Monday, May 14, 2012

3 Tips for Triangle Entrepreneurs From Triangle Entrepreneurs

Last week, I talked business with two local entrepreneurs, Jayson Humphrey, founder and CEO of LoveItPromoteIt (LiPi for short) and Brad Powell, co-founder of GiftWhen. More accurately, we talked business basics, and the lessons learned through CED’s FastTrac® program, a business-basics course designed to help entrepreneurs rapidly prepare to grow, teaching them valuable skills in the process. 

Humphrey started LiPi, a web and mobile application that helps consumers like you and me support local merchants, in 2010. “I was not sure it would work,” said Humphrey. “The last year and a half, we spent all our time testing the market, learning from consumers, learning from merchants, and trying to identify the needs of the clients and the niche that LiPi could carve out.” Eighteen months in, Humphrey had completed a proof of concept, and was prepared with a few potential paths to take the business. “It was no longer a question of will this work,” said Humphrey, “but a question of which direction do we choose now.” Feeling the need to receive professional feedback on this question, Humphrey began searching the Triangle for answers. And then he found FastTrac®.

Powell only recently co-founded GiftWhen, an online platform which allows people to support and advocate for outcomes through conditional giving campaigns. Think meet Kickstarter. “When we first came into FastTrac®,” said Powell, “our pitch included broad overtones of ‘influence market’ and letting donors have a real say in the organization’s use of the donated money.” He admitted that he and his co-founder had a few “catch phrases,” sometimes using phrases like “we’re going to democratize influence,” and had “a very broad idea and concept.” They were operating with an incredibly large scope, and knew they needed to become more focused. FastTrac® was that opportunity for the co-founders to streamline. 

 Humphrey and Powell, along with 11 of their peers, will graduate on Wednesday, May 16, 2012, from the spring semester of FastTrac®, and celebrate their businesses.

Here are a few key takeaways from our conversations:

Know Your Market and Narrow Your Focus

Both Humphrey and Powell continually stressed the importance of defining and understanding your target market. Essentially, each entrepreneur needed to understand who would use their product, when they would use it, and how they would engage with it. 

“One of the immediate, and strongest, takeaways that FastTrac® offered us is that it behooves us to have more conversations with anyone and everyone who may be relevant  about the idea, our business model, about the market, about how to set up campaigns, about who to talk to,” said Powell, “And FastTrac® has supported us in that effort.” The third and fourth week, where businesses learn how to take a product to market effectively, were crucial for GiftWhen, said Powell. “As we continued to go through the program, we found ourselves doing a lot of work on this front,” reported Powell, “and understanding the major tasks to build a business was and is critical for us to understand as we develop.”


The Community Matters, Particularly Your Mentors

“One thing that FastTrac® provides that might be a ‘make or break’ scenario for entrepreneurs is the connection to mentors,” said Humphrey. Time and time again, we hear that mentoring relationships are the most vital relationships that successful entrepreneurs develop. “CED helps entrepreneurs by ensuring that when mentors are needed, they become available. We’re talking mentors who have been in the industry for years, seen and built successful companies, and can provide extremely valuable feedback and advice. The mentors get to know you and understand your business deeply, and this is vital in providing valuable and actionable feedback on your startup,” said Humphrey.

The Triangle is a GREAT Place to Be an Entrepreneur

“For us, joining a network like CED and completing a curriculum like FastTrac®, especially as a young company, was an extremely smart decision,” said Humphrey, adding that he is continually impressed with the efforts to build the entrepreneurial community of the Triangle. Powell agreed, stating “I can’t reiterate how helpful FastTrac® has been, both for the content of the course and for the networking opportunities.” Powell will be moving into Groundwork Labs, a Durham-based incubator, in a few short days, and is quite excited to do so. 

Humphrey and Powell are right—the Triangle is an excellent place to be an entrepreneur. Whether you’re based in Durham, like Powell, or in Raleigh, like Humphrey, there’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity occurring. We’re building startup communities, and neighborhoods to support them. Our universities attract and train top talent, and though we may fight about the blues and red, ultimately, we’re fueling our local area with the talent and innovative spirit needed to start and grow something big. “It’s time for us to all embrace the Triangle brand of entrepreneurship,” said Humphrey. “Let’s face it—people like to start stuff here—it’s time for us to accept that it isn’t Durham or ATC or NC State or Raleigh, it’s the Triangle that brings us all the attention.”

FastTrac® is a comprehensive business planning program that addresses the needs of start-up entrepreneurs who are refining their business ideas, writing their business plans and seeking to grow sustainable high-impact companies. The next FastTrac® program begins September 27, 2012 and runs through December 6, 2012. Applications are now being accepted.

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