CategoriesEntrepreneurship

Branding IP basics for your startup or corporate venture [free checklist]

Too often I’ve seen founders lost for words when asked by potential investors on ‘whether that trademark is still available?’. Whether you’re a startup or a corporate venture, you will need to have your brand related intellectual property sorted out. For many teams their intellectual property is their most important asset and branding properties are no different. Too many teams make mistakes in this or don’t give it the thought required. Doing your research and spending a bit of money saves you major headaches later on. This does not only help you protect your brand it will also help you find out whether you’re infringing on someone else’s brand. Follow these 5 easy steps to make sure you have the basics covered.

  1. Name your startup. Naming your startup is a science and art in its own and a topic of a future blogpost (for now try a google search). For the sake of this article I presume you’ve come up with a name within your team, tried it with a few close friends you can trust and move on to the next step.
  2. Check available domain names. A simple, fast and easy way to find out if your name is still available is to search for its domain name. If the domain name is still available chances are you can start using that name as your brand. Good places to start are NameCheap or Name.com as they allow you to search numerous extensions at the same time.
  3. Check trademark availability in relevant markets. Having a domain name available does not mean that the trademark is also available and that you can freely use that name. For this you need to do some research. Trademark registrations are organized on a geographic basis so you need to search your country’s register. All the European registers are combined so you can use this search form for Europe and this form for the US. Important to know is that a trademark is registered for a certain ‘class’ of goods or services. If someone registered your name as a trademark for pet food, chances are you can still use it for your online platform (probably as long as it is not a pet food platform). Not only search for exactly the name you have in mind but also search for similar (sounding) names. You notice that things are already becoming a bit more tricky at this step so if you have any doubts or you want more certainty on availability consult a specialised trademark lawyer, they can conduct an availability search for you as well.
  4. Register your domain names. Before you use your potential name in public or start discussing it with people that you’re not 100% sure you can fully trust, register your domain name. Registering a domain name takes a few minutes and costs less than a cheap meal so there is no excuse not to register your name for the most important and relevant extensions (such as .com, .net, .co .us, your country’s extension and the relevant other more topic based extensions such as .photography or .xyz). You are building some serious intellectual property here and it’s much cheaper to register yourself directly than later buying the domain from someone else. You can compare prices at domcomp. If your budget allows also register adjacent domain names for common typing or spelling errors (this can wait until you’ve secured funding).
  5. Have a logo designed. Sometimes it is necessary to have a logo designed to be able to register your trademark so this is a good time to commision you logo design work. Make sure that when you engage a logo designer that you agree with her that the full copyright of the design transfers ownership to you or your legal entity. Logo design, which is just a small part of the development of your brand, is also the subjects of entire books and websites and likely a future post.
  6. Register your trademark in relevant markets. Registering your trademark makes sure you have the right to use it and the ability to protect it if others infringe on your rights. It is highly recommended that you get the support of a specialised trademark lawyer but you can do it yourself if you’re strapped for cash. Having seen startups fail to obtain the trademark for the name they were using, I would recommend to do this asap (before funding) but if you can take the risk and wait until the funding is in. You can register the trademark for the Benelux, for Europe or Globally (on a country-by-country basis).
  7. Keep monitoring your trademark. After you’ve registered your trademark it’s important to monitor it frequently. This has several advantages. If you notice new applications that might infringe your registration you can prevent that trademark from being registered. And if others are using your trademark without permission you can take steps to stop them from doing so. And last but not least you can extend your registration in case the registration period ends in a certain jurisdiction.

The above 7 steps show that it’s really easy to get the branding IP basics right. It should not take you too much time and money and it will save you trouble later on. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments.

CategoriesEntrepreneurship

6 Reasons why you need a stellar elevator pitch

Elevator Pitch
(c) Shutterstock / Jacek Dudzinski

It’s a key activity for any startup founder and most accelerator programs pay a lot of attention to it… Pitching! Before the program starts I’m often asked why pitching is such an important aspect. Here are the 6 reasons why you need a stellar elevator pitch:

1. Forces you to explain your value proposition with great clarity

Building a startup is a search for a repeatable and scalable business model. The value proposition is key in this aspect. To find and attract customers you need to be able to use exactly the right words to trigger the customer or the investor that fits your business. It takes practice and validation to find the words that stick in just a minute or less. Your pitch will get better over time and that’s because you’re able to articulate more clearly what you’re doing.

2. Helps to understand your customer’s perspective

To really trigger someone, you need to be able to understand their problem better than they do themselves. In a pitch setting you’re time constrained and you only have a few seconds to grab their attention. They want to hear the rest of your story if you show them you understand them and their market so you can potentially solve their problem. Especially for technical cofounders it can be very difficult to take a customer perspective.

3. To find the people you need to make your vision a reality

A pitch is a perfect opportunity to find a new client, investor or fan. You want to get them to do something: buy your product, invest in you or open their network. Pitching is the perfect way to quickly find out if people are interested in supporting you.

Apart from your story and proposition there is one very important element in doing so: enthusiasm. You have to resonate enthusiasm to get people to become enthusiastic as well.

4. It’s efficient

A good pitch is an opportunity for someone the quickly find out whether they like the value you’re offering and decide to invest more time or not. When you’re in an accelerator and meet hundreds of new people in about 3 months, you rather spend your time with the ones that add value. A good pitch will sort this out for you (or most of it anyway).

5. Enables ambassadors to share your story in person

It’s easy to remember the most important elements of a good pitch.Team members, mentors, investors and other ambassadors in your community will spread your story for you.  Help them to do this by sharing your pitch with them and making it memorable. It will greatly enhance your chances of success.

6. Media love the pitch format

Startups and entrepreneurship are a hot topic for many online and offline media. The pitch format, whether in video or in written form is very well suited for many media formats. Having your pitch ready when talking to journalists will pay you dividends.

How to craft your pitch story and slide deck is a series of blogposts on its own but I’ll give a few pointers here. You ideally have a 1 minute, 3 minute and 8 minute version of your pitch ready. The most challenging is the 3 minute pitch as you need to go beyond the headlines and craft a story while being forced to stick to the most important aspects of the story.

Good resources for drafting your pitch are:

If I’ve missed any reasons or you have some other good resources please feel free to leave a comment.

CategoriesEntrepreneurship

How to define Startup and Scaleup

Startups and scaleups have become an important force in our economy and more and more people are involved in building, mentoring, servicing and growing them. As more people get involved they often ask me how I define a startup and a scaleup. This post is meant to help you understand what a startup and what a scaleup is. Searching the internet you will however find many more definitions.

Startup

In my opinion the definition used by Steve Blank is most appropriate: “a startups is temporary organisation formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model“. There are a few important aspects in this definition:

  • temporary organisation: this could mean a new company (as it is most commonly referred to) but this could be any group of people searching for that business model. Inside or outside an existing organisation, whether it be for profit or not for profit.
  • search: yes, you search for the business model. Existing organisations (and scaleups) execute a known business model and a startup is still searching for it. Most often this search is performed under conditions of extreme uncertainty (as Eric Ries includes in his definition of a startup). This implies you cannot use traditional business management tools to guide you through this search. However, the best startups perform this search in a disciplined way, using Eric Ries’ Lean Startup methodology or Steve Blank’s Customer Development process.
  • business model:  the business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers and captures value. In plain english: how you make money in a sustainable way.
  • repeatable and scaleable: this is key as it has to do with ambition. You’re not a startup without a big ambition and you can only grow quickly and grow big if you have a repeatable and scalable business. It is very hard to turn a hourly rate based consultancy into a big business as you need a lot of people. It’s easier to mass manufacture a product and distribute it using large and established retail channels. And it’s even easier to sell digital products online that have a close to zero marginal cost. That all has to do with a repeatable and scalable business model. Side note: I use the word easy, but in startup life nothing comes easy. Also: if you don’t want to grow big, you’re still an entrepreneur (likely building a lifestyle business) but you’re not a startup in my definition.

Scaleup

Scaleups are most commonly defined as “enterprises with average annualised growth in employees or turnover greater than 20 per cent a year over a three-year period, and with 10 or more employees at the beginning of the observation period”. This definition is also used by the OECD, Nesta, World Economic Forum, EY and Endeavour and RSM (in Dutch). The companies or entrepreneurs are also called “High Growth Enterprises” or “High Impact Entrepreneurs”. While some definitions add that a minimum revenue of € 5 million is required at the beginning of the three year period, in practice I see lower amounts before organisations transition from startup to scaleup.

The Transition, or: how the search evolves

Of course the transition from a startup to a scaleup is not black and white and you don’t become a scaleup after you’ve shown high growth for three years. To understand when organisations transform from startup to scaleup it is important to understand how the search for that repeatable and scalable business model evolves. This search consists of the following phases:

Value propostion canvas
Value Proposition Canvas

 

  1. Need validation: the first thing you need is your value proposition. Above you see the value proposition canvas. Your customer ‘needs’ are included in the circle and include the pains, the gains and the jobs they need to get done. The first step is to validate these. Normally done by interviewing your customers.
  2. Problem-solution fit: you achieve problem-solution fit if you design a value proposition that, on paper, matches the customer pains, gains and jobs sufficiently to be unique in the market. At this stage you have achieved fit if you have pre-orders or Letters of Intent (LoI) to purchase your solution. Note that there is no need yet to actually build your product at this stage (although it helps to show a prototype in some cases).
  3. Product-market fit: this phase of the search takes a while. Here you prove that there is real demand in the market and have the strongest possible evidence that your value proposition resonates with customers. They now actually pay for your product (=money in the bank). Ideally this is done before first series production starts, for example through crowdfunding.
  4. Business model fit: you have achieved business model fit if you prove that you can build a sustainable business (are profit making, or: break even in case of a not-for profit). You have figured out a supply chain that is able to scale at reasonable costs and have distribution channels that leave you sufficient margin to operate at a profit. See below the business model canvas that describes the full business model.
Business Model Canvas
Business Model Canvas

In practice I see that an organisation transitions from startup to scaleup after achieving an annual revenue of about € 2 to € 3 million. This is the amount of revenue you need to prove your business model fit.

In terms of funding, startups went through phases of bootstrapped funding, grants, early stage loans, seed funding and most often at least Series A before they achieve the status of a scaleup.

 

CategoriesEntrepreneurship

Series A funding advice

When two of the VCs I’m following refer to a blogpost at the same time it must be a good read. It’s a post about raising a series A for a fintech startup eShares and it contains some valuable advice generally applicable to the fundraising process as well as a copy of the pitch deck. 

The investors who won’t invest will ask you why they should. The investors who will invest ask you why they shouldn’t.

If you don’t feel the excitement already before the meeting you’re likely not talking to your next investor. 

Unless you have business that fits in a spreadsheet, avoid investors who think you should.

European investors in general still have a higher tendency to ask for a financial forecast but if you’re truly talking to an early stage investor it shouldn’t matter. Have your numbers ready though, you better be prepared. 

Go read the full post here, it’s insightful. 

The two VCs are Fred Wilson and Brad Feld