A simple business plan

19 01 2010

Unless you want your startup to die, you need to have laser-like focus on your goals.  For some the issue is developing the focus, but for most (like me) the issue is defining clear goals.

I came across a simple one page business plan from Daniel Harkavy recently, and thought I’d put it to the test.  The plan is described in Daniel’s article above, and consists of three parts: outcomes, disciples, and improvements.

Outcomes are the specific and measurable goals for the coming year.  For ClimbPoint, my goals are to sell 10 licenses (2 by mid-February) and contact every university climbing wall in the US (at least 60 by mid-February).

To achieve these outcomes, there are certain disciplines, or behaviors/tasks I’ll need to repeat over and over (note that disciplines are not goals).  For me that means making 15 calls per week (at least one per day), allocating one hour per week to business development, and doing a weekly sales review.

Along the way my efforts will be helped by a few specific improvements, or one-time projects.  So far my list includes creating a master list of all potential customers, drafting a brief survey for these customers (so I can better understand my market), and compiling tips for climbing wall risk management that I can give away as a free resource.

My plan is mainly a sales plan, and is inspired by The Ultimate Sales Machine. To be honest, I am terrified to put this plan into action, because I know that 90% of the people I contact will not be actively thinking about buying what I’m selling.

Hopefully though the next few weeks will be an experiment in which I’ll learn about sales and gain a better understanding of the state of university climbing wall management.

Thoughts from my third summit

5 05 2009

This past weekend I attended the third annual Climbing Wall Association summit in Boulder, Colorado.  My third summit was substantially different from the first two — this time I arrived in Boulder with a company, a product, and a purpose.

I officially formed ClimbPoint, LLC back in January, and there are now about eight universities using ClimbPoint at their climbing wall check-in desks.  My purpose for coming to Boulder this year was to pursue connections with others in the industry who could help me get the word out about easy gym management software for universities and rec centers.

In the past I’ve come to the summit hoping to please everyone, including all sorts of commercial climbing gyms.  This year though, I resolved to disappoint commercial gym owners by letting them know I wanted to totally nail the university market first before adding features useful for their facilities.  I was pleasantly surprised by the reception I received.

It’s too early to tell whether many of the connections that I made this past weekend will result in loads of sales, but I’m psyched that I got in touch with everyone on my list, including various climbing wall manufacturers, hold manufacturers, and key CWA staff members.

To top it off, I met 5 or 6 people from Indiana (?!), two of whom are opening climbing gyms at their universities within the next year.  Should make for a very interesting summer!


As always, I’m reluctant to share all the details of my interactions and my strategy going forward — I hope the lack of detail doesn’t sap my updates of any intrigue they might have had, and I will say that I’m considering a more open approach to blogging.  More soon…

Adventures in graphic design

3 05 2008

Since I last blogged about The Art of the Start I’ve been busy starting…but I’ll get the last post in that series up in a few days, hopefully.

A couple weeks ago I got a decent logo from Gary Simon, and since then I’ve been busy polishing up a brand new website and creating some slick business cards…all in preparation to head to Boulder for the CWA Summit.

The new logo is front and center on both the website and business card design, and I’m really glad that I decided to pay someone else to do it. I’ve done some graphic design before, but even now it often seems tedious and frustrating to me.

I ended up having Gary design my business cards as well, and I thought he did a pretty good job with the overall style of the cards. And while I liked the original concept that he sent me, I felt it was a bit cluttered and decided to clean it up a bit before sending it off to OvernightPrints.

Here’s the finished product:
ClimbPoint business card

Side note: for those of you who know me, that phone number is courtesy of GrandCentral.

While I was waiting on the business cards to arrive I decided to polish up the website. I chose WordPress to host the site, at least initially, because I figured it would be relatively easy to set up provided I could find a decent theme. It was also dirt cheap to add the custom domain of climbpoint.com (I think it’s about $15/year).

Here’s the header I came up with:
ClimbPoint header

One last side note…The header, while relatively simple, took a long time to design. I blame this on my ineptitude with PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator. I spent about 45 minutes just trying to add the picture of the rock into Illustrator. Finally a friend pointed out that I just needed to choose File->Place from the menu. Place? Seriously, that makes no sense to me…so I’ll likely continue to outsource my graphic design.

Anyway, the site is now live. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Learning the Art of the Start – Part 4

17 04 2008

This is the fourth in a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Part one was on “why you’re starting”, Part two covered “describing what you do”, and Part three was on “getting cash and getting going.” Look for the final installment this time next week.

Proliferation: Connect with customers and start selling

Of all the sections of The Art of the Start, this one on partnering, branding, and selling seemed to connect most with where I’m at (or where I’ll be next) in the startup process. I could create a post about each chapter in this section, but I think for now I’ll stick to the art of branding, which according to Guy requires

“creating something contagious that infects people with enthusiasm, making it easy for them to try it, asking them for help in spreading the word, and building a community around it.”

I like the use of the word contagious in Guy’s description here. At this point, while ClimbPoint has been effective in infecting its users with good vibes and enthusiasm, it hasn’t been contagious: it’s hard to catch, and hard to spread.

Making a product easy to catch

So my first task in branding is making ClimbPoint easy to catch by offering a free trial and the ability to painlessly purchase the full version online. To this point I’ve gone back and forth on what to charge for the software, but I now feel more comfortable going with the lower of two numbers I’ve been kicking around. Guy contends that “a reasonable price that fosters the creation of a brand can produce large returns later.”

I’ll probably sit down one last time with the product pricing primer from Eric Sink on the Business of Software and just pick a number.

Making it easy to spread

Once people have your product, there are lots of ways to help their enthusiasm for the product spread to others. Among them:

  • Ask them for help in getting the word out, and give them tools to do it
  • Build a community around your users…if they like it they’ll invite others to join
  • Exude humanness as a company (feature customer stories, give to a cause). This helps people connect
  • Find and lower the barriers to adoption
  • Make it easy for people to leave if they choose. They’ll respect you for that and be more willing to recommend the product to others

I took a lot of notes on this section and am looking forward to putting them into action soon. The chapter on partnering with other individuals and businesses may come into play in a couple weeks when I attend the CWA Summit, and I plan to begin “rainmaking” (bringing in sales, according to Guy) after I return from the conference.

But let me end with a brief call to action for myself. I’m good at analyzing and planning, and I like to read about startups in their early days…but frankly, I haven’t found too many startups who are blogging about their experiences. I believe it’s because they decided to…

Stop talking, start doing (yeah from the IBM commercial)

So enough with the ideating already! 🙂 I’m not going to post here again until I have 1. a logo or 2. a website, or both.

Are all beta testers early adopters?

1 12 2007

Last month when I settled on five beta testers I was unsure of what to expect in terms of participation. After all, four of the first five sites that I contacted were interested in trying out ClimbPoint. Were they just being nice, or were they genuinely interested in trying out the software? I figured out of five testing sites I might get two that would provide helpful, consistent feedback. Truth be told, I was a little uneasy that if all of them were totally on board I might be in over my head.

Well, so far it’s turned out that my intuition was right…mostly. Two sites have installed ClimbPoint and are using it for day-to-day operations. A third is planning on switching over after the Fall semester is over, and the other two…well who knows. I’m optimistic that all of the sites will eventually begin using the software consistently, but the relative success of the beta program so far (especially given the number of sites I initially contacted) has me thinking about the broader market.

Will everyone be this receptive?

I’ve gone back and forth on this question many times, and could argue either way. There are reasons that those who participate in beta tests wouldn’t actually purchase the software — namely because beta testing is free, low-risk, and low-commitment, but also because some people just like to wait to adopt new technology. The technology adoption lifecycle provides a good illustration of this point: there are early adopters, the early and late majority, and laggards in adopting any idea. Some people just need to be convinced, and some just need to see others using a product before they try it out.

Technology adoption curve

Beta tester != Early adopter

I’ll pause here to mention that I consider beta testers and early adopters as separate groups, because early adopters actually pay money for a product while beta testers get the product for free…hence my question in the title. I do think, though that only the first three adoption groups are likely to become beta testers — agreeing to beta test does indicate that there is more than a slight chance that a purchase will be made.

Anyway, given the adoption curve I can see why I might have some trouble selling this product to everyone right away. It takes time to convince the early majority to bite, and the late majority won’t buy until they know quite a few other people who are already using the product.

The bottom line

I keep coming back to the fact that four of five sites were interested, and that half of those have jumped in and given really positive reviews so far. Could it be that the type of people who manage climbing walls are also the type of people who tend to be early adopters? For now I’m trying to temper my optimism, if only for a month or two. In a couple months I hope to have version 1.0 finished, and then we’ll see how many sites put their money where their mouth is ;).

I’ll be interested to find out if the adoption curve really holds up and I get about a 10% response rate. I sort of have a feeling it will…