Yet again, we successfully concluded a busy 5th week for our program. With our teams hard at work even on the field, we used the week not only to learn more about developing a fitting company culture and model but also delved into issues of company finances, business models and market fits. Our teams had the chance to reflect on their growth and presence in the Valley as growing companies.
On Tuesday, we had an insightful session with Dmitriy Kustov, an expert in taxing, audits and financial reporting from CPA Kustov& Associates, Inc. His accounting firm specializes in Financial Statement Auditing, Tax Preparation, and Tax Consulting for individual and business clients. In addition to answering a plethora of questions regarding critical financial strategies that startups should follow, Mr. Kustov also shared recommendations on adjusting to American finances as foreigners to the system. His presentation helped create a financial roadmap for our teams seeking to follow a vast array of different routes in terms of becoming a permanent resident in the US or managing their US finances as a non-resident. “My advice would be to only try and become a resident when it is absolutely necessary” Kustov said as he concluded his section of the presentation focusing on the federal tax system.
For this week, we designated Wednesday as our day of individual weeklies with the teams. Each team had a fruitful discussion with our managing director Çiğdem Toraman with the guidance of our mentors including Jeff Abbott. Teams had the chance to reflect on their overall process so far and where they are at in terms of their goals and deadlines. Since this week bared a high volume of fieldwork, it was helpful to take a moment to understand what great things have been accomplished so far in the program for the teams.
On Thursday, the teams had the exciting opportunity to participate in a company visit to Intuit headquarters for a presentation lead by Rick Jensen who is the Senior Vice President and Chief Talent Officer at Intuit. Intuit specializes in business and financial management solutions for small and mid-sized businesses, consumers and accounting professionals. The company has even been named as one of “the most” Innovative Software Companies and one of the top 100 companies to work for by the Fortune magazine. Mr. Jensen, accompanied by our mentors Chris, Jeff, and Tuto, lead a great presentation focusing on culture and values.
Our week was off to a strong finish with a day-long session on Gross Margin, Product Market Fit and Proven Business Model Patterns, again with the insightful leadership of Chris, Jeff and Tuto. Jeff started out by introducing the Problem-Solution Fit Canvas. The canvas, which is primarily based on the principles of the Lazy User Model, Lean Startup and User Experience Design, is built to support entrepreneurs in understanding behavioral patterns and create solutions with increased likelihood of adoption. Jeff shared that this was a highly necessary system to utilize in order to “solve complex problems in a way that fits the state of your customers” as well as to “succeed faster and increase your solution adaption by tapping into existing mediums and customer behavior.” This model also helps sharpen your communication and marketing strategy with the right triggers and messaging, ultimately allowing an increase of touchpoints with your company. It works to understands the necessary problem-behavior fit, build trust and solve urgent and possibly costly conflicts. According to Jeff, to be competent enough to use this canvas, your company needs to portray a certain vision and ask certain questions in order to fully understand the existing situation and design for improvement.
Jeff continued with elaborating on the customer segment of the canvas, asking companies who their customer is, which segment they primarily target, and what limits the customers to act in given problem areas, such as costs, too many options etc. “Ask yourself, what kind of already existing solutions do your customers use when faced with this problem” Jeff said. He then delved into “the problem” and asked the teams to reflect on what problem they solve for their customers and how often their customers possibly face this problem. He concluded his presentation by talking about what triggers customers to act on these problems and how this our teams’ solutions would converge with this trigger mechanism. According to Jeff, it is important to get user feedback and update your Canvas accordingly in order to get a truly good grasp of these issues: the Canvas should be evolving constantly.
For the 2nd session, Chris Yeh took the stage to elaborate on “Market Fit”. “If your product-market fit is in a very niche market it ultimately limits your scaling process”, Chris said. In order to understand the product market fit in their individual fields, the teams were encouraged to find metrics that they can look weekly or even daily. “This should be a habit like brushing your teeth and it should be supported by frequency in order to fully create a sustainable business model.”
According to Chris, the only establishment that doesn’t require product-market fit is the government. He shared the example of Groupon, an e-commerce marketplace that connects subscribers with local merchants for deals, that is in a big market and serves for a big necessity yet manifests low continuity. If you once go to a massage place for a reduced price of 50 dollars, you won’t come again for 100, which is the normal price. At the end of the day, Chris left the teams with this question: “What is the usage of this product, and how intense, valuable and sustained is this usage?”
As the week came to a close, the teams were satisfied to be inspired by the sessions and presentation, enlightened by the workshops and hungry for more field experiences to come in.