Many people work with start-ups indirectly, usually in a vendor or client capacity, and others are involved in start-ups themselves. But few individuals work directly with start-ups on a daily basis, teaching them to refine, grow and succeed. One such person is Lauren McDanell, the Director of Entrepreneur Initiatives at SEED SPOT.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a close relationship with SEED SPOT over the years, previously helping with their own public relations efforts and more recently speaking to their ventures about PR for start-ups. In the past year, I’ve gotten to know Lauren and have been outrageously impressed by her business acumen and knowledge about start-ups. She helps start-ups every single day to confront their biggest obstacles and beat the odds to ultimately find success.
I was so thrilled Lauren enthusiastically agreed to share some of what she’s learned with you all of you. Here are some tips about successfully navigating the start-up waters, straight to you from a true professional!
As the Director of Entrepreneur Initiatives at SEED SPOT, you understand the struggles that start-ups face inside and out. Is there one piece of advice you can give to young companies that nearly every one, regardless of industry or level of growth, has grappled with at some point and could benefit from hearing?
Most companies are trying to solve lots of problems with the tech or solution they are building because they see the potential for it to apply to a lot of different problems. They think, “This method I’ve developed can be used in schools, business, families, the military, sports teams and so on..." and while it might be true, it becomes impossible to build a business when you're spreading your energy too thin. The best thing to do early on is to narrow your focus to the point where it feels too narrow. Use mentors or friends to help make these decisions. It’s the only way you will be able to get traction.
SEED SPOT is a nationally recognized incubator for socially conscious companies. What do you think non-profit and/or B-Corp (or other socially conscious organizations) need to do differently than a typical company in order to experience success?
My belief is that there is no difference in operation for socially conscious companies. Most businesses are having social impact if they are solving a real problem. One of the things we help companies with at SEED SPOT is to see the potential for social impact, alongside their market potential and potential for profit. We help them see their business as a solution to a problem in the world, so they understand they are creating a positive impact on people, the economy and/or the environment.
What's the #1 question entrepreneurs ask you? And what's your answer?
The one question I get asked a lot is, “How do I make money/get money?” I answer that this is accomplished by understanding your customers’ value proposition. You need to offer a solution that perfectly fits your customers' problem, get out in the market and run experiments that prove people will buy your product. Investors want to see traction and the only way to get it is to have a deep and intimate understanding of the problem you're solving and the way you will meet that need.
You’ve been immersed in the start-up scene in Phoenix, Arizona for quite some time now. What do you recommend to start-up leaders when it comes to connecting with their peers locally? How much value can be gained through participation in events, networking opportunities and associations – and how can they find ones that are worth their time?
Networking is immensely important. I consider it one of the most important things an entrepreneur can do. I suggest you go to two events per week within the start up industry, meet up groups and events within your desired industry. It’s easier to find events worth your time by going to a lot and finding out what appeals to you, since it is an investment of time. People complain about the time it takes but there is no magic pill. It takes your time, but it’s worth your time to invest in it. Meeting others in similar entrepreneurial pursuits and in the business community at large is extremely valuable. All the relationships I have with investors, mentors, executives and content experts began at an event or through someone I had met at an event.
If you had to boil down the “secret” of business success to a single sentence, what would that be?
Prioritize the problem you're solving over the solution you’re creating.
Lauren is the Phoenix Director of Entrepreneur Initiatives for SEED SPOT. Lauren is an active member of the Arizona startup community and has worked directly with over 50 early-stage technology startups in her career. A native Arizonan, Lauren graduated with honors from the University of Arizona after completing original research on MySpace users’ brand friendships. She started her career at a venture-backed toy company where she launched dozens of new products into retailers like Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, and Party City. Prior to SEED SPOT, Lauren served as Program Director for Tallwave’s High Tide accelerator program and joined one of the programs’ ventures, LocalWork.com, as Director of Marketing. Lauren is fascinated with the relationship between successful brands and their users, and is extremely passionate about supporting entrepreneurs through programs, mentorship, services, education, and encouragement!