By Poornima Vijayashanker (Founder & CEO, BizeeBee)
About a year and a half ago, I left my first startup job at Mint.com (where I was the second employee and sole femgineer) and founded my own startup — BizeeBee. The decision to leave Mint post-acquisition was because I had seen a project through, and because I wanted to return to the startup scene. Graduating with degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering has given me an insatiable appetite for creating and innovating. I desperately wanted to return to the roots of startup where I would have the freedom to build from scratch. Coming from being an early employee at Mint and seeing how Aaron Patzer put the product and company together, I felt confident in having my own startup. Having been in the Bay Area for nearly 7 years, I had built a large support network of advisors, colleagues, and friends willing to help me out.
My vision and goal for BizeeBee last year was to start a company focused on helping small businesses and to successfully launch a prototype with paying customers. The inspiration for BizeeBee came out of practicing yoga and working with studios for nearly 7 years. Every studio I visited had the same pains, and I thought that they could easily be solved using software. I spent 5 months doing market research, paper prototyping, and talking to a a variety of small businesses before I began building the initial prototype.
After building the initial prototype as a horizontal solution that appealed to all small businesses and not seeing traction, I quickly decided to switch gears back to my original idea for yoga studios. My team (pictured above) also bought into the vertical solution, and it made it easier for us to think of the customers needs. Once the prototype was built and we had customers, I decided to switch gears and focus on marketing.
Marketing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Marketing a new product is hard, especially in a startup with a very limited budget! Having a minimum viable product is great for figuring out product market fit, but it offers little value and as a result limits your customer base. Some customers come in with a bias of what they want, and if they don’t see XYZ features they’ll leave. Others come in to comparison shop your product versus your competitors, and end up in the same camp as the former. Which leaves you with the last group of customers who maybe looking for an alternative to your competitor or at the very least be willing to try you out.
At BizeeBee, we got a lot of push back from large yoga studios, all the while seeing a steady trend in small studios and private instructors who started adopting our product. So instead of trying to sell our product to people who didn’t want it, we started to focus on a group that was under-served and needed a product. We’ve learned that a hard sell doesn’t work with this group of customers. We focused on having potential customers try the product out, get feedback, build based on their suggestions, deliver, and repeat!
Next, we started to think about where we could find more customers like our early adopters. We went back and talked to our early adopters and asked them for referrals, looked for others like them, and began thinking about where they hang out, who they listen to for advice, and who they interact with on a daily basis. Then we focused our messaging on the benefits of our product, but more importantly our company so that potential customers would understand where we are and where we’re headed.
Startup Lessons Learned
- As a startup, your first goal is to nail the minimum viable product, then get it into the hands of a few customers, and talk to them as much as possible.
- Always have a pulse on your customers needs, convey their feedback to your team, start anticipating their needs, build solutions for it, and then look for other like-minded customers who match your early adopters.
- Don’t be afraid to lose potential customers in the process, you’ll always have push back, but if you have the right product and message customers will start to find you!
About the guest blogger: Poornima Vijayashanker is Founder & CEO of BizeeBee. Prior to that, she was at Mint where she began as employee #3 in 2006, and stayed through the startup’s acquisition by Intuit for $170M in 2010. Prior to Mint, she was in the Master’s degree program for computer science at Stanford University but dropped out to join Mint. Poornima holds a double degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. Poornima blogs on Femgineer.com and is a competitive yoga. Follow her on Twitter at @poornima.