Ep 33: How to Self-Publish a Book
Self-publish your book.
Every step you need to take to get your book in front of an audience - learn the process of publishing with Naibe Reynoso, a journalist and the founder of Con Todo Press. And Jane Friedman, a publishing industry expert, shares her secrets to ensuring your book is as discoverable as possible.
(05:32) What are the steps to publishing a book?
(13:21) What's the ISBN and how do I get one for my book?
(18:12) Considerations an aspiring author should make if they want to make a profitable business out of writing books.
(19:50) What Business model works best for someone who just wrote their first children's book?
(21:04) Technical elements that you need to know before trying to sell a book.
(24:15) Andrea lists the key takeaways from the episode.
[00:00:00] JANE: It is exceptionally rare for anyone to make a living off book sales alone, especially if you're early in your career, if you're not a celebrity, if you're not already an influencer of some kind with brand recognition, then that first book that you put out there is just the first step of a very, very long journey. And I think many writers just have misplaced expectations about what those sales will look like regardless of how they publish, regardless of the genre. It is very hard to sell a book.
[00:00:35] Host: Hi, This is Small Business, a podcast brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. On This is Small Business we cover all things small business that will help you start, build, and scale your business. We will hear from guests with diverse backgrounds, point of views and stories, with the hope of hearing from many types of small business entrepreneurs. On each episode I end with key takeaways that you can use on your business journey.
[00:01:00] Aright, so you've written a book, and now you wanna share your stories with the world. The next big step on your journey as an author is to navigate the daunting world of publishing. Today, we'll demystify the process, step by step, to help you understand how to release your work to your readers aka your customers. From refining your manuscript to selecting where you wanna print your book, we will delve into the essential considerations that pave the way towards a successful book release.
Coming up -- I'll talk to Jane Friedman, a publishing industry expert, about how to start the process of publishing a book. But first -- I want you to meet Business owner, Naibe Reynoso, a journalist and the founder of Con Todo Press, a company that publishes and creates award-winning bilingual children’s books that amplify the stories and voices of underrepresented communities. Naibe is also a multi-Emmy award-winning journalist and author and has contributed to various regional and international networks. [00:02:00] Like most of the small businesses we feature on the show, you can find her books in the Amazon store. Also, remember that if you want to hear your story on This is Small Business, we have a voicemail line where you can ask questions or share your entrepreneurial story. We want to hear from you! Find the link to the voicemail line in the episode description. Here’s a question that one of our listeners had:
[00:02:25] VM: How do small businesses go about scaling? I feel like we’ve reached a point where we want to scale more and go to that next level but find it a bit difficult just because there’s not blueprint, but um, looking for some strategies and ideas on how to level up and go to that next level with your small business once you feel like you’re ready.
[00:02:42] Host: Scaling is something that a lot of the businesses that we have on the show are thinking about and it’s something that we also like to dive deep into because how you scale has a lot to do with your business model, how you’re set up, where you are in the journey of your business, and of course, resources available. We’ve talked about this subject on previous episodes [00:03:00] like the one with Back to the Roots that features Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora as well as Chuck Templeton. That episode talks about how they made the jump from small to medium. One of the key takeaways they mentioned through their journey to success is zigging when others zag. Since there is a lot of competition out there, it’s important to think about how you stand out and take risks. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis and seek advice from the people who are where you hope to be one day. We’ll also be talking about this subject on later episodes in this season so keep a look out. So let’s get this show on the road and meet Naibe!
[00:03:35] Naibe: So I'm a journalist. I've been a journalist for over 25 years and I feel like everything came together at the right time, right? The perfect storm. I'm a mom also. I walked into a bookstore and I took my son because I was really looking for something where he would feel represented, seen, [00:04:00] and he would feel pride in his culture because the climate at the time wasn't so warm and fuzzy for minorities, especially Latinos. So I really wanted him to get the other side of the story of how amazing we are as a culture and how many, how much we've contributed to the United States. But I did not find anything for his age range. Right. Between five- and eight-year-old age range. I found books for babies and I, there's obviously history books, but not for his age range.
So that's kind of where the seed was planted of why don't these books exist? Why can't I create them? I'm a journalist. I've been doing stories about my community, highlighting my community for over 20 years. I'm multiple Emmy award-winning journalist so I can do this. That's what, you know, that's what I was thinking. So that's how Con Todo Press was born. And even the naming, like give it your all. Con Todo.
[00:04:50] Andrea: I know this is going to sound cheesy, but, GRACIAS Naibe. As a Latina, this is so inspiring to hear. [00:05:00] Not only am I a Latina but I also LOVE books so this story is especially close to my heart. What I also love about your books is that they're both in English and Spanish. And as a bilingual myself, when I was little, I would've loved to have this because it was either, you read everything in English or you read everything in Spanish. And because I went to school in the United States, most of my reading was in English, so growing up my parents were always worried about me being able to speak Spanish correctly. And so I think instilling that is very important at a younger age. So, I want to jump into our topic today. The first step to publishing a book is, obviously, to write it. But what comes after that?
[00:05:40] Naibe: So after you write the book, you have to know what category is your book fit into, right? There's a lot of different categories, whether it's a board book, whether it's for five to seven or a little older, young adult romance, et cetera. So once you've, really narrowed down what that book that you wrote is for, what audience is it for, [00:06:00] the next step is finding a copy editor, right? You have to find a copy editor that's really gonna fine tune your words. Sometimes we feel like, but my words are perfect cuz it's my words. But this is a product that's gonna go out to hopefully thousands of people and you want the best work, right? So you hire a professional copy editor to look at your manuscript, the words that you've written, and to improve them, not only, with grammar, but also contextually like improve the script.
You might have a blind spot where you're not realizing that it doesn't make sense or this character, why is this character here, et cetera. So that's the next step. The way you find a copy editor is you go on different platforms such as Read Z, which is kind of like a Fiverr or an Upwork specifically for people in the publishing industry. And there you will find freelancers who have or still do work for big publishers and just are looking for extra work. [00:07:00] So I've found amazing publishers that have worked for the top publishers in the industry. So you really have that confidence of like, okay, this manuscript has been vetted by a true professional.
After it's been copy edited, looked at for grammar, et cetera. Then you hire your illustrator. Right now I'm talking specifically about children's books, but you still need an illustrator or a graphic designer, even if you have a romance novel, right? What's gonna be on the front cover? We'll go with the example of a kid's book. You need illustrations, so that's the next step. The way I've found my illustrators is different ways. One is, there's another platform called Behance, where illustrators put up their portfolios and you can skim through. But before you do that to save yourself some time, do a mood board as far as what kind of vibe do you want this book to have? There's so many different styles, right? So that way you don't waste your time looking at portfolios that aren't ultimately gonna be a good fit for your manuscript. [00:08:00] So you have to make the decision, is this gonna be watercolor, is this gonna be vivid colors? What style? Once you have that style and then you start looking at portfolios not only on Behance, which is an option, but also on Instagram. I have found some of my illustrators on Instagram, so you search the, the hashtags. I've wanted to work always with Latina or BIPOC illustrators. So I'll search hashtag Latina illustrator or also just illustrators. In that hashtag, so many different amazing illustrators come up. You make a list of all of your favorite ones based on that concept of your mood board, and then you reach out to them, and you see, do they have an agent? Are they just work for, hire, et cetera. So that would be the third step, right?
Hiring that illustrator, writing a contract, making sure that everything, you know, all your ducks are in a row because there's a lot of different elements that go into copyright and who's gonna own the artwork. So do you wanna own it? As a small self-publisher, if you do, [00:09:00] you have to do work for hire. And you have to put that into the contract where you're outright just purchasing the rights to their art. If you're gonna do royalty based, then you do a contract based on royalty. How much royalty are you gonna give them? Write that in the contract and be very clear. I personally did hire a publishing attorney, cuz I just wanted to make sure I did things the right way. I highly advise you to hire a publishing attorney so they can give you a template of contracts or look over a contract that you are going to have for the rest of your publishing life, right, with that specific illustrator.
[00:09:30] Andrea: Small pause here, and I bet you already know what I’m going to say listener. But we can’t stress enough how important it is to consult a legal professional. Know that none of the things mentioned on this episode should be taken as legal advice. We’re here to provide you with general information. So before you do anything, please seek qualified professional counsel on your specific matter. The hiring of an attorney is super important so don’t make that decision lightly or based solely on anything we cover today on this episode, or any other for that matter! [00:10:00] And if you want to learn more about hiring legal help, check out our third episode of this season with Cynthia Dahl, where she covers different types of free legal resources available to small business owners, or take a look at our show notes! Ok now, back to Naibe.
[00:10:17] Naibe: So after illustrations are done, contracts are signed. Now is the last step, which is the book formatter. And the book formatter, I like to call them the chef. The chef puts everything together, all of the ingredients. Right before that there's a tiny little step that seems complicated but isn't that complicated. Once you do your research, it's getting your ISBN, which is that barcode, that number in the back of the book that we all see that identifies your book, figuring out the price, getting your barcode, which is not difficult at all. And then submitting it for copyright. So after you have all of that, like I said, you get the chef, which is the book formatter, [00:11:00] who gets all those ingredients together, gets your manuscript or your text, the illustrations, puts them together, your copyright information, your author's note if you have one, and then, basically gives you this document that's a PDF format and that is your print ready PDF format and now you're ready to go to print.
So you can decide whether you wanna do print on demand or if you wanna go and do an offset printing with any printer either in the United States, there's printers all over the world that you can work with. I print through Amazon, but I also print through an offset printer in China. But I do have print on demand through Amazon which is a really, really cool tool because with print on demand, if you don't have a lot of money to fork out thousands of dollars for offset printing, you don't have to, you could just write your book and then put it up on the Amazon KDP platform, Kindle Direct Publishing, and they will print the book as people order the book. [00:12:00] You don't have to mail the book, you don't have to even process shipping, nothing. All you have to do is upload it onto the platform and then you receive a royalty depending on how many books were sold in a period of time. Every month I get a royalty from Amazon, from all the print on demand copies that are sold. So it's an amazing, amazing platform cuz it's like you literally set it and forget it, you know? It's, it's like pretty much just money that's coming in. You've front-loaded all the work, and now the rewards just are gonna come for the rest of my life. Basically On KDP.
So that's the last step. And then obviously putting out, releasing it finally and promoting it.
[00:12:42] Andrea: Thank you for taking us all the way through. Ok so let’s unpack a bit. You mentioned that the first step you have to go through is finding an editor, and you talked about where you can find that editor in different places. And then after that you found an illustrator. [00:13:00] You specifically found illustrators that aligned with the content of the book and could carry out your vision. And then after that you got a publishing lawyer, you figured out what your ISBN code is, found a printer, and then you finally published it, mainly through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. I want to know more about the ISBN, and that stands for the International Standard Book Number, as I just quickly searched, and the process of getting that.
[00:13:26] Naibe: That little ISBN number seemed the most intimidating because it's like, that looks so official. Do I have to take a test to get one of those numbers? Do I have to be certified? Like how do I get an ISBN? And it's as simple as going to BOWKER.com, create an account, and literally you can have an ISBN right then and there within minutes because all you have to do is pretty much tell them what's the name of your book, how many pages, what audience it is, what you're selling it for, and bam, it'll spit out the ISBN number and there you go. [00:14:00] You do need an ISBN in order to publish a book, it's an identifier if you wanna sell on Amazon, or if you wanna sell to a different small bookstore or libraries. All of these need that official number because that's how they identified it within their system, and it's kind of like a uniform system, identifying system that everyone uses.
So yes, you definitely need it. And then another number, some people don't get it, but I always get it, is the LCCN number, which is a library of Congress control number. And that's super easy to get too. But the LCCN is basically the identifying number that all libraries use for their system. So it's good to like get all those numbers so your book feels and is official, official, official. And it's not just pieces of paper bound by stitching. It actually has all the numbers that all of these different institutions will want to use for their categorizing systems, et cetera.
[00:15:00] Host: You're listening to This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. You just heard from Naibe Reynoso, a Journalist and the Founder of Con Todo Press. You can find out more about Con Todo Press in our show notes on our website: Thisissmallbusinesspodcast.com.
Naibe gave us so much valuable information on the process of publishing a book. And she made even the technical intimidating parts of publishing - like getting your ISBN or LCCN easy. And I love that she shared her experience with printing her books via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s helpful to know just how easy and seamless the process can be.
Like Con Todo Press, the small businesses we feature on This is Small Business are some of the many small businesses selling in the Amazon store who have tapped into some of the tools and resources offered to help them succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. [00:16:00] You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
So far, we've talked about the process of publishing a book and we'll dig deeper into other considerations that you might need to make before you publish your work with my next guest: Jane Friedman, a publishing industry expert with nearly 25 years of work experience in the industry. Here’s Jane.
[00:16:30] JANE: I've spent 25 years working in the publishing industry in some capacity. I started out on the traditional publishing end, but about 10 years ago I went full time freelance. I run my own small business which focuses on helping writers navigate the book publishing industry, and also the, what I'll call the emerging creator economy, but mainly, I'm helping people understand the business, because publishing isn't necessarily the most transparent business in the world.
[00:17:00] Andrea: We just talked to Naibe Reynoso about her experience writing her books and went through the step-by-step process. I’m curious if your steps align. What is the next step you think an author should take as soon as they finish writing the book?
[00:17:12] JANE: I think it really helps to have a cooling off period. Usually the first impulse of writers after finishing a book, the first draft is to submit it somewhere, or to show someone. And I think, if you are the normal author, if you're like 99% of most authors, you're gonna need to revise it in some way and usually it's, it's not that I think you have to run off and hire an editor, or find a critique group, or find beta readers, which of course you can do all those things, but I think the most valuable thing you can do is just let it sit for a little while, whether that's a week or a month, so that you can look at it with fresh eyes and decide: What have I missed? Where do I feel like I need to address some issues? What do I feel confident about? And then proceed from there.
[00:18:00] Andrea: You work with authors to help them understand the business of publishing. What are some of the first considerations an aspiring author should make if they’re looking to make a profitable business out of writing books?
[00:18:12] JANE: It is exceptionally rare for anyone to make a living off book sales alone, especially if you're early in your career, if you're not a celebrity, if you're not already an influencer of some kind with brand recognition, then that first book that you put out there is just the first step of a very, very long journey. And I think many writers just have misplaced expectations about what those sales will look like regardless of how they publish, regardless of the genre. It is very hard to sell a book. And what I find is that a lot of writers will short circuit. They'll put in a lot of time and energy into selling that first book, treating it as a sprint rather than a marathon, and then they give up. [00:19:00] They might even abandon writing altogether because they're like, What? There aren't any rewards here. I essentially got paid one cent per hour, and actually that might even be a good rate. And so you have to look at the bigger picture of how this book is going to support your career, your visibility, and some other ways that you might earn money as a result of now having this book.
Now the answer to that is, what the business model will be is going to differ, whether you're fiction, nonfiction, children's, etc. But I think every writer has to give some thought to what that business model will be, which will include book sales, but book sales is typically a very small percentage to start.
[00:19:36] Andrea: Because we spoke to Naibe who writes children’s books, what business model would you suggest for someone who just wrote their first children's book? And what I'm hearing is that it has to do with volume, right? Like don't expect the first one to just hit it out of the park. You kind of write a lot of them, it sounds like.
[00:19:55] JANE: Yes, yes, regardless of what you're writing, it helps to have a series, [00:20:00] it helps to have spinoffs, it helps to build over time the number of books you have in your library as an author. But aside from that, in the children's market in particular, one thing most authors love to do is library visits, classroom visits, other visits like that, that sometimes come with an honorarium or a speaking fee, other times they don't. But if you are comfortable in that role as a speaker or a teacher, that to me is like the number one path that I would be looking at. But, you know, the thing is you have to remember until you're an author with some name recognition, it can be tough to get that payment with your very first outings and so you may have to do some things on a free basis or for less money than you would like as you gain experience, and the word starts to spread about what you do.
[00:20:53] Andrea: Are there any technical elements that you think a lot of people don't think about prior to trying to sell a book?
[00:21:00] JANE: The book foundation is very important, and what I mean by foundation, aside from the content or the story itself, is like all of the things that go into the package and into how that book is going to be discovered. So it includes things like the title, the cover design, the subtitle, if there is one very important for nonfiction, the pricing, the format, the page count, all of these things when you put them together. It turns it into a title that people are often assessing against other titles that they know, and so it's really to your benefit as an author if your book abides by whatever the industry standards seem to be for your category, and so it helps to look at those comparable titles, comparable authors, to see if you're in the ballpark of what readers are expecting or looking for in your genre or your category.
And then there's another level beyond that, which helps with discoverability, which has to do with keywords, categories, some people refer to this as the metadata, which is just a fancy word for how books get discovered, [00:22:00] especially in online environments and the book description itself and some of the different ways that you describe a book and retail a book at places like Amazon. You know, there are things like customer reviews and professional or editorial reviews and other assets that go into making a better presentation for your book, what it's about, who it's for. And so what I sometimes see is authors will just take the first thing that pops into their head for like the back cover copy, which often ends up on the book description page or the retailer page, and they haven't really put much thought into is this saying something that's persuasive or effective in an online environment, especially if people can't pick up the book or, you know, flip through it very easily. Am I hitting on the keywords or the phrases or the terms that people would be searching for when they're presented with an online bookstore environment?
And so, this is really, I think, the [00:23:00] shortcut to all of this, of knowing what is the right thing to do, is understanding those comparable titles and authors, seeing what they've done, and pulling out, you know, the things that are going to make sense for your book given the genre or category that you're in. This is one area where you don't want to break the mold or be different from everyone else, especially in fiction and in children's literature, people tend to like more of the same or they're shopping for very particular likes and they want clues, signals that, oh yes, this book is for me because it's going to have that great thrilling twist at the end, which you would mention in your book description. So I consider these fairly technical issues where you can actually hire people to help you, or if you do enough study and research, you can handle it on your own.
[00:23:50] Host: Judging a book by its cover in the publishing industry is real. That was Jane Friedman, a publishing industry expert with nearly 25 years of work experience in the industry. [00:24:00] Thank you for listening today -- As always, let’s end the episode with some of our key takeaways on self-publishing your first book:
- One. Take a breather. Once you've finished writing your book. Let it sit for a while and come back to it after a week or even a month to revise it. Taking a break from your writing will help you look at it with fresh eyes and spot some mistakes that perhaps you didn't before.
- Two. After that breather, Naibe gave a great timeline of what you should do when you've decided that your book is ready to publish, so let's quickly go over it. One. Decide the genre of your book. Once you've narrowed it down then you can move on to Two. Get a Copy Editor that'll help you fine tune your words and make sure your book is ready to be seen by hopefully thousands of people. You can find a copy editor on different platforms like Red Z. And Jane did mention that you should make sure your copy editor is the right fit for you and that might take a bit of time to find. But it’s worth it. [00:25:00] Then, we move on to Three. Hire an illustrator or a graphic designer. You can find them on sites like Behance or even Instagram, but before you look through examples of their works, make sure you create a mood board of what you want your illustrations or book cover to look like so it's a lot easier to pinpoint what you want when you're looking through their work. Four. Get your ISBN and LCCN codes, it's as easy as making an account on bowker.com and the Library of Congress and uploading your work. And finally five. Figure out your printer, there are tons of options to print your book. You can find a local printer and/or use Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.
- One last key point mentioned was discoverability. Descriptions and titles are important to help your audience find your book. Jane suggests that you should do research on what other books in your genre look like and try to emulate that. Do judge a book by its cover in this case.
[00:26:00] I'm curious – Are you thinking of publishing a book? How are thinking of printing it? Or maybe you’ve already gone through this experience and have self-published many books! I'd love to hear about your journey! Reach out to us at email@example.com to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
That's it for today’s episode of This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. Until next week – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening! [00:27:00]
CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:27:15]
Ep 32: How to Hire Your First Employee
Hire your first employee.
Are you ready to make your first hire? Learn how to find the right fit, and why retention is so critical. Keirsten A. Greggs, the Founder & Principal Talent Acquisition Consultant of TRAP Recruiter, tells Andrea what small business owners should consider at this important stage of growth.
(02:22) Considerations small business owners should make when they hire.
(05:24) How to find the right fit when evaluating applicants.
(07:08) Andrea lists the key takeaways from the episode.
[00:00:02] Keirsten: What are the things that you don't need to do? And I think some of those are not just unique to me being a recruiter, but things like scheduling, things like putting up social content, things like, you know, things that are taking up my time that are also taking away from my real subject matter expertise. So it's the things that you have to give up. And then again, I think it's a matter of looking at, you know what, I'm turning down a lot of work and I would be able to do these other things, these cool, fun things, if I had some help, if I had some assistance in these areas. There comes a time when you do need to scale and you can bring those things in house and do them under the banner of your own brand.
[00:00:48] Andrea: So, you'll know when you need to hire an employee when it starts to affect your workflow and you find yourself turning down opportunities because you're too busy doing work that someone else can take on. [00:01:00] So as a next step, I want us to talk about how to go about hiring employees when you’re first starting the process as a small business.
[00:01:08] HOST: Hi, This is Small Business, a podcast by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. This is one of our Minisodes, which are shorter episodes packed with helpful information for those of you who want a quicker binge. On this episode we'll be talking about hiring and digging deep into key considerations you should make when you’re first starting to hire employees for your small business with Keirsten A. Greggs, the Founder & Principal Talent Acquisition Consultant of TRAP Recruiter. To learn more about her visit our website at thisissmallbusinesspodcast.com. Also, remember that if you want to hear your story on This is Small Business, we have a voicemail line where you can ask questions or share your entrepreneurial story. We want to hear from you! Find the link to the voicemail line in the episode description.
[00:01:50] Keirsten: I'm Kirsten Greggs, originally from South Jersey. I am a talent acquisition consultant and founder of Trap Recruiter LLC, [00:02:00] which is a small black woman owned business that bridges the gap between job seekers and employers who are looking for historically excluded talent. I bring trust, relationship building, accountability, and a proactive approach back into the recruiting life cycle. And that's what the TRAP acronym actually stands for.
[00:02:20] Andrea: Jumping right in here, given your expertise, what are some considerations you think small business owners should make when hiring, especially if there isn't an HR team yet and it’s some of their first hires?
[00:02:33] Keirsten: Well, you definitely need to consider the “why” you need to hire someone. Do you even need someone to fill a new role? You need to decide if it's going to be a longer-term position, meaning you're going to actually develop that person and they're going to have opportunities to grow into either an adjacent role or go up the ladder in some way. [00:03:00] You have to think about how much money you have to spend and how much of that is going to be dedicated to the recruitment of people. You can look at your networks and say, you know, do I know someone who can maybe take, take this role on for, like I said, if it's just going to be a short-term project, a few months or so you might, you know, do better just reaching out to a staffing company that, you know, has a bunch of people who can fill that role for you. So cost is always a consideration.
Time is always a consideration, like how quickly you need to do it. And again, thinking about time, not just in hiring, but thinking about time and retention as well. I think a lot of us, regardless of the size of our companies, we don't think about retaining talent as much as we think about hiring them with like, let's get them in the door, but then we have no plan for them once they get there. So retention is also going to have to be a consideration when you're looking to hire people. And then, you know, the type of work schedule, all those things like, you know, am I going to advertise? Am I going to spend money? [00:04:00] Am I going to create things? And first and foremost is knowing the why. So did we win a new contract? Or, you know, do we have so much work that the current employees are overwhelmed and they're not working up to their previous level of output. Are we having to turn down business?
Because again, we don't want to overload our existing employees to the point that they don't want to work for us anymore and they go someplace else. And then again, just think about is there someone internally who is maybe , a web designer who likes to do other things, and is good at it and they want to transition into a different type of role or the role that they were initially hired to do is, I don't want to say obsolete, but no longer gives them the satisfaction and again, no longer gives the organization the value it did when you were a startup or when you were at a different time frame in your organization. [00:05:00] So, there's a lot of considerations, but the one thing I do want to caution folks on, for the small businesses that I do support, be aware of like how big you are and don't try to compete with a company that has 20, 000 employees when you have 20 employees, you're not going to go about the hiring process in the same way that they are.
[00:05:22] Andrea: How do you think that small business owners can go about finding the right fit when evaluating applicants? What types of questions should they be asking?
[00:05:30] Keirsten: I ask people in every phone screen, what their must haves are. Because a lot of people don't think about that, like, what do you want from the role? What attracted you to this position? That's a great question for anybody. And there are ways to garner interest above, again, you're like the up-and-coming small business, you're a great place to work. People have heard great things about you, but you know, that person may not really be connected to the work. [00:06:00] So they talk about it in more lofty ways, like, Oh, I just want to work here or I'll do anything, you know, when they give those kinds of answers, you know, there may be someone who's better suited, but asking questions that are generalized or can be applied regardless of the role, like I said, what are your must haves, like, what are your deal breakers? What are you looking for your next role? What attracted you to this position? And you will get the answer that you're looking for from the right person or persons.
Also think about retention, like if you're going to hire someone, I'm going to say it every time I get an opportunity, always think about retention and what that really means for you. Like, how long do you really want this person or how long do you really want these employees to be in your organization? Again, do you have a plan for them to develop? And if not, how are you going to help them to move on to their next step?
[00:06:52] HOST: That was Keirsten, the Founder & Principal Talent Acquisition Consultant of TRAP Recruiter. She talked about key considerations you should keep in mind when hiring employees, [00:07:00] especially as you’re making your first hires. As always, here are some quick key takeaways from this episode:
- One. For a small business without an HR department, hiring can seem daunting. So before you go out and look for an employee, think about why you want to hire someone. Maybe you could get away with outsourcing help or freelancing. Kiersten suggested that you know when it’s time to hire your first employee once you’re missing out on opportunities because of doing work that someone else could be doing. Think about time and cost and evaluate the benefits of adding someone to your team.
- Two. Retention. When you decide you want to hire someone, retention is just as important - if not even more important - than the hiring process. An important question to ask a potential employee is: what are their must haves for this job? And then think about the plan you have for them to develop once you hire them.
[00:08:00] That's it for this episode of This is Small Business Minisodes, brought to you by Amazon. If you liked what you heard, make sure to subscribe and tell your friends about us by sending them a link to this episode. And we would love to know what you think, so please please please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It's easier to do it through your phone. Or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
Until next time – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!
CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:08:45]
Ep 31: Why You Should Protect Your Intellectual Property
Protect your brand.
What happens if you don't protect your IP, and is it worth all the paperwork? Jeannell Darden, CEO of Moisture Love, shares her story of battling trademark and copyright issues, and how she overcame it. Learn when and how to start the process, what to consider when rebranding, how to avoid trademark disputes, whether you should register your logo, and where to find legal support for small businesses. Cynthia Dahl, Practice Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, offers her insights. Stay tuned to the end of the episode where host Andrea Marquez lists her key takeaways!
(07:04) Considerations to make when rebranding.
(14:54) Considerations for founders regarding trademark and protection.
(16:47) When should small business owners start considering intellectual property (IP) protection.
(18:08) Mistakes to avoid when protecting your brand.
(20:16) How to avoid confusion among consumers and trademark disputes.
(22:09) Should you register your logo?
(24:18) Andrea mentions the cost of legal help for small businesses and points out free resources recommended by Cynthia. She also lists the key takeaways from the episode.
[00:00:00] Jeannell: I still run into customers to this day that say, I've been looking for you all these years. I didn't know what happened, and we thought we did a good job announcing it and sharing it, but apparently not. Some of our customers, they were like, why did you change the name? How dare you take it away? You know, all these businesses are selling out. I mean, they just assumed all kinds of things were happening, and we were like, listen, I'm still the owner. It's still the same product, it's just a new name. But they didn't believe it. They didn't trust it. They were endeared to it. That was the first time that I realized how connected people get to a brand and how much it means to people.
[00:00:38] HOST: Hi, This is Small Business, a podcast brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. On This is Small Business we cover all things small business that will help you start, build, and scale your business. We will hear from guests with diverse backgrounds, point of views, and stories, with the hope of hearing from many types of small business entrepreneurs. On each episode I end with key takeaways [00:01:00] that you can use on your business journey. Today, we talk about protecting your brand. Something that a lot of small businesses tend to brush over is protecting their IP or intellectual property. But if you want your business to grow and to have a competitive edge then safeguarding your IP is essential to your success. So, how do you protect your IP? At what point in your business journey should you start thinking about it? And what are some of the consequences you could face if you decide to put it off?
Coming up -- I'll talk to Cynthia Dahl, Practice Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, about how you can protect your intellectual property. But first -- I want you to meet Jeannell Darden, CEO of Moisture Love, a vegan beauty brand that helps women love their curls and you can find their products in the Amazon store along with most of the small businesses we feature on This is Small Business. So the reason I was also really excited to talk to Jeannell about Moisture Love is because, [00:02:00] Moisture Love actually used to be under a different name -- Cocoa Curls. But as her business grew, Jeannell had to change her brand name because of copyright issues and although her business is still doing great, changing her brand definitely impacted her. If you’re at the stage of thinking about the name of your business, logo, and brand identity, then this episode is especially for you.
We’re going to talk a lot about lawyery things on this episode, so just know that none of the things mentioned on this episode should be taken as legal advice. We’re here to provide with general information. So before you do anything, please seek qualified professional counsel on your specific matter. The hiring of an attorney is super important so don’t make that decision lightly or based solely on anything we cover today on this episode, or any other for that matter!
And lastly, remember that if you want to hear your story on This is Small Business, we have a voicemail line where you can ask questions or share your entrepreneurial story. We want to hear from you! Find the link to the voicemail line in the episode description.
[00:03:00] Jeannell: So I like to tell people I've been in the beauty industry since I was a child. My mom's a licensed cosmetologist. She taught me how to do hair at 10. Most people have chores, like sweeping floors and doing dishes, and my chore was to do my hair, my mom's hair, and my sister's hair every Saturday. So I learned to love beauty. And then the summer before high school, my mom had gave me a relaxer. And because I'm a professional at this point, I colored my hair just two weeks afterward, and it broke off really bad. And for three years I held onto this damaged hair while I was matriculating through Georgia Tech. I took an African American entrepreneurship class. We had a project where we had to do a writeup on a famous CEO and I chose Madam CJ Walker, and I was so inspired by her story and how she fixed her hair challenges with her products. I was like, oh, surely, I can do the same thing.
[00:03:53] Andrea VO: For those of you who don’t know, Madam CJ Walker is recorded as the first Black woman millionaire in America. [00:04:00] She ran her own haircare empire and was inspired to create her hair products after experiencing hair loss. She came up with a treatment knows as the Walker System and sold her homemade products directly to Black women. If you don’t know her full story, I encourage you to check it out. Back to Jeannell’s story.
[00:04:16] Jeannell: So I started summer of 2011, we launched my first brand, which was called Cocoa Curls. We went through a crazy trademark opposition that lasted like three years, and then in 2016 we rebranded to Moisture Love and we named the brand Moisture Love because moisture is the number one challenge that women with curly hair have, and loving and embracing their beauty and feeling good about their hair is a close second similar to how I felt when my hair was damaged and broken off. So now our mission is to help women with curly hair find joys and ease in loving their curls.
[00:04:50] Andrea: Tell me more about your experience with trademark opposition with Cocoa Curls. What happened there and why did it happen?
[00:04:55] Jeannell: It was intense. So someone had told me, hey, you need to trademark your brand. [00:05:00] And so this being my first real business, cuz I've been an entrepreneur since middle school. I sold candy to pay for my trip to go to New York, and so I just go to the state trademark office and I paid $10 and I filled out the paperwork and I'm like, oh, cool. I did that. Check. But then I think I was working with a mentor or someone and they were like, do you have your national trademark? I was like, yeah. And I showed it to them and they're like, no, that's just your state trademark. Um, and so we filed our USPTO trademark, um, and we had gone through the process, updated, uploaded everything, and we, there's this period called opposition. Where in the last, I think it's six months for anybody to oppose your trademark to give any reason. It's kind of like at a wedding where there's like, if anybody objects to them getting married. And we had one week left and we received a cease and desist from another company saying that they had first use before us and that they were opposing it. And that was the beginning of our journey. And crazy enough that was sent to me the day that I was in the hospital having my second daughter. [00:06:00] So it was like, Happy Birthday to her. This is what I had to deal with on that day, so it was a lot.
[00:06:05] Andrea: That’s terrible! Sorry you had to go through that. But also what a hard intense lesson to learn right? I mean you had to change the name of your brand, and that probably influenced not just your rebranding, but your relationship with your customers.
[00:06:22] Jeannell: Yes, it did. It did. I still run into customers to this day that say, oh, you're Cocoa Curls. I've been looking for you all these years. I didn't know what happened, and we thought we did a good job announcing it and sharing it, but apparently not. Some of our customers, they were like, why did you change the name? We love the name and the Cocoa Curls lady. It came with a character. So she was a character, and she was really cute with curly hair. We love the logo, we love the Cocoa Curls lady. How dare you take it away. You know, all these businesses are selling out. I mean, they just assumed all kinds of things were happening, and we were like, listen, I'm still the owner. [00:07:00] It's still the same product, it's just a new name. But they didn't believe it. They didn't trust it. They were endeared to it. That was the first time that I realized how connected people get to a brand and how much it means to people.
[00:07:10] Andrea: When you rebranded to Moisture Love, what were some of the considerations you made in terms of trademarks and protection now that you know more about it?
[00:07:20] Jeannell: So, well, first I'd like to tell everybody I'm not a lawyer, didn't go to law school. Four years of engineering, really five years of engineering nails it. So definitely consult a trademark attorney. And actually that is the first thing I will say. Consult a trademark attorney on the front end. Um, a lot of times as small business owners, we get really personally endeared to a name, a brand, a color, a look, a feel, and before you get too far in that process, just make sure it's safe, especially if you plan on having a big business. So otherwise, if your goal is just to be a mom and pop and do, you know, farmer's markets, nothing wrong with it, not bashing it at all, then maybe it's not that important. But if you intend on having a hundred-billion-dollar brand that I intend on having, then you definitely wanna make sure you consult someone on the front end.
[00:08:00] The second thing is understand what the brand means to you and what you intend for it to mean to other people. Like, where are you going? What's the, what's the mission, vision, values, what's the, what's the purpose? What's the pain point that you're solving and how can that name easily connect and resonate with the people that you intend to serve, not sell to, but serve. And if you think about a brand, as I'm positioning myself to serve someone, then it really kind of changes the mindset with which you go into thinking about how you name it.
[00:08:30] Andrea: So once you consulted that trademark lawyer, did you do anything differently when thinking through that rebranding that you didn't do the first time around?
[00:08:40] Jeannell: I did a lot differently. So the second time around it was like, how can the name tell a story? So like I said in the beginning, moisture is the number one challenge that women with curly hair have. Loving and embracing themselves is a close second. I wanted the brand to invite the feeling of love and, and beauty and confidence. [00:09:00] Oftentimes women with curly hair feel like they have to cover it up, cut it, color, change it to be something else. So that played a huge part. What are the colors? What do the colors mean? I actually consulted with a brand consultant to help me think through this, cuz I wouldn't have known to think through this the second time. How are we gonna position this brand? How can we make sure that when they see the brand, that it feels inclusive to them? Is it gonna just be domestic? Is it gonna be international? Like how, how do we play out all those things? How do we spell it in a way that's easy for people to spell? And it's not so long and complicated, so we had all kinds of other names that got kicked off the list for different reasons.
[00:09:40] Andrea: When you thought about that name, it’s meaning, and felt in a confident spot to adopt it, at what point did you start the trademark process?
[00:09:48] Jeannell: Immediately. Immediately. Because everything about trademarks in the US is about first use date, right? So for instance, with us, had there been somebody who could prove back in 1989, [00:10:00] they sold a hair product under the name Moisture Love and never trademarked it, then they could oppose my trademark right now to this day, or at least during that process. And they could have shown their paperwork, they could have shown their bill of sale. And I wouldn't have been able to select that name. So the moment that you know the name that you wanna go with, you can file an intent to sell. So even if you know you're not gonna sell for another six months, you can file a 10 sentence and sell. And you wanna be able to document that as early as possible.
[00:10:32] Andrea: Are there any other things you had to do to protect your brand apart from filing for a trademark?
[00:10:36] Jeannell: You file your trademark. Um, you make sure you have all your legal, uh, docs in place, so your LLC, your EIN, your operating agreement, all those types of things. You make sure when you file your trademark, it's clear who owns your trademark. So do you the individual own it? Does the company own it? Does some other entity own it? That's really important because typically when you go to sell your company, people kind of think of your company and the brand as one of the same, but they're really kind of mutually exclusive. [00:11:00] Cuz you can have company A with six brands and maybe only brand three has any real value. So it's very important to make sure that you own the brand ie the trademark and you're clear on who owns that so that if you ever did a transfer of ownership, the person who's buying knows that they have clear use in ownership to that brand, if that makes sense.
[00:11:23] Andrea: Ok so once I’ve done all of that, then I’m done right?
[00:11:28] Jeannell: Know that it's not done. Just when you file it, you still have to every five years prove that you're still using it and go back in and refile it and submit more paperwork. So know that it's not done. Certain things you keep an eye out for you, keep a process in place to make sure you stay on top of it. And then, yeah, every brand you think of, trademark it. You may have a brand that sells the product, but you may have another brand that you know, you do YouTube videos under, or a class that you teach under. Just trademark it all. It's worth it. And if you start selling internationally, know that you're not protected internationally just cuz you're protected domestically. [00:12:00] It may not matter initially, like if you're just sending a couple of cases of product to somewhere. But if you are really an international brand with international distribution, then you need to do international trademark for the EU, for Africa, for Australia, for wherever it is that you're doing business, that you want to be protected.
Because what can happen is, people in another country can be making your product, shipping it into the US and there's ways to also protect against that or to check against that. But what people will start doing is knocking off your product. So getting it made somewhere else. Sending it in across the border and selling it here. And they will take your label and duplicate it word for word font for font, placement for placement. Um, but you can put certain protections on your brand that when anything is entering in the country at the border, they can check to see, okay, is this actually coming from Moisture Love or is it coming from somebody else? And I don't know that every case can be found, but it can be caught. But I know a lot of them can.
[00:13:00] Host: You're listening to This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. You just heard from Jeannell Darden, CEO of Moisture Love. You can find out more about Moisture Love in our show notes on our website: Thisissmallbusinesspodcast.com.
Jeannell's journey was definitely a difficult one but I'm glad that she was able to overcome it and protect her current brand name against any other trademark issues in the future. She talked a lot about how the customer connects to the brand, so making sure you find a name that'll resonate with your customers is super important. And as soon as you get that name, make sure you trademark asap.
Like Moisture Love, the small businesses we feature on This is Small Business are some of the many small businesses selling in the Amazon store who have tapped into some of the tools and resources offered to help them succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. [00:14:00] You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
So far, we've talked about Jeannell's journey with copyright and trademark and how she's currently protecting herself against any future issues. So let's dig deeper into the process of what that looks like with my next guest: Cynthia Dahl, Practice Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
[00:14:35] Cynthia: I've been an I. P. lawyer for 20 years and tech lawyer. I started straight out of law school at a law firm where I did some litigation. And then after a couple of years of that, I recognized that I really liked transactional law. So I went in house for a while. And then after that, I decided I wanted to pivot and teach. And so I've been a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Carey Law School, now for about 10 years.
[00:15:00] Andrea: Let’s jump right in, Cynthia, what do you think are some of the considerations founders should make in terms of trademark and protection?
[00:15:06] Cynthia: So IP stands for intellectual property. And the way that we think about it really is IP is a business tool. It's whatever is the asset of your company that helps you to compete with your competition, whatever's special about your goods or your service. So trademark is a kind of IP, or more accurately, I guess, trademark is an IP protection tool. People have brands to identify them as the source of a good or a service and trademark protection is the way that you protect that brand and keep others from using your brand in a confusing way. I think that small business owners should think about their IP even more broadly than trademark. I would say really that they've got three questions to answer. And the first question is what makes me special? [00:16:00] What makes my small business faster, better, cheaper, my product better than my competitors. And that's where they should start thinking about using IP protection. So the first question I guess is to identify the asset.
And the second is to then match the asset to the tool because trademark is a great tool to protect brands, but we also think about patents. We also think about copyrights, patents protect processes, copyrights protect content and trade secret actually is useful to protect things like data, or important information. So first, identify the asset. Second, identify the tool that would best protect the asset. And then third, then talk to a lawyer about how to use that tool effectively. And so, although small business owners may not be thinking about IP first, it is critical to think about IP when they want to compete with a competitor and roll their product out.
[00:16:52] Andrea: So do you think a small business owner should look at intellectual property protection as an iterative process? Something continuous? [00:17:00] This makes me think of all the large companies that change their names throughout the years to reflect the landscape.
[00:17:08] Cynthia: So I think it's an iterative process. I think that small business owners are wise to think about it at various times of their company's growth because as you grow, you change and then your needs change. Things happen, you roll out new products, you find a new competitor and then you need to revisit these questions. But I would say if a small business owner starts in the beginning to think about what they're hoping to do, then they can think about how to use IP to help them to grow. So I would say start in the beginning thinking about these things and then come back to it as the company grows and changes. But as soon as the small business owner comes up with a name for their good or their service, they're already starting to think about their IP. IP should come early, but IP protection shouldn't come first. First, the small business owner needs to think about their product and their market and to make sure they've got something that, [00:18:00] that people want to use or to buy. But as soon as that small business owner starts investing in developing that product, then they should start thinking about what they should protect.
[00:18:15] Andrea: What’s something about the process of protecting your brand that you think small business owners could be confused by, especially if this is their first business?
[00:18:23] Cynthia: There's a difference between what you call your company and what you might call your good or your service and so there are actually two different registries, and I think a lot of early-stage entrepreneurs get this confused. They think if they pick a name for their company and then they register to do business, say in the state of Pennsylvania, where I am, that they also have locked down their trademark rights. But that's not true. You can call your company one thing and call your good or your service something else. And what you call your good or your service is your brand. And so I think once you, as the small business owner, [00:19:00] decide on a trademark, which is the source identifier for your good or your service, then you should look and see if anyone else is calling their good or service the same name or a similar name. And if they have registered with the U. S. government for trademark rights. And there is a website that people can go on. It's USPTO.gov, which stands for United States Patent and Trademark Office, dot gov. And if you go on that website, you can search to see if anyone else has registered for the same name that you're interested in using to mark your good or service.
[00:19:34] Andrea: So, if you’ve done it for the name of the product or service, do you have to do the same thing for the company name, as in the owner of the good or service?
[00:19:42] Cynthia: When you register to do business you go on to the Secretary of State website and you, again, can't register the same name company as somebody else already has in your State. So it's a different registry for a different purpose, but you do similarly have to pick a unique name.
[00:20:00] Andrea: So, thinking about Moisture Love, Jeannell didn't fully learn the process of intellectual property protection until she was in a bit of trouble. And it affected her customers who recognized her brand, who already bought her products because they thought that they were discontinued or didn't exist anymore. And it felt like she was starting all over again. What are your thoughts on going through a situation like hers?
[00:20:24] Cynthia: That is not the first time I've heard that and when that happens to our entrepreneurial clients, it's so sad. So we try to really help them to get ahead of that and I think that's where your question came from, where you were saying, like, should IP come first? Should IP protection come first? And I would say very soon in the process before you lose your heart to a name. You should see if it's even viable and you raised a really good point to that. I think it's important to talk about. So when you talked about the trademark Apple, many people know of that trademark affiliated with a, you know, a computer company, [00:21:00] but you could also imagine that there might be an Apple daycare in a local place. And so how is it that the Apple daycare is able to use Apple and not get sued by the computer company? And the answer to that is that trademarks are class specific.
So the world is divided into 45 classes and you really want to be careful of anyone that has the same or a similar name in your class for the same kind of good or service. Because trademarks are all about trying to keep the consumer from being confused. And so you could see that a consumer would be confused if two companies with the same name are selling very similar products. So it's best if you can pick what we call a distinctive name that distinguishes you from everyone else that's selling similar products in your market. And sometimes, the reason that you have three different companies battling over the same or similar name is because the name was descriptive to begin with. [00:22:00] And the more distinctive the name is that you come up with, the more likely you are that no one else is going to be marketing under the same or similar name.
[00:22:08] Andrea: So something that came up in the conversation with Jeannell was registering your business name, your logo, or both. What are your thoughts on that? Are you supposed to also register your logo?
[00:22:18] Cynthia: When you say register your business name, again, we come back to that point of registering a business name is different from registering your brand name. And so as long as we're talking about the same thing. So, should you register both? You should register whatever you are using as a brand, and you've got some choices. And it's always about cost benefit for small business owners, right? Limited money in the beginning, especially. And so you're trying to get the most coverage you can with the least amount of cost. So, if you use the logo separately from the name, then I would say you should think about registering both.
[00:23:00] Sometimes people use the name in conjunction with the logo. If you always use them together, know, and you have coverage over at least the name, you know, you have some coverage over your branding, but filing trademark applications is not that expensive, even for a small business owner. It's not like patents where it's thousands of dollars. It also doesn't take a ton of time to get feedback from the USPTO about whether or not you're going to get a registration. So our advice generally to small business owners is to register what they are using consistently for identifying their brand, for identifying their goods or service so if you like your logo and you want to protect it, I would say, yeah, register for your logo.
[00:23:44] Andrea: Any last thoughts?
[00:23:46] Cynthia: So I'd like to just get back to what I said before, which is that it's good to educate yourself and to revisit these questions over time because needs of businesses change, find someone that has some knowledge about IP protection [00:24:00] that also understands the needs of small businesses and can give you some advice about again, how to get sort of the maximum coverage for the minimum price while you're growing, not closing out any options in the future.
[00:24:16] Host: Ending by reminding us to get the specific help we need, especially if it’s legal or financially related. And I was curious to know just how much a small business could expect to spend on getting legal help. It all depends on your specific needs and I asked Cynthia her thoughts on this, and she mentioned that typically you pay an hourly rate. There are also IP clinics that can help early-stage entrepreneurs that can do it for free or the client pays the cost of the government fee only. There is a list of these resources you can find at USPTO.gov and in in the show notes of this episode.
And Cynthia also wanted me to share another resource you could tap for something like this. A simple trademark filing tool you can find at [00:25:00] www.pennipc.com. Penn with double n. It has two parts - the first guided interview helps entrepreneurs understand if they should file a trademark application and the second guided interview walks entrepreneurs through an annotated version of the USPTO application.
So many resources available!
That was Cynthia Dahl, Practice Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. Thank you for listening today. As always, let’s end the episode with some of our key takeaways on understanding intellectual property protection:
- One. I know I’ve said this before but you can never be too sure, CONSULT A LEGAL EXPERT. Do that before anything else. This will ensure you’re covering all your bases that could help you avoid problems in the long-run.
- Ok now that I’ve made sure to mention that, Two. When thinking up names for your brand and product, try not to get attached to it early on, because someone else might already own the rights to it. [00:26:00] So make sure you go to USPTO.gov to check if someone else is using the name you're considering using. And remember that this is an ongoing process that doesn’t stop. You have to keep checking in to make sure that your paper work is still relevant and prove that you’re still using it. And if anything in your business changes, as we’ve seen major companies rebrand themselves, then you have to go through the process again.
- Three. Remember that the parent company name is different to the brand name. To be on the safe side, protect both. It’s two different processes so make sure to cover both. And trademarks are also class specific, meaning, you could have the same brand name as another business, as long as you’re not selling within the same class, so that you don’t confuse costumers. And if you use your logo a lot and it is closely tied to the name, protect it too.
I'm curious – Have you been thinking about how you can protect your IP? Have you consulted a legal expert? [00:27:00] I'd love to hear about your journey! Reach out to us at email@example.com to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
That's it for today’s episode of This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. Until next week – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!
CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:28:06]
Ep 30: How to Know When You’re Ready to Launch Your Product
Know when to launch.
Are you preparing to launch your first product? Andrea learns how to prepare your MVP (minimum viable product), and how to know when you're ready to go with Trinity Mouzon Wofford, co-founder and CEO of Golde.Trinity also gives us a look into all the behind-the-scenes work she put into their brand as she prepared to launch.
(05:56) - How distinctive packaging and vibrant colors helped Trinity's brand stand out in a crowded marketplace
(07:58) - Copying big businesses' marketing tactics doesn't work! Trinity explains how she found success by staying true to her vision
(09:10) - How to leverage friends and family to gather early feedback on your product - before you launch
(09:42) - Trinity explains how she knew she was ready to launch her business
(11:06) - Andrea's key takeaways for launching your MVP
[00:00:04] Trinity: So you only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and that can be really nerve wracking because on one hand, you know, I mean, we're talking about the concept of MVP, right? It's about like getting something out so that you can start to get some feedback. However, at the same time, if someone tries your product once and doesn't like it, the chances of them ever giving you a second chance are low.
[00:00:30] Andrea: First impressions are everything. Once you lose a customer it's difficult to get them back. So I want to know how you launched your minimum viable product. What worked and what didn’t. Some of it was surprising. Let’s get into it.
[00:00:45] HOST: Hi, This is Small Business, a podcast by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. This is one of our Minisodes, which are shorter episodes packed with helpful information for those of you who want a quicker binge. On this episode we'll be talking about how you can prepare and launch your MVP, [00:01:00] or minimum viable product - with Trinity Mouzon Wofford, the Co-Founder and CEO of Golde, a superfood brand that sells matcha turmeric blends, coconut collagen boost blends, and more and of course, you can find them in the Amazon store along with most of the small businesses we feature on This is Small Business. Also, remember that if you want to hear your story on This is Small Business, we have a voicemail line where you can ask questions or share your entrepreneurial story. We want to hear from you! Find the link to the voicemail line in the episode description.
[00:01:37] Trinity: Golde is a superfood health and beauty brand that I started with my high school sweetheart, so we do all sorts of different superfood blends. Think about like powders that you're adding to your smoothie or making a super food latte with matcha, turmeric, collagen. I started the business almost seven years ago now, really sort of focused on this idea of [00:02:00] wellness routines and how to make them more easy, more approachable, and also more fun for the everyday consumer. If I take a step back to like seven-ish years ago when I was dreaming up the brand, I had just parted ways with my original dream of going off to med school. I was really inspired by my mom's journey with chronic autoimmune disease, and so I had seen her see all of these incredible improvements when she saw this holistically minded doctor, of course, I decided that was going to be my career path.
I ended up hearing from my mom as I was in college that, she actually had to stop seeing that doctor because she just couldn't afford it anymore. And so that really forced me to reckon with this piece of health and wellbeing and how accessibility plays into it. At the same time I was sort of looking at my own experiences [00:03:00] in the wellness world and was feeling sort of left out of the conversation as a young woman of color, as someone who couldn't really afford the, you know, $85 protein powders and had this idea to start something new.
[00:03:16] Andrea: I think that's such a powerful story behind your brand, and it adds to understanding the why behind it. As someone with a mother with cancer, and who thinks about this a lot because of it, I relate strongly to that idea of being intentional and conscious of the types of foods you consume that boost your immune system. So, talk to me about how you launched your first product. What was that experience like?
[00:03:40] Trinity: Our first product was our original turmeric latte blend and back then it went by a different name. It was original Golde. The reason why the company is called Golde is because we started with turmeric based products because it has so many incredible health benefits. So whether you're talking about immunity, digestion, [00:04:00] skin, there's something that turmeric can do to support your health and wellness. As far as really beginning the process of getting this product ready to share with the world. It took so much longer than I remember thinking it was going to, I mean, this is like a five-ingredient blend of powders. You would think that it's just like, okay, we're gonna mix it all together. And, there, there was so much tinkering that we did with the sourcing of ingredients, making sure that we were really sourcing high quality super foods. The packaging itself, so, at the time -- so the we is, myself and, my now husband -- we were doing everything ourselves. We were self-funding the business with, I think we had like $2,000 in savings between the two of us. And we were 23. So, you know, it was very sort of like limited resources. And so we had to design the packaging ourselves. We had never designed packaging before. We had no experience in it, but we had this idea of bright colors [00:05:00] of, you know, sort of like a bit of a maximalist approach to the packaging. So from end to end, like ideating this concept of we want to do a turmeric based powder mix, to actually having the product in our hands, finding who was gonna print the packaging for us, et cetera was probably about a year, end to end.
So when we got started, we had that one product, we were living in Brooklyn. We would pound the pavement and go around to all the different little lifestyle shops and cafes and drop off samples with handwritten notes and ask if they would pretty please consider carrying our product. We were, you know, posting about our experience, starting the business on social media and all of these things that feel like overnight successes -- I've had so many people say, oh my gosh, you guys blew up. You guys came outta nowhere -- It really is months and years in the making of like those early moments of just trying to make it happen.
[00:06:00] And so we started to get some bites. We started to get the brand into these sort of destination shops and cafes mostly in New York. And it was at that point that I noticed that people were starting to say that they had seen us around, and what I realized was because we had chosen this sort of distinctive packaging style, bright colors, they're much more common now in packaging. But if you're going back six, seven years in the wellness industry, everything was much more minimalist. It was black and white sand serif, you know, typefaces. So to come out with four colors all kind of mixing together was like, whoa, you remember that you saw it. And so we had this wonderful strange experience of in our first year, I think people thinking we were a lot bigger than we really were because they kept, they were seeing the product around. They had the sense that it was familiar to them, that it was exciting to them, but in reality it was still just [00:07:00] myself and my partner mixing up powder and, and getting it into bags and, getting it out into cafes.
[00:07:06] Andrea: So color went a long way with your packaging when you first launched. Can you tell me some of the things that didn't work when you first launched and what you learned from that?
[00:07:15] Trinity: When you are in this entrepreneurial journey, you have to look at yourself as you're sort of a scientist, you're a great experimenter, and so you're gonna try a lot of different things as you try to understand what works, what catches your audience's attention, what drives sales, what creates more brand love? And for every 10 things that you try, maybe one or two of them really work. The challenge I think, is making sure that when you are hitting the other eight or nine things that don't really work that you are seeing them as the necessary part of the experimentation process versus seeing them as like, [00:08:00] I keep making mistakes. I keep failing. What did not work as well for us was any time that we tried to sort of emulate what we saw another business doing, especially a larger business. I'm just thinking like a, a specific marketing tactic or something that a much bigger business was using just wouldn't necessarily do much for us because we didn't have the budget. And it just, frankly, it just wasn't as impactful for us. I think what in the end did work for us as a very small business with very few resources was to sort of really lean into doing things the way that we wanted to do it. Really telling our own story and bringing people along for the ride. You know, even today, I, I think the consumers that are going to support you very early on in your business journey are the ones who want to know who's behind the brand, and they want to feel that they're actively supporting a small business. [00:09:00] So really putting your, your ethos front and center, and not trying to emulate the multi multimillion dollar conglomerates that don't have that, that special secret sauce that you have anyways.
[00:09:15] Andrea: What advice would you give an early stage entrepreneur who is about to launch their MVP?
[00:09:20] Trinity: I think it can be really smart to put the product out to a limited audience like friends and family, um, depending on what the product is, just to get early feedback and a little bit more of a safe space. Once you do have it out there and people are trying it the hope I, I think at least on my end, was really that we were, we were serving something up that people were going to love, and was going to make them want to try more things from us as they came out.
[00:09:46] Andrea: How did you know you were ready to launch?
[00:09:48] Trinity: I remember thinking that we were actually too late to launch. We launched probably six months later than I intended for us to, and at the time some other company [00:10:00] popped up that seemed to be doing something that was vaguely similar. And I remember thinking to myself, it's too late. We've missed our opportunity. It's so funny now because that company, I wouldn't even really consider them a competitor at this point. We've kind of gone in in very different directions, so, that moment of actually launching versus, you know, what you think it's going to look like can be very different. The timelines can really shift. I think you, you know, when you're ready, when you don't wanna keep working on it anymore. When you look at it and you say, okay, yeah, let's do it. It's not necessarily done. You probably are going to do more with it at, at some point you might tweak the packaging or tweak the formula or whatever. But you have a feeling that you're just, you're done working on it and you're ready to let it see the light of day so you'll know when you're ready.
[00:10:55] HOST: That was Trinity, Co-Founder and CEO of the wellness brand Golde, [00:11:00] talking about her experience launching Golde’s MVP. Make sure to check out her products in the Amazon store. I especially love the Macha Turmeric blend. And as always, here are some key takeaways from today’s episode:
- One. First impressions are everything. So before you launch, try launching with your family and friends first if you can. That way you can get some early feedback and you won't lose potential customers because they didn't end up liking your product.
- Two. Try to stand out from the competition. Trinity's products stood out because of their bright packaging - which at the time was less common in the wellness industry -- but that made people remember them.
- Three. Sometimes doing what others are doing doesn’t necessarily help. Especially as a small business trying to emulate what a larger business is doing. In the case of Golde, Trinity and her partner decided that they were going to do what worked best for them, and it paid off.
That's it for this episode of This is Small Business Minisodes, brought to you by Amazon. [00:12:00] If you liked what you heard, make sure to subscribe and tell your friends about us by sending them a link to this episode. And we would love to know what you think, so please please please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. It's easier to do it through your phone. Or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
Until next time – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!
CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:12:40]
Ep 29: How to Find Your Ideal Customer
Identify your target market.
Are you struggling to identify your target market? Or maybe you’re wondering where you can find your ideal customer? Andrea breaks down the customer journey into five simple steps with Amber Murray, founder of Fidget Stickers. Once we've figured out who our ideal customer is, Darian Kovacs, founder of Jelly Digital Marketing, tells us how to reach them.
(05:51) - Amber breaks down the five phases of the customer journey: awareness, consideration, decision purchase, retention, and advocacy.
(12:54) - How to identify your ideal customer BEFORE launching your product
(18:31) - Tools that small business owners can use to learn more about their customer's journey.
(25:59) - Andrea's key takeaways for understanding your customer journey
[00:00:06] Darian: If you think of someone who is going to become your customer, you could look at them as a regular, everyday person. Someone that you hope to become a customer one day. So, if you look at them right from that kind of far-reaching level. What does it look like to get them from disinterested, not knowing about you, to slightly interested, to considering, and then converted to actually purchasing. And then ideally, to the point where they are becoming an advocate. And that's kind of like the textbook, picture perfect customer journey. And ideally, they go on and become an advocate and recruit others to purchase your service or product as well.
[00:00:42] HOST: Hi, This is Small Business, a podcast brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. On This is Small Business we cover all things small business that will help you start, build, and scale your business. We will hear from guests from diverse backgrounds, point of views and stories with the hope of hearing from many types of small business entrepreneurs. [00:01:00] On each episode I end with key takeaways that you can use on your business journey. Today, we talk about the customer journey. A business can't function without its customers because well - without them your business can’t exist really. So understanding your customer is a crucial part of building your business. But how can you determine who your target market is in the first place? And when you do figure out who your ideal customers are, how do you reach them? Two questions not many ask towards the beginning of their business journey.
Coming up -- I'll be talking to Darian Kovacs, founder of PR, digital ads & SEO company Jelly Digital Marketing, about understanding the customer journey. But first -- I want you to meet Amber Murray, founder of Fidget Stickers, a line of textured stickers that you can find in the Amazon store along with most of the small businesses we feature on This is Small Business. [00:02:00] Also, remember that if you want to hear your story on This is Small Business, we have a voicemail line where you can ask questions or share your entrepreneurial story. We want to hear from you! Find the link to the voicemail line in the episode description. Here’s a question that one of our listeners had:
[00:02:16] Voicemail: So my question around starting or more building a business is marketing and visibility. What do companies do to try to be more visible and I guess be more out there in regards to just the internet? What are some out of the box ideas around being visible in our markets?
[00:02:32] HOST: We have some episodes planned this season that will help us answer this question. But actually today’s episode starts answering that question by first asking “what is your customer doing?”, “where are they living?”, “and what’s the best way to reach them?” Things we’ll learn about today. Let’s meet Amber.
[00:02:50] AMBER: Well, I'm a mom and I have two daughters that have autism, and so we've been doing PT, OT, all the therapies for many, many years, [00:03:00] and I realize that they have a lot of sensory issues. One daughter would chew holes in her shirt, another one would just rub almost holes through her jeans even and leave her hands kind of raw. And I thought, man, it would be so great if there was something we could take with us that could be reusable and could stick on anything that was cute and maybe it would help alleviate some of this need to have that sensory stimulation and so I have always loved stickers and make stickers, and I thought, well, maybe I could make some textured stickers for this. And two years of searching out some material that would work and was durable like with Stan kids because kids can be a bit rough on things. Here we are. Fidget stickers was born and happy to be here.
I have a 25-year-old son who comes and helps manufacture all of my stuff for me. I have lupus and it's made it increasingly difficult for me to actually do a lot of the physical labor of things in the business, which is okay. [00:04:00] That's what business is: finding the problem, finding the solution, right? So we just need to delegate to people. So my son is one of the people that does that, and he comes over and he packs the orders, and he looks at what's going on. I still write little, you know, thank you notes on the little order sheets, but. He helps make sure that we're not running low on inventory and tracks more of the day-to-day what's going on in that area as well. He loves being able to work without distractions and do his own thing. He also has autism as well, so it works really well for him to just put things together. It's what he loves to do.
[00:04:38] ANDREA: Fidget Stickers came to be due to something very specific. Now that you’ve been in business for a while, did expectations of your target audience change at all? Who would you say is your target audience now?
[00:04:50] AMBER: Really anybody that was neurodivergent. You know, fidgeters people that were maybe had autism or ADHD or anxiety is a huge one. [00:05:00] That's what I have and panic disorder. And so, for me it was kind of a gift of love of I use these, and I need these to, to function in society as well. So that's where it started. But interestingly enough, like I say, it started picking up with people who weren't neurodivergent, who were more neurotypical, and they just also felt the need for these things. And so that was an interesting surprise to me. And also the number of schools or children's hospitals, community health organizations, areas that I necessarily hadn't really even thought about because initially it was just kids wanted these.
[00:05:38] HOST: Neurodivergent is a nonmedical term that describes people whose brains develop or work differently for some reason. This means the person has different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more typically. While some people who are neurodivergent have medical conditions, it also happens to people where a medical condition or diagnosis hasn’t been identified.
[00:06:00] ANDREA: Amber, can you walk me through the customer journey for fidget stickers?
[00:06:05] AMBER: So a typical customer journey as it relates to business definitions. There's five steps. There's awareness, consideration, then the decision purchase, retention, and advocacy. So awareness is letting people know these exist, right? Everybody knows stickers exist with water bottles, but they don't know stickers with texture exists. So if they don't know it exists, they don't even know that you're trying to help them with a problem that they're having and solving a problem that they're having.
You're gonna have to let people know that you exist but you can also do things in real life to help with that. Another term for it is brand awareness, right? You want just people to see it. You're not so worried about, oh, I need to get a sale right off of them right now, or anything like that. You're just trying to educate. And then there's the consideration stage, and that's where the customer is thinking, oh, okay, so there's textured stickers. Hmm. I wonder what other textured stickers are out there. Right? [00:07:00] They're gonna compare you to other people and they're gonna check out your price, and they're gonna check out, you know, your materials, they're gonna check out all the different things. So you wanna make sure that you are addressing some of that in the brand awareness and that we're, they're going to look for that information. Maybe if it's, you know, your Amazon listing or your website or wherever that you're actually thinking about those questions they're probably having and making sure that that's in your messaging because they're comparing you now.
Then is the decision and purchase. So they go through the comparing and maybe some of them say, eh, no, uh, that's not for me. Okay, that's fine. Right? It would be great if there's a way to capture why it's not for them, which is a lot easier to do in person if you're selling something at a market or, you know, when you're just starting out a business I highly recommend doing that, getting in front of your customer to get some opinions. But, but let's say they decide, okay, they're gonna buy for you from you. Fantastic. There's so many things that happen at that stage. One of them being the next um, phase is retention. So they bought from you, but we want them to come back to us, so we need to make sure we have our customer service nailed down, right? [00:08:00] We need to make sure that our packaging is fantastic and is like, thank you so much, or some sort of like experience for them to feel connected to the product, to you. Those kind of things. We wanna make sure that when they're thinking about the stickers next time they aren't going through this, they, they don't have to go back to the consideration phase. They're already like, oh, I, I know where I'm going. I'm going to my fidget stickers. I don't need a different brand.
And then the last stage is advocacy. We want to help them be our champions. So a lot of times people really love what you're doing. You have no idea because you're just wherever you are selling whatever you're doing, right? If you're not face to face, you have no idea that they love it. But a lot of times they really, really do and they're out telling their friends about it. We wanna provide opportunities for them to do that. So we wanna make sure we're always, you know, if it's on Amazon sending out for that review, we wanna make sure that if it's on our website, we're sending out for that review to put on our website. We wanna make sure that we're giving them a way to let the world know, hey, this is fantastic. [00:09:00] Another thing that I personally do is right now I fulfill my Amazon orders myself. And I'm able to, when I see an order come through, I always check if they've previously ordered with me, and if they do, I include a little bonus, a little rainbow that says something like, thank you for being amazing. And a little card inside with it that says, oh, I appreciate your support so much. Right? We wanna be wowing them with what we're doing. Like, oh, it's, you actually care that I'm coming to shop with you. This isn't just, I'm picking something up and especially if you do have a product similar to, you know, fidget stickers, where there is that personal connection where you, you're, yes, it's a sticker, but it's also, you know, it really is from my heart, me saying, hey, here's something that came from my needs and my family's needs, and I wanna help you with this too. I want my customer service, that customer journey to always continue that.
[00:10:00] ANDREA: That was a great way of breaking that down and using your business as a case study. Do you recommend that entrepreneurs who are starting out to sit down and write this and put it out all on paper before doing anything?
[00:10:12] AMBER: 100000000%. Yeah. I mean, at any stage of entrepreneurship, you should, because you should always be evaluating all of these stages and thinking, what can I do better? And taking the feedback that you receive from your customers and changing your journey, right? If you're finding, like in the consideration phase that you are losing out because you are not as cheap as somebody else, well, you have some decisions to make there. Do you wanna lower the price? Or what are you gonna do to make it perceived more valuable? Or how are you going to add more value? Right? So any person in the entrepreneur world out there should definitely, definitely be visiting this, you know, every six months. Sit down, write out these stages. These things will make such a huge difference in your business overall.
[00:11:00] ANDREA: Are there any other considerations you think that early-stage entrepreneurs should make when they are laying out that customer journey at the beginning?
[00:11:10] AMBER: A couple of things come to mind. People get really attached to their idea and they think that it's the best thing ever. And then they have friends and family tell them, you're a genius. This is fantastic. This is the best thing ever. And then it's not selling, and they aren't sure why it's not selling, right? Or they don't have repeat customers and they can't figure out why they don't have repeat customers or, what seems to be the problem? Step one is being open to the fact that you don't know everything. That just because your product or your service is your baby, and like I say, they all come from your heart, doesn't mean that everybody else's heart is ready for what you've got. And it could be that you have the wrong customer lineup. So being open to the fact that you don't know everything, taking a good hard look at who your customer is [00:12:00] before you start all of this customer journey is so important cuz you could be making customer journey to the wrong person. Right. If you were ordering say auto parts and then your repeat customer, and you get like a sticker that says You're amazing at it. Thank you for supporting my thing. You're gonna be going, uh, this does not resonate with me. I'm just buying, you know, auto parts. So the customer journey wouldn't make any sense. Understanding that customer at the very beginning, then you can tweak the things they like and how to communicate effectively with them along the journey.
[00:12:38] ANDREA: Okay, so the two things you mentioned right now are: One. Don't get too attached to your idea and don't just rely on your family and immediate circle to be honest about your product because they'll probably tell you that you're doing great no matter what. And two. You might not be targeting the right customer for your product. You might launch a product [00:13:00] then realize that the target audience wasn't the right fit for your product. With that being said, I'm wondering if you can find out who your right customer is before the product or business launches.
[00:13:12] AMBER: You can look at market demand, you can look at competitors and things like that but the most important thing in, here's another like fancy schmanzy term for you. It's called proof of concept. And in the proof of concept, you're really gonna figure out who that customer is because you're gonna actually put it in front of people. I liken being an entrepreneur to playing a video game. I grew up, you know, with the very first Nintendo, I think I was like 11 or 12 when it came out, when original Mario Brothers, and you had to do a jump over and over and over again, right?
So somehow inside of me, I have that tenacity built in, and you need a sprinkle of that. Because you're gonna need to take whatever it is you're doing and put it in front of people over and over and over again. Whether that's surveys, whether that's you're selling locally, you know, in front of somebody, [00:14:00] whether that's your, talking to maybe, the organizations or businesses who would be buying your stuff that's going to give you that feedback and you need honest feedback from them. So maybe you're saying, I'll give you a percentage off of this, or here's stuff for free. I need honest feedback on what you think. You're gonna find out really quickly whether people like what you're doing or they don't like what you're doing. You might get your feelings a little bruised and hurt in the whole process. But there is no sort of magic bullet at the beginning, and that's where I see a lot of entrepreneurs struggle. I'm also a business advisor for a nonprofit here in Utah. I read business plans and cashflow projections all day long and so forth and an area that I see people struggle is in that they don't realize that, again, just because you think it's great, you have to go out and prove that the demographic you think wants, if I only focused on kids and moms like me for their kids, [00:15:00] I would miss out on all of these other demographics that hadn't even occurred to me. I mean, a special victims unit purchased a whole bunch of packs, and I'm thinking I hadn't even thought about that, but if I didn't put it out there and, and start paying attention to what's going on so that I could go, oh, well, if one special victims unit wanted to buy a whole bunch, then that means all the other special victims units would wanna buy a whole bunch. You're just not the smartest person. And some things, you just really have to play that video game and do that jump over and over and over again to see.
[00:15:34] HOST: You're listening to This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. You just heard from Amber Murray, founder of Fidget Stickers. You can find out more about Fidget Stickers in our show notes on our website: Thisissmallbusinesspodcast.com.
I loved how Amber broke down the customer journey into 5 steps: awareness, consideration, decision purchase, retention, and advocacy. But as we found out, it takes a lot of work to make sure your customer goes through [00:16:00] all 5 steps and turns into a loyal customer. You've got to make sure that you give them the best experience possible, so they come back. And that you're putting effort into reaching your target market.
Like Fidget Stickers, the small businesses we feature on This is Small Business are some of the many small businesses selling in the Amazon store who have tapped into some of the tools and resources offered to help them succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
So far, we’ve talked a lot about the customer journey and now we’ll dig into how to find and reach your ideal customer with my next guest: [00:17:00] Darian Kovacs, founder of Jelly Digital Marketing, a PR, digital ads & SEO company. Here’s Darian.
[00:17:08] Darian: So we started a company called Jelly Marketing officially ten years ago. So I started mostly because I was excited about giving away little jelly jars as a business card. But we took the idea of how do businesses use social media, digital ads and public relations, and SEO to really grow their business and kind of get their name out there in the market.
[00:17:28] ANDREA: I love that the name came out of the idea of wanting to sell jelly jars. That’s so unique. So Darian, when I first started working in marketing agencies, one tool I was taught was the think, feel, do model and making sure that you consider everything that you would ideally want your customer to think, feel, and do when working on the marketing for your brand. What are your thoughts on that model, and do you have any other models that you would recommend when it comes to the customer journey?
[00:18:00] Darian: I think what I like about that, what you're saying is the memorable factor. Some people use the idea, especially when you're in event marketing, is when people walk into your event, you think of all the senses. What do they see? What do they hear? What do they smell? What do they taste? So you think about, you know, what's the coffee you have, or what's the, uh, tea that's available, or the snack. What smell is in the lobby, or what smell is the stuff they pick up, the booklet that they get? What are they hearing? Is it music, or is it quiet? Is it exciting music? And what are they seeing? Is it the, you know, agenda for the day, or is it really clear markings? And so when you think of that online, you know, it's very hard to get smell and taste online. We're not there yet. But until then, what does that user experience flow look like? Is it fun?
[00:18:45] ANDREA: What are some tools you think that a small business owner can use to learn more about their customer and their journey pertaining to their business?
[00:18:52] Darian: There is some amazing websites right now, and I wish I had these when I was starting off my business where you can actually test your product or service before you launch it. [00:19:00] So people can sponsor it, pre purchase it, and actually advocate for that business or that concept or that idea. A lot of people do that with board games or businesses. And I've actually seen the opposite, where someone puts out a product in one of these websites where you can actually get people to pre purchase it or, you know, sponsor this idea. And it doesn't take off. It doesn't do well. So in a lot of ways, they walked away and said, wow, I just saved myself a huge headache. And from there, the other piece being is back in the day, you used to be able to find it very difficult to get published in like the newspaper, or in a magazine, or getting on TV, but nowadays we have, you know, this incredibly powerful tool at our fingertips that everyone's a publisher, everyone is a videographer, and our ability to put something up on YouTube, put something out on the internet has democratized the ability to amplify a message and things can go as viral as a Wall Street Journal article or as viral as something goes up on a well-known TV station in your country. [00:20:00] So taking advantage of that algorithm right now is pretty amazing.
[00:20:06] ANDREA: So to recap, you mentioned that nowadays it’s easy to test your product or service before launching and doing that allows you to see what the reception is before you go all into your business idea. So, you learn a lot about your customer journey through seeing who's responding to your product and how they're responding to it. And you also mentioned that businesses should leverage the internet and social media sites to promote their business and attract their ideal customers.
[00:20:36] Darian: So the definition of social media is any sort of media you can socialize with. And so when we think about that, I highly encourage any entrepreneur startup business owner, your newsletter is often the forgotten social media channel because it's a form of media people can interact with. They can reply, they can forward, they can click on, they can engage. And it really, sadly, today is one of the only social channels you actually own. [00:21:00] All the rest, you're on leased land. You don't own your TikTok followers. You don't own your Facebook followers. Every time Facebook makes an algorithm update, when you do a post, maybe it used to be 5% of your followers would see it. Maybe now it's 2%. Maybe it's going to be 0. 5%. So, your e-newsletter, I'd say, is the number one thing to be concerned about and nurturing and growing. If you have a bricks and mortar store, you have a location-based business, Google My Business, which is now on Google Maps. would be the number one thing to be thinking about and concerned about and developing.
In some cases, I'll give you an example. We worked with a brand that sold knitting equipment. So it was like the needles and the wool and all the things for making quilting and really cool crochet stuff. And they were the sweetest couple out of Manitoba in their 60s and they were saying, hey, our daughter had us set up on Pinterest and we're doing some stuff on Instagram. But it's, you know, it's doing okay. So we told them about this site called Reddit. And within Reddit there's what's called Subreddit. So again, a social media channel they hadn't considered. And I remember the daughter actually phoned me a week later and was like, You put my parents on Reddit? What were you thinking? [00:22:00] But then was like, thank you so much because they saw an 80% increase in sales when they started going into these subreddits, which were these online bulletin board communities that were all about knitting and crocheting and quilting and they started just being the sweetest couple and just being like hey everyone just want to let you know what we have some new products we got in or hey I'll let you know about some ways that people are using our product. Here's a little video tour of our warehouse. And all these people in, in America, they were mostly doing sales in Canada. In America we're learning about them, in the UK, in Australia, and they just took off. And they became essentially the grandma and grandpa of this subreddit. And because of that they have stopped putting so much energy and time into Instagram and Pinterest and realize their world, their community, their customers were on Reddit.
[00:22:45] ANDREA: What I'm hearing is you basically have to try it all out at the beginning and see where you get this high level of engagement slash positive response, and then lean into that. So, it’s a lot of test and learn.
[00:23:00] Darian: Totally, and it's one of those also just energy levels and time levels that you have as an entrepreneur. It might be like, you know what? I really only have time for two channels. And so I'm going to sit with maybe someone really smart or, or, you know, maybe more experienced and be like, hey man, can you just give me 20 minutes, let me tell you about my business and tell me which channel I should be on, you know, someone who maybe knows social media. So one of the benefits of agencies or experienced marketing folks is, you know, use them for their brains and not necessarily their brawn. Have them kind of assess and test to be like, where is the best place for you to be? And maybe it's Twitch. Maybe that's where you need to be. Maybe it's Quora. And it's being able to say, okay, what if I did one channel really, really, really well and double down on there? The other thing to be considering is maybe it's none of the channels except for your e newsletter.
[00:23:42] ANDREA: Darian, are there any other tools you think could help in understanding a customer journey?
[00:23:48] Darian: I'll just close with this, you gotta understand Google to help your business grow. The first thing Google is doing is, looking at what content is on your site. What are you writing about? Are you writing about cat sweaters? Uh, you know, is there cat sweaters on your sweatshirt? [00:24:00] Is the way your website is coded, is it all about cat sweaters? So as you kind of think about coding your site and how it's written, the blog content that's on your site, the address that's on your site, are you all about cat sweaters in Alaska, because that's your target audience?
That's what you want Google to know you as, as an authority on. But because back in the day, people could be really good coders but not have a relevant site, Google's like, well that's not going to be our only way we judge sites. And so about the other 50% of SEO, and this is explaining and breaking down SEO, is as your website walks in the hallway, Google's watching to see who talks to your website in the hallway, and what are they talking to you about. So again, you walk down the
hallway, no one's talking to you, you're probably not an authority on a subject. If you walked in the hallway and two or three people asked you about cat sweaters, and maybe one asked you about Alaska, you're probably an authority on that subject in Alaska. And again, if you can get really high domain authority sites, so again, you can get an article or a backlink in like a newspaper or a website that's been around a while that has a good reputation. That's kind of like the cool kids in the school. [00:25:00] But think about how do I build up people and how do I find friends or family or get the press or media interested in my story so I can get those really great backlinks so I can alert Google that I know all things cat sweaters in Alaska.
[00:25:15] Host: That was Darian Kovacs, founder of Jelly Digital Marketing. Thank you for listening today. As always, let’s end the episode with some of our key takeaways on understanding the customer journey:
- One. Amber gave us five steps to a typical customer journey. One is awareness. That’s where you try to get people to notice your product and brand. Two is consideration. That's when the customer starts comparing your product with other similar products for them to decide which one to buy. Three is decision purchase. That’s when the customer hopefully decides to buy your product. Four is retention. Once the customer decides to buy your product, you want them to come back to your store. You could do that by giving them a good experience when they're shopping with you. [00:26:00] Maybe you could have cute, personalized packaging like Amber, or great customer service which by the way we’ll be talking about on another episode coming up. You just really don't want that customer to go back to the consideration, keep them onboard and in love. And five is advocacy. And that's when your customer becomes a loyal customer to your products and even starts recommending your product to other people.
- Two. Don't get too attached to your product. Try to get people that aren't your family and friends to give you their honest opinion on your product and service. And you can do that risk-free using sites that allow you to put your product out there and see who might be interested in pre-ordering it before you invest your all into your business.
- Three. There's gonna be a lot of trial and error. You could have customers that you didn't even think could be interested in your product like Amber did with the special victims unit. And as Darian mentioned, you'll also need to try out different social media sites in order to see where you can best reach your customers. [00:27:00] And eventually you’ll find the perfect place to speak to them because you’ll understand their customer journey more.
I'm curious – What’s your customer’s journey? How did you determine your target audience? And how are you reaching your customers? I'd love to hear about your journey! Reach out to us at email@example.com to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
[00:28:00] That's it for today’s episode of This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. Until next week – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!
CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:28:30]
Introducing Season 3 of This is Small Business
We're back for a third season!
Are you an aspiring or early-stage entrepreneur with a product to sell? Learn how to grow your small business from a diverse group of entrepreneurs and experts. By the end of this season, you'll understand how to:
→ define your target market
→ secure funding
→ set prices
→ protect your intellectual property
→ position your product
→ expand to new markets
→ hire for success
→ secure a supply chain
→ differentiate with stellar customer service
This is Small Business is an original podcast from Amazon. It's hosted by Andrea Marquez, an aspiring entrepreneur who is on a journey to learn all she can about how to start and grow a small business. Every week she dives into a new topic with a successful business owner or expert to help her on her entrepreneurial journey. We know you have a busy schedule. That's why we started releasing "minisodes" - with valuable insights for growing your small business in just ten minutes. Or for a deeper dive into the stories of our diverse slate of entrepreneurial guests, tune into our regular episodes.
Next Generation: What Comes Next?
Learn about scaling your business.
Join us as we dive deep into the aftermath of the competition and catch up with our teams to hear about their experiences and discover what lies ahead. Did any of the participants secure investors or unearth new opportunities? Are they venturing into other competitions for greater financial rewards, or have they decided to take a break from the high-pressure world of pitching? We’ll also reconnect with some familiar faces: Brad Burke, one of the organizers, and Mitra Miller, one of the esteemed judges, to gain exclusive insights into their reflections on this year's competition results. Get ready for a captivating episode filled with exciting updates and valuable perspectives!
[00:00:02] Sloane: We got through that as a team, and I think are stronger because of it.
Shiv: I still remember that being so anxiety-inducing.
Alex: We're not approaching this like a hey, we're going to just try to get to the next funding round every time, right?
Kevin: To really succeed, you have to fail.
Julio: That's her superpower. Like when somebody else will be like, no, I'm done. I'm done. Like, let me rest. She's like, no, I gotta keep going.
[00:00:30] HOST (Andrea): Hi, and welcome to “This is Small Business: NEXT Generation” - a miniseries brought to you by Amazon, where we follow 4 student teams behind the scenes throughout the Rice University Business Plan Competition. You’ll hear all about their challenges, hopes, and fears as they prepare to pitch. And by the end of every episode, we’ll be pointing out key takeaways that will help you wherever you are on your business journey. I’m one of your hosts – Andrea Marquez.
[00:00:50] Mitch: And I'm your co-host, Mitch Gilbert, the co-founder of Oya Femtech Apparel, and a former Rice Business Plan competition competitor.
[00:01:00] HOST (Andrea): So this is the last episode of our miniseries. The competition is over. In our last episode we announced the winners and got updates on all our teams right after winners were announced. Unfortunately, none of our teams made it to the finals BUUUT Active Surfaces won two awards and Tierra Climate, founded by one of Shiv’s long-time friends (that’s Shiv from Active Surfaces), managed to make it to the finals. Sooo, Mitch how do you feel about the results?
[00:01:33] Mitch: Great. I feel like it was an interesting learning experience being both a competitor and now being behind the scenes. It sometimes makes me sad about the state of venture capital because I don't know how we can get it to be more diverse. It's very complicated. It made me feel hopeful because there were a lot of businesses who were doing really cool things. It was exciting to talk to so many students and see how excited they were about their [00:02:00] products and their businesses and it was also cool to go to Rice because I competed virtually. And so it was cool to meet people and see the energy surrounding the competition.
[00:02:15] HOST (Andrea): Yeah, talking to all these entrepreneurs really got me looking forward to seeing how they do in their future. Hopefully, they'll succeed! On this episode, we’ll be checking in with our teams after the competition to see how they feel about it and what they’re currently up to or what’s in their near future. Did they manage to snag an investor or more opportunities at the competition? Are they competing for more money elsewhere? Or are they hanging up their pitching capes? I’m so excited to find out! We’ll also check in with Brad, one of the organizers who you’ve heard from before, and Mitra one of the judges who you’ve also heard from before, to learn about their thoughts on the results of the competition this year. Here’s Brad Burke…
[00:03:00] Brad: This was my 23rd competition and so I've seen a lot of these and I think this is one of my favorites, if not my most favorite competition. Competitors said that they got really good feedback from the judges at the competition. One of them said in a 15-minute period during the practice round, they got more feedback and better feedback than they'd gotten in the weeks leading up to this competition. So they felt the quality of the feedback was really outstanding. And, and, you know, that's a whole part of the competition. We give away a lot of money and that's one thing. But we really want all the students to walk away and feel like they had a great experience, they learned a lot, and they met a lot of people who can help them make their companies be successful going forward. So it's not just about the money it's about the experience for the students. And they consistently walk away and they go, wow, this, I had a great experience and they met lots of people who will help them be successful going forward.
[00:04:00] HOST (Andrea): Yeah, and we've already heard from some of our competitors that the RBCP offers a lot more than just extra money to help with their business. But the money does help, like a lot, so for anyone who's looking to compete in a pitch competition, Brad has got some advice for you.
[00:04:18] Brad: Investors are looking for five or six things and a company that's solving a real problem that's easy to understand, that is a big problem with a big market and with customers who are willing to pay for it. So if you can, if those are about four things and if you can demonstrate those four things, I think it goes a long way. And then, you know, if you can demonstrate that your team is a strong team to found and create this company, I think that's a plus. And then you have to understand. How much capital that you need and how quickly an investor will get an exit. I think if you can do those five or six things really well, I think you can succeed at a competition. [00:05:00] And teams have to do a nice job, have to understand what their competition is. Sometimes their competition is just the status quo, and people don't like to change and you have to demonstrate that your solution, your product, your technology is enough better than what people are doing today or, or enough better than competition in order to have customers to change to you what you're doing and to adopt your product or your solution.
You know, there's a lot of economic turmoil going on right now, or concern about recession and concern about inflation. And you know, one piece of advice I would say is that even though there is economic uncertainty, it's often in times of economic uncertainty when some of the most successful startups are founded. I would encourage entrepreneurs to follow their passion and follow their idea. And even if they're not successful in the first one, that often makes them more investible for their second one [00:06:00] because they have learned from their success or learn from their failure. As you would guess, I'm a huge fan of founders and entrepreneurs and encourage them to go forward.
[00:06:15] HOST (Andrea): Here’s Mitra Miller:
[00:06:16] Mitra: R B P C is always my favorite event of the year, and this year did not disappoint. It was at least as good and perhaps better than ever, so it was pretty awesome.
My problem is I never have enough money to put in all the deals that I want to. I end up doing a few, but honestly, if I could invest in almost everything I would because the companies are coming up with so many great solutions that we need, business needs, the planet needs, people need. I wish I could do them all. My, my goal is to make enough money that I can invest in everything. That's my long-term goal. But overall, the winners were fantastic. [00:07:00] I think there were some that were super exciting. By the time you get to the end of the three days, you're very focused on the last seven. But the ones that don't make it are just too early. They still have exciting ideas, they have exciting technology.
So honestly, the way the R B P C prizes work is we meet the companies and we go into due diligence. So we will do additional research into the companies and see if we can agree on terms. So investing is a marriage. And it can be a very long marriage. I'm in deals that are now 10 years old, and they're not exiting yet. They're great, they're looking good, but we're talking about a 10-year relationship. So you and the founder need to make sure that this is a relationship you want to get into, especially at a super early stage.
[00:07:50] Andrea: And if you're looking to compete in the RBPC in the future, here's some advice from Mitra:
[00:08:00] Mitra: So there are a lot of different kinds of pitch competitions, some that are targeting companies that are looking for investment, some that are targeting companies that want advice and feedback. They may want marketing and exposure to the public. There are many different goals. At the Rice Business Plan competition, the instructions that we get from the leadership, Brad Burke and Catherine Santamaria is to vote for the companies that are the most investible. We're supposed to be wearing an investor hat, whether we are an investor or not. So I'm gonna answer in the context that going to R B P C, we're looking for the company that is the most investible. So advice to somebody who wants to get to a pitch competition like R B P C number one, understand the investor, try to turn around and stand on the other side of the table. And think about if I were an investor, what would I be looking for? Well, I'm looking for something that if I put my money into it, that they're able to use it efficiently, grow the company and get traction, and exit at some point so that the investor has a return.
[00:09:00] So the idea is a huge part of that, the timing in the market and this is the hardest thing to know. Is it the right time in the world for your idea to move forward? Is it too early? Is it too late, or is it exactly the right time? Number three is the leadership team. Are these the people with the fire in their belly who can take this forward and make it a great success? We look very, very much at that. And then of course the last one is will they be able to take it all the way through to the finish line? And that might mean raising additional capital, getting creative, pivoting the company so that they can take it all the way home.
So after you think about those things from the investor perspective, then you'll be able to build that into your pitch from the very beginning. Make sure that the whole idea when you're a founder is you need to have answers to all the questions that the investors are going to ask you ready to go, so that you can give them quickly and efficiently. [00:10:00] I think that's the biggest thing of all. And then just get excited and be ready to learn and take the feedback that you get because once you get to a competition like this, you're going to hear some things that you love and a lot of people complimenting you, and you're gonna hear some things that are tough love and are gonna be a lot harder to take, and you'll need to stay open and receptive and try to take it in the spirit that it was delivered.
[00:10:30] HOST (Andrea): This experience has been full of a lot of learnings for our teams, for us as hosts, and hopefully for you as a listener. To finish off and understand how the competition impacted our teams we checked in with all of them a couple of weeks after the competition. First up is Active Surfaces. If you don't remember, in our last episode we mentioned that Active Surfaces had another competition that they were competing in right after the RBPC and they won! So of course, we had to ask about that first.
[00:11:00] Rich: We actually swept house. We won every, every level that we could have. We got the MIT hundred K full winning, but also the audience award as well.
[00:11:10] HOST (Andrea): This just goes to show that every competition is different and loosing doesn't always mean that you have a bad business. And aside from their win, we've found out another little detail from them. Apparently Active Surfaces was so close to making it to the finals at the Rice Business Plan Competition.
[00:11:25] Shiv: They sent an email with like the, some of the prize winnings that we got cause we won the climate prize, which we were super excited about. In that same email, they're like, oh, you also won a cash prize cuz you made it to the semis. And you were third place in your room and therefore you get a certain amount. Cuz if you're fourth place, you get a different amount. If you're fifth place, you get a different amount.
[00:11:40] HOST (Andrea): They were so close, but hey that's an extra injection of cash into their business so it's a win-win! Anyway, here's some of their thoughts on the winning teams.
[00:11:50] Shiv: I'm happy a couple of climate ones made it too. The main reason Rich and I are both in this space overall is cause we care about addressing climate change in whatever way. [00:12:00] So as long as any of these folks are winning, not to be too political, but I think I like the idea of those people getting pressed.
[00:12:03] HOST (Andrea): And remember when Rich said that he was worried about how public the competition was and how that might influence investors opinions on Active Surfaces? Well..
[00:12:12] Shiv: Like now our LinkedIns are blowing up with like former MIT alum or just people in the climate tech VC space, DMing us saying, hey, I saw that you did well here. I saw you won the climate prize at RBCP, or I saw you won the hundred K. Like, how can we connect and work together? It's nice to not have to go and like cold reach people, but we can have people reach out to us, which is nice.
[00:12:32] Rich: The benefit of these sorts of competitions win or lose is press, right? It's getting your name out there and, and at the beginning of the startup journey, all you're really doing, probably a hundred percent of your, your effort is validating your idea. So with Rice, you know, I mean, we're unsuccessful in getting to the finals, but at the end of the day, right, like we're getting pinged a lot on people on LinkedIn who say like, Hey, we like the startup. We like the idea, like, let's connect. [00:13:00] Same thing with a hundred K. It's a point of validation and it's really nice that we won, but it's also, again, just like the main core benefit beyond the a hundred K or whatever prize winnings is, is that public appearance and presence. Those sorts of things has kind of like led into what we're doing now, which is we're sort of used that to leverage financing.
[00:13:25] HOST (Andrea): Aaaannd Active Surfaces has some exciting news...
[00:13:30] Rich: we're going to be venture backed. The first closing's the end of this month, and then there'll be a little bit of a closing after which, we ended up having the term sheet before we ended up going to Rice. When the full financing is in, it's gonna be a combination of people who know us before rice as well as people who met us after Rice as well. So that's kind of like the benefit of these sorts of competitions overall, right? Win or lose is that like you're getting your name out there and ultimately it's through those higher like secondary connections that that end up pushing you forward.
[00:14:00] Shiv: Being venture backed essentially means selling part of your equity or part of the company to venture capitalists who then value your company at a specific amount, give you a specific amount of money, and then that gives you 18 months to 24 months of runway to then go and build a business. And we're at the very early stage of that, getting our first venture financing. The entire point is to move faster. And specifically it means building out a team. It means getting access to manufacturing facilities. It means iterating on our product. It means getting a commercial pilot ready within two years, being able to do things we wouldn't be able to do otherwise.
[00:14:40] Andrea: And what are some benefits to being venture backed?
[00:14:45] Rich: It's multimillions of dollars cash injection, which allows us to hire is the biggest one. So that would allow us to go from us two to probably a team of like five, six engineers plus business staff.
[00:15:00] Shiv: One is, being venture backed now means that we can stop, not stop, but we can lower the amount of time that we spend pitching and spend more time building the business and hiring people and actually doing what we wanna do, which is making surfaces active. But the other piece of this is, Rice's business plan, and Rich kind of touched on this, there's over 400 judges that are potential investors, and our goal isn't to have 400 investors in our cap table. Our goal is to find people that believe in us, and that could just be a couple that end up reaching out to us. And the climate prize, I think was something that meant a lot because we knew they were genuinely interested in the idea. A, they're looking for climate specific technologies and there's like maybe five to 10 in the competition. So being the best of those is nice. But at the same time, I think the 25 K prize that we won was an investment prize. So they want a seat on the cap table. They want a seat in the investment for this round, but that's not what they're limited to. They don't have to do just 25 k and they are suggesting they may be interested or open to more. And I think that is what truly gets me excited.
[00:16:00] HOST (Andrea): Press is definitely a big component of these competitions. Both Mitch and Active Surfaces has talked about the benefits in previous episodes. So, Active Surfaces is doing well and I’m excited to see where they go. Next we’ll check in with DIA, but first, a message.
[00:16:22] HOST (Andrea): You're listening to This is Small Business Next Generation, brought to you by Amazon. I’m one of your hosts, Andrea Marquez, and along with Mitch Gilbert, we’re introducing you to the world of business plan competitions and learning about how to best pitch your business in a way that attracts investment, in the case of the Rice Business Plan Competition, teams are competing to win up to $350K towards their small business startups.
Did you know that nearly 60% of products sold in Amazon's store are from independent sellers - most of which are small and medium-sized businesses? If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or an early-stage small business owner, there are many resources that Amazon offers to help you succeed and grow. [00:17:00] One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business Next Generation content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
[00:17:30] HOST (Andrea): Alright, and we’re back with DIA.
[00:17:32] Sloane: I think I'm really glad that we went. It was a really valuable experience for Julio and I to learn pitching together. Just honestly, like learn more like the ins and outs of how each other work. As Julio said earlier, I. And I mean, it was, it was honestly also fun. Like we met some really great fellow entrepreneurs of the fellow teams. Our practice pitch was a little rough, but I think we really came in strong with our first real pitch and I think we were both really proud of that. [00:18:00] We were both flying pretty high after that. We didn't walk away with any of the big checks or prizes, but we, you know, I think we were proud of the pitch that we ended up putting.
[00:18:12] Julio: I'm a night owl, I do most of my research at night. What I can tell you is before you make an important pitch, try to get some sleep. I know it's hard. might have to go get those melatonin gummies or something, but it's worth it.
[00:18:30] Sloane: I would say some of the, like the really helpful feedback that we got was just really making it explicitly clear of what exactly our timeline was. So, being clear about our go to market strategy and that we sort of, we have this DOD angle that we're going to do and because it's DOD, there is going to be a dual use component of it with athletes and probably, you know, a fitness component, that is to get to our ultimate play of med tech, [00:19:00] but then also exactly walk them through how much time we're giving ourselves for the FDA play and that we're giving ourselves the exact standard of 80 months and showing them all of the steps to that process. Because the FDA is something that scares investors a lot. So I think that some very valuable feedback that we got and then implemented was that we said, just put on a slide, this is the timeline we're giving ourselves exactly average. And here are our steps one through five to get from A to B.
On some of the presentation style, it really was helpful. So the first one they really said come out from behind the desk. I think Julio was maybe fidgeting a little bit and you know they really gave us both some sort of just like own the space a little bit more and be confident in your pitch. I will say then we went in with that, with our second pitch and then we sort of received some Goldilocks feedback of saying like, well, don't be too confident, and so it was a little bit like, well, you can't have it both ways, guys.
[00:20:00] Julio: Like that is no reason to stop female entrepreneurs from trying to do. but I, I think I'm very proud of how Sloan handled it. I think both pitches went great and I do wanna be emphatic that it was not even most people like, but, but the fact that there's still people there who, who think that way is what worries me.
[00:20:25] Andrea: Brad did touch on this subject as well.
[00:20:30] Brad: There's a lot of dimensions to this issue. Um, and it's something that we think about often at the competition. Um, I, I would say that, and, you know, what's my perspective then, drilling down on the competition. I would argue that a hundred percent of founding teams should have women on their founding teams, because I think the data shows that when you have women who are part of a founding team, [00:21:00] The overall success rate of startups with women is higher than the success rate of, of startups that do not include women on the founding team that from the data that I've seen in the past.
I'm happy that we have 50 to 60% of our teams have women on them. Um, and that's good. I think it should be higher than that, and I'd like to see it continue to to increase. This year, I believe the number we, the number is now up to between 35 and 40% of our judges are women. This answer to that is simple. We, the objective is simple. That we ought to get, we need to get to 50% of our judges being women. But there's some things that have to be done upstream of that, which is we need more women, angel investors in the country, and we need more women, venture capital investors in the, in the country.
[00:21:50] Andrea: It adds another layer of understanding for the different hurdles that founders have to go through, especially as minority-owned businesses. Speaking of which, here’s Bilal from Unchained, a Black-owned business.
[00:22:00] Bilal: So we didn't end up, you know, advancing to the finals, but we did complete our team's objectives, which were to get more exposure to clients, which we met about three potential clients for Unchained there and that reached out to us after we pitched, and they were actually one of the judges in the room. So, although we didn't, you know, continue with prizes from the actual competition, we did receive like, the exposure we needed to bring on potential clients. And we also got exposure to a couple venture funds, one in Austin, Texas, and then there's another one in Louisiana, and they were very appreciative of our mission and wanted, you know, to be involved.
And then we also figured out how to pitch, our product confidently regardless of who the audience is in that sense. Like the ones who were receptive to it, understood, bought in. We didn't have to oversell the ones that didn't, you know, they just weren't ever going to. And so like, that just gave us our team, that confidence in knowing that it's not our product, [00:23:00] it's not the presentation, it's, you know, whoever this value would be added to, you know, is gonna accept it that way. So I feel like that's what we learned. We learned that regardless of, the outcome of the competition, we did gain value from participating. We did gain exposure and we did make connections. So that's, that's kind of how the event went.
The demographics of the judge room was, you know, mostly, you know, all, all white judges. I wouldn't say that like everybody wasn't receptive because the five that did, like, they didn't have an issue with how we were presenting what we were talking about. They provided resources, contacts. One was even a recruiter in the room that like was a recruiter in the industry for like 15 years. He came up to us afterwards and like actually talked about some of the things he faced so that's when we realized like it's not a race thing, it's a, you know, either you understand the value and understand the issue or you don't want to hear it. And so that's kind of like what we just gathered from it.
[00:23:55] Andrea: Talking more to the right people. I think that’s a valuable lesson across the board.
[00:24:00] Bilal: I'll say like this competition is like our graduation from pitch competitions. It's time to, you know, put on a tie and, you know, start, start running the company. This run was great. It gave me a lot of experience, a lot of reps, but I'm done with the reps, you know, I have an actual, product, business team to, you know, continue figuring out. So like, I feel like that's what it symbolized for me in my journey is like, I've done a lot of these, this being the, the biggest, you know, coming here, giving it my all, giving everything I knew about it, doing what I had to do. And like you said, walking away with wins. So at this point I feel like this competition is just like, it just symbolizes the end of a chapter, and the beginning of a new one.
[00:24:45] Andrea: I'm really hoping that Unchained will go on to be a successful and profitable business moving forward. And now, let's hear from our last team, Outmore Living:
[00:24:50] Kevin: We got great feedback from a lot of the judges, both positive and negative. So a lot of the judges said very great things about us, [00:25:00] told us we were on the right path and just keep at it. Some of the negative stuff was largely around, you know, business model, different approaches we could take there, some of our go-to-market strategy. Nothing that we haven't heard before, we haven't talked about before, so it was largely feedback we've gotten at different points or thought of ourselves. And at the end of the day, Alex and I feel really confident about our strategy. The team of advisors and investors we've put around us feel really confident about our strategy.
[00:25:30] Alex: We're creating a new category so, you know, the typical like, investor heuristic is like, is it like defensible and does it offer some competitive advantages? Is this the right team to go build on the product? Is solving this problem worth it? We have to do all of those things and we have to convince people and help them see like, a future that doesn't exist, right? And it's hard for Kevin and I to make that real and we've been thinking about this every day for a year and so I, [00:26:00] I think when we're introducing an entirely new category, something that doesn't exist, there's that additional hurdle, that for some judges, and some investors and potential people, customers there, they get it right away. They love it, they see it. And others, for whatever reason, maybe we didn't do a good enough job of explaining it, maybe they just don't particularly enjoy outdoor furniture, outdoor living, whatever it may be, whatever the reason is, didn't see it. And I don't think Kevin and I appreciated necessarily the challenge of introducing a new category, right? Like someone who's never even heard of this idea whatsoever, doesn't exist in the world, that like sort of ramps up the difficulty a even more.
[00:26:38] Kevin: There was some feedback that I think was related to just like a lack of knowledge with our industry, which is expected. Like there aren't really that many furniture startups. And so even within the consumer niche, like, sector of the judges, there weren't that many, if any, that have interacted with furniture, right? So like there's that barrier we have to overcome, but I think that also we got some great feedback from some of the women judges that were in our first round [00:27:00] like around design certain preferences there that ended up being super helpful for us. It would've been great to win, but I didn't leave it like thinking. Oh my God, we should have won that thing. I left it thinking we could have won it, and there was also a lot of great co companies there, so, yeah.
[00:27:20] Alex: I don't think there's any way to come out of this, like worse off. You are forced to refine your story. And prepare in such a way that makes you understand your business better. You have the opportunity to have a life changing night, like Zaymo, you could meet your next lead investor. All of these sorts of things. I, I mean, I'd be lying if I said that like, it wasn't like a pretty like emotional... it really, it stung to like, not even move on to the semi-finals. Right. Like, we were planning and preparing and, and trying our best to do that. I think in general it's a matter of getting over like a fear of like rejection that is super necessary to build the thick skin, persistence, some might call hardheaded stubbornness [00:28:00] that it takes to like be an entrepreneur and change the way the world is to some extent. And the reason that's tough it is because, you know, this is an idea that Kevin and I have put our stake in the ground and said, we think this is such a good idea, and we've put so much effort into it that we are going all in on this. We want to devote the next decade plus our life's work to making this idea reality. And so when you're that vulnerable to then be told implicitly, not explicitly, but being told implicitly, like, these other ideas we think are better than the one that you are hitching your wagon to, it's a little scary. But now since then, it's like, okay, onto the next, now we're just gonna go build a company. Right. Would it have been amazing if we were a finalist and, and won? Absolutely. Does it change the chances of success that Kevin and I believe we have? No.
[00:28:50] Andrea: Rejection is part of the journey and knowing how to deal with it is super important to keep moving forward. I think that RBPC really showed us that journey. [00:29:00] It seems like all our entrepreneurs are doing good regardless of how far they made it into the competition. And they all agree that even if they didn't win anything, the experience taught them a lot. It’s been great seeing everything behind the scenes from both the competitor’s side and the judge’s side. Mitch it’s been especially great to hear your perspective too.
[00:29:25] Mitch: This has been an awesome opportunity to get to know our teams, to get to know you as a co-host, to get to know the Rice team, judges and staff. And I hope you all as listeners have learned or gotten a more intimate understanding of what it takes to succeed at these business plan competitions and in venture capital as both a heavily represented founder and an underrepresented founder. And I think it's important to remember regardless of if things may be difficult for you as an underrepresented founder. [00:30:00] It is so important to continue trying business, especially small businesses are an extremely great way to build generational wealth and capital and to be able to support a family and also your employees and really grow America. So regardless of how hard it is, I hope you learn some specific nuggets to help make things a little bit easier and that you continue to try because if you continue to try, you're going to be better. You're gonna make everybody else better around you, and I'm rooting for you.
[00:30:42] Andrea: Couldn’t have said that better myself. That's such a lovely way to end the last episode of the This is Small Business: NEXT Generation. I learned so much and I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without you by my side Mitch, so thanks for being here! And why don’t you take it away and give us your big three takeaways:
- [00:31:00] Mitch: One. Be gritty and patient. Use every resource that you have at your disposal. It's gonna take everything that you got. And if you're an underrepresented founder, you can't get frustrated by the rooms that you're not going to. It's not gonna be easy for you to walk into. Yeah, it can be frustrating, but you have resources too, and never forget that.
- Two. If you're even showing up in those rooms, you have your own talent and so don't isolate yourself. Continue to rely on a network, and I would also say get some co-founders. Being a founder is a very lonely experience and there's a lot going on, so having a co-founder who can watch your back is really helpful.
- Three. Judges find it hard probably to really rank charisma on a sheet of paper. But charisma is really important when you're a founder. Like you have to be a person that people see themselves in you, [00:32:00] like you are a person of the people. You inspire them, they want to hang out with you, they want to be your friend. They wanna support you and help get you to the next level. You have to build a business that people wanna rally behind.
[00:32:15] Andrea: Every episode of this miniseries has important lessons learned and takeaways, so make sure to go back and give them all a listen. And if you want to continue this journey of learning and leveling up, make sure to subscribe and stay up to date with our regular This is Small Business episodes.
And with that, we’d love to hear your stories wherever you are in your journey. Whether you're about to start your own business, in the process of it, or maybe even getting ready to pitch your business in a pitch competition. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!
[00:33:00] If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
This is Small Business: Next Generation is brought to you by Amazon with technical and story production by JAR Audio. I’m one of your hosts, Andrea Marquez –
Mitch: And I'm your co-host, Mitch Gilbert.
Andrea: Hasta luego and thanks for listening! [00:33:36]
Next Generation: We Win Some, We Lose Some
Learn about standing out to potential investors.
In Episode 7 of "This is Small Business: Next Generation," hosts Andrea Marquez and Mitch Gilbert bring you to the thrilling final day of the Rice Business Plan Competition. As anticipation reaches its peak, they reveal the teams that have advanced beyond the semi-finals and emerged as winners. Andrea and Mitch also highlight all the improvements made by each team within this short timeframe and engage in conversations with the teams that won and lost to uncover the invaluable lessons learned and what they plan on doing differently in future pitch competitions. Were they disheartened by the outcome? Relieved that the competition is over? Most importantly, did any of our teams win the grand prize? And remember the 60 second elevator pitches at the start of the competition? – did any of our teams win that? Join Andrea and Mitch as they answer all these questions and offer key takeaways from each team's unique journey and some advice on navigating the challenges of dealing with loss.
[00:00:00] Alex: There is no path. And so it's gonna be a kind of somewhat terrifying adventure at every step.
Sloane: I think I could have brought a little bit more energy in the pitch today,
Bilal: I feel happy, you know, for it to be complete now, you know, there's nothing left that I could have done. We gave it our all, so.
[00:00:20] Andrea: Hi, and welcome to “This is Small Business: NEXT Generation” - a miniseries brought to you by Amazon, where we follow 4 student teams behind the scenes throughout the Rice University Business Plan Competition. You’ll hear all about their challenges, hopes, and fears as they prepare to pitch. And by the end of every episode, we’ll be pointing out key takeaways that will help you wherever you are on your business journey. I’m one of your hosts – Andrea Marquez.
[00:00:46] Mitch: And I'm your co-host Mitch Gilbert, co-founder of Oya Femtech Apparel, and ex-Rice business plan, competition competitor, and winner.
[00:00:53] Andrea: We’ve made it to the final day of the Rice Business Plan Competition. Today we’ll be finding out who made it past the semi-finals [00:01:00] and who won the finals, so we’ve got a lot to cover. But first, let's recap what went down so far.
[00:01:09] Mitch: So on the last episode, we found out that DIA and Active Surfaces are gonna go on to compete in the semi-finals and Active Surfaces stumbled upon a high school friend of theirs with a business called Tierra Climate that's also competing in the semi-finals. So a lot of things, and also sadness because not everyone advances to the semifinals.
[00:01:28] Andrea: But Unchained and Outmore Living still have a chance to win the finals because everyone who didn’t make it to the semi-finals gets to compete in a wildcard round. The winner of that round goes on to compete in the finals.
[00:01:42] Mitch: So, Andrea, I know you watched the semi-finals and wild card round pitches. Wanna give us a little rundown on how our teams did?
[00:01:48] Andrea: Of course! One thing that I noticed and that we also talked about in previous episodes is that some of our teams actually showcased their product. Active surfaces did that with their product and one of the judges said that they were impressed when they showed their four inch by four inch square. [00:02:00] And Outmore Living showcased their product as well. Here we are in the room during their pitch. As a reminder, some of the audio is LIVE and on the go in auditoriums or pitch classrooms so excuse some of the audio.
[00:02:16] Alex: I'll direct your attention as Kevin moves over to the left so you guys can see the actual chair. He'll walk you through it. But we set out to design the world's most comfortable outdoor living experience. And the mental model we use is your car seat heaters in premium heated outdoor furniture. So what Kevin's holding there is what we call the power bar. This is a 3D printed prototype.
[00:02:37] Mitch: You have to showcase your product live, especially if it is some sort of physical good, whether that be food, fashion and the case of Active Surfaces, solar panels. I actually see some founders who are very technical. Like their products are like softwares. Sometimes they lose investors because investors don't know what they're talking about. [00:03:00] So the more that you can actually make your solution practical and in their face, the easier it will be for investors to understand where you're coming from. And I would say even if you don't have a physical good, I would say you need to have examples of like your user interface on the screen or like if you have an app, like what does it look like for someone to use your app, because that sets you apart from the competition who may only be an idea. Is there anything else that stood out to you, Andrea?
[00:03:30] Andrea: Yeah, DIA didn't get any comments on their presentation skills, and I noticed that they incorporated a lot of what the judges previously talked about into the presentation like how they plan on getting their product approved by the FDA and how long that process is expected to be. There was still some confusion on the actual product though. Here’s an interaction with one of the judges and Sloane during feedback.
[00:03:55] Judge: So you're selling a service or a device? If you're selling a device, is it reusable or is it a good. It's consumable.
Sloane: This device is reusable. This is a single use strip. For the saliva, [00:04:00] because it's a much larger quantity of sample. For the wearable, we've extended the lifetime of the electrode to about two weeks.
[00:04:10] Mitch: Clear and concise. Okay, and what about Unchained?
[00:04:15] Andrea: Unchained was great, but unfortunately....
[00:04:20] Bilal: We didn't get through our full presentation in time versus yesterday. We actually made it. We got through our full presentation, but we still didn't make it through semifinals. But the feedback that we received from judges this time was good. But we also have to see what, what came into an account of like the point system. So we feel good about what we presented today. We just ran out of our time. So that's, that's, that's the only, I guess, downside. But like we presented, well, we felt like we got our point across.
[00:04:45] Mitch: Sometimes you wanna implement all the feedback you're given, which results in a longer presentation, which might have been the case here, but I think that that longer it going over was more of a symptom of them not having a strong advisor in the first place. So had they were able to meet with an advisor before their pitch, [00:05:00] they would've gotten a lot of the feedback they already had gotten. So it's easier in each round if you can kind of trench the feedback so that way you can really digest it and get it together. That's why before every pitch I did, I would always try and meet with people or former judges in those pitch competitions, or just ask people who were involved to give me feedback.
[00:05:30] Andrea: Yea, having an advisor definitely help as you’ve talked to us about in your own experience. So up next is the moment of truth… we’ll get to hear who made it to the finals. But first a quick message!
[00:05:45] HOST (Andrea): You're listening to This is Small Business Next Generation, brought to you by Amazon. I’m one of your hosts, Andrea Marquez, and along with Mitch Gilbert, we’re introducing you to the world of business plan competitions and learning about how to best pitch your business in a way that attracts investment, in the case of the Rice Business Plan Competition, teams are competing to win up to $350K towards their small business startups.
[00:06:00] Did you know that nearly 60% of products sold in Amazon's store are from independent sellers - most of which are small and medium-sized businesses? If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or an early-stage small business owner, there are many resources that Amazon offers to help you succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business Next Generation content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
[00:06:50] Andrea: We’re back… now let’s hear who made it to the finals… drumroll please!
[00:07:00] Presenter: The first of the seven companies to present the finals is Tierra Climate.
The second of the companies that will present in the finals is Zaymo.
The third presenter is Sygne Solutions.
So the fourth company that we'll present this afternoon is FluxWorks.
The fifth team is Pathways.
The six team that will present is Boston Quantum.
The final presenter is at Atma Leather.
[00:07:35] Andrea: Okay so...none of our teams made it as the final 7, but fear not, this does not mean our teams can’t win some of the many awards presented during the awards ceremony. And we did hear a familiar name in that list of finalists: Tierra Climate. On our previous episode, we found out that one of the founders of Tierra Climate went to high school with Shiv from Active Surfaces. And getting to talk to both of them was great. Given their background, we wanted to check in with both teams to see how they feel about the results.
[00:08:00] Shiv: We put our best foot forward in the semi, so I'm sad we didn't make it, but I think it's like good note to end on. I think at that point it's just, uh, the balls fall where they fall. But I'm optimistic that we can keep moving forward.
[00:08:16] Khalid: Yeah, definitely disappointed, but excited to keep building.
[00:08:18] Shiv: During the first feedback session, one of the judges came up to us and said, I own commercial buildings. It builds DFW and Houston, and I can't put solar on it today. How can we work together? So I think having people like that, that actually own assets that want to work with us kind of validates our idea and also builds potential future partnerships. So I think that's what I'm excited about, working with people like that.
[00:08:37] Andrea @ RBPC: How do you feel about the finalists? One being someone we know?
[00:08:40] Shiv: I think Tierra Climate for sure deserves to be there. It's nice to see our friends and family make it all the way up.
[00:08:48] Andrea: On our last episode, we introduced you to Jacob Mansfield the CEO and one of the co-founders of Tierra Climate. After finalists were announced, I managed to talk to his co-founder Emma as well.
[00:09:00] Emma: My name's Emma Konet. I'm co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate.
[00:09:00] Andrea @ RBPC: How do you feel right now?
[00:09:02] Emma: We're just really grateful for the opportunity to be here. To be at my home turf representing Rice and honestly, just meeting all these amazing people are so smart and like, so driven and I feel like we've made friends here, so it's been really great to be here.
[00:09:15] Jacob: I felt like kind of a weight has been lifted off. Yeah. I think throughout this whole process we have a fairly esoteric problem and solution. And so I'm glad that it resonated with some people here and hopefully they see the, the gravity of our vision. But I think something that actually Shiv told me a couple days ago was regardless of really the outcome of this, you know, the, the strength of your own business and you know, you know what you're gonna build well beyond this competition regardless of if you're in the finals or whether or not, you don't even make it through the prelims.
[00:09:44] Andrea: That’s a nice moment to have among friends. Next, we checked in with our second semi-finalist: DIA.
[00:09:50] Andrea @ RBPC: What are things that you think you'll be doing differently moving forward?
[00:09:52] Sloane: I think I could have brought a little bit more energy in the pitch today, which is always, you know, something that I can work on whenever pitching. But other than that, we, we have a strong company and I don't, I don't think we need to change all that much other than just, you know, continuing to work.
[00:10:00] Andrea: Even though they didn’t make it to finals, I love hearing the confidence in their vision. We also checked in with Unchained and Outmore Living after finalists were announced. They both participated in the wildcard round where they had to pitch again for a chance to be one of the finalists, but did not make it either. This is Bilal from Unchained.
[00:10:26] Bilal: I feel happy for it to be complete now. There's nothing left that I could have done. So I feel like I, I gave it my all. So like, I feel like I was just waiting for, you know, that final decision and, or the resolution to, you know, to the end of the competition. I'm still hopeful for like, the banquet. Cause I, I was able to connect with a lot of outside people, like venture funds and different things like that, that were really interested in what we were doing. And you know, there's a couple of other prizes that we saw that we qualified for. So we still have high hopes but glad to have competed, participated, and you know, we gave it our all.
[00:11:00] Andrea: And lastly, this is what Alex from Outmore Living had to say. At this point, Kevin was on a flight to Paris to celebrate his honeymoon.
[00:11:05] Alex: We're leaving this feeling like super motivated. We had some really good feedback, some things to think about, we're kind of, not pivoting, but we're moving a couple things that we had further on the roadmap, we're bringing them forward based off of all the feedback we've gotten from everyone. So we have this entire ecosystem of products we want to build, and it's more like reshuffling what we're gonna build when, bringing this forward so that, I mean, that's invaluable. Like, that's that's amazing.
[00:11:35] Andrea @ RBPC: Is there anything that you would've done differently?
[00:11:38] Alex: You can't only look back and like, oh, what could have been? So, no, I don't, Kevin, and I don't have any regrets. I mean, it's, it's honestly been such a great exercise to like force us to really, really, really dig deep and really work out our business plan in a way that wasn't as complete before that. So no, absolutely not. Just the act of preparing for this itself is worth it.
[00:12:00] Andrea: So, a reminder that, just because our teams have been eliminated doesn't mean they're going home with no money. Some teams have the opportunity to win other prizes even if they don’t make it to the final round or win the grand prize, so there’s still hope for our teams. Okay, since we know a little bit about who Tierra Climate is, I think it's only fair that we introduce some of the other finalists. I had a chance to check in with them before they gave their final pitch right outside the auditorium. I had a bit more time with some than others. Here's a quick intro to Zaymo:
[00:12:30] Zaymo: My name's Danny. We do interactive emails for e-commerce stores called Zaymo. Hey, and I am Santi. And I'm Chris. We are stoked. Very, very excited.
Andrea: Next is Pathways:
Leise - Pathways: I'm Leise.
Kritika - Pathways: I'm Kritika,
Alex - Pathways: and I'm Alex.
Leise - Pathways: We're building software for architects and real estate developers that help them reduce the carbon of the materials they use in new constructions and retrofits.
Andrea @ RBPC: How do you feel right now as one of the finalists?
[00:13:00] Kritika - Pathways: Oh, oh, it's overwhelming, but I have confidence in our team and I'm sure that we'll bring it home.
Alex - Pathways: Yeah, it's really exciting. I mean, throughout this weekend, you know, they started at the beginning of it saying, you're gonna get a lot of feedback. It's going to be an opportunity to learn and grow. And I admittedly was like, okay. But it's been kind of crazy over the last 48 hours how our pitch has really evolved to reflect that. And I think we're way stronger than we walked in. And I'm excited to see what we're able to do this afternoon.
Kritika - Pathways: This is my passion and I've been building it for a very long time, researching on the subject for a very long time. I can't wait to get our hands on some amount of money so we can actually implement what our vision is.
Andrea: And next is Sygne Solutions.
Dana - Sygne Solutions: I'm Dana Vazquez, the Chief commercial officer and co-founder at Sygne Solutions where we forever eliminate forever chemicals.
Subash - Sygne Solutions: Subash Kannan, CEO and co-founder of Sygne Solutions We are disruptive, scalable, and serve noble cost. Very investor grade at this point. Honored, happy that the message is resonating through, especially the problem statement, what we are having. So it's a big noble cause. So it's a great disruptive product. So we are honored.
[00:14:00] Andrea: Now let's check in with the Wildcard round winner, Atma Leather.
Jinali Mody - Atma Leather: Hi, I'm Jinali. I'm the founder of Atma Leather. We're a material science company that is creating a plant-based leather alternative from banana crop waste. We feel great. We're very, very excited. We definitely have gone through a lot of ups and downs in the last two days, we didn't make it through to the semis and then we did the wildcard and we got through the wildcard. So it’s been a lot of learning, a lot of feedback, a lot of great people that have helped us get here. So everything's changed since round one, most of our slides, how we pitch, what we pitch, the order of what we do, everything has, has gone through a lot of changes. And so, we're happy to say that the feedback really, really paid off. The future goal is to scale this material, so we're excited to get there.
[00:14:50] Andrea: We're getting so close to figuring out who's winning that grand prize, but first remember when we said that some teams can win awards even if they don't make it to the finals? Well one of our teams was awarded a nice chunk of money. You’re about to hear the moment in the final banquet where they announce it. At this point in time we’re all in a huge room at a hotel where there’s endless of rows of tables full of competitors, judges, investors, organizers, volunteers, and more. This is a presenter from the New York Climate Ventures.
[00:15:20] Presenter: New York Climate Ventures is pleased to be here and, helping with the Rice Business Planning competition with Prize. Uh, we invest in early-stage companies with a focus on decarbonization. There were a number of companies that were deserving of this prize here tonight. And in a world where you're working toward decarbonizing everything and electrifying everything you need all of the above approach. Our winner this year is Active Surfaces from MIT.
[00:15:50] Andrea: Active Surfaces won 25,000 dollars from the New Climate Ventures Sustainable Investment Prize. And that's not all, remember that elevator pitch competition that happened on the first day? [00:16:00] Well, there were separate winners for several categories and there was some good news for Active surfaces there as well.
[00:16:10] Speaker: in the energy of clean tech sustainability category. The winner is active surfaces from MIT.
[00:16:15] Andrea: Sooo that's another 500 dollars from the elevator pitch competition. So they did leave with some money from the competition. And even though our teams didn’t make it to the first three spots, let’s hear who did. In third place, with an award of 50K dollars…
Speaker: So without further ado, the third-place team winner is Zaymo.
Andrea: And the second-place overall winner who gets to leave with 100,000 dollars is...
Speaker: Sygne's Solutions from Rice University.
Andrea: And finally for the grand prize of $350K...
Speaker: The winner of the grand prize is Fluxworks from Texas A&M.
[00:17:00] Bryton Praslicka: My name is Bryton Praslicka PhD as of two days ago. And my business name is FluxWorks. I don't know if for certain we can say that we're the best team with the best technology, but I can say for certain we're the most grateful team. just wanna thank, like, the Lord, thank our mentors and I'm just thrilled I can say that and, um, how we currently feel. It rhymes with schmo, overwhelmed.
[00:17:25] Andrea: WOW. Since I was there in person, I can tell you the energy was wild. People flocking to the winners as if it where the end of the Super Bowl. Mitch, you were a finalist in the past. Do you remember how that felt for you?
[00:17:38] Mitch: I was surprised, but also focused. I had a whole strategy, man. I had an, email chain, people were connected on the email chain. I was emailing my professors and like my advisors and like moving forward every round. So we had a whole team. It was a team effort, so it's probably not a surprise that we advanced to the finals, but at the time I was like, okay, this was a surprise and I felt nice, but then I was like, oh my gosh, I have so much work to do.
[00:18:00] Andrea: And of course, we checked in with our very own Active Surfaces after the awards ceremony since they also won a few prizes tonight.
[00:18:12] Shiv: We came here because we cared about climate change. And winning the one climate associated prize makes me feel that people that care about our sector care about us.
[00:18:22] Richard: Out of all the ones that we won in terms of the sponsored prizes, that's the one that I'm glad we won the most because it's actually a climate venture capital firm validating our technology, right? It hits more from a more validation standpoint of someone who like looks at climate every day, uh, and then it's like, we believe in you and we'll sponsor that. So I'm happy about that, definitely. And, and we actually, out of all the, the sponsored people, we talk to them the most throughout this competition as well. I think we got the most progress for our business in four days than we've had in general, just, just because of the density and the amount of like people who've contributed to like, helping us improve.
[00:19:00] Andrea: And Active Surfaces actually had another pitch competition that they were going to only two days right after the Rice Business Plan Competition was over.
[00:19:08] Shiv: I feel even more ready than I would've been otherwise. All the feedback is helping us polish that deck too.
[00:19:13] Andrea: What a day Mitch, I kinda want to join a pitch competition now because, it looks super stressful, but also very rewarding and even… fun.
[00:19:22] Mitch: Yeah, I would say that to be good at a pitch competition, you need to watch how other competitors competed and the ones that won what they did differently than others. I would also say practice, practice, practice. Practice with people who do not care about your vertical. Practice with people who don't like you. Practice with people who are racist. Practice with people who are sexist. Practice with people who love you. Practice with people who understand your vertical or what the problem that is that you're trying to solve, and then I would say practice with an actual venture capitalist who cares about you, even though you may be underrepresented, and I think that will really help take you to the next level.
[00:20:00] Andrea: That is definitely something important. And we’ve got one more episode left where we’ll be checking in with some of the judges from the competition a few weeks after the competition to dig into why the teams that won, won and why our teams didn’t make it to the finals.
[00:20:16] Mitch: We’ll also check in with our four teams, like what are they up to? How are their businesses doing? I'm so excited to hear all about it.
[00:20:22] Andrea: With that, we’ve been on a long learning journey here, so let’s go through our key takeaways. And even though our teams didn’t place in the top 7, this doesn’t mean we didn’t learn super beneficial lessons that anyone can use on their journey. Like:
- Mitch: 1. Find the right investor. So, there's a difference between angel investors and venture capital, and both of those groups have different verticals that they invest in and they invest differently. So finding the right investors is super important.
- Andrea: Two. Be open to judge feedback and try to implement what works and what you can speak to confidently into the presentation, [00:21:00] but also pick and choose wisely or you can run the risk of not finishing on time like Unchained in their final wildcard round.
- Mitch: Three. If you won, understand why. If you lost, understand why. Look at other pitches, ask questions. Figure out where the weaknesses are and adjust accordingly. Aside from money, that is what these competitions are for, is to really improve your business model. I would also say look for other judges who could help you and explain like how you can improve your pitch.
[00:21:30] Andrea: On the next episode, we’ll be digging into some of the “WHYs” behind the results of our teams. So make sure to give it a listen to get a full view of what you can do to prepare your business.
[00:21:40] Mitch: Sometimes it's about the competition itself and not your business. Like it's really not even personal.
[00:21:45] Andrea: Yea! Like, remember that competition we told you about that Active Surfaces had to go to two days after Rice? Well… they won FIRST PLACE.
[00:21:55] Mitch: Crazy. So keep that in mind that every competition is different. Every judging group is different. And don't get discouraged if you don't win. [00:22:00] But then at the same time, it's okay to get a little angry. Let that fuel burn your fire to do better. This is a very cutthroat audience and I think, again, know who you're pitching to. It's not even getting discouraged or frustrated. It's being intentional about knowing your audience.
[00:22:20] Andrea: We’d love to hear your stories wherever you are in your journey. Whether you're about to start your own business, in the process of it, or maybe even getting ready to pitch your business in a pitch competition. Reach out to us at email@example.com to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!
This is Small Business: Next Generation is brought to you by Amazon with technical and story production by JAR Audio. I’m one of your hosts, Andrea Marquez –
Mitch: And I'm Mitch Gilbert.
Andrea: Hasta luego and thanks for listening! [00:23:24]
Next Generation: The First Eliminations
Learn about articulating risks and opportunities.
In Episode 6 of "This is Small Business: Next Generation," hosts Andrea Marquez and Mitch Gilbert guide you through the first round of eliminations at the Rice Business Plan Competition where the teams compete for a spot in the semi-finals. As the pressure intensifies, each team strives to make significant improvements in order to stand a better chance of winning. They work tirelessly, tweaking their strategies, and refining and honing their pitches to perfection. It's a race against time as they push themselves to the limits. Andrea and Mitch also talk to Dean Peter Rodriguez to uncover some important insights when it comes to pitching at the Rice Business Plan Competition like the importance of navigating stress in an entrepreneur's life, and articulating risks and opportunities in your pitch. By the end of this episode you’ll find out who’ll make it to semi-finals and what’ll happen to the teams that get left behind. Join Andrea and Mitch as they point out all the key takeaways and learnings from our teams that’ll give you a leg up at any pitch competition you try to compete in.
[00:00:00] Alex: It's a rollercoaster of emotions.
Julio: What if I am wrong? What if I miss something?
Sloane: Nobody knows my business better than I do, and I'm allowed to be there and I I should be taking up space in that room.
Richard: Nobody else was doing it right. I think that's the big thing that really pushed me to do it
Alex: I believe to the core that we're gonna be a successful billion-dollar company.
Shiv: And I think that's why we wanna win.
Peter: It's a very courageous act to do. It takes a lot of guts. It's a good thing. And they're, they're overcoming a lot out there.
Andrea: Hi, and welcome to This is Small Business: NEXT Generation - a miniseries brought to you by Amazon, where we follow 4 student teams behind the scenes throughout the Rice University Business Plan Competition. You’ll hear all about their challenges, hopes, and fears as they prepare to pitch. And by the end of every episode, we’ll be pointing out key takeaways that will help you wherever you are on your business journey. I’m one of your hosts – Andrea Marquez.
[00:01:00] Mitch: And I'm your co-host Mitch Gilbert, co-founder of Oya Femtech Apparel and an ex-rice business plan competition competitor.
[00:01:05] Andrea: We’ve made it through day one of the competition and I think it’s safe to say that the feedback from the first day was helpful, but it was also…
[00:01:15] Mitch: Brutally honest, and it's hard because venture capitalists are not nice people. At the same time, though, it was very detailed, which is really what a lot of the founders needed.
[00:01:27] Andrea: Yeah, but at least we made it to the second day, where the teams will get to go through the first round of pitching and find out if they’ll be making it to the semi-finals. We’ll also be hearing from other competitors.
[00:01:38] Mitch: But first we'll go check in with our teams after they go through their first round of pitching, which consists of a 15-minute pitch and then a 15-minute q and a with the judges, and then a 15-minute feedback round, which sounds stressful.
[00:01:52] Andrea: It certainly does. And after that, you’ll get to know who’s actually going to make it through to the semi-final round and how they feel after the announcements. [00:02:00] But first, we sat down with Peter Rodriguez, the Dean of the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, to hear some of his thoughts about the Rice Business Plan competition:
[00:02:13] Peter: I think it got started just because we had some entrepreneurial faculty who thought they would teach the business of launching a business. I think business schools so much focuses on leading a business or being in an existing business, but the act of starting a business is really different. It's, it's going it alone. It's being a founder, it's taking a leap that's much harder, and that's not an easy thing to teach. And so getting people over that hump, actually encouraging them to take what they know and really test it from the get-go, go from zero to one as they say was a grill gap and they wanted to close the gap. So they got started. And little by little, like all good things, they found collaborators, people who wanted the same, and it really blossomed.
Andrea @ RBPC: Why do you think as a business owner, someone, especially an early-stage business owner, [00:03:00] should try to be part of this competition?
[00:03:05] Peter: It's the learning environment, which I think is both frightening. I mean, it's a competition. It's really like the NCAA Tournament of Business startup competitions, and so you feel that pressure and if you're a business owner or a founder, pressure needs to bring out the best in you. You need to find a way to get the nerves down and just be who you are. So much of what you see out there, brilliant people. You have PhDs, brilliant minds. They don't still have the courage to sort of speak it. This is what I'm about, this is what I'm trying to do. No one's done it before, they haven't done it this well, but I'm going to do it. That, that's gutsy.
And then you have people on the other side who are really there to sort of, you know, engage in the old steel sharpened steel process and say, well, is that really a good idea? How good is it? What about this did you think about? And the more you go through that, you know, the more you get bruised a little bit, the stronger you become. [00:04:00] And by the end you find a couple of firms that are like, this is ready to go. You're gonna go out there and crush it.
Mitch @ RBPC: I've been in pitch competitions where judges can be very biased, and it's just like conversations in the back room and there are almost no checks and balances to help make it more equitable. Whereas these teams, like every round, I felt like my business got so much better between the first round to the end of the competition. Whereas I've been in competitions where there were no female judges. Regardless of whether I had followed the rubric, they weren't actually really judging me against the rubric, and so being here and seeing judges following rubrics, like, I, I just think that's commendable. I don't know what the answer to the problem is, but seeing it from this side has been cool.
[00:04:44] Peter: A lot of what the deficit is for underrepresented groups is, if you've never talked to an investor before, you don't know how they think. And what you really wanna learn is what are they really thinking? You think they might be wondering about the product or the idea. They're really thinking things like, can I make money off of that? [00:05:00] What would it take? How far away are you? How do you deal with this number one risk. And if you can get to that in about four or five minutes, you can cut out a lot of pieces. And you're so much more compelling that way. It's also important to know you don't have to have every problem solved. Most of them are thinking, well, if we can solve 70% of the problems, I think I can figure out what we can do on the remaining 30 and we can coach through that because they know from experience nobody has a hundred percent of the problem solved. You'd be in business right now so they know they've got work to do, but it's that experience and if they don't give you good detailed feedback. If they don't give you insight into what was going on in their mind when they were judging you, then you really haven't gained from it.
We do a survey to ask the pitching teams, how many people did you meet, who you think could help you in the future. And one of our metrics is, can we make that number go up so that every team comes out and can say at least seven people I met. [00:06:00] Can help me make my business better in the future. Because the worst thing we could have is that students and their teams come here and they think, yeah, that didn't really help me, that didn't advance. We're learning a little bit every year, and I just came back from a lunch. We had about 40 of the advisors from the different universities so that we always get together and talk about what's working, what's not working, how do we make it better, and, we're not really that competitive. We try to steal ideas from each other to make our competitions better. And our goal is just to stay, you know the best or as best as we can be.
[00:06:30] Andrea: And with that, let's get into how our contestants feel after the first round of pitching, starting with DIA.
Mitch @ RBPC: So between yesterday and today, do you feel like your business got better?
[00:06:42] Sloane: I feel like our communication specifically about our business got better. I think that especially as a female CEO, you have to run a very thin line between being approachable and being relatable. And being strong. And I think that I was able to grow as a leader [00:07:00] in walking that line. But also being able to go in there and say that these judges are all extremely smart. But, they spend a few hours with my business and their opinions are valuable, but nobody knows my business better than I do, and I'm allowed to be there and I I should be taking up space in that room.
[00:07:20] Julio: Just sitting down with Sloan made the difference just where we could have improved what she needed from me cuz honestly, I botched a lot of it. I took responsibility and she took responsibility for trying to make me fit into another mold and we just reworked the whole thing together as a team and that allowed us, plus the sleep, to do a great pitch. I really think it was as good as it could be. I'm so proud of Sloan. She, she took all the questions. It was amazing.
Mitch @ RBPC: So how are you feeling about this afternoon?
[00:07:50] Sloane: I'm feeling excited. Yeah. I feel like it's another chance for Julio and I to, to grow, improve our business again. And I feel like you, you have to, especially as a startup founder, you're never gonna be perfect. [00:08:00] Yeah. So you have to have an attitude of constant improvement. And you know, it's like you're not gonna nail every single workout, but like the workouts that you don't nail, they still make you stronger. It's been a really wonderful competition and I feel like the partners that Rice has brought in and the level of how they do things here is something I've never seen before.
[00:08:18] Andrea: That’s awesome to hear. Sounds like they’re feeling pretty good. Let’s check in with Outmore Living.
[00:08:25] Kevin: Yeah. So some of the feedback we got yesterday was that we waited too long to bring the product into the actual pitch and presentation. So the biggest change that Alex and I made as we headed into today was we brought that up to the front. So we kicked it off with the problem and then brought in the solution, explained the product, and then kind of got into how we got there, the past, present, and future. And so that was a shift and honestly, Alex and I only practiced it a couple times going into today, so we were very happy with how it ended up going.
[00:08:52] Alex: We changed no content. All I said to him was, dude, let's just think mental thoughts before. Concise and deliberate. Concise and deliberate, concise and deliberate. [00:09:00] And then we ran it again, and we somehow knocked three minutes off of the presentation with changing no content, just from having like that concise and deliberate mindset going into it ended up in three minutes and a better presentation.
Andrea @ RBPC: What are some of the things that were the hardest for your team to work on when it came to pitching your idea?
[00:09:00] Alex: Yeah. It's a combination of wanting to display and showcase how deeply we understand the technology, the go-to-market strategy, who are we gonna sell it to, how are we gonna sell it, but not burying that in a pile of details to the point where it becomes uncon consumable. And Kevin and I could get up there and I think if we were asked to talk as long as we can, we'd be well over an hour about Outmore, incredibly detailed, right? We can get down to very specific things. So I think it's taking what Kevin and I know, [00:10:00] and then presenting it in the right balance of detail to show that we're, we know what we're talking about, we're the right team to go solve it. But at a high enough level that the person who's never experienced it before can understand it, comprehend it, not get lost from slide to slide, and then ultimately walk away seeing the same vision that Kevin and I have every day. So it's a, it's, it's striking that right balance.
Andrea @ RBPC: How do you feel about the semi-finals coming up?
[00:10:30] Kevin: I feel excited, going into the elevator pitch, that was probably my most nervous feeling. You have nothing behind you. You have a minute, and you have to be perfect. When you have the actual pitches, you don't have to be perfect. You can kind of explain your way through a slide. And so, even going in today, I was way less nervous. And then as we think about finding out if we make the semi-finals, I'm more excited than anything else. If we get it, we'll be extremely excited. But if we don't, we also know we lost to some great teams. [00:11:00] So, at this point, it's just really excitement.
Andrea @ RBPC: Why do you think you should win?
[00:11:05] Alex: There is a reason why I am with a wife and three kids going all in on this idea. For some people that is a, a terrifying proposition, but from the moment I heard, Kevin and I talk about, I wish our seats were heated. This idea has captivated me. I've tried to run away from it. At first, I was like, okay, yeah, surely this exists. And then it continued to follow with me, I believe to the deepest core that we are sitting on a billion-dollar idea to the size of another Austin Company of Yeti, and, and I believe we are the most investible idea here. And Kevin and I will, with a combination of our team, our characteristics, our personalities, resilience, the idea that we have, [00:12:00] and our ability to humble ourselves and say, look, this is our best idea. If the market doesn't like it, we're gonna adapt. Take that approach. I, I believe to the core that we're gonna be a successful billion-dollar company.
[00:12:15] Andrea: And now let's check in with Unchained:
[00:12:18] Bilal: So far the competition has been like amazing. Being an entrepreneur is a journey that not many understand. And typically like, you being an entrepreneur, you're an anomaly in the general sense of like the world. But then when you come to spaces like this where everyone's an entrepreneur, everyone's working on something, everybody around understands the struggles of an entrepreneur. You kind of feel at home. So I feel like the main thing this competition has done has provided a home for, you know, innovators. And that's the main takeaway so far is like, this is a home for people who think like me and working towards things that, that I'm working towards.
Mitch @ RBPC: You're coming off of a high, so you just had your pitch How you feeling?
[00:12:56] Bilal: I feel great. You know, I feel amazing. You know, I feel like LeBron after Game seven right now, [00:13:00] but game seven is tomorrow, so, you know, we'll, stay tuned for that, you know what I'm saying? But honestly, coming off of yesterday, so we had a practice pitch round where we received a lot of good feedback. That feedback kind of shaped how I went into my 60 second pitch at the end of the day. And after that 60 second pitch, a lot of people came up to me, whether that be investors or judges. They resonated with the problem solving and the work we were doing. me and the team last night, we stayed up late. We, you know, worked out the kinks and then today, today, like we went room and we presented what was true to us, and we just let the slides be the evidence. You know, we wanted to really captivate the audience to let them know that like we were the ones who are uniquely built solve this problem because we this issue and we're currently working every day and making our life's work to actually get this done.
Mitch @ RBPC: How would you say your perspective changed between yesterday and today?
[00:13:52] Bilal: Prior to this, I've been like traveling to different conferences, speaking to HR leaders about our product and pitching it. And so after pitching something so repetitively, [00:14:00] it's hard to really find your faults or where you're overdoing things because you're used to doing it in a certain way and so what yesterday did for me was like, put me in an uncomfortable situation. So yesterday taught me to focus on the delivery and let the work speak for itself and I don't have to overexplain the and so today that's how I went into it. It's like, make sure anybody in the room can understand what exactly doing and let them read slides and ask the questions afterwards instead of trying to oversell what I had on screen.
Mitch @ RBPC: As a fellow founder of color, we don't typically get to operate in these spaces. Sometimes people judge us before we even get feedback. Like the idea is there, the passion is there. The intelligence there is all those things. But like because we weren't raised amongst certain types of investors or to see the way that they communicate or they think, we don't always get the benefit of the doubt. And so when I saw that you were able to hear that and then evolve, it makes me really happy that you were able to grow in that moment, because that is entrepreneurship. [00:15:00] So what are you most looking forward about tomorrow?
[00:15:05] Bilal: Besides winning, really just, I feel like this competition for us, like especially where we are in our journey, is just like a milestone of independence in our journey. You know, we've worked this hard to get this far. And we finally got the opportunity we're looking for, for funding and the only thing standing in the way is our performance and our ability, which I feel like our team has prepared for. So really, I'm excited about the opportunity to perform.
[00:15:27] Andrea: And finally, here’s Active surfaces:
[00:15:30] Shiv: We got some really good feedback from the judges yesterday and we wanted to maintain the story flow, but we wanted to capture some of the feedback they got about: where we are today, what differentiates our IP, what does our technology look like in practice? So we added some visuals, added some numbers, and I think it really answered a lot of the questions during the q and a today.
Mitch @ RBPC: So what were some key learnings as a pitcher that you had from yesterday that you were able to apply today?
[00:15:57] Khalid: I'm Khalid McCaskill and I'm with Active Services. I am working on customer discovery, [00:16:00] so in the market, talking to customers, hunting pain points, trying to figure out how we can make a product that people want. I think the most important thing is about regulating my breathing. You know, making sure I can deliver the message to people in the audience. I think we have a great product. think we have a great idea and have faith in the guys we're gonna execute it so just, giving out that vision and uh, having confidence in doing it. And so that's kind of what I was focused on most today.
Andrea @ RBPC: Tell me about that from your perspective, seeing your team pitching.
[00:16:30] Richard: I have, like stress, just watching them. Like both Shiv and Khalid MBAs their first year so like even just the lead up like I have a nine to five kind of doing this. And then like we do it late at night, like odd hours that it stresses me out so much. but then I also want them to really do well. And so in this competition, I think I feel kind of like a coach and maybe almost like a startup mom, like funneling them around, like setting up the presentation, making sure all the things work. [00:17:00] But today, uh, just, them doing the first round, uh, was the best I've seen the presentation. Overall, I'm very proud of the two of them. I think a lot of CTOs probably can't say this, but I don't think I needed to be up there.
Andrea @ RBPC: And how do you feel right now?
[00:17:15] Shiv: A mix of things. I'm like excited from the pitch, nervous from how it went, curious to know how, like what's gonna happen next. But overall, I think pretty content, I think we put our best foot forward.
[00:17:25] Khalid: I'm a little bit nervous, right. You always wanna advance to the next round and, uh, looking forward to feedback later today. I think we have it in about an hour. But yeah, a lot of things to work on. A lot of questions that we're gonna try to answer tomorrow and the semi-final or the wild card round, and so a lot of work to do.
[00:17:36] Andrea: I'm loving all this excitement, but it does make it difficult to try and guess who the judges might pick. Coming up next is the moment everyone's been waiting for: Who's going to make it to the semi-finals? Stay tuned.
[00:17:50] HOST (Andrea): You're listening to This is Small Business Next Generation, brought to you by Amazon. I’m one of your hosts, Andrea Marquez, and along with Mitch Gilbert, we’re introducing you [00:18:00] to the world of business plan competitions and learning about how to best pitch your business in a way that attracts investment, in the case of the Rice Business Plan Competition, teams are competing to win up to $350K towards their small business startups.
Did you know that nearly 60% of products sold in Amazon's store are from independent sellers - most of which are small and medium-sized businesses? If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or an early-stage small business owner, there are many resources that Amazon offers to help you succeed and grow. One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business Next Generation content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
[00:18:58] Andrea: And now, let’s find out which of our teams make it to the semifinals.
[00:19:00] Mitch: Drumroll please!
[00:19:07] Brad: So our first is Air Seal from Wash U in St. Louis.
Tierra Climate from right here at Rice University.
Boston Quantum from MIT
Dia, also known as E-sentience from Duke.
Arch Pet Food from the University of Chicago.
Julie: Pathways at Harvard University
Pediatric Therapeutics, University of Arkansas,
Zaymo, Brigham Young.
Last certainly not least, Active Surfaces, MIT
[00:19:52] Andrea: Dia and Active Surfaces made it through! But don't rule out Unchained and Outmore Living just yet because...
[00:20:00] Brad: Every team is still in contention and has the potential to go on to the final round tomorrow afternoon.
[00:20:07] Andrea: How? Because one team that can advance to the finals is gonna be chosen from a round called the wildcard round.
[00:20:15] Alex: I think there's 27 teams that did not advance out of their first round and tomorrow, while the semi-finals are going on there's a wild card. So there'll be seven finalists. Six teams will come from the semi-finals, and that seventh team will come from this wild card. So one of 27 teams tomorrow will rise from the ashes and come out of nowhere into the wild card round. Kevin and I will get our best shot tomorrow we see what happens.
[00:20:42] Andrea: So even though only two of the four teams we are following made it to the semi-finals. There’s still hope that Unchained and Outmore Living might make it to the finals. Here’s what Alex and Kevin from Outmore Living had to say:
[00:20:55] Alex: I mean, there's no sugar coating it. It's a, it's a huge disappointment. [00:21:00] Kevin and I thought we did well enough to move on to the semi-finals. But at the end of the day, it doesn't change what we believe in the business. We reviewed the judge's feedback and a lot of people love, loved it, right? Extremely high remarks, comments, like best concept yet. And then there were others that frankly rated us fairly low. And, and, and it's a little bit surprising we didn't expect it, of course. They had fair comments. And we find it's a lot is, is people either get it or they don't. And it's, it's kind of, it kind of splits that way. But tomorrow there's still the chance with the wild card round. We actually at the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition last December at UT, we also didn't win our bracket. We were the wild card and we went on to win the whole thing in the finals. So never say never.
[00:21:47] Kevin: I'd say I also feel a little bit disappointed. I would say, you know, Alex, I put a lot of work into this. We felt confident going into it. We think we put our best for forward. You know, all of the feedback we've gotten over the past year and a half, [00:22:00] we've analyzed it. We've figured out is that the right path forward? And we chose our business model because we think we have the best one. That being said, it's, it's good feedback. It's good to hear, but when you have a split amount of feedback where, you know, half the judges are saying, this is great, and then half are saying that they don't like it for a certain reason. You kind of have to follow your gut and at the end of the day, we're at a point where we're getting ready to launch. We feel confident in our plan. And so it's just heads down from this point forward. And so, despite everything that's happened, I'm still optimistic.
[00:22:33] Alex: And I would just say, this is another example that it's a rollercoaster. Like it's, it's, it's a rollercoaster for emotions. Starting a small business, starting a startup adventure, running your own business is certainly a rollercoaster. Kevin and I, you know, luckily have co-founders cuz it, it'd be hard on your own to, to try to weather all of it, but the highs are high and the lows are low and it happens, right. So it, it definitely is one of those situations where it's not for the faint of heart.
[00:23:00] Andrea: Yeah, I'm sure going through this alone would've been a lot more difficult. Here’s what our semi-finalists had to say, starting with Sloane and Julio from Dia:
[00:23:12] Sloane: We're jazzed. I, we got some really good feedback. So you never wanna count your chickens before they hatch cuz there are a lot of strong teams, but it's, it's very, it's very different like thinking you may have a chance and then seeing it flash across the screen.
[00:23:27] Julio: Oh, it was great. You know, like, as much as you wanna say, I'm confident, I'm a hundred percent right there in the moment your stomach always, always just turns a little bit and you're like, what if I am wrong? What if I miss something? But just see the validation's fantastic.
[00:23:42] Sloane: Our feedback session ended early because people said, you, you did a really great job. We, we see it. And there, there are some, there are some things presentation wise of me trying to be a little bit louder that I think we can work on, but I think a, a good night's sleep as, as we have established, apparently I'm a person [00:24:00] that just needs a lot of sleep to function and just going into it with an open mind of let's improve on the last one. But also just gratitude for being here and having fun while doing it. Because I think today, whenever we were really just like nailing the pitch and in sync, we were having fun.
[00:24:15] Andrea: Sleep is definitely important. And here’s Shiv, Richard, and Khalid from Active Surfaces:
[00:24:22] Shiv: We're excited and we, we were on the edge of our seat cuz we were the last name to be called. So we're just there with our heart beating, just waiting until the last name, recognizing whose names are in our group or not. It was nerve-wracking.
[00:24:33] Richard: Yeah, so we went last in, in all of the, the pitches. So like, I'm mentally going through when they're announcing, I was like, were they in our section? Were they in our section? couldn't even remember, went through a few and then finally at the end, ended up with good news.
[00:24:45] Khalid: Super relieved. We made it. Can't believe they called us last.
[00:24:50] Shiv: We're just excited. We're nervous and excited all at the same time.
[00:24:55] Andrea: And wait, there's more. One of the teams that also made it to the semi-finals was....
[00:25:00] Brad: Tierra Climate from right here at Rice University.
[00:25:05] Andrea: And it turns out the CEO and founder of Tierra Climate and Shiv from Active Surfaces...
[00:25:12] Shiv: …go all the way back to high school, early debate days.
[00:25:18] Andrea: And now they're together again in this pitch competition, what a small world! Let's quickly introduce Tierra Climate and Jacob, the CEO and Founder:
[00:25:23] Jacob: I'm Jacob from Tierra Climate. Our mission is to unlock a pathway to a net zero future in the electricity sector. So we're looking to help support battery development by creating a one of a kind carbon offset product. And then also helping batteries not only make money from carbon emissions reductions, but also operationalize and improve their operations through time.
Andrea @ RBPC: Did you know that you were both gonna be here?
[00:25:45] Shiv: We found out after it was announced. I didn't know the name of your company was Tierra Climate. So I was going through to see if I knew anyone, and then randomly we, we were getting dinner and then we came out that we were both going and we were super excited about it.
[00:25:56] Jacob: Yeah, it's, it's pretty insane. we both went to a public high school in the suburbs of Houston, [00:26:00] and then I actually did my undergrad here at Rice. So it's really awesome to be back here. Shiv was actually a year younger than, than everyone. He actually skipped a grade. he's super smart and so, uh, I think we might have had maybe math or science together. And then from there we both were interested in current events and speech and debate.
And that's really where I think our friendship really blossomed, cuz we were going pre practically every weekend to some far flung high school in the Houston area, competing, giving speeches about things that most people probably don't care about. But we were just really passionate about current events, politics, and what was going on in the world, which it's cool to think that our careers are now taking a mission in line with that kind of general interest that we had early on.
[00:26:38] Shiv: And then towards the end of that debate journey, we were the only two in our high school to qualify for debate nationals. And we flew to Indianapolis, shared a hotel room, enjoyed that competition. And now, like 11 years later, we shared a hotel room here at near Rice University to compete at this business plan competition.
Andrea @ RBPC: So is there a future where you might be working together?
[00:26:55] Jacob: Potentially, yeah. I wouldn't rule it out so,
[00:27:00] Shiv: There was actually funny feedback that we got during, after my pitch, someone asked me if we deploy too much solar, then won't you like, have too much like intermittent energy on the grid. And my answer should have been one of my friends Jacob, is working on this awesome startup solving that exact problem. So it's funny that we're both solving the problem in different ways.
Andrea @ RBPC: If you both make it to the finals, you'll be competing against each other. How does that feel?
[00:27:22] Jacob: I feel pretty good about it. I mean, it's funny, I don't think we, we have ever competed before.
[00:27:28] Shiv: I'm glad that in the semis right now that we didn't compete against each other because I wanna make sure that if we do both make it, we take the top two spots.
[00:27:35] Jacob: I'm looking forward to hopefully the prospect of being in finals together. I think that'd be a really cool thing to come full circle.
[00:27:40] Shiv: It would be nice if we don't make it, at least to support Tierra climate in their journey
[00:27:45] Jacob: And active surfaces too.
[00:27:48] Andrea: That’s sweet, I loved the dynamic between these two competitors and the back story.
[00:27:52] Mitch: Yeah, having friends as a founder is so important because, no one fully understands what it's like to go through as a founder at the same time as you, [00:28:00] unless it's another founder going through similar experiences at the same time as you. And the world is big, there's a lot of money. Everybody gets to win and especially in a rice plan competition, there's like six or seven winners. So it's important to make friends out of experiences like these who you can call just to gut check if you're crazy. I did that just yesterday and it made me feel much better.
[00:28:23] Andrea: And now I'm also excited to see how Tierra Climate is gonna do in the competition and of course what's gonna happen if one of them doesn't make it to the finals.
[00:28:30] Mitch: Yeah, that's harsh. I'm not sure either, but the deeper we get into the competition, the more intense and focused it gets. So I think a lot of it is just gonna depend on how the founders handle the pressure.
[00:28:45] Andrea: Right like now Outmore Living and Unchained are competing against each other and 25 other teams to try and get a spot in the finals. And I'm curious to see if Dia, Active Surface, AND Tierra Climate make it to the finals.
[00:29:00] Mitch: And who's gonna win that grand prize of $350,000? Will it be one of our teams? I hope it is. We're praying. We're praying.
[00:29:08] Andrea: We'll find out in our next episode! So, until then here are some key takeaways from today:
- Mitch: One. We heard from one of the judges, uh, while watching our teams pitch that you don't have to have every problem solved. And that's important because, one, you're a startup, so you don't even know every problem that you're gonna encounter but for those that you don't have answers to, it's important to be honest about that. And then mention places where you could use help and therefore you allow investors opportunities to come and support you. So it's important, I think, as I mentioned before, to one, talk about your risks and what mitigation strategies you can handle, but then also opportunities where you need help and you may not fully know the answer and then your investors can come in and support you. That type of clarity [00:30:00] and communication abilities is really valued by investors.
- Andrea: Two. Pressure and stress is a normal part in entrepreneurship, but as Peter said, pressure has to bring out the best in you, especially at a pitch competition like Rice. Because you have to be ON for three days and it can be exhausting.
- Mitch: Three. It’s important to take the feedback while keeping the ball rolling. I had a really hard time just taking all the feedback and then being able to put it into a pitch just once I had to practice. So again, I was the person waking up super early in the morning with anxiety, practicing, practicing, practicing to make sure I got through all the feedback because the feedback. It's helpful, but you can't let that make you stumble when communicating with judges because remember, it's a performance, so do what you gotta do to get ready. But feedback shouldn't make you stutter or fumble the ball when you have to be on and creating a performance.
[00:31:00] Andrea: We’d love to hear your stories wherever you are in your journey. Whether you're about to start your own business, in the process of it, or maybe even getting ready to pitch your business in a pitch competition. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!
This is Small Business: Next Generation is brought to you by Amazon with technical and story production by JAR Audio. . [00:32:00] I’m one of your hosts, Andrea Marquez –
Mitch: And I'm Mitch Gilbert.
Andrea: Hasta luego and thanks for listening! [00:32:14]