Advice For Startups From The Trade Show Trenches

You had a great idea. You knew it met an important need in the marketplace. You pulled together a group of friends to design and perfect the product. You understand both the market for the product and the competition. You have the manufacturing in place and you’re ready to launch. Right? Wrong. You’re only at the threshold of the market, still looking in. You’ll likely need additional guidance as you step through the door and navigate the halls of commerce.

Trade show
Photo credit: Getty

On April 18 – 21, 300 startup companies will showcase their products, most for the first time, at Startup Launchpad, part of the Mobile Electronics Trade Show in Hong Kong. Minesh Pore of Global Sources, the event producer, has helped propel literally hundreds of startup companies from nice ideas into functioning businesses. I had a chance to speak with him recently and gather his advice for those he serves.

Jay Sullivan: What’s the biggest challenge startup companies face?

Minesh Pore: Most startup companies start as what would be the R&D division of a larger entity. They have an idea for a product or service and have spent all their time developing it, which is important. But R&D doesn’t constitute a complete corporate entity. They need to understand sales, financing, manufacturing and distribution, among other things. They also need legal advice to protect their intellectual property.

Sullivan: So they’ve built a product, and now they need to build a company.

Pore: Exactly. They have to do their R&D on the market as much as on their product or technology. What niche does it fill? What are people willing to pay to access that product or service? Who are the best business partners to get that product to the people who want it?

Sullivan: How can small companies with limited resources gain that knowledge?

Pore: They need to build relationships. No one does all of this on their own, especially newer companies. That’s why they go to trade shows. They can learn from others.

Sullivan: What steps can a new company take to develop the connections they need?

Pore: They need to learn to communicate. Most small companies literally don’t know what they don’t know. They need to be able to craft a simple message about how their product helps a particular audience, and then ask tons of questions about how to get their product produced, distributed and sold. That communication loop – info out, info in – allows them to build the relationships they need.

Sullivan: The first relationships they need are with investors, correct?

Pore: I actually believe it’s more important that they pursue a sale rather than an investment. $100,000 sale is far more valuable than a $100,000 investment. Most distributors dealing with startups know their purchase order for $100,000 in product will give the startup the leverage to borrow the money to produce the goods. They also know the products aren’t sitting on a warehouse loading dock already. When the startups build a relationship with the distributors, they start sharing the risk. They’re a player in the game at that point.

Sullivan: And success begets success.

Pore: Right. For startups, their buyers become their advisors. The distributor needs products in its channel. They have lots to choose from, but once they sign a PO with a new manufacturer, they have counted on those products filling their pipeline. They have a vested interest in helping that startup succeed. That’s why our trade shows are all about helping everyone build connections.

Sullivan: But investors are important as well.

Pore: Of course, but it’s easier get investors once you show value. The sale is the important part.

Sullivan: How do you help startups gain these skills?

Pore: We run training sessions before and during each conference on a wide range of skills. But just as valuable I think is the coaching we give startups as my team and I walk the halls of the event. Some of the inventors are “quiet types,” more comfortable with ideas than with people. They’re so steeped in the design of their product, they’re literally “heads down,” deep in the product, instead of looking up at market with all its opportunities and dangers.

Although they’re very proud and excited about their product, they sometimes need help conveying that enthusiasm. They tend to talk about the product itself instead of how the product will benefit or be attractive to the end user. We’re always coaching startups on how to talk about their product features in terms of benefits.

Sullivan: And they have to keep talking.

Pore: Right. If you aren’t talking, what’s the point of being at a trade show? Startup Launchpad is only one small part of the greater Mobile Electronics show. These 300 startups will benefit from being right near another 3,200 booths of well-established companies with proven products. We’ll have 37,000 global retailers passing through the show. That’s a lot of foot traffic. Having a clear and concise message about your product is crucial, because you’ll be saying it thousands of times, not just at trade shows, but throughout your process for building your brand and building your company.

Sullivan: So to sum up, it seems any startup, whether at one of your shows or elsewhere, needs to focus on three things. 1. Build the relationships that take them from patent owners to business owners. 2. Focus on selling their products rather than seeking investors. 3. Keep talking – to whoever will listen – about how your product or service adds value, rather than about how it’s designed or created.

Pore: Yes. That’s certainly a great start.

Sullivan: Thanks, and good luck helping launch another 300 companies.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

Posted in Communication Skills, Innovation, Networking, Uncategorized

Quick Tips To Become A Better Global Communicator

Are your communication skills “world class”? Working in a global environment is an exciting challenge, and it may mean stepping out of your comfort zone. Ensure that you communicate effectively with your clients and colleagues abroad with these quick tips. David Nevin, Exec-Comm Consultant based in Tokyo, shares how you can stay others focused and bridge culture gaps.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Global, Tips Videos, Uncategorized

Business Writing That Gets Results

When you and your team write clear, concise, action-oriented documents, projects move faster, you’re more productive, and you get better results. Christopher Butler, Exec-Comm Consultant, describes how a few simple tips can help you and your team become more effective business writers.

Posted in Coaching, Tips Videos, Uncategorized, Writing Skills

Exec-Comm Accepts Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award

Exec-Comm proudly accepts Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award.

Last week, Exec-Comm proudly accepted Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award during the Class 24 graduation ceremony. The Community Ambassador Award is given to a partnering organization whose commitment to Year Up “positively impacts a young adult and provides them with a platform for significant and lasting change.”

For those who aren’t familiar with Year Up, it is a fantastic organization whose “mission is to close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.” They achieve this mission through a “high support, high expectation model that combines marketable job skills, stipends, internships, and college credits. [Year Up’s] holistic approach focuses on students’ professional and personal development to place these young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency.”

Our Exec-Comm team delights in teaching these eager, motivated, under-served young adults how to communicate and present themselves and their content. We help them do this by suggesting that they focus less on themselves and more on others. Tonight’s ceremony truly made me think about this advice, and what it means to me.

For the first time, I felt at odds with Exec-Comm’s philosophy. These students spent their childhoods without any opportunity to focus on themselves. Many of them spent their time looking after others in their family, or simply trying to stay afloat.

Every person in the auditorium sat mesmerized by the stories told and videos shown about specific Year Up students’ journeys. Two brave young women shared their moving stories of how they arrived at Year Up. The grit and perseverance they both exhibited overwhelmed me.

One young woman, a single mom of a toddler, commuted more than two hours each morning by bus, train, and foot to ensure she arrived in time to attend morning meeting. Another continuously found the strength to dismiss the negative messaging she heard her entire life telling her she was nothing. There was the young man who grew up in the foster system and showed such promise that the foster agency recommended him to be part of this amazing program. (As an aside, he was recently hired by one of the largest financial institutions in the world, something that could never have happened if Year Up didn’t close that opportunity divide for him.) These were just a few of the moments that struck me throughout the evening. 

I wasn’t just in awe of the students; I was awestruck by the C-suite executives, recent retirees, and Fortune 500 companies that support Year Up from donations and sponsorships to internships and job placement. I was rapt by the members of the Year Up board who share their time, their fortune, and their experiences as executives, interested not just in the organization’s bottom line, but in building the students’ self-esteems, technical and soft skills sets, and opening the doors to work in corporate America where they may not otherwise have been given a chance.

As the ceremony ended, I whispered to my friend, Julie, who introduced me to Year Up that I wanted to do more to help. We brainstormed a bit and she suggested that I consider mentoring one of the new alumni, as she begins her job in the corporate world. Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind:

  1. I can’t wait to learn from my mentee about true grit and determination. I look forward to playing even a small role in her successful future and professional career.
  2. The advice and Exec-Comm’s philosophy to focus less on yourself and more on others was really advice for me. I reflected on how lucky I am to do my little part in helping Year Up achieve their mission.
Posted in Coaching, Exec-Comm Team, Uncategorized

Crafting An Interesting Story From A Boring Game

Good morning! Did you watch the Super Bowl Sunday night? While the pundits predicted it would be a close game, they didn’t predict a defensive struggle between two high-powered offenses. Translation? The game was “meh” – the lowest scoring Super Bowl in NFL history. How do you craft a good story out of a boring game? My suggestion is to think about the person or audience you are speaking to and choose a topic they would appreciate.

Super Bowl

Perhaps they are passionate about the lousy officiating that has plagued the playoffs. Then talk about the penalty on a Los Angeles Ram who made a terrific tackle. Instead of a big loss for the New England Patriots, the penalty gave them a first down. The rest of the game featured a striking absence of penalty calls. Now there’s a topic worth exploring.

Or, maybe your audience is into the statistical minutia of the game. Talk about how the game featured the longest punt in Super Bowl history by the Rams. The average kick broke the record with a tremendous roll. This came on their eighth consecutive possession ending with a punt. The Rams’ offense was stuck in neutral until some life showed in the fourth quarter, but their defense was good.

Sadly, even the ads were “meh,” weirdly featuring a lot of robots across many product lines. But if your friend likes robots, there’s your angle.

Audiences like food. Tell a story about any new additions to your Super Bowl feast. I shared with my boss, who is not a sports fan, that our family made Cauliflower Buffalo Wings – a vegetarian alternative using the florets as faux drumsticks, coated with Franks’ Red Hot (really tasty). That story led to him sharing that a family member is on a gluten free diet and would love to know the recipe. Score!

“There are no boring stories, only boring storytellers.” The way not to bore your audience is to tell stories they are interested in. Show your interest in them, share the memories that resonate, and create connections that last. And better luck to all of us for a more exciting game next year!

Posted in Communication Skills, Life Skills, Networking, Presentation Skills, Public Speaking

Take Your Storytelling Game From Good To Great: Lessons From The Super Bowl

This NFL post-season is already full of stories – just look at the two overtime victories in the conference finals leading up to the Super Bowl. Exultant victors! Crushed losers!! Unfair calls!!! That’s why people tune in – the sriracha infused chicken wings are gone, the ads are limited, the fourth quarter is a toss-up, and all attention can be paid. For the big game itself, one early prediction from SBNation calls for a close one with a game-winning drive – oh yeah, here we go!

Super Bowl

Competition is exciting, the stakes are high, and the outcome is unclear. The built-in conflict grabs our sports-loving attention and we often can’t wait to tell and relive the story of the game the next day.

Storytelling is a big part of conveying excitement and passion in business, too. With a nod to the Super Bowl, a good story has three parts – setting the scene, describing the conflict, and resolving the issue.

First, set the scene – give an overview of the people involved and the issue(s) at stake. For the Super Bowl, this ‘pre-game’ story will buzz all week – underdog LA vs. favored NE; veteran Brady versus newcomer Goff. Second, describe the conflict and build tension: we don’t know who will win or if it will turn out well – the game could go either way and we hope for a good contest. Third, resolve the issue and convey lesson(s) learned – the moral of the story. Which team won, why, and what’s next?

This season, you’ll hear this familiar pattern in many of the Super Bowl stories told and retold. In the stories you tell, set the scene, build the tension, and resolve the issue with a clear message. For the Super Bowl, hopefully it’s not a “meh” game and you’re not talking about the flavor of the chicken wings the day after. Of course, we’ll also talk about the ads – the most memorable ones will tell a great story.

Posted in Communication Skills, Life Skills, Networking, Presentation Skills, Public Speaking

Startups And Small Businesses: One Elevator Ride Can Change Everything

Elevators are cramped, slightly uncomfortable spaces at best. As you’re riding the elevator up to your office this morning, picture being joined by an interviewer and a camera crew. You’ve spent the last three or four years working on a technology startup – your bold idea to disrupt your industry. This morning, you’re a weird combination of tired and energized. The interviewer gives you literally one minute, 60 seconds, to make your “elevator pitch” about your fledgling company to an audience of thousands. Sound like a dream come true, or a nightmare to endure?

That’s the situation faced by Divya Tailang, one of the co-founders of Interlinkages. She and her co-founder, Anindita Ghosh, both veterans of global commercial banking companies, have created a platform to give companies in developing nations an opportunity to access capital beyond the confines of their local commercial banks.

Later this morning, October 26, Divya will ride the elevator of the International Commerce Center (“ICC”), the tallest building in Hong Kong, from the ground to the 100th floor. The ride takes 60 seconds and is the ultimate elevator pitch opportunity. One hundred startups will compete for $125,000 in prize money to fund their ventures. The event is sponsored by the HKSTP, the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation. What lessons does Divya’s elevator ride hold for you?

Jay Sullivan: Why go through this process? There must be easier ways to get funding for your startup.

Divya Tailang: We could take a more conventional path, but there are certain advantages to this approach. Anindita and I grew up – professionally – working in large corporate banks. We know there are lots of approaches. We learned you increase your chance of success if you expand your field of opportunity. We conduct lots of traditional investor pitches, but we also look for unconventional ways to raise our profile and broaden our network.

Sullivan: So what’s the short version of Interlinkages’ value proposition? Remember, you’ve only got 60 seconds to make an impression.

Tailang: We help small importers and exporters access financing directly from foreign banks. We save them time, money and hassles. In the process, we give banks the ability to fund projects that they would otherwise never find.

Sullivan: Worldwide?

Tailang: We’re starting in developing countries, where access to financing is hardest, and companies have the greatest number of hurdles to overcome.

Sullivan: You’ve still got thirty seconds left. Is one of those hurdles that you and your co-founder are both women in what is still the male-dominated world of finance?

Tailang: The finance world is focused on results. Anindita and I have earned our credentials. We can prove our model works. We’re confident our track record will impress investors.

Sullivan: What’s your advice for other startups looking for funding?

Tailang: First, hone your message. There are 100 startups participating in this event today. If you want to stand out, you need not only a great idea, but you need to make that idea easy for investors to understand.

Sullivan: The technology that supports your platform is very complicated, but the results are fairly straightforward.

Tailang: That’s right. We make it easy for someone to understand what we’re trying to accomplish. How we’re getting there is only relevant if we’ve already got you interested.

Sullivan: What else is important?

Tailang: Second, have a success story ready. Your message about your product is just a conclusion. You need to back it up with examples or anecdotes that prove you can deliver. We have plenty of those already at Interlinkages.

Sullivan: And finally?

Tailang: Have a clear ask. If you’ve convinced someone you are ready to take your idea to market in a significant way, you need to have a plan in place and a clear request for investors. If not, you’ll come across as an amateur.

Sullivan: Great advice for any startup. Good luck today.

Tailang: Thanks.

Find out more about the competition here.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

Posted in Communication Skills, Innovation, Interviewing Skills, Meeting Skills, Networking, Presentation Skills, Women in Business

How Bryan Cranston’s Story Can Help You Improve Your Communication Skills

As you set resolutions, goals, and aim to form new positive habits, keep your communication skills top of mind. Here are a few thoughts, along with an inspirational story by Bryan Cranston, recognized by Business Insider as one of the best working actors today.

Breaking Bad star, Bryan Cranston, gives his advice for aspiring actors.

It’s all about your purpose when you communicate, not about you. It’s about the ideas you believe in and what your audience can do with those ideas. Ironically, once Bryan Cranston figured out that his purpose during an audition was not to get the job, he started getting good jobs and became a star. He got out of his own way. Through coaching, he realized that his real purpose was to show his interpretation of a role to the writer, director, and producer in the audition room. His audition became all about the role, not about him. Once they could see his idea in action, it became tangible and they could use it. So they wanted to hire him, which meant fighting for him with Fox studio execs!

Communication is about impact, connection, and what your audience sees in the ideas you bring. If you think an idea through, believe in it, and articulate it, then your audience can too. Finding an idea that you believe in and articulating that idea takes skill. Bryan Cranston developed his skills over 20 years of hustling for work. You’ve been developing your skills, too. Once you shift your focus away from yourself and toward the business at hand, your communications will have more punch, power, and purpose.

Reach out to us if you need help turning your resolutions into new habits. Here’s to a terrific 2019!

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills

5 Ways To Turn Your Brain-Drizzle Into A Brainstorm

Solving problems requires both a left-brain analysis and right-brain creativity.

Ruckus headquarters in New York City

The analysis part comes into play as you define the problem, analyze how the problem developed, evaluate the benefit of solving the problem relative to the cost of fixing it and select the best solution to pursue. The creative part comes just before that final step, where we brainstorm the many possible solutions.

I recently sat in on a brainstorming discussion at Ruckus Marketing, a website design company that prides itself on creating “Expertly Crafted Disruption.” First impressions are important. Most businesses know that their website is the first impression they make on a potential customer or client. Therefore, they need to make sure the website conveys not only information, but the spirit of the company itself. Companies need to refresh or completely overhaul their website every few years to reflect their evolving offerings and emphasize their continually developing core ethos.

Seven senior leaders of a mid-sized training and development company sat in Ruckus’ midtown Manhattan offices, which oozed an understated ultra-cool vibe. They were joined by five creative types from Ruckus, including one of the company’s founders, Alex Freidman, and Madelene Eng, the chief website architect.

The Ruckus team challenged the client team with core questions about how the website should function and what the users’ experience of the company would be based on how they would maneuver through the website. While the discussion was ostensibly about a technology-based experience, because of the open brainstorming process, it morphed quickly to a discussion of the essence of the client itself – how it views itself, how that self-image translates to someone browsing the internet and how information in the form of text and images makes someone feel about the company.

Having taught brainstorming techniques to audiences as diverse as law students, marketing professionals, technology teams and internal auditors, I was impressed to see the skills in action in a real-life problem-solving context. What did the team from Ruckus do?

1. Set the ground rules.

Madelene gave the client clear direction as to the question they were addressing at any one time. If they got off track, she reiterated the focus. Alex set the rules regarding how much time would be allowed for each question, set his alarm to go off on time, and then allowed the discussion to go just long enough afterward to create energy and enthusiasm but allow the discussion to move to the next point.

2. Make everything public.

While the client group wrote their responses to the questions on extra-large post-it notes, they also called out what they were writing, which created a spirit of freedom for each person to offer additional thoughts, an essential element of effective brainstorming. The Ruckus team then put all the ideas on the wall and culled out repeats.

3. Keep the atmosphere free of criticism.

Brainstorming has a creative phase and an evaluative phase. In the creative phase, participants don’t comment on each other’s ideas other than to build on the idea. You can build an idea by starting with, “And….” Our inclination is to start with, “But…,” which is usually followed by why the idea someone just offered was off track, or just won’t work. Using “and” is a classic element of improvisational comedy, and it works just as well in a business meeting. The leader in any brainstorming session is in charge of nixing any comments that begin with the top three idea-generating killers: “We tried that before,” “That costs too much,” and “Management will never go for that.”

4. Start evaluating.

Once the ideas are up on the wall, the sorting and evaluation steps come into play. The Alex and Madelene led the client through a discussion of what ideas fell into which buckets, which were redundant and which ideas were really subsets of other ideas. The meatier discussion happens when the group has to discuss which buckets were the most important to the group. However, as happens in an effective brainstorming session, the group had adopted such an open-discussion format, that conflicting ideas on priorities were approached with openness and trust rather than hesitance and defensiveness.

5. Share the results quickly.

At the end of a brainstorming session, teams are simultaneously tired and energized. They will need to revisit their ideas in the very near future or the process stalls. The leaders should gather the info and distribute it as soon as possible after the meeting. One of the Ruckus team members was entering the data into a spreadsheet during the process, and by the end of the session, the team gave the client access to a file that contained all of the ideas that had been generated. The client’s team is now able to reflect further on what was gathered and where to go from there.

One additional challenge when brainstorming is recognizing our strengths and weaknesses in the process. Because brainstorming requires elements of both the left-brain and right-brain, we can all contribute. Because we all are inclined to leverage one side of the brain over the other, we tend to want to stay in the part of the brainstorming process that comes naturally and is easiest for us. Understanding the importance of both contributions is important to having a successful problem-solving conversation.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

Posted in Communication Skills, Innovation, Leadership Skills, Meeting Skills

Share Your Ideas And Have Them Heard

You have innovative ideas and want to influence those around you. But to do that, you need to communicate in a way that works for your audience, or your message may fall on deaf ears. Anne Teutschel, Exec-Comm Learning Consultant, shares why using the strengths of your unique communication style, and being aware of the weaknesses, are both important.

Understand your communication style, and the styles of those around you, to maximize your impact.

Visit our YouTube channel, execcommtrainer, for more tips!

Posted in Communication Skills, Exec-Comm Team, Meeting Skills, Tips Videos