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As an entrepreneur, having a great idea will remain nothing but a concept unless you figure out how to get your new product or service to market and ensure that your potential customers get to find out about it, too. But at a time when the number of start-ups is seeing a sharp rise, precipitated largely by the current pandemic, how can founders and their teams get on the radar of future investors and create a buzz around their offering?
To answer this question, we’ve created a hypothetical scenario for a company called ‘Vivre’ – a fast-growing HealthTech start-up seeking their second round of investment.
Here’s the approach its CEO should consider taking in order to raise the profile of the business, position herself as a true thought leader and attract interest both from potential customers and future investors. This hypothesis is based on a) empirical research conducted on our behalf by Market Research Society-accredited researches, and b) Clearly’s own experience of having worked with over 100 organisations over the years.
Setting the scene
Founder & CEO: Rebecca Peters
Rebecca is the CEO of tech start-up that she founded five years ago. Based in London, her digital platform enables patients to record their eating habits, weight, and exercise activity via an app. The app also connects patients with dieticians and counsellors on a one-on-one basis, who can advise on dietary and lifestyle changes to improve their health.
Her business successfully completed its second round of funding in mid-2019, and Rebecca is now looking for further investment to the tune of £9.5 million which will enable her to scale the business and ‘own’ the healthy eating app space.
While 2019 was a record year for tech investment in the UK, the coronavirus has seen momentum slowdown. According to data research company Pitchbook, start-ups and fast-growing tech firms may soon face cash shortages. Ed Lascelles, partner and head of technology investment at Albion VC, told WIRED magazine on 22nd April 2020 that “companies which don’t already have relationships with potential investors are deferring their fundraising plans if they can.”
Investment challenges aside, prospective end-users – customers – of the product are slowly beginning to return to the workplace after the lockdown. They are learning to adjust to what is becoming known as the ‘new’ new normal and their focus on what is important may have changed since the start of the pandemic – one’s personal health being one element of this that is very much front of mind.
Rebecca’s is a voice that can, and should, be heard. She is at the heart of one of the fastest-growing sectors of the UK economy (health-tech), and the app itself could have a major impact on improving the health of the nation.
Critical to her securing the capital she needs is her ability to raise the profile of both herself (as the figurehead) and the business by implementing a public relations and communications strategy – of which thought leadership will form an essential element.
How this should play out
In a Kellogg School of Management article, when pitching investors start-ups are advised to “to make [their] first 30 seconds count.” In that time, it stated, “investors should learn your target market, that market’s need, and your solution.” The same principle applies to any thought leadership content that is being produced.
Thought leadership content
Consumers of content in the post-pandemic era will be looking to determine early on what is in it for them by continuing to read, listen or watch what is presented to them. For Rebecca to become positioned as a true thought leader, she will need to focus on those areas where her expertise can add value to the two customer groups she needs to attract – end-users and investors.
The danger is that Rebecca may have a bevy of great ideas for content that she wishes to produce, but are they original enough or does she err towards emulating some of her tech industry peers who she holds up in high esteem? Larry Ellison of Oracle fame, and worth a tidy $58.4 billion according to Forbes, has a great take on this. He said: “To model yourself after Steve Jobs is like saying, ‘I’d like to paint like Picasso, what should I do? Should I use more red?’”
Attempting to pump out the same or similar ideas as those propagated by the behemoths of an industry is a risky business, not to mention being a waste of everyone’s time. After all, if Rebecca replicates what every other Tom, Dick and Harry is saying, hers will become a voice that barely registers on the dial. Instead, she needs to focus on “trying something new, which means accepting some measure of risk,” as Adam Grant explains.
Grant is a professor of psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the highly recommended book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. In the context of thought leadership, he states that: “In reality, the biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation – it’s idea selection.”
This is key to Rebecca positioning herself as a thought leader – being selective over those ideas she tables for debate and consideration and ensuring that what she has to say is contextualised for the mood of the nation, whether mid- or post pandemic. She probably started her business because there was a gap of some kind in the market that Vivre could fill. Now, with several years’ research and development under a belt, there will invariably be a plethora of lessons learned and insights gained.
For instance, Rebecca could focus her thought leadership with justification in two key areas. The first would be business-related and range from how to start and scale up a tech business, to better reach and engage users in a crowded or even saturated marketplace, and how to pivot her business model when crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic strikes.
This sort of content will appeal not just to those with an interest in all-things tech, but also aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to take the jump from being a salaried employee and swim the choppy waters towards founder nirvana. Potential VC investors or other partners, and even marketers who work with clients that operate in fast-growth and ultra-competitive fields will also find this sort of content resonates with them, too.
The second should focus on the consumer. In England alone, figures published by the NHS in 2019 revealed that 29 per cent of adults are obese – up 3 per cent since 2016. More worrying is that 1 in 5 (18 per cent) children are categorised as obese and this number is rising. Furthermore, the World Obesity Federation stated in May 2020 that people with obesity-related conditions are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
So, because Rebecca’s app could have a major impact on improving the health of the nation, she has a platform upon which to deliver value, supportive and relevant content to an eager audience.
Speaking with authenticity (and ditching the hyperbole)
Rebecca is savvy and understands that being a tech leader in itself doesn’t necessarily equate to being attributed with thought leader status. For this to happen, she must ensure that what she says is authentic, relevant and adds value. This will invariably see Rebecca adjust the message she is communicating and move away from selling her concept to telling her story in a way that connects with her audiences (investors and end-users) on an emotional level.
All of this comes down to one thing: Understand the nuances felt by those in your sector and develop a solution that focuses on the needs of individuals rather than applying a catch-all approach, and seek to add value where their pain points and needs exist. Think Netflix vs. Blockbuster, iPod vs. MP3, smartphone vs. landline… even the original game-changers find the game changes them too.
‘Personalisation’ and ‘experience’ has come to the fore over the last 60 years when it comes to how brands approach their audiences. This is see a move by organisations towards using technology in a way that enables them to create bespoke content that is focused on the specific needs of each audience group.
An interesting observation made during the first few weeks of the lockdown is that failure to understand and adapt to this new way creating and distributing content as a means by which to engage audiences is already costing organisations dearly. In fact, research in the United States found that companies are “losing $1 trillion in annual revenues to their competitors because they are not consistently relevant enough” (Harvard Business Review).