Help Spotlight Software move through the field of 64 and win the Venture Madness!
We are proud to be selected as one of the 64 participants in the Invest Southwest Venture Madness. This innovative competition pits 64 of the region’s most promising startups against each other in an exciting bracket-style, head-to-head competition. In round 1, we are up against a very worthy competitor in Brett Approved and need your help!
Watch our video for the competition below and cast your vote for Spotlight here.
An event filled with exciting business ideas, awesome teamwork, and mentoring was capped off by a pitch competition from the Phoenix area’s young entrepreneurs. Ready Set Launch! 2013 hosted by the Center of Entrepreneurial Innovation (CEI) was a week-long entrepreneurship learning experience for high school students. High school sophomores, juniors, and seniors gained a new understanding of entrepreneurship as a possible career opportunity and how to start their own business.
Spotlight was able to take part in the event as a sponsor and was very excited to help support the young entrepreneurs of the future. COO Dan Schulz served as a judge for Friday’s pitch competition and even took part in some fun with one company’s Star Wars light saber replicas.
Watch this CEI video highlighting Spotlight as a Sponsor
The first day of the event was built around the students sharing ideas and learning to cooperate within their given teams. As the week went on, the teams developed their business pitch presentations covering everything from intellectual property to marketing to funding. Each team even developed their own commercial and radio spot recording!
Ready Set Launch! also included presentations from several prominent players in the Phoenix entrepreneurship community. The young entrepreneurs learned first-hand from those who have been there, done that in the startup world. Presenters involved with organizations such as Seed Spot, Co+Hoots, AZ Commerce Authority, NACET, and several others led informational and inspiring talks for the students.
Spotlight COO Dan Schulz with a new light saber
Friday wrapped up the incredible event with the teams presenting their business pitches to the panel of judges. Each team was given 10 minutes to present their business and any of them could have easily won the competition. But only one could be chosen and Skyguard, a business that provides large-scale security through drone surveillance, came away as the winning team. Greg Bullock of CEI wrote an excellent series ofpostsrecapping each day of the event in more detail and photos.
Not only was the entire event extremely valuable for the young entrepreneurs learning new business skills and lifelong lessons, it was valuable for us as well. We saw first-hand the future entrepreneurs of the Phoenix area. And boy, is that future bright.
Ever wondered what it takes to be an entrepreneur? Startup Weekend Tempe will show you in a 54-hour fury of creating business models, designing and coding a minimum viable product, and market validation. The event will take place at the brand new AREA48 Formation Space on Mill Avenue right in the heart of downtown Tempe on September 6th – 8th.
Startup Weekend is 3-day event teaching the basics of what it takes to launch a business from the ground up. Anyone who has an idea for a startup can participate and receive loads of feedback from other experienced entrepreneurs. All ideas are voted on and teams are formed to turn the idea into a business model in 54 straight hours of fun. The weekend concludes with presentations in front of a panel of judges giving valuable feedback the entrepreneurs can take with them.
The event in Tempe starts Friday evening with introductions, dinner, and networking before moving right into the pitches and team formation. Saturday and Sunday continue with teams working on their business ideas and opportunities for coaching and mentoring throughout. The event caps off with final presentations, judging, and awards on Sunday evening. The entire schedule for the weekend is available on the Startup Weekend Tempe website.
As a contributing sponsor, Spotlight has been provided a promotional code for a 15% discount off the ticket price. Register for the event today, enter the promotional code Spotlight for your 15% discount, and prepare yourself to soak up all the knowledge at Startup Weekend Tempe!
“Lean startup” is a popular phrase in today’s entrepreneurial world and for good reason: it works. The official definition to the lean startup methodology from Eric Ries is “to provide a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers’ hands faster.” This process involves developing a minimum viable product, or “a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers”.
So a minimum viable product (MVP) is a way to get your product into the hands of users faster and use their feedback to continuously innovate. There is no better validation on whether your product has legs than honest feedback from your target market. They will be brutally honest. The key is to make sure you listen, as they will stop you from wasting money on developing a product that sucks in the first place.
When we were in the process of developing our MVP for Spotlight People & Project Manager, we took a two-phase approach. First there was the MVP phase, which we used to gather beta users and early adopters for thorough feedback. We used the feedback to continuously iterate and add functionality. Then there was the minimum marketable product (MMP) phase, which is a period where the product is out of beta and can be marketed to new customers. You will still be iterating and using customer feedback, but this product can have more marketing dollars pumped into it. Some people use these terms interchangeably but we separated it into two phases.
It’s often difficult to judge when the time is right to release a MVP and then MMP. Here we look at each one and some differences to help you in the process of building your lean startup.
Minimum Viable Product
The MVP is initially used to validate your product idea with customers. Here we look at three key areas that can help you determine if it’s worth moving forward with your product.
Value – Does your minimum product provide enough value that people are willing to use it? If you have a hard time attracting traffic to your product’s website through a smoke test PPC campaign, it’s obvious something needs to change. Or maybe the idea just isn’t going to perk much interest, ever. On the other hand, if you receive good traffic and a number of signups for early beta testers, chance are you’re on the right track. This initial user feedback will give you the information needed to determine if it’s worth spending the capital to move the product forward.
Future Benefit – As you move through the early MVP phase, you’ll get an idea of whether early adopters are actually using the product and coming back for more. Do they believe your product shows enough future benefit to keep using it? Users should be able to see the potential of your product with an MVP even if the functionality isn’t there yet.
Feedback– Feedback from beta users and early adopters is a two way street. You provide them some incentive, such as free use of the app right away and possibly in the future, for their feedback and suggestions. This will help guide your future development goals beyond the MVP. Instead of throwing in features that your team thinks would be beneficial (often called ‘feature creep’), use the data at hand from those using it everyday in real business situations. If the early adopters have suggestions for improvement, it will likely benefit your entire target market as a useful addition for the future. If they have no feedback at all, it’s probably time to reevaluate your product.
It’s important that early users can identify the vision and promise of the final product through the MVP. If they can’t see it or don’t think it’s worthwhile, gathering feedback and data will be tough.
Minimum Marketable Product
As previously mentioned, we separated our development roadmap into two phases, the second being the MMP. As our application evolved through the MVP phase, we asked ourselves, when is it ready to be released to the masses? Now that you’ve verified the idea with the MVP and people are getting value out of it, how do you know when the product is ready to turn on the marketing funnel? Here are three areas of your product to consider that help with this decision.
Reliability – The MVP phase is used to work out a lot of major bugs and server issues in your software product. While your beta testers will be understanding of outages or business crippling issues in the early phase, regular customers will not. Ensure your product is 100% free of any show stopping bugs that will deem it unusable. When you release a MMP to the world, people are going to rely on your product when they sign up, whether it’s for business or pleasure. Don’t release a product that is going to frustrate them with reliability issues.
Scalability – Ensure whatever platform you’re product is hosted on is fully scalable for a flood of new users. While most new startups won’t get overwhelmed with new users as soon as the MMP is released, scalability needs to be something that is worked out during the MVP. There is always that chance your product catches on quickly and the signups start rolling in. Make sure the traffic can be handled before releasing your MMP.
Performance – Nothing is slow these days in the world of technology. If it is slow, people don’t use it and definitely won’t pay for it. Test the performance of your product every which way before releasing an MMP. Studies show that 250 milliseconds can make the difference between someone visiting your website or a competitor’s. Chances are there will be multiple users hitting the system at once and any delay in response, even seconds, will frustrate them. Nothing good comes from frustrated users as soon as you release your product.
While there are several more things to consider before releasing your product to the entire market, these are three vital ones. You want to be prepared for anything when moving out of your MVP and into a marketable product release. While you will continue to iterate your product with new features, updates, and improvements, an MMP can be released when you’re prepared for the unexpected.
No matter if you are building a MVP or ready to release a MMP to your target market, the key to all of this is building a product that solves a problem. If it doesn’t solve some type of problem, people or businesses won’t use it. Starting with a MVP and morphing that into a MMP after honest user feedback will give you the best chance of success. Determining the timeline for MVP and MMP releases can be difficult but trust your judgment. And surround yourself with people who have done it before.
Has your business developed a product using a minimum viable product and minimum marketable product? Or do you combine them into one? Leave us a comment and share your experience.
NACET is a hands-on business incubator designed to transform innovative ideas into viable companies. Together with a wide variety of non-retail, service, manufacturing, technology, science and energy firms, NACET fosters business growth and economic vitality to create high-quality jobs for the region.
Located in Flagstaff, AZ, NACET offers a state-of-the-art facility with affordable office and meeting space, administrative support services, fully equipped lab space and advanced technology. The client companies take advantage of the resources and extensive reach of mentors, faculty, staff, and alumni to turn their ideas into a flourishing business.
Business Engagement Program
Each client takes part in a full engagement program to build a foundation for long-term growth. Clients are engaged in two ways. Resident clients operate directly out of the NACET facility and affiliate clients conduct business out of their own offices or laboratories with access to the facility when needed. Both take advantage of the incubation program to further their businesses.
The incubation program includes:
Business strategy and management advising
Introductions to angel investors and early stage venture firms
Intellectual property advisement services
Mentor network of experienced professionals
Collaboration with University research teams and domestic and international student interns
Access to public and private partners, training and networking opportunities
Any company besides brick-and-mortar retail is eligible to apply for the business engagement program under certain criteria. Consideration is given to those companies that have a realistic business and marketing plan with projections for future growth. Currently, NACET is home to 28 total clients including 13 resident, 11 affiliates, and 4 students.
Spotlight looks forward to continuing our relationship with NACET and their clients to provide assistance in their software development planning and execution strategies. For more information on NACET and their clients, stop by the website or contact them directly.
Spotlight Software and The Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation (CEI) at GateWay Community College have formed a partnership to support their companies with software development projects and strategy. Companies at CEI have started taking advantage of the free-year subscription to Spotlight and some mentorship opportunities that the partnership provides.
As part of the partnership, Spotlight CEO Vincent Serpico has already participated in CEI’s SmartBoard Tuesdays, showing the steps to effectively managing a virtual team of software developers. This quick 5-minute video highlights the main points of planning your software project all the way through delivery.
CEI provides business incubation services to assist its startup clients in building a strong foundation for long-term growth. Each resident client operates their business out of the CEI facility and takes advantage of a dynamic business environment without the overhead costs. Affiliate clients already operate out of their own space and can utilize the facility when needed for meetings or conferences. Both clients have access to all business incubation services, which include:
Business planning and management
Assistance with funding
Patent advisement services
Mentoring and education programs
Collaboration with local universities
Coordination with area partners
Education seminars and networking
CEI currently has 11 clients, 8 residential and 3 affiliate, in a variety of industries from biotechnology to clean energy. To become a client, startups and entrepreneurs must go through a challenging application process to ensure they are a fit for the incubation program. CEI carefully selects their clients after a review of a number of criteria that helps ensure a proper fit between CEI and the potential client.
If you are in the Phoenix area, CEI will be hosting its grand opening on Thursday, March 7th from 10:00 – 11:00 am at the CEI GateWay facility. Come learn more about the program and meet the exceptional clients and staff they have on hand.
Spotlight is excited to engage with CEI and their clients to assist them with their software development planning and execution strategies. For more information on CEI, its clients, and incubation services, please visit their website or contact them directly.
Spotlight Software has partnered with local Phoenix incubator Seed Spot to assist their ventures with software development planning and execution. The partnership includes a one-year free subscription to Spotlight, consulting, and mentorship for all ventures that are a part of Seed Spot.
Seed Spot is a nonprofit incubator founded by Christ Petroff and Courtney Klein Johnson that is focused on supporting Arizona’s most innovative social entrepreneurs. Backed by a network of community partners, they strive to build a community to support entrepreneurs in their startup endeavors. They launched in July 2012 and received an overwhelming 191 applications. 16 of those applicants were selected to the Venture Program and an additional 40 were selected for the Community Program.
To be eligible for the venture programs at Seed Spot, all companies must demonstrate a social impact, generate less than $500,000 in revenue, and reside in the state of Arizona. The programs offer the ventures all the necessities to be successful, including office space, education through an 18-module curriculum, mentorship, ability to interact with a network of successful local entrepreneurs, and the opportunity to secure funding.
Featured in several prominent media outlets, such as Forbes and AZ Central, Seed Spot is garnering nation-wide attention. Other cities have already begun reaching out to them, hoping to implement Seed Spot’s model into their own area to promote entrepreneurial growth. A documentary is being planned for the fall of this year, outlining the Seed Spot story from its onset.
Spotlight looks forward to working with Seed Spot and assist in building the entrepreneurial community in Phoenix. For more information on Seed Spot and their Venture Programs, please visit their website or contact them.
Spotlight CEO Vincent Serpico took part in the Spartan Obstacle Race this past weekend in cold, wet conditions (yes, even in Phoenix). A lot of preparation and training at the Rock Star Boot Camp helped him master all the obstacles in the race. Rock Star is no regular boot camp as the sense of team camaraderie and encouragement from other members makes the experienced unmatched.
While entrepreneurial software development and the Spartan Race are two completely different things, there are parallels between them. Both are hard, require a lot of preparation, and have a sweet reward. You will pivot and have to make quick decisions in both. But when it’s all said and done, you can look back and truly appreciate the journey to reach your goal.
So how do the two compare? Let’s take a look at the analogs between the Spartan Race and entrepreneurial software development.
Hire the Right Team
Both require that you have the right team around you for success.
In software development, you must decide whether to hire a team or do it yourself. It’s also important to ensure the right team is hired. Do they align with the vision of your application and business goals?
The Spartan Race is similar. Will you train with another person at the gym, go to a boot camp, or hire a personal trainer? Or will you do it on your own? Often a team approach is better for encouragement and motivation on those days you need something extra, just like in entrepreneurship.
Planning is essential for both.
Entrepreneurial software development requires planning at the beginning so your team knows what to develop and when. This keeps the team focused on the goals of the project. Sure, changes will be made to the requirements of the project but the overall goal is planned for at the start.
The approach to the Spartan Race requires planning well ahead of the race date. What kind of training is going to benefit you the most? Having a clear plan of what kind of training you need to focus on and how you are going to do it is key to a successful race day.
Keeping track of your progress helps you stay on track towards your goals.
Entrepreneurship is a special scenario where you are building a business from the ground up. Making sure you are staying on track and making progress from day to day is important to a successful business. If you don’t know you’re progress, you can’t make the right decisions to be successful in the future.
It’s no different with the Spartan Race. Monitoring your progress to ensure you are becoming properly prepared as race day approaches will make the whole experience that much better. Because you definitely don’t want to start the race and realized you should have trained more.
Team accountability is key in getting the things accomplished that you set out to do.
In entrepreneurial software development, accountability is key for delivering a successful project. You and your team need to be accountable for what is being developed and the delivery schedule. If anyone slips up, the whole project can be derailed.
Getting up early in the morning to train for the race can get old. This is where your individual accountability comes in. Are you keeping your training regimen in tact? If you belong to a boot camp, are you training mates encouraging you? Not holding yourself accountable and missing a day or two of training can make the race experience quite painful.
Software development is a process that requires everyone to stay on the same page. Constant and open communication makes sure of this so everyone is moving in the same direction. Collaborating with your team helps identify solutions to complex problems and resolve issues that pop up quickly.
Communication isn’t only between you and another person. When training for the Spartan Race, you have to listen to what your body is telling you. Overtraining happens quite easily so if your body is telling you to hang it up for the day, then hang it up. If you have a trainer, communicate with them daily on your training, how you are feeling, and concerns. They have the expertise to help you out.
Things out of your control will force you to pivot and adjust no matter what.
During development, changing requirements or market conditions can adjust your course. It happens all the time. Being able to properly pivot for these adjustments will keep your project in tact and on the timeline towards delivery. Thinking about this ahead of time and developing software that is scalable will make pivoting easy.
When training for the race, certain parts of your body will respond better than others. This is where you may need to adjust your training routine. You may need to start focusing more on endurance or agility if they aren’t coming quite as easily. Maybe your strength is coming along great, but it’s causing your flexibility to suffer. This is where you may need to pivot.
Reaching Your Goal
That day you reach your goal, whether it’s software delivery day or race day, is rewarding. You can look back at all the hard work and the path it took to get there.
Entrepreneurial software development takes a lot of twists and turns. Some days are stressful and you often have to work long, odd hours. But delivery day, when your project is complete and you can see your developed application, is so sweet. You know how much work was put in and that’s often the reward, not the compensation you get from it.
Training for an event like the Spartan Race requires dedication and a lot of desire to keep you going. You put your body in uncomfortable situations and have to find time to keep training among everything else going on in your life. But like entrepreneurship, when that day comes and you’ve finished the race, the level of gratification is unmatched. You know how much work was put in and the path it took to get there.
When it comes down to it, entrepreneurship can be compared to any difficult event that you have to prepare for and work towards a goal. The road can be long with good days and bad but when you reach that goal, whether it’s your millionth customer or a successful exit, you look back and know that you accomplished something that not a lot of people have a chance to. The experience of starting a business from the ground up and making it a success is the reward. And no money in the world can compensate for that.
Entrepreneurs are always looking for a way to cut costs; many times it’s the only way to survive. So what is one way to increase productivity at very low cost? Consider hiring virtual employees.
Some entrepreneurs and startups already take advantage of this opportunity but for the most part, it’s not widely known. Virtual employees are available right now on Elance and oDesk in a variety of fields. And most of them are very talented.
If you are trying to get your business off the ground, what advantages can hiring virtual employees offer? Let’s take a look at some in more detail to see if it fits your business model.
Oftentimes, entrepreneurs or startups can find virtual employees at a lower cost online than traditional employees. As mentioned earlier, Elance and oDesk have millions of freelance contractors available at a lower cost right now.
Hiring full or even part-time employees can often quickly drain a budget and this is a cheap alternative.
Building a business with virtual employees also alleviates the cost of office space. Here at , we work entirely virtual with employees located all over the western hemisphere. This eliminates almost all basic infrastructure expenditures. It also reduces some of the risk in starting a business where you don’t have long-term rent or employee agreements to honor should the business struggle.
Combining the savings in these two scenarios alone is enough to keep your business up and running for a long period of time.
Virtual Employees Work Anytime, Anywhere
Entrepreneurs are constantly on the go. They travel constantly, meet with clients and investors at various times and locations, and are hardly ever in the same spot. Working with virtual employees offers them the flexibility to do this easily. They can constantly keep in contact with their virtual employees from anywhere.
A virtual office also removes some of the restrictions you would often in a physical office. Where most employees would not have access to work resources again after 5 pm hit, virtual employees have all their work available immediately in their home office. Entrepreneurs will often find increased productivity in this environment.
Talent From Anywhere
Online marketplaces give you the opportunity to hire great talent from anywhere in the world. Gone are the restrictions of hiring employees only within a 50-mile radius of your business.
Not only does this give an entrepreneur access to great talent, but allows them to find employees that match the business mission and values. Basically, you can be a lot pickier when hiring and find those people that are enthusiastic and willing to put the time in to achieve the business goals.
Entrepreneurs will find that virtual employees are just easier to manage from an administrative (and again, cost) standpoint. Most employees found online work as contractors on a project basis. This allows you to avoid the burdens of healthcare, insurance, and other similar expenditures that full-time employees require.
The virtual office employees are also not entitled to annual or medical leave as they work independently. They typically have flexible schedules where they can take time off as they please, but without having to be managed by the entrepreneur as paid leave.
Last but certainly not least, using virtual employees offers great flexibility. The technology to connect virtual teams from all over the world would allow you to attend your children’s sporting events while still being connected to your team.
Basically, anywhere you can find an Internet connection (which is about everywhere) allows you to be working on at least “available”. This gives an entrepreneur the ability to leave the country with his or her family and still be in contact with the virtual employees.
The advantages of hiring virtual employees in the early stages of a new business are abundant. It presents a cost effective strategy while not sacrificing productivity. Eventually full-time traditional employees will be hired, but this strategy gets you started towards that point.
Spotlight offers the ability to manage your virtual employees from anywhere in the world. Take a tour of our website and try it free for 30 days to see where you can reap these benefits as an entrepreneur.