How to take your startup from an idea to $170m

Thoughts from the team
By    | June 14, 2010 | Strategy,

Aaraon Patzer, the founder of Mint.com, gave a really insightful talk at Carsonified’s Future of Web Apps conference in Miami this year.  The video of the talk is definitely worth watching (see bottom of the post) but I’ve pulled out 6 killer tips that you can use today if your thinking of starting a tech company.

1Tell everybody and anybody about your idea. Don’t worry about people stealing your idea, it’s the execution that’s important, not the idea.  Validate your idea before you do anything.  You don’t want to waste your time building something that isn’t wanted or needed.

2Make sure the problem will still be there 5 years from now. Don’t solve a transitional problem that fills in for a missing feature.

3 – Does your idea solve a problem that annoys you and do lots of other people have the same problem?  To be really successful you need a large market for your idea.

4You should have a tangible prototype before seeking funding. Don’t rely on slides.  People/investors will buy into your idea much more easily if they can play with a prototype and see the practical benefits of your product.

5 – To grow and become a large company you will need a sustainable advantage: patent, top tech guy, amazing interface.  You have to do something better that your competitors and that something shouldn’t be easily copied.

6 Have a genuine revenue model (not advertising) and know how much money you’ll make per-user or per-transaction.  This is far more important than predicting annual revenue.

There were also a couple awesome annecdotes in Aaron’s talk with really inspired me.  These are two amazing pieces of marketing and show fantastic creativity and opportunism.

Too many users for your beta?
First, Mint.com launched a blog before their product to generate awareness.  They had 20,000 people sign up for the beta.  That was way more than they could initially handle, so they sent an email out asking people to put a link on their website or blog saying ‘I want Mint!’ to get priority access.  600 users did this giving Mint.com a great set of back links and authority in search engines as well as the marketing benefits of having their logo on a bunch of sites!  All of that benefit because you had too many users want to use your product, now that’s genius!

Want to win a People’s Choice award?
Second, Mint.com really hit the big time when they won the main prize at the TechCrunch40 conference – the People’s Choice award.  How did they do that?  Well, they noticed there were two small rooms next to the main conference venue that weren’t being rented – so they rented them and set up a couple of bars.  They then went around the conference offering free mint Mojitos to people that stopped by.  By doing this they had a permanent presence at the conference instead of a 7 minute slot, had huge numbers of people interacting with their brand and were able to do one-on-one demos with hundreds of people.  On the back of their victory they were able to go to people like BusinessWeek and CNet to get real, mainstream publicity.  Now that’s what I call a brilliant piece of opportunism!

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