MARCH 2023 NEWSLETTER
This month our contributors are thinking about employees and how the topic relates to their subject-matter expertise. Whether you're implementing a 4-day work week within your startup culture (Forbes says this week that it might be your biggest business risk), or you're considering how your company can compete amongst larger companies for staff in a still-strong job market (It Brew says IT hires are still in demand despite news of lay offs) - we thought we would bring some perspectives to your inbox around employees. But first -- The Hudson Valley Bulletin Board!
Managing employees can be like playing basketball.
When I purchased a coffee shop once, I inherited Laura, an assistant manager who worked in the business for more than 20 years. In many respects, I was totally reliant on her passing on her knowledge of how to run the place. However, I quickly realized that there was one thing I knew about hiring employees that she didn’t.
It’s not the greatest “aha moment” you’ll ever read off these pages. But as I have consulted with other companies and business owners, I have consistently found this concept to be an immutable truth. Let me set the stage.
I inherited Laura and several other employees from the previous owner. Because I was new to food services, I was willing to tolerate some unethical and unprofessional things about these individuals until I had a better grasp of the business and could afford to find, hire and train the staff I wanted.
When I finally got rid of two of them, I went on a hiring spree. One of my candidates was Kerry, the teenage daughter of a friend of mine. When I interviewed Kerry, she told me she was the point guard on the local high school basketball team.
I scheduled her first day for Saturday, our busiest day of the week, catching a ton of flak from Laura for doing so. Laura complained all week and really flipped out Saturday morning when one of my unethical holdovers called out sick.
And then Kerry showed up for work. My high school-age daughter rounded out the four of us for a morning where we would normally have a minimum of five counter people. The foot traffic that day was intense. Laura groused openly as we tried to train Kerry while also taking care of our own customers.
Somewhere around 9:00 a.m. something magical started to happen. Kerry was moving fluidly through her tasks and doing superbly. Work was intense, but it flowed. Later in the morning, my daughter whispered in my ear about how Kerry had two customers of her own and had just offered to help her too.
It was a great Saturday morning. The relentless lines of clients never seemed to shorten, no matter how hard we worked. Around 11 a.m., we finally reached our late morning lull.
Cleaning up and catching up on some tasks back in the kitchen, I braced myself for more complaining as Laura approached me. “Kerry. She’s a keeper,” Laura said. I affirmed Laura’’s judgment and pointed out some of what I saw that morning.
I also tried to relate to Laura my hiring philosophy. Hearing that Kerry was THE star guard of her high school basketball team told me a lot about her overall skills, but more importantly made me confident about her ability to adapt quickly in an environment like ours in the shop, to “see the court” so to speak, and work both smart and hard.
This new employee went on to graduate from nursing school. No surprise there. Kerry’s got game.
Richard D'Ambrosio helps businesses and organizations define their brands and amplify their voice through his 30 years of practicing the art of storytelling. You can find him at www.storytellingthatsells.biz, where he helps entrepreneurs, non-profits, large organizations and companies translate their stories into powerful marketing content, including social media, websites, blogs and video.
Why employees matter to investors.
From an investor’s perspective, employees = team. It is often the most important factor investors consider before making an investment in a startup. Hence the quote, “Bet on the jockey, not on the horse.” The jockey, of course, is the founder. And the horse is the product or service.
Professor Ilya A. Strebulaev, Stanford University, asked over 800 venture capital professionals to prioritize the most important factors when making an investment decision. This study was described in an article by Martin Smith, Do Funders Care More About Your Team, Your Idea, or Your Passion? Strebulaev found, “the abilities of a founder and management team are the most important factor driving investment decisions — often more important than even a product or technology itself.” More specifically, the most important factors were the founder’s “depth of industry experience, passion, specific entrepreneurial experience, and teamwork.”
To summarize, the top four factors for making an investment decision are: founder experience (industry and entrepreneurial), founder passion, and the strength of the founder/core team. In other words, when a founder is pitching to investors, they must clearly demonstrate that the core team is credible, capable, and complete.
The founder’s passion is usually demonstrated early on in an investor pitch as part of the founder’s story. The founder’s story begins to build credibility and capability. But what do we mean by “complete?”
After seven years of pitches made to the HV Startup Fund, we concluded no founder or core team is complete without three core competencies: financial/operations, marketing & sales, and product/technology. Most founders have only one of these three competencies. So the remaining founders or core team members must have the other competencies.
In addition, the core competency of the business should be covered by someone on the core team. For example, if you have a software business, one of the founders or core team should have software and coding experience and responsibility. Outsourcing your core competency is too risky and expensive, and you will never be able to keep up with changing market needs.
Very early on, a startup may not have the resources to have all three of these competencies on the founder or core team. This is where the extended team comes into play. The extended team usually includes strategic advisors or a board of directors who fills the core team gaps. And it adds to the founder’s credibility if respected people believe in them and their business so much so, that they are willing to help in a meaningful way.
One last point on team. Since innovation is directly correlated with diverse perspectives, it is important to have diverse perspectives represented on the core team. This means cross-disciplinary perspectives, industry perspectives, technology perspectives, and life experience perspectives. These diverse perspectives can often be achieved through diversity in gender, ethnicity, age, and other demographics.
Tony DiMarco, Founding Manager, HV Startup Fund. Tony has been educating startup founders since 2016 in his role at GCSEN Foundation. He co-founded the HV Venture Hub and is a Program Manager for HV Angel Hub. He is also the founder of Natural Roles, LLC, a career coaching company.
Stop marketing how new your solution is - start competing.
Rare Animals is an AI supported content studio providing cross-disciplinary content support to ventures, product builds and prototyping processes. Founder and veteran verbal designer, Shanley Knox, sits down with one Hudson Valley based startup each month to answer their most pressing content question.
Our first month’s question comes from Elie Venezky, founder of Biometric Edge.
The Business: Biometric Edge is a platform service that integrates 20 years of Elie’s personal experience tutoring students into a data-driven practice exam experience that gives parents and teachers immediate, biometric insight into where their student can improve their test taking skills.
Phase: Biometric Edge has already launched in the market, and is looking to grow through both partnerships with schools, and direct sales to parents.
Elie’s Challenge: We’re not like a regular mock exam, but I don’t know how else to describe us. I keep thinking of different descriptions, but I’m not sure how to generate the right one, or measure if it’s working.
Ah, the beautiful problem of launching a product so differentiated existing terminology falls short! It’s an incredible, and yet frustrating, problem for any entrepreneur trying to drive early revenue — especially if you’re doing it through digital ad sales.
Elie’s company, is, indeed, different than any other test prep site I’ve ever heard of. But my advice was to skip the expensive investment in trying to come up with something new, or quippy. Instead, we talked about a couple tried and true ad methods that focus more on verbiage that converts customers, and less on landing something new and unique.
Tactic 1: Us vs Them
A quick Google search for the well known mattress brand Casper reveals ads for Cocoon by Sealy, a direct competitor, which placed search engine result pages (SERPs) to target Casper’s intended audience. The company placed a paid ad in a SERP for the term Casper mattress, with the headline “Don’t Buy the Hype, Shop Cocoon & Save Hundreds.”
Hack the us vs them approach for your own site hook or google ad, with language like:
- x# of people are people are ditching [competitor/enemy] for this [your product]
- x% of users prefer [your product] to [competitor/enemy]
Then, you can use your subhead to explain the difference.
For example: “[competitor type one] does x. [competitor type one] does y. [Insert your product] is the only place that [your differentiation here].”
Tactic 2: Dream Outcomes
The flip side of a differentiated approach to something is a differentiated outcome. In Elie’s case, one of the biggest outcomes he drives for students is decreased testing anxiety.
Startups like Kajabi use this tactic to explain how intuitive their tech is - “ready to launch with just a few clicks.” Mailchimp famously does this in just four words: “Turn emails into revenue.”
A couple ways to try this out:
- [product] helps [insert users] [insert dream outcome] in [insert time or value saved]
- How [insert users] [dream outcome] in [x] [hours/days/limited investment] with no [objection]
If you find these examples helpful, join a Rare Animals founder groups: where founders generate pitch decks, sites, bios and ad copy that better reach their goals - for just $50/month. Have a question to submit for our series? Reach out to submit, here.
Before Silicon Valley, the HV
Before popup, Unicorn startups became a thing; there were generational family-owned businesses. Three generations were common.
Before the internet. If you read a newspaper or a publication, it was likely manufactured on a Hoe Press. Meet the Hudson Valley Hoe Family - Innovators of print technology. They helped facilitate mass print media communication (1819 – 2023).
We can all recall in 7th grade Civics images of Ben Franklin working at his flatbed press. Robert Hoe’s entrepreneurial journey starts building wooden presses at age twenty (1805). A growing population and rising literacy drove demand for many inexpensive newspapers. In 1800 there were 200 barely solvent one-person newspapers. A century later, the number increased to 21,000 newspapers, many with large, complex operations. The Hoe second-generation crew was positioned to serve a new market with their new printing technology – the steam power press.
Startup to scale in eight years.
Before entrepreneurship, Richard March Hoe (1812-87) was an entrepreneur. His first improvement endeavor, with his brother Robert II, was to raise a craft shop into a business. The business, Hoe & Co., manufactured printing presses for newspapers. Their competitive advantage was innovation, a trait he inherited from his father, Robert Hoe. Richard’s first tech investment was to acquire the Rust Press and IP in England. He then invented a patented sheet delivery system to increase speed and lower costs. The Washington Press produced a new marketing benchmark of 4,000 pages per hour (1827). And it was good for 100 years of service.
In entrepreneurial business building, timing is crucial, 42% of startup success. The Roe - Washington Press was selling into a demand ‘hot’ market. And the Hoes’ commitment to innovation and quality produced revenue and profits to fuel business building. Well prepared for the ‘hockey’ stick growth.
Scaled to Growth
Richard’s invention of the rotary press in 1843 was a seismic breakthrough. The Hoe-Lighting Press created:
- A product that met the moment for the market and customer
- IP-protected invention, innovation
- Positioned the brand
- Designed for additional innovation.
- Solid and improving financials.
- Legacy planning
As an organization, Roe employed 400 in 1850, and by 1910 2,500 in the New York factory and 800 in London.
In the entrepreneurial journey, there are sales and The Sale! The Sale was a Hoe Lightning Press to The Sun in Baltimore (1847). If you are a Wizard of Oz fan, The Sale is the scene when the screen and the story go from black & white to Technicolor. Hoe & Co. was not in Kansas anymore – a tipping point; Hoe was now the leader.
- Hoe 1855 -1870 introduced the Hoe Perfect Press. 2-sided printing,
- fed by a 5-mile-long spools of paper;
- Lithographic illustrations
- and producing 18,000 papers per hour.
Four levels of innovation and four layers of benefits for the customer
In 1924, Robert Hoe IV passed the management of Roe & Co baton to corporate executives. Hoe family entrepreneurship shifted to the Hudson Valley with successful recreational and real estate ventures.
A fifteen-year-old Robert Roe (1784 -1833) of Leicestershire was attracted to America by reports of better working conditions. In 1803 Robert was in New York, penniless and fighting Yellow Fever. But by the kindness of strangers, he recovered and was given a job. Eventually, he put his woodworking trade to making type cases and wooden frames for presses.
Fast forward; to the Adirondacks on a private lake in 1883, families and friends gathered for the summer; on the mailboxes are the family names: Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Peabody, and Roe, among others.
Entrepreneurship and compounding interest can be very rewarding and fun.
This Before the Silicon Valley, the Hudson Valley blog offers a 400-year narrative journey honoring the icons of entrepreneurship and their impact on invention, innovation, and commercialization in the Hudson Valley. Contact welcome: Donald J. Delaney, HV Entrepreneurship Historian & Blog Writer for the HV Venture Hub at SUNY New Paltz. You can reach Don at firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-264-1505.
- March 8, 2023. The Power of R&D Partnerships: Climate Tech, 10 AM - Webinar
- March 9, 2023. Hudson Valley Angel Hub Monthly Membership Meeting, 6 PM - 7:30 PM. Email Eliza to get guest access.
- March 14, 2023. Marketing Essentials for Growth in 2023 Workshop, 9 AM - Albany, NY
- March 14, 2023. Troy Innovation: Focus on Health Tech & Life Sciences, 12 PM - Troy, NY
- March 16, 2023. Manufacturing Forum: Growth of the Urban Foodscape, 8 AM - Farmingdale, NY
- March 16, 2023. How to Be Loan Ready, 10:00am – 11:00am, hosted by Women’s Enterprise Development Center, held online
- April 4, 2023. Westchester Angels Investor Meeting, 5:30 pm - 9 pm, Jazz Forum, 1 Dixon Lane, Tarrytown, NY. *Guests must be accredited investors to attend*
- March 31, 2023. 11th Annual Mid-Hudson Regional Business Plan Competition, held at Marist College, hosted by the School of Computer Science and Mathematics
- April 27, 2023. NY State Business Plan Competition Finals
- For more information contact Cynthia.Worrad@marist.edu or Roberta.Diggins@marist.edu
Opportunities for Founders
- How to Start Something Accelerator powered by Entrepreneur Ready is an entrepreneurship training program, to help people start businesses. Sign up here.
- Applications are open! The Element 46 Accelerator, a Westchester County program for tech startups based in Westchester, is launching its Spring 2023cohort. Apply by March 6th to be considered for the upcoming cohort: https://www.element46.org/application-2022
Hudson Valley Founder Asks
- FUTUR offers a groundbreaking vision for holistic living. They have launched a kickstart and won a prize at Venture Fest 2022 for their outstanding work. Join the regenerative revolution—help us build ZÔM
- NuOp is looking for a freelance writer to help to create landing/lead capture pages for various marketing efforts they are implementing, contact Geoffrey.
Comments? Email Kris Backhaus at email@example.com
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