio companies recently received a number of nice emails from the board related to its new positioning in Gartner's Magic Quadrant.  We were all quite excited since we made […]

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Market positioning for startups – focus, focus, focus

I was on a call yesterday with an inspired and talented management team.  As we walked through the deck, one point particularly struck me as I listened to their well-honed pitch.  The company was trying to boil the ocean and do everything for its customers.  While it was great that the team seemed to understand […]

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When to ramp sales

While 2009 was a tough year, I must say that it was nice to see a number of our portfolio companies have blow out 4th quarters for bookings and growth.  Despite that, I am still taking a cautiously optimistic approach to 2010.  There are still conflicting reports on the growth of the economy and it […]

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Startups and financial models for SAAS companies

The other day I met with an entrepreneur I was advising as he prepared to raise his next round of funding.  In the meeting, he wanted me to narrow in and focus on his financial model.  Financial models for startups are important from a big picture perspective, but I never like to get mired in […]

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Google acquires portfolio company Gizmo5

Google acquires portfolio company Gizmo5

Congratulations to Michael Robertson and team at Gizmo5 for all of their hard work and perseverance!  There is not a lot I can tell you about the future plans for Google Voice, but I do believe it is important to look back to see how we got here.  We made our investment in Gizmo5 (aka […]

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The Googlization of IT

Today I took a sales team from a portfolio company to meet with a couple of senior IT executives at a major retail company.  Towards the end of the meeting, it started to become quite clear to me the effect that Google and the web has had on IT to date and where it was […]

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Washers, dryers and secret sauce – why naming your technology is important

Our washer and dryer was on the fritz today, and as I started to do some research on large capacity stackable units I started to get overwhelmed with all of the new terminology and features.  After all, isn’t a washer a washer and a dryer a dryer.  How many different combinations and features could there […]

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Future of television advertising (continued again!)

My first post about portfolio company Visible World and the future of television advertising was in October 2004 (see here).  In the post, I wrote about how television advertising needed to change and how the advertisers and those with inventory had to adapt to the rising online threat and offer new technology to make their […]

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Lessons from Joost

I am not going to rehash Om Malik's excellent summary of "What went wrong with Joost" but I did want to dive deeper into a few points.  As I have always said, raising too much money can be a curse and not a blessing.  Here is an excerpt from my post in 2006Trust me, I […]

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