One of the 10 companies that came through the 2017 Barclays Accelerator has a unique experience, and one that highlights the value a programme can offer to a determined and passionate 4-some with a great idea, in a continent and industry that is crying out for their solution.
That company is Avenews-GT; an Agricultural Trade Ecosystem that empowers farmers to participate in the global market and deliver their unique and high-quality products to the world.
By providing a digital trading platform based on Blockchain technology, they enable verified farmers and cooperatives to transact directly with agri-buyers such as retailers and manufacturers, to reduce distribution costs, create financial security and increase supply chain transparency.
Why were you keen to participate in the Barclays Accelerator in Cape Town specifically?
Africa is a big agriculture market and one of the most important globally. The industry is based on an old and non-digital trade process and therefore, reputations are a big deal in the international trade industry. Harnessing Techstars and Barclays really was a great business move and no brainer for us.
We grew up in Israeli farming communities and are well aware of some of the challenges that farmers have all over the world and especially in Africa – so we wanted to get straight into that ecosystem. When Yossi Hasson, MD of the Barclays Accelerator Programme in Cape Town reached out to us, we jumped on the opportunity.
What were the most valuable aspects of the Techstars experience?
The Techstars brand is so strong; the attitude, the structure and the discipline of the programme were hugely beneficial to us. We knew what we wanted to achieve and Techstars enabled so much of that.
The whole mentorship experience was amazing; having the opportunity to meet with 80 high quality mentors and learn from their mistakes, successes and have the ear of some really key individuals was invaluable. Above all, having our team of four together for the first time was brilliant. We are all incredibly hard working and very focused so to have us all under one roof has really driven our business forward.
Is the African ecosystem as you expected? How does it differ from Israel?
Partly. But we were amazed by how open the African agricultural ecosystem is to tech solutions. Israel is technologically advanced but it is very difficult to enter the market. Africa, on the other hand, is not as advanced, but the desire for technology solutions is greater and the opportunities are bigger.
From our experience of the African agricultural ecosystem, the lack of tech makes the farmers and the buyers more open to trying new things (which we’re super happy about!)
What’s on the radar for Avenews-GT in Africa?
The African agriculture industry provides a livelihood for many African communities and is based mostly on smallholder farmers and cooperatives. This industry is constantly advancing and this rate of advancement is only set to increase as the global population is set to reach 9 billion by 2050 and the demand for food will rise by 70 percent.
African farmers and cooperatives are increasingly utilising digital technologies to increase productivity, and Avenews-GT intends to provide the gateway for them to sell their products domestically and globally as Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness markets are set to top US$ one trillion in 2030.
In the 13 weeks of the Barclays Accelerator, the Avenews-GT team have seen a lot of traction, including:
– Growing from 15 farmers on the Avenews-GT platform to 1,000 farmers
– Started a pilot with a Rwandan coffee cooperative
– Established a strategic business partnership with TradeCloud; a logistics and digital management company
– Established a good relationship with Barclays and working on a Proof of Concept
– Raising capital
We’re halfway through July here at the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in Cape Town, which means that the 2017 class of FinTech startups have less than 3 weeks left before they stand on stage at the annual Demo Day.
These 10 startups will be representing their companies as capable, forward-thinking visionaries, setting a path to the future of financial technologies.
Although likely not at the forefront of the founders’ minds, their efforts through the program will further solidify Cape Town as a nascent startup ecosystem on the brink of massive expansion.
Investors and potential partners from across the world will be looking eagerly to see the opportunities coming out of the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in Cape Town.
By the time Demo Day comes, the Techstars team will have spent the past three months in closed quarters, getting intimately acquainted with these teams and their companies.
These 10 startups have been selected from a global network that spans far outside of just Cape Town. In fact, 40 percent have relocated from across the world, mostly outside of Africa, to take part in the hands-on accelerator programme located in the buzzing Techstars corner of Barclays’ Rise office space.
When creating global businesses, why relocate from a first world America, or Israel, both of which are renowned for their tech entrepreneurship ecosystems?
It’s no secret that Cape Town’s tech scene, while having the continent’s strongest funding landscape, is still considered “emerging,” at best.
Or is it?
More importantly, is an “emerging” ecosystem any less empowering for local and global startups than a Silicon Valley, or do some startups thrive globally even more in these emerging ecosystems?
Regardless, these international startups have officially been welcomed with wide open arms by the local startups in the class, to work together as ambassadors of a startup ecosystem rooted at the tip of Africa.
Local “Activation” Initiatives
Many cities across the world have initiatives to represent their city as buzzing tech cities worthy of the world’s attention. London has Silicon Roundabout, and here in Cape Town, we have Silicon Cape. This is an initiative that I’ve previously been part of driving, in collaboration with some of Cape Town’s most prolific internet companies, VC’s, and government representatives.
This and similar initiatives, as their names suggest, are primarily focused on getting locals to rally behind creating a more supportive environment for technology-based startups in their backyard.
However, with the focus on creating a local community brand, it’s not always the case that these types of initiatives achieve much success and ensure the creation of more or better startups.
So, what does?
The Startup Genome, through their Global Ecosystem Report, believes they have anecdotally uncovered what does, as they define startup ecosystem life cycles and maturity in four phases, the first of which is “activation.”
This phase is focused on removing barriers and attracting resources – a key responsibility for initiatives such as Silicon Cape, who look at how to promote investor and founder appeal by addressing any government regulations around financial or IP issues.
South Africa also provides a great economy for international businesses to open an office and access a talented local workforce.
Local Funding Landscape
According to South African Venture Capital and Private Equity venture capital survey, the Western Cape has emerged as the center for venture capital activity in South Africa.
The majority of the country’s startups are based here, and 75 percent of venture capital deals were concluded in this province. Some of the largest tech exits have also stemmed from the Western Cape, with the most recent being the $100 million sale of GetSmarter to 2U in May 2017.
Despite the relative maturity of the funding landscape in Cape Town in comparison to the rest of Africa, it still pales in comparison to international benchmarks.
Access to tech startup seed funding in particular is extremely limited, with companies like Yoco, a thriving mobile card payments platform, having raised their initial round from dozens of angel investors, mostly from outside the country.
However, looking forward, cryptocurrency disruption may transform the financial venture capital industry, drastically improving access to capital, irrespective of what corner of the world a business operates.
Companies, including two within the the current Techstars class, can now look to raise millions of dollars directly from a crowd of investors through an ICO — Initial Coin Offering — which often sells out within a matter of hours.
In their report, Startup Genome outlines what they have identified as the next phase of ecosystem development after activation: “based on rigorous analysis, we deﬁnatively ﬁnd that globally connected startup ecosystems grow faster and perform better than less-connected places.”
So while Cape Town is a far distance away from most of the world’s major cities (it’s historically known as “The Cape Of Good Hope” as European explorers discovered the city in the first successful attempt to establish direct trade between Europe and the Far East), it is a highly desirable destination.
In today’s startup world it also reinforces the idea that entrepreneurship and being part of innovative startups allows you to live your dream, and work from wherever you choose.
Cape Town has consistently been ranked highly in the top 10 travel and culinary destinations in the world, receiving the spot of number one city on the Condé Nast World’s Best Food Cities list.
Members of the 500 Startups “Geeks on a Plane” trip through Africa have cited this as a reason that Cape Town is compared to the lifestyle fueling the San Francisco startup culture and dubbed Africa’s Silicon Valley.
Just a few hours outside the city, the Cape Town community even has it’s own version of the Burning Man festival — Afrika Burn. The original event started in San Francisco, and accordingly to Elon Musk, who came up with the idea for SolarCity while at Burning Man, Burning Man is synonymous with Silicon Valley.
Elon Musk is one of the highest profile tech entrepreneurs, who also happens to be South African. As is his colleague from PayPal, Roelof Botha, well known for leading investments at Sequoia Capital into Youtube, Tumblr, and countless others.
On European soil you’ll find SA expat Saul Klein, previously with Index Ventures and co-founder of Seedcamp, an early stage investment company that has invested in over 200 tech startups.
Afrika Burn took place just before the accelerator program kicked off, noticeably bringing in high profile tech entrepreneurs such as Brock Pierce, co-founder of Blockchain Capital, the first VC fund dedicated to Blockchain ecosystem.
Brock would later be found walking around the co-working space, inspiring entrepreneurs with the belief that every industry will eventually be disrupted by blockchain technologies.
Local Startup Communities
Cape Town also has the highest number of accelerators (20+) and coworking spaces (25+) on the African continent.
Rise, where Techstars is hosted in Cape Town, is a network of coworking spaces spread across four continents, an initiative in partnership with Barclays to support a community “working together to create the future of financial services.”
Right now, it’s easy to consider Rise as one of the most powerful hubs in the Cape Town tech startup community, albeit only primarily focused on financial technology startups.
Through a careful curation of community, Cape Town’s ecosystem is tightened locally through a common goal, and expands its reputation globally through connected communities like Rise. Of course, there’s also the Techstars community, who eagerly support their fellow entrepreneurs coming out of the Cape Town program, and other programs across the world.
On the surface it may appear to be an extremely exclusive privilege to have access to the Techstars community, who have been primed to “Give First” to each other, but in truth that privilege is very naturally extended to second and third degrees outside of the Techstars worldwide network.
The presence of strong global goodwill networks like Techstars, Rise, Silicon Cape, or other entrepreneur support programs plays a huge role in enabling startups across the world to thrive, in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized.
I’ve worked with many startups over the years, and I’m constantly surprised by how few have solid Product Management disciplines.
Why is this important you might ask?
Well, if you’re writing code without a clear understanding of who will be using your offering, how your offering compares to competitors, and how you plan to drive adoption and make money – the reason why you’re in business – then the odds of success dwindle dramatically.
Still not convinced? If you’re raising money or plan to do so in the future, your product strategy is as important, if not more important than having a good pitch deck, and a well-articulated product strategy is derived from good product management practices.
So what is product management?
Know Your Customer
In her recent Techstars blog post on the Importance of Marketing, Lauren mentions persona development, and this is great step in understanding who your customer is. This is also a core piece in user centered design, and the foundation for Agile stories.
Why is this important? Because it forces one to be clear about who’s going to use your product, and how they will benefit from using your product.
Know Your Competitors
One of the most powerful exercises when thinking through a product strategy, is understanding who your competitors are, and how your competitors price their offerings. You need to understand both their free and paid-for features.
A simple exercise is building a matrix that lists your core features in Column A (row by row), with your competitors in each column from Column B onwards.
You can then easily highlight which feature is addressed by your competitor(s), and which isn’t. You can also get creative and create one matrix for free, another for paid, etc.
Another use of this is to build a heatmap, where you score your competitor(s) completeness compared to your own feature(s) or offering.
You can also do the same to depict how your offering will change over 6 months, 12 months, etc., mapping out the path to a complete product offering.
Tablestakes vs. Differentiators
The competitive matrix exercise is a great way to get honest with yourself about what it will take to compete.
Knowing where you’re weak today is a good thing, as it helps hone your messaging and positioning for all outbound marketing-related activities.
But more importantly, knowing where you’ll differentiate really helps guide where your focus should be when positioning yourself against your competition.
Another great benefit of a competitive matrix is that it helps provide the framework for a feature list.
But often, with new services and offerings, you may not have a 1:1 competitor.
A great exercise is to get all team members into a room, and use post-it notes to write down all the features you think you need for your offering. You can time box this exercise to 30-60 minutes. The point is not to have a debate, but rather to write down the exhaustive list.
The next step is to “affinitize” or group the common features into buckets. These buckets then become pillars for your offering, depending on the level of granularity.
Now, the hard part is prioritizing. One easy exercise is to allocate a certain number of votes per person. The idea is to allocate a small number of votes per person to force prioritization. Stickers could be used to cast a vote on a feature by each team member.
This is usually where some debate happens. Once again, you can time box this exercise to 30-60 minutes.
At the end of this, which most likely wouldn’t be more than a few hours, you have a detailed feature list, grouping of features, and an internal perspective of prioritization.
And what does the prioritization give you? A place to start in terms of sequencing work.
Now the really hard part: opening up your feature list to customers to validate your internal prioritization.
It’s surprising how infrequently this happens, and how resistant teams are to doing something like this. More often I hear the comments: “we know what we’re building”, “why validate? Customers don’t know what they want”, “we don’t have customers,” etc.
But all these excuses are the exact reasons to do this exercise.
The idea is to strike a balance by not providing too much detail, and to frame groups of features as scenarios in ‘customer benefit speak’ à la Scrum Stories. This is where the art of product management comes into play.
Surveys and 1:1 customer interviews are great ways to capture feedback. The important thing is to use some structure, like a survey, so that feedback can be tallied and analyzed in a quantitative way.
Ideally, you have already created some buzz about your offering, and have implemented a way to capture early adopter interest – e.g. via a signup form. This pool of early users is usually surprisingly eager to provide as much feedback as possible.
If you’ve done the exercise right, the odds are your internal prioritization will be adjusted to reflect real customer needs. That’s a great thing, because your roadmap is now aligned with what customers actually want or need.
Notice how there’s been no discussion of writing code yet – that is by design.
Why? Because it’s easy to build something when you know what you’re building, and for whom you’re building it.
Once you’ve been able to reconcile the customer feedback, the next step is to prototype your thinking. The goal as you move through these stages is to avoid writing code as much as possible.
“No code? But how is this possible?” you might be wondering.
Wire framing is a simple but very effective technique to conceptualize functionality from a user interface (UI) perspective. There are many third party tools that help with this, and some are as simple as using PowerPoint, with add-ins such as PowerMockup, and others are much more sophisticated like Proto.io.
The idea is to provide an interactive prototype, i.e. a user can click on buttons, interact with dropdowns, etc., as though the application was real.
This is where that pool of early adopters come in handy once again, as they’re a great audience with which to share your prototype. The idea is to give them a task to perform, but without telling them the steps.
Recording how they use your prototype is critical, as it allows you to capture the user’s frustrations and elations with using your product. It’s also a helpful tool to use after the session, as it helps to re-watch the recording and share it with other team members.
If you’re really good at this, then one great technique to use is to offer an A/B test scenario, i.e. where you have a user perform a task with prototype A, and then you have them perform the same task with prototype B.
Presenting different ways to solve the same problem is a helpful way of stimulating dialogue both within your team, and especially with customers.
If you don’t have a pool of customers, or would like to expand your pool of customers, existing services such as User Testing are great ways to recruit testers.
Lock a Plan
With a clear prioritization that’s been validated by customers, a prototype that customers have reviewed with feedback incorporated, you’re now in a position to lock a plan.
That plan can easily evolve into customer centric epics and stories – in Agile speak, can be easily broken down by stage of the product lifecycle per your prioritization.
And as one phase gets completed, the entire process gets repeated over and over again.
Easy isn’t it?
2017 is exactly halfway through folks, and so far the below predictions ring true. Design and User Interface elements are becoming simpler, more ‘obvious’ to the end user, and the focus on shifting from aesthetics to usability.
UX design is extending from the digital into the physical realm, and the role of a UX designer is changing, fast.
1. Mobile-first design
Mobile-first design is no longer a choice but an imperative – in South Africa, 60% of the adult population own a smartphone, and just 18% own a laptop or desktop computer. Going mobile-first for design forces you to focus on the key functionality of the site and to avoid cluttering each screen.
Previously, the approach has been to design for an optimal web experience, and then remove features to suit smaller screens. Now, the trend is to design for the smallest screen, and ‘progressively enhance’ the experience as you rethink and redesign (if necessary) for larger screens.
2. Time-saving design
Great User Experience is intuitive – it should reduce friction and save users’ time. This trend is being brought to life in two key ways:
- Simplification of user journeys – linear designs that allow the user to take just one specific action at each step are becoming the norm. Not only can this improve the experience by reducing the load time of each page, it can improve conversion as the user is not distracted by different options. A leading example of this is Uber – their simple design takes users through the booking system easily, step by step.
- Artificial intelligence handling customer interactions – increasingly companies are looking to chatbots to not only save their users time, but to drive internal efficiencies in their business. One business leading innovation in this space is Abe.ai, a participant in the Barclays Techstars Cape Town Accelerator this year. They are looking at applications of chatbots not just on company websites, but also within extended interaction points such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Personalisation is a hot topic, and one of the latest challenges that’s yet to be nailed in the world of UX design. Companies and users both love personalization, and it’s key for building lasting relationships both online and offline; but there’s a fine line between being relevant, and being creepy.
Also, the days of being followed around by ads for products you’ve already purchased just need to end. In 2017, more businesses will relinquish control to their users, incorporating more customization options that allow users to make their own selections about the products and content they want to see.
3. Connecting the digital and offline experience
UX design can no longer just focus on the digital experience, as more and more businesses are extending their digital products into the physical world.
Take Snapchat Spectacles for example, giving users wearable spectacles they can use to record short videos through the built-in camera, and then share this instantly to friends through the app.
To ensure a seamless experience here, the designer needs to think beyond traditional functionality, and past traditional web interaction metrics to those that measure the experience more generally, such as customer satisfaction and effort scores.
4. Changing role of UX designers
The role of a UX designer is expanding, and is now far more than designing web experiences. Designs need to be responsive, to cater for multiple different customer segments at one time, to deal with engineering complexities, and to deliver on strategies developed by multiple different areas of the business.
As a result, in 2017 a lot of UX designers are specializing, and businesses are seeking out experts in key areas such as Conversion Rate Optimisation, and Information Architecture.
The UX designer role will also become increasingly more important within businesses, as a design-led approach to product and business strategy development becomes more widely used.
You’ll see business leaders putting themselves in the shoes not only of their customers, but also of their employees, as they strive to create leading experiences.
While in the shaping phase of a startup, founders often forget about building an organizational culture. But the sooner you start, the better. What founders do not realize is that a culture will form one way or another – the one they want, or the one that develops on its own.
Changing an organization’s culture is a long and difficult process, it is harder to undo than to do, thus we recommend you give this a little thought and build culture into your startup planning.
What is Organizational Culture?
It is a system of shared assumptions held by employees – giving rise to feelings, beliefs and values, which are seen in symbols, processes and behavior. In its deepest form, organizational culture is defined by the attitudes held by the leaders of the company.
Entrepreneurs start both businesses and cultures. Founders set the goals and determine the values necessary. The business then gets distinguished by these core beliefs, values, and attitudes, that guide its practices. This is under the founders’ control, hence founders can shape their company culture.
During startup mode, the values and behaviors that shape culture are often unspoken and more often than not, are formed by the behavior of the founder and other leaders, with other employees following suit.
Building culture in your startup has been a hot topic of conversation in the last couple of weeks, amongst the 10 businesses who are part of the Techstars program here in Cape Town. Below are a few tips based on those discussions, on how to actively shape your company culture:
Document Your Values
Allyson Downey, founder of weeSpring, explained an exercise where each member of their team had 15 minutes to write down what they wanted as their company values. This made everyone part of the discussion, and helped reach agreement on what the company wanted to stand for. Documenting your company values and regularly sharing these helps to keep all your employees on the same page.
No Excuses Culture
While having a valid excuse for a late deliverable can be understood, this should not become the norm. Making excuses instead of delivering on time on agreed objectives means that you are not supporting the company, not supporting your partner or team mates and simply not pulling your weight.
The lack of honesty – when you have to make excuses on poor execution – shows disrespect to each member in the team which impacts trust, and has a knock on effect to the integrity of the organization overall. It is crucial to stick to deadlines and if someone slips on a deadline, there should be consequences.
Without consequences, you are creating a culture where schedules and commitments do not matter and are not respected, and that, you do not want.
Selection and ‘fit’ of new employees is key to company success. “Shaping your culture is more than half done when you hire your team,” Herrin from Stella & Dot’s says. This makes complete sense. During a founder story, a regular part of the Techstars accelerator program, Alan Knott-Craig explained that if you are yourself, you will attract others like yourself, and in doing that you will form your tribe.
Be specific about who you hire – not only their skills, but who they are. As we heard from Clive Butkow in another session, “It’s better to have a good team with a crap product, than a good product with a crap team.”
Ensure that your employees feel like a team. Two minds work better as one, and as a team you can support, challenge and complement each other, and ultimately accomplish so much more, so much faster.
Set the Environment
A popular Brad Feld quote states that you cannot motivate people, but that you can create a context in which people are motivated.
An environment can be set by how communication happens within the company, how often, in which forums and in which form (written e-mails, posters, meetings). By practicing certain ceremonies and rituals, you can emphasize and celebrate the things you value – birthdays, product launches and achievements. Celebrating a teams wins is such a basic thing, but goes a long way. Be sure not to over-look celebrating achieving short-term goals.
Set employees up for success from the beginning. Set realistic goals that can be achieved; hitting them and celebrating them creates excitement and motivates your team towards the next goal.
Starting a business is very stressful and creates much uncertainty. Managing risk reduces employees’ stress and fear. Creating a safe environment with open communication, where trust and transparency are upheld is a crucial responsibility of founders. Managing fear turns anxiety into energy, that in turn solves problems.
Trust by Trusting
In the uncertain world of the startup, trust is possibly the most important and fundamental aspect of building a strong company culture. This starts with a founder sharing his idea to a possible partner, or getting the first employee and hoping he/she will not run away and realize your dream faster than you will.
When we heard from Alan Knott-Craig, he said that the only way that we can know if we can trust someone, is to trust him/her. He believes in trusting from the start, and then you can learn fast whether you can or cannot trust them.
Allow Freedom to Fail
One of the greatest gifts you can give your employees is letting them fail without making them feel like failures. In startup mode, failure is unavoidably part of the growth process. By ensuring clear communication and objectives, employees will get a good understanding of what is expected from them. Then if their experiments fail, be sure to respond in a way that allows for the growth and confidence to try again.
Allow for collaboration and innovation by assuring a no-fear environment where failure is understood and integrated as a core value. A no-fear culture allows people to take ownership of their work, whether it fails or not, and eliminates any need for excuses. This requires honesty and asks that employees communicate when things start going pear-shaped, which is always a good practice – in a startup or a big corporate.
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
We all need it – the tap on the back that says “well done”. Not only is it one of the highest motivations, but acknowledging someone’s effort and value, and not claiming it for yourself, shows great leadership.
Steve Blank asked his marketing department why they are here. He got task and function-orientated answers, which he was not happy about. You need to ensure that everyone in your startup knows what is expected from him/her, even down to a daily deliverable and what success looks like. In uncertain times, guidance gives clarity but also ensures alignment.
Be sure to make purpose central to all business strategies, but please, do not only do it because it is something you’ve heard is the right thing to do. Spend time and identify your business’s purpose, and let everyone be guided and motivated by it.
High Performance Culture
While you are working hard to shape your organizational culture, you should also focus on how you can make this a high performance culture. This requires an environment where everyone knows exactly what to do and how to do it. As mentioned earlier, set ambitious, strategic objectives and create an environment in which they can be achieved.
Ensure you attract and retain the majority of high performers, and be cognizant of creating the environment where these individuals want to be. Make sure your team and culture is energized, disciplined and goal and task-orientated. Demand clarity of thought, honesty, and dependability from your employees. Help them to understand a problem, know what to do, and then execute on this well.
Being consistent in applying core values at all levels is a crucial prerequisite. Ensure that work systems that are well executed are integral to your business.
Lastly, treat each other with respect and appreciate that you are a startup and that you need to evolve with growth. The startup’s corporate culture can and will grow and change. Work hard, but have fun and try to embrace consistency and continuity.
Too many founders believe that marketing is something to worry about after launch, and that a “good product” will sell itself.
Not only does this mean you could be building a product that no one wants (after all if you don’t actually ask anyone, how can you know?), but it can also set you way back in terms of time and finances as you scramble to catch up on the marketing front, and are potentially forced to make expensive product pivots that could have been avoided.
So here are three key things to focus on from a marketing perspective in your first month to help you avoid this common pitfall.
Build for a Real Customer
It might sound obvious, but you need to know who you are building your product for before you start coding. You need to know exactly who they are, the problems they have, and where they are actively looking for solutions.
A customer persona is a good tool to use in a structured way, completed through interviews, immersion and desktop research – one persona for each potential target customer.
I’d argue that you should spend at least as much time understanding your customer up front as you will in product development.
This week at Techstars, Francis Moran spoke to the Cape Town program on how to translate your customer research into the scope for your MVP (minimum viable product).
Francis defines an MVP as the “product that meets the most number of high-value common needs for your target customers.” He suggests creating a simple matrix with your customer personas down the left, and set of potential product features along the top, by plotting which features directly meet the needs of which personas.
Your MVP should then only be comprised of the features that meet the most needs, plus any ‘differentiating’ feature that will drastically set you apart from your competitors.
You also need to be agile in this step and employ the lean startup principle of ‘build/measure/test’. Get your MVP into the hands of your target customers as early and as often as possible, to get real actionable feedback to guide your development as you go. After all, as Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn says, “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you launched too late.”
Define Your Positioning and Messaging
Positioning your product in a way that appeals to your target customer can be a challenge, and often founders try to cast the net too wide, and in trying to be everything to everyone, end up appealing to no one.
Defining your positioning early on, in a concise and deliberate way, just makes everything that follows much easier. It is key for ensuring consistent marketing and communications, for grounding your product development, and in aligning all members of your team under a common definition.
A Techstars masterclass by Josh Jones-Dilworth gave the program some actionable tips on how to do this effectively.
- Know your verb and noun – rather than undertaking a full messaging exercise, simply select just one verb and one noun that explain your business, and use that to underpin your content. For example, Techstars is a network that helps entrepreneurs succeed.
- Be brief – ‘The best messaging has the courage to be incomplete’, so don’t drown your users in blocks of content telling them everything your product does, and all the benefits you can think of. You will overwhelm and likely turn away your customers before then even get to see your product.
- Sell benefits, not features – Don’t fall into the common trap of just listing what you do. Make sure your messaging speaks directly to the customer and what they need. Follow this simple rule – ‘don’t tell me what you do, tell me what you do for me’.
- Use the presumptive close – Speak to people as if they are already customers, it is a lot more impactful to say ‘we are going to do business’ rather than ‘would you like to do business’.
Focus Design on Conversion
Your website or landing page is likely the first representation of your business that your customers will come across, so it’s natural that you want it to look beautiful. But spending time and money creating a website that looks great but doesn’t convert (that doesn’t collect leads) is pointless, and can be a huge drain on your acquisition marketing budget.
So how to create a high-converting landing page? Here are my ‘Five Keys to Conversion.’
- Know your purpose – know exactly what you want someone to do when they get to your site. This needs to be a single, measurable objective (e.g. ‘sign up for a 30 day free trial of our product’).
- Define your call to action – define exactly what will drive customer behaviour against your purpose. Typically a call to action looks like a large colourful button underneath your headline that draws in the eye of your visitor, with short action-oriented copy (e.g. ‘Start free trial’).
- Test everything – conduct A/B tests of all elements on your page, to get a true understanding of what drives conversion. Before you have significant traffic, use a tool like Attention Wizard that predict where people will look on your screen to guide your design.
- Build trust – building trust is hugely important for any business, but particularly for when customers have never heard of you before. Boost your conversion by providing ‘social proof’ in the form of customer testimonials, case studies and partner or press logos on your site.
- Create content – creating quality, shareable content is a great way for establishing your business as an authority and thought leader in your industry, improving conversion and repeat visits from customers.
Ideally you can have both a beautiful design and a high-converting page, but at the end of the day, “if the ugly baby gets all the attention, keep the ugly baby”.
For a startup to succeed, marketing and product should always work in parallel, hand in hand. Marketing cannot be an afterthought that comes in once the product is developed, but instead should be bringing the required customer focus from day one.
After all, most failed startups have a product, but few failed startups have enough customers.
Today, we are very excited to announce the second class of the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in Cape Town. After the success of the first program, our applications extended to 52 countries across the globe and across a wide array of innovative Fintech companies. After a rigorous and competitive process, ten companies were carefully selected.
These companies will now have the opportunity to work together with Barclays Africa Group and potentially gain access to their footprint comprising close to 12 million customers in ten African markets, while gaining access to the Techstars worldwide network to help accelerate their growth and global expansion.
Each of the ten successful companies have an amazing founding team and unique solution that we believe has the potential to become a significant and relevant player on a global scale. We are extremely impressed with the quality of this class’ founders, many of whom are on their second or third business.
We’d like to extend thanks to our expert mentors, Rise partners in Tel Aviv, London and New York and Techstars Alumni for helping us find such an incredible group of founders.
We genuinely believe that these are the most promising startups in Fintech.
Without further ado, here is the 2017 Barclays Accelerator Cape Town Class:
Designs artificial intelligence solutions for the banking industry, helping banks better engage and support their customers at scale; significantly reducing the costs of servicing and acquiring customers through the use of chatbots.
FOMO Group (SA):
Africa’s first B2B, B2C company that facilities the travel industry by providing an alternative payment solution for keen travellers who wish to travel without the use of credit or immediate payment
Designed a digital trading platform based on blockchain technology, modernising agricultural trade by connecting food wholesalers to food producers directly, reducing distribution costs, creating financial security, and providing chain transparency.
|Byte Money (SA):
Provides solutions that help avoid mismanagement of payments in the ‘informal finance sector’. Byte Money taps into and revolutionises existing third-world payment channels and integrates them with first-world technologies.
Provides an automated and secured layaway system that manages the purchase of goods. Customers can choose to pay for goods over varying periods of time.
Provides an event commerce platform. Howler is the consolidation of three powerful events and entertainment platforms, designed at the highest benchmark of service and technology, helping consumers and event organisers to make moments that matter.
Focused on consumer analytics and targeting. Using a proprietary consumer database, Spatialedge enriches and verifies clients’ customers by spatially locating them, mapping them, and use advanced analytics to help clients locate and target new customers.
Simplifies the investment process for millennials by automating their investment decisions using machine learning and predictive analytics.
eCOIDA is an online insurance technology platform; a central database that connects all role players in real-time, creating an accurate workflow, fraud-free, paperless claims-processing platform.
|The Sun Exchange (SA):
The Sun Exchange enables anyone anywhere to own and earn from solar panels powering Africa, India and other developing economies. The exchange allows for collaborative solar finance using blockchain.
Our founders are some of the hardest working jack-of-all-trades type of people you’ll ever meet. But we also know that no one can know everything about business development, design or even software development. Therefore we often bring on awesome and accomplished contractors, which we call “Associates,” to come on board during the program to help our companies in their areas of expertise.
But being an Associate doesn’t only benefit our companies and in fact we see the Associates often times gain the most from the relationship. Becoming an Associate at Techstars is a fantastic stepping stone for great entrepreneurs, designers or developers who are figuring out their next move. The program gives you an unfair advantage by cultivating an environment where you are surrounded with incredible talent, i.e the other Associates, the ten invested teams, the 100+ mentors, the weekly founder stories, the MDs & PMs and being part of the Techstars family.
The Associate program is your ticket into Techstars. Associates are integral to the success of the program, which you get to live and breathe for three months. You will take part in the mentor sessions, weekly founder stories, the mini MBAs and the weekly show and tells. You get to learn a huge amount and are surrounded by amazing people. You will get to work with the ten incredible teams, bringing a fresh perspective to the table and really see your hard work pay off through your programming, marketing or business development skills.
The Associate program in Cape Town is a paid position, and Techstars Associates generally go on to do incredible things. If you are willing to ‘get your hands dirty,’ then you will reap the rewards. Some Associates go on to join the teams that are in program. Some build their own companies. Some go to work with the mentors that they’ve met through the program, and some join Techstars.
We’re hiring nine very talented entrepreneurs to join the Associate program for Techstars Cape Town – starting from the beginning of May – August.
Remember to apply with your CV and cover letter
For more information please take a look at our:
Watch our video about Techstars Africa program
Read our BLOG!
And have a read of some Associate testimonies below:
Minh Ha Duong – Being a Techstars Associate: The Amazing Things You Gain
Kelly McDonald – Learn More Faster
Anthony Marnell – Techstars New York: A Reflection
Dirk Lehmann – Techstars Associate Program: The Better Startup MBA?
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions
The Blockchain may be the more notable technological innovation that has come out of Cryptocurrency. In 2017, we will see a plethora of uses for the Blockchain. We’ve already seen the Blockchain being used for diamonds (Everledger) and land title registrations (BenBen). Expect to see even more startups going after new and currently unimagined uses for the Blockchain.
The Year of Mobile (again)
2016 saw monthly mobile money transactions exceeding one billion per month (more than double what PayPal processes). Expect to see even more proliferation of mobile, as a payment platform in both emerging and mature markets. Mobile wallets will become ubiquitous, while contactless and peer to peer payments on mobile will eat into credit card transactions.
Katlego Maphai, the founder of Yoco and a Techstars mentor remarked: “Money ‘electronification’ is getting a strong push globally, even at a policy level in some nations out of necessity. Sub-Saharan Africa will be active in this trend. It presents substantial growth opportunities for ambitious startups. Through this, I expect to see an increase in VC activity in the ubiquitous payments space, with expansion activities coming out of fintech ventures from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. It may include some potential ecosystem collaborations across these markets.”
The Rise of the Robots…AI
2016 saw a milestone breakthrough in AI with Google’s DeepMind beating the world number one at the extremely complex game of Go. Expect to see AI becoming more prolific in combating fraud, improving credit scoring, impacting insurance and a new stream of robo-advisory across multiple segments.
Barclays Rise is growing an ecosystem for fintech in Africa, leading this initiative is Yasaman Hadjibashi, Group Chief Creation Officer for Barclays Africa. She had this to say: “As one of the major opportunities for our continent to make a difference, I see alternative lending frameworks, products and experiences as a unique chance to help Africa’s emerging generation youth, customers, employees and entrepreneurs on their path to success. Therefore, fintech ventures, industry experts, researchers, advanced data scientists and innovators, who are actively focused on this opportunity, are my personal target for new exciting collaborations and solution execution.”
To apply to the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars in Cape Town complete the application here. Applications close on 5 February 2017.