TGIF — A toast to the great & inspiring founders Retooling Fridays bring

More hardware. More Grit. More Karma. During our second demo day, our partner carmen palafox coined these six words which quickly became our guiding tagline.

For about two years now, we’ve been running Retooling Fridays to chat with founders and get a pulse on what folks are working on and where their burning questions and challenges are. It’s one of the many ways in which we give of our time and brain trust. We host these sessions every other week and have the opportunity to meet about 100 founders/year this way.

Last Friday we heard from founders in SoCal, Maryland, and Montreal. They represented B2B and B2C businesses in the drone space, in consumer goods, and in robotics. And our conversations explored product-market fit, connecting with manufacturers and exactly how close to the chest a company’s information should be kept before launch or IP protection.

Below is a summary of the views we shared during these sessions:

Investors often tell founders they won’t invest until they see product:market fit, but founders don’t understand what that means in their space.

  • While one founder may chip away at a product they’ve built around their own pain point, another may pursue way-too-early manufacturing conversations, and yet another will maintain product secrecy while they try to painfully raise funding.
  • We’re fans of fast and cheap when it comes to demonstrating value. We encourage entrepreneurs to spend as little money as possible and to counter that limitation with an overabundance of excitement and curiosity. Tap into social media followings. Set up at a mall or festival. Attend a professional meeting that targets your demographic. In Cohort 1 of our program, we sent RideBlock to skate parks to chat with skateboarders and Plobot to the mall to speak to parents of young children. These are ways to let your passion convert target customers into your biggest fans. Leverage yourself!

Understanding pain is essential in understanding willingness to pay.

  • Will your product be essential enough to make users discard their current product and upgrade to yours? Or will you be capturing new buyers only? This impacts your TAM and informs your pricing strategy and marketing plan, so dig deep.

When pitching product, founders often leave out the factor of timing.

  • Circa 2000, you could order milk and ice cream from Kozmo in Boston (RIP, read the sad story here) and have it delivered in less than an hour. The company closed its doors in 2001 — the timing just wasn’t right. When pitching, a founder needs to convince the audience that this idea makes sense right now, and a great way to do that is by talking about the convergence of trends.

When you’re an early stage company still working on prototype A, don’t worry about being introduced to manufacturers just yet.

  • We’re often asked to list our affiliations to Tier 2 manufacturers for very specific manufacturing processes. In these conversations, we always redirect folks to customer validation and encourage them to seek local manufacturers for those first units. The design of the product will change — from material selection to schematic errors to enhanced manufacturability designs. Regions like LA and Pittsburgh rock at creating local manufacturing partnerships — check out Make it in LA’s Catalyst Program and Innovation Works to learn more.

They can steal your idea, but not your magic!

  • When seeking feedback, the more you share, the better we can form an opinion on your value and the more helpful we can be. An idea is an idea until your network and knowledge make it a company.

Want to sign up for an upcoming Retooling Fridays session? Pick a slot here: http://makeinla.com/events/