Question: What advice would you give an entrepreneur who wants to use a high-tech offering to improve a traditionally low-tech industry?
It's Not Always About Innovation
"You may have built the best possible solution for your industry, but what if your customers are satisfied with their pen and paper methods of dealing with the problem you look to solve? Your customer may have a significant problem, but they may not see that or agree. It is important to then learn what motivates their decision-making process and form your pitch to address those motivators."
Educate Before You Sell
"At RewardMe, my team and I hit the ground running and began pitching absolutely everyone at conferences and trade shows about the power of customer loyalty in restaurants. The problem was that franchise executives weren't looking for our product; we had to educate before we sold. We therefore created PDF guides and webinars to teach about the power of customer loyalty and why to do it now."
Make Sure You Can Build It First
"There are theoretically many high-tech solutions to traditionally low-tech industries, but if you can't build them yourself, you're unlikely to win. Figure out what you're good at and what you and your team can accomplish, and then attack the industry from that angle first -- otherwise it's time to learn the things you need to know, not pay for them."
Don't Say It Saves Money
"Having talked to mostly all B2B startups, one of the most best strategies I have seen work is when the startup markets their tech improvement as a new profit center, not a cost-saving one. It's a much simpler sale when you can walk into a boardroom and explain how it's going to make their company more money, instead of trying to explain how it will potentially save them future dollars."
Have a Ton of Patience and Trust
"I experienced this when we tried to introduce wireless connected, LCD-screen vending machines into a fairly antiquated industry back in 2005. My takeaway was this: don't act like you're the savior of the industry, or make the rest of the industry feel that you're saying, "Our way our the highway." It takes a patient, tactful approach. Develop trust first, and the road will be much easier."
Move on a Trend Fast
"I had this problem in the speaking industry years back. It was antiquated and companies weren't really using the Internet and social media to the fullest. I was able to take advantage of technology change and get a foothold in the marketplace quickly. A couple of years later, many of the other bureaus were great with social media. If I didn't move fast, I would have never been able to get started."
Be Compatible With the Status Quo
"Industries that have been around for a long time and the people who work in them will often resist new ways of doing things --even if they're better. Innovators must make their products and services compatible with the status quo and easy to both learn and use. Taking these considerations will make for a smooth and successful transition into general market adoption of your offering."
Is the Industry Ready to Adapt?
"There are many industries that are trailing horribly behind technology -- legal services and recruiting services are two that immediately come to mind. But beware: just because an industry is ripe for innovation doesn't mean it's ready to change. Before starting a venture like this, interview plenty of companies to gauge how difficult it will be to sell the product in the space."
Build Resources Around Your Product
"With a disruptive tool, or even something that requires more tech aptitude than the typical option in an industry, you have to make it easy for users to adopt what you're offering. That includes providing everything from a user manual to tutorials to case studies. Educate your customers so that what you're offering is actually on the path of least resistance for them."
Don't Over-Engineer Anything
"Don't over-engineer. Too many entrepreneurs create technology for technology's sake. Focus on the customers and their problems, and make sure that your solution solves their problems while keeping the technology in the background."
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.