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Ever wondered what will distinguish the companies this weekend? Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine & Smart Bear Software, gives you a few pointers to get you started and thinking!


Number 1. Sharpen your pitch – achieving such clarity and brevity that any potential customer immediately understands that you’re relevant to their pain and your product could very well solve it, and so that it’s equally apparent to other intelligent people — like the judges or future investors. Your verbal pitch should be under 60 seconds; your home page should entice in three words and explain in under fifty. This is harder than it sounds because it forces you to make strong choices about what you’re building and why and who cares and what they’ll pay for it. It is these choices that are valuable; creating a brief pitch merely forces the issue.


Number 2. If you can, get 5 strangers to give you feedback, if not on a prototype then just an interview. Validate the pain, what’s minimally needed to address the pain, and what they’d pay for it. Even if they don’t agree, even if you change your story each time, you’ll learn what’s critical and what you still need to resolve. A concept validated by five people is far more valuable than a working application that no one has critiqued.


Number 3. Construct a plausible business model. Not a business plan, but rather a simple spreadsheet with pricing model, how money flows in and out during normal operation, customer acquisition cost, and therefore how many customers you’ll need to break even on operating costs, and how many more to break even including human costs. It’s surprisingly difficult to build a company where revenues outweigh costs of marketing, salaries, and operations, even at scale. If you prove yours can work, you’re already ahead of the group.


And lastly, number 4. Produce evidence of potential customers already looking for a solution to this problem (e.g. complaining on Twitter, asking on forums, musing on blogs, paying too much money for crappy alternatives). Too many companies build cool tools which no one particular wants. Evidence of searching and asking demonstrates not only need but suggests a way to reach those people.

Usman Rauf