Detroit Startups: Launching Your
Tech Startup in the Motor City

A decade or so ago, nobody could really tell where Detroit was heading. A major shifting in the automotive industry left the Motor City in confused state, and the effects of the recession were evident in every part of the city. Foreclosures on homes and commercial properties became an everyday occurance, leaving a path of abandonment that was felt by those in the city – and even those in the surrounding metro area. Times were troubling and the future looked bleak. Many wouldn’t have predicted that the city known for its automotive manufacturing would break one day breakout as Detroit Startup City. When everyone was packing up and leaving the city in droves, no one would have guessed that it would one day be a place where investors flock to invest hundreds of millions of dollars, or that it would one day be a hub of new tech innovations. Detroit startups are driving the city forward, and if you’ve chosen Detroit as the headquarters for your tech startup – you’ve chosen the right place.

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Why You Should Launch In Detroit

For us at ThinkLions, there is nothing that makes us prouder than serving Detroit startups. While our business plan writers and app developers have served clients around the world, there’s always something special about working with awesome entrepreneurs right in our city. Amazing things are taking place in Detroit, startups everywhere are taking notice – and we love being a part of that.

Why are so many startups now migrating to the Motor City? The simple answer is – because Detroit startups are smart and they see the many advantages to launching and operating here. With a seemingly endless number of benefits, there is major value in being a part of the Detroit startup scene. Some of the major advantages to launching your tech startup in Detroit include:

  • Office Space is Cheaper: In most metro areas, office space can be ridiculously expensive; and for a startup, rent can be one of their largest fixed expenses. Detroit startups however, are able to access cheaper office space than most metro areas around the nation. Although rent prices are on the incline in recent years, there is still plenty of vacant office space all throughout Detroit where rent is super affordable for a new startup. Not ready to take on a full office space of your own? Maybe you’d be interested in joining one of the many many co-op and shared workspaces like Bamboo, WeWork, Regus or SpaceLab. There are also several startup and app incubators that you can join to help move your startup forward like SPARK (nearby Ann Arbor) and Techstars Mobility.
  • It’s Where The Investors Are: Ever since Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert began investing millions and millions into the downtown Detroit area several years ago, investors have been flocking to get in on the action. From real estate to startups, investors are now buying into any and everything Detroit-based that can provide a great return. According to a new report by Michigan Venture Capital Association, there are 35 active venture-backed Detroit startups representing 25% of the startup companies currently growing in Michigan. While 2009 brought in a whopping $131 million in total venture capital investment – this was minimal in comparison to the $222 million that was invested into Michigan startups in 2016.
  • The Talent Is Immense: There was never a question of whether talent lives in Detroit; just flip through the Billboards Top 100 anywhere from the 60s through the mid-70s and you’ll see that the city isn’t referred to as the Motown for nothing – real talent lives here. From amazing artists and musicians to incredible marketing firms and app developers; there are thousands of top-notch talent providers that can help you progress your startup.
  • You’ll Love The Scene: One of the best things about being a Detroit startup is working in Detroit. Downtown is buzzing with awesome new restaurants, museums and exhibits, fairs and festivals, and things to do. Any Detroit startup owner in the downtown area will tell you – there is always something awesome to check out, whether it’s the food trucks on Campus Martius or the city’s beautiful architecture.

Why Detroit? Detroit startups get the rare chance to be a part of something new. Sure, you can run to Silicon Valley and be a small fish in a huge pond of sharks; or you can be a part of Detroit startup success and build your business here while the opportunity is super advantageous and the resources are thick for any new startup.

Who’s Leading The Detroit Tech Startup Scene?

There are hundreds of startups now operating in Detroit; many of which are growing rapidly and helping Detroit progress it’s startup tech scene. We’d love to go through and give a spotlight to all of them, but here are 3 of our favorite standout Detroit startups!

Greenlancer

Greenlancer is an awesome Detroit startup that “facilitate[s] the design and fulfillment of permit-ready plan sets for the solar industry.” The startup uses proprietary technology and their network of engineers to help clients design and sell clean energy systems. Providing services like feasibility studies, concept designs and permit packages, Greenlancer uses standardized templates and workflows to create solar design documents. With a network of qualified freelance green energy designers and engineers (or “Greenlancers”), the platform manages all information as it passes from each each expert until the documents are completed.

Greenlancer has raised over $5.5 million in investor funding to date from 5 investors over 2 funding rounds.

BoostUp

Detroit startup - Boost Up

BoostUp’s mission is to “remove the anxiety associated with life’s biggest purchases”. Using automatic deposits and purchase roundups, BoostUp allows users to quickly save up for big purchases like cars or homes. Furthermore, this Detroit startup has several partnerships with major brands like Hyundai and Quicken Loans who dollar match for discounts up to a certain amount.

BoostUp has raised around $1.7 million during 3 investment rounds.

Ambassador

This startup helps businesses transform employees and customers into brand ambassadors. Located in Royal Oak, a suburb of Detroit (and the Ambassador Bridge), Ambassador allows businesses to incentivize those who refer their friends and associates from social networks. Ambassador has served several high profile customers like PayPal, Spotify and Progresso, among others.

Since inception, Ambassador has raised $5.2 million over four rounds of funding.

Is Detroit Right For Your Startup?

Yes… but maybe I’m biased – I grew up here, I live here and I run a business here. The true answer is, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking to be in a super established cut-throat market where thousands upon thousands of startups are pitching a handful of investors, check out Silicon Valley or New York – Detroit doesn’t have that vibe. Detroit is a place where startups are working together towards the goal, all fighting to get Detroit on the map; and to succeed as innovators while doing it. Low rent, a buzzing startup scene… these are only a few of the many benefits of being a Detroit startup, but being a part of the camaraderie of a rapidly growing startup economy, that’s the quality you won’t find anywhere else.

When you get here and start setting up shop – make sure to contact me, I’d love to have a coffee and learn more about your company! And of course, if you’re launching an app startup, give us a call – we’ve helped dozens of app startups raise millions of dollars and launch their innovative app tech through our business consultancy and app development services. If you have an app idea, and especially if you’re a Detroit startup (but even if you aren’t) — we’d love to help you bring it to life. Contact us today and let’s discuss your project.

How To Advertise An App
For Maximum Exposure

Developing an awesome app is hard work, but when it’s finally launched into the market, that’s where the real work begins. Many app developers and app entrepreneurs know how to create an app, but they have no idea how to advertise an app. The truth is, the mobile app market is highly competitive and advertising apps properly can be extremely difficult – especially when you are competing against established players with huge marketing budgets.

It’s easy to envision the end result – millions of users downloading the app and telling their friends about it; but how to do you get there? How do you advertise an app? Even knowing where to start is a challenge, especially when your marketing budget is low or non-existent.

In this post, we want to explore exactly what it takes to advertise apps the right way; getting your idea in front of the consumers who will most benefit from it and persuading them to download it. To get the best advice possible, we turned to several experienced app entrepreneurs, app marketers and marketing experts and asked them – what is the key to marketing and advertising apps?

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How To Advertise An App – The Must Do’s

It’s always nice to try out cool marketing tactics like contests, giveaways and other out-of-the-box ideas – but none of these methods are effective if a few app marketing basics have not been established. More specifically, every app startup needs to: build an associated website, optimize for App Store rankings (ASO), and optimize for Search Engine rankings (SEO).

Andrew Glantz, founder of GiftAMeal, suggested the following – “There are several ‘must-dos’ when marketing apps. You need to ensure that your app is easily discoverable with valuable keywords, have preview app screens that accurately capture the value of your app to potential users, and provide a compelling app description.”

The way your app performs in the App Store is extremely important. Apps that are featured receive considerably more downloads than those that are not; and those that show up first for related keywords receive considerably more downloads than those that are ranked in lower positions. Not only does your app description need to be written with a persuasive and consumer-forward tone – it also needs to cover ASO basics to ensure that it is visible to potential users.

How To Advertise An App - The Must Do's

Stav Tishler, Head of Marketing Communications at Lightricks gave the following advice, “SEO – that’s how people find your apps online. If you’re buried all the way on page 13 of a Google search result, will anyone ever find you? Does anyone even click to the second page of the SERP? I don’t know if I ever have.”

SEO is competitive, and ranking highly for valuable keywords includes many factors, such as: on-page optimizations, links from high authority websites and the website’s relevancy to the keyword. Furthermore, SEO is a long-term strategy – but establishing the app’s website early on gives startups an advantage; allowing them to generate organic and free online traffic. Paid ads on the other hand, can allow a startup to receive traffic to their website immediately. Since advertisers must pay for each click however, the benefits of paid ads end once the advertising budget has run out. When it comes to the must-dos of advertising apps, ASO and SEO give startups the ability to level the playing field with more established competitors.

Figuring out how to advertise your app on search engines with the right keywords can be challenging. Adrien Caiazzo, Marketing Director of Narraly (parent company of Flixup.io) says, “We use solutions like www.thetool.io and www.appannie.com to find the best keywords for our app, and also compare those with our competitors’ keywords. Before we could afford other paid avenues, finding strategic keywords was the best way we could get people to find our app.”

Caiazzo also added the following advice for app advertising must-dos, “Make sure the app is functional, as early adopters are incredibly valuable. And use your networks. Friends, old coworkers and family are more likely to download and rate your app than new users. If your app is very innovative; post it to different websites such as www.launchingnext.com or www.producthunt.com. These offer great visibility, and many of the users are passionate about tech, so they give helpful (albeit direct) advice.”

Mobile App Advertising – Establishing Authority

Publishing high quality content has become a leading way of advertising apps and marketing online businesses. Consumers are aware that competition exists in every industry and often, it is the credibility factor that makes them choose one solution over another. Furthermore, each piece of new content a startup publishes becomes another marketing asset; giving the business an additional avenue to connect with consumers. Content however, is extremely competitive as well. The quality of information you are putting out there is much more important than the quantity.

Mobile App Advertising - Establishing Authority

If you want to know how to advertise an app the right way with content, look at Mint.com for inspiration. Before Mint.com was even launched, the founding team already had a target customer in mind – young professionals. To reach them, they focused on their finance blog, MintLife. By publishing strong content, they were able to build themselves to the largest financial blog online. When Mint.com was launched, they already had a direct link to young professionals – their blog already had the market’s attention.

Eric Chiang, Marketing Lead at GooseChase Adventures says, “The most effective way we’ve been able to market our app in the recent months has been to create content showcasing how users are engaging with our app; instead of focusing on content that simply just shows how the app works. In general, potential investors might be interested in hearing about the technology and innovation behind your product – but your target demographic, the people who you’re actually trying to sell to? They only care about how your app will improve their life.”

Brit Armour, Director of Marketing at Kibii says, “Maintaining a blog will help you establish brand awareness and visibility. Most importantly, it allows you to gain trust and credibility by connecting with your audience on a deeper level. You need to appeal to your audience’s emotions. To be considered a thought leader, you must provide extreme value and provide consumers with the expert information that they seek. Content marketing is something I invest a large amount of time into. You can promote your app and its features as much as you want, but if your audience doesn’t resonate with your brand, they won’t give you a second thought.”

How To Advertise An App Through Communities

Like marketing other types of businesses, mobile application advertising requires a strong engagement with your target market – and there’s no better way to engage than social media.

advertise app through social media - lyft facebook feed

Lyft for instance, which has always competed against the larger rideshare company Uber, uses social media to really engage with their drivers and build user loyalty. Lyft’s CMO, Kira Wampler says, “While rival Uber is an efficient delivery service, Lyft is seeking to differentiate itself by offering a combination of ‘humanity and technology.” Social media offers the perfect opportunity for them to bring in the humanity aspect of interaction with their users. As a result, their social media page is filled with awesome customer photos, comments from drivers and passengers, driving stories and other content that engages fans and followers.

Regarding social media, Tishler answered, “Specifically for our apps, which are all about being creative, we use community-oriented social tools: Facebook and Instagram Live, Facebook groups, subreddits, and any new tool available to create a community. This allows us to provide a place for users or potential users to ask questions, get inspired and engage in a community of like-minded individuals.”

Creating Media Relationships through PR

Creating Media Relationships through PR

The way your startup is introduced by the media will play heavily on how consumers perceive your brand and app. When advertising apps, it’s important that the media is not only talking about you, but that they are mentioning your business in a positive light. Media relations requires finding journalists and media sources that cover products and software in your industry, and reaching out to them with a newsworthy story. Here’s the thing – if a media source is worth it’s weight, they probably receive dozens of pitches from startups each and every day. For your pitch to be effective, you must be offering them a quality story – not just another ‘app feature’ opportunity. Nobody wants to talk about another new app – but a startup that just received a high level of app funding? Well, that’s a story worth writing about.

To take advantage of media relationships early on, you may want to consider hiring a PR agency. Tishler points out, “Find a PR company. It’s expensive, but they tend to work. And if they don’t, you’ll know early on and you can find a new one.”

It can also be extremely beneficial to focus on building relationships with social influencers. These are individuals that are within your industry that influence the market through social media – whether it be through Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, or another platform. A single mention from the right influencer can instantly lead to thousands of downloads of your application and can have positive lingering effects when advertising apps.

Establishing Great Feedback – Reviews

Even if you know exactly how to advertise an app and implement every trick and hack; if users come across your app in the app store and your reviews are bad, they won’t download it – especially if it’s a paid app. User trust is built with 20% of what you say about your business, and 80% of what other consumers say about your app.

Whatever strategy you use for advertising your app, make sure to start establishing your reviews early on. Invite people from your personal network to use your app and ask them to leave a review. Incentivize users to leave reviews, offering them free credits or other rewards. Remind them to rate your app with the occasional popup notification.

Establishing Great Feedback - Reviews

Nate Masterson, Marketing Manager at Maple Holistics says, “With a surplus of good reviews, the sky’s the limit. The app with the most five-star ratings is going to hit the top of the search page quicker than those that are lesser reviewed. Having a good rating is all about having a functional app, that does what it says it’s going to do and brings excitement to the user. Asking for a review in a witty way could be just what you need. Being persistent is good, but being clever is better.”

Advertising Apps By Thinking Outside The Box

As mentioned, marketing apps can be difficult due to the sheer amount of competition that you will likely face. Sometimes, startups need to think outside of the box to make sure their solution is visible to their audience. Tinder for example, went straight to the “party” schools to market their application. They pitched the app to sororities and signed up sorors on the spot. They leveraged the participation of these sorority women to persuade the campus’ men to sign up.

GiftAMeal also does on-site advertising. Glantz remarked, “We also physically advertise our app at our partner restaurants. We put out table-tents and window decals at participating restaurants to encourage customers to download and user our app.”

How important is it to think outside the box when marketing apps? Caiazzo of Narraly says, “I try to spend a third of my day on out-of-the-box strategy planning. I think the real questions should be: how do entrepreneurs brighten their creative process to find out-of-the-box ideas? For me, that includes meeting and talking to people, reading articles, brainstorming with colleagues or other companies, and studying other businesses that use creative marketing techniques.”

Advertise Your App Like A Marketing Master

Advertise Your App Like A Marketing Master

The key to knowing how to advertise an app like a master is to test your marketing techniques on a small scale before betting it all on one horse. Focus on the ‘must-dos’ first: creating a strong website with on-site optimization and ensuring that your app description is optimized for ranking highly in the app store. Then move to establish yourself on social media, build media relationships and generate positive customer reviews. If the competition is thick, use out-of-the-box methods to reach your consumers directly or to stand out against competing brands.

Marketing apps can be challenging, but fortunately, we know exactly what it takes to create a winning marketing strategy. Contact us today to setup a free consultation with one of our expert startup consultants!

Do you have an out-of-the-box method for advertising apps? Tell us about it in the comments below!

7 Unexpected Apps That Made Millions

There’s one thing that’s common among all successful apps, it’s that they have the ability to secure investment and create wealth for their founders and stakeholders. However, not many app developers and tech startups make it to the top, and unfortunately, not all of them are making millions from apps. There’s a major difference between apps that made a few thousand dollars before fizzling away and apps that made millions. Some apps only offer a momentary solution to a problem, but the apps that really take off are those that provide their consumer with a continuous solution that draws them back over and over again.

In the past, the apps that made millions were mostly those that served an extremely mass audience – serving millions of people with low per customer value; and producing extreme profits as a result. Tinder, for example, is a multi-billion dollar company that serves an extremely wide market (singles of any type), while there are also several niche-focused Tinder clones (like Bristler – the dating app for those in love with facial hair) that are successful in their own right; but will likely never meet the mass scale of Tinder.

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Tech startups like Tinder were made for mass scale adoption, and from it’s initial introduction, it wasn’t much of a surprise that it quickly went viral. However, some apps that made millions did so unexpectedly – maybe they were made for a specific or niche market but caught on with the masses, or maybe started off serving one type of consumer but was able to expand to other customer segments.

It’s hard to believe that Facebook wasn’t originally made to be the social media conglomerate that it is today. In the earliest stages, it was simply just a site that showed the faces of Harvard students and allowed other students to rate them. Was it luck? Not really. More so, it was the ability to recognize an opportunity and capitalize on it that made Facebook take off.

Not every idea will turn into an app worth a million dollars; every startup won’t raise investor funding; and very few will be the next Facebook – but what does it take to build software that makes the most money? To grasp what is necessary for success, it’s a good idea to look at the journeys of apps that made millions (and raised millions), and especially, those who originally didn’t seem as if they were multi-million dollar ideas. In this article, we’re going to examine 7 of our favorites, and give you the insights you need to launch the next million dollar startup!

1. Slack

App that made billions - Slack

Today, Slack is king when it comes to team communication solutions. Founded by Stewart Butterfield, Slack is a cloud-based set of collaboration tools and services that allows teams to streamline their communication and collaborate more effectively. Slack is now used by millions of teams around the world – but it didn’t really start that way.

Initially, Slack was developed as a side project to help the team at Tiny Speck manage their cross-team communications during the development of the game Glitch (now defunct). While their main project no longer exists, the tool they built for their internal team ended up being exactly what other internal teams needed too.

Originally founded in 2009, Slack has raised over $790 million in investor funding over 10 funding rounds. While many other tech startups exist in the collaboration and productivity sector, Slack is most notable due to it’s ease of use, flexibility, ability to integrate with other apps, and its effectiveness across teams both small and large. Slack will soon move from our apps that made millions list to our apps that made billions list – they are projecting revenue of $1 billion within the next year!

Insights: Slack’s minimal viable product was their internal software, which they found to be extremely effective for team collaboration. If you want to create an app that makes millions, you’ll need something that’s more than “cool” – you will need to create something that truly improves the user’s experience. Look at the problems that you face in everyday life – what solutions could exist that would solve or ease those issues?

2. IFTTT

simple apps that made a lot of money - ifttt

IFTTT is a website that puts the internet to work for you. The acronym stands for “If This, Then That”; and seeks to automate tasks by connecting all your internet-based services.

IFTTT launched into the automation sector at the right time. It’s first applications were built by the Company’s founding team in 2010. At this time, the Company’s founder described IFTTT as “digital duct tape if you will, allowing you to connect any two services together.” With the solution, you could take any two services and use them together to create processes that the original creators didn’t specifically intend.

By 2012, IFTTT users had already created over 1 million tasks. During this same year, the Company integrated with Belkin WeMo devices to officially enter the “Internet of Things” space which vastly expanded their capabilities.

Today, IFTTT supports over 360 different services including Facebook, Twitter, Philips Hue, Dropbox, Google, Nest, Fitbit, BMW and Slack. Each year, hundreds of new services are added to the platform. These integrations allow users to automate an infinite number of processes – such as lighting an app-controlled lamp when a Facebook notification is received. To date, the startup has received funding of approximately $62.5 million. By 2014, the Company was already valued at $210 million – with it’s valuation growing considerably each and every year. Although the app has not yet identified a business model, user activity has proven its value to investors – who are lined up to invest into the potential of the app! Even without revenue, this company is definitely one of the most clever software ideas that made people rich. When the community is big enough, even startups with no revenue can become one of the apps that made millions!

Insights: IFTTT was initially built to connect two services together, but today, users are able to connect multiple software and hardware services together to create almost unlimited numbers of tasks. Your startup might not end up being what you first thought it was going to be. The key thing is to find a problem, create a minimal solution, and then let your users tell you what they really want through their usage and behavior.

3. Segment.io

simple apps that made millions - segment.io

Segment.io was initially introduced to the market by three MIT roommates who dropped out of college to participate in Y Combinator’s summer 2011 program. In the beginning, the team was focused on building a competitive solution to Google Analytics or KISSmetrics. However, they found it difficult to get users to adopt their solution as opposed to their much more established competitors.

In their search for the right solution, they built up a library called Analytics.js that combined all the analytic services and APIs together. An open source version of this library was released on GitHub. Co-founder, Peter Reinhardt said, “The open source version started growing by itself, so after a couple of months, we decided to pivot and build what people seemed to actually want: a beautiful, simple analytics API.”

As of today, Segment.io has raised $108.7 million in funding over 6 financing rounds. Although Segment’s revenue is not made public, they have stated that “Today more than 15,000 companies rely on Segment to process 80 billion end-user actions a month.” Without a doubt, Segment is one of the successful million dollar mobile app ideas that are worth talking about! 

Insights: Sometimes, what you think customers want isn’t really what they want. It is important to keep your ear to your market to figure out exactly what they are looking for, and indenify the gaps that other competitors aren’t servicing. When your original idea isn’t working out, figure out why, and pivot!

4. Magic

apps that made people rich - Magic

In today’s world, on demand is all the rage. Whether it’s on-demand restaurant delivery or on-demand ride sharing services; consumers of today want the effortless ability to have the world at their fingertips. Magic was created to fill this void by providing a 24/7 SMS based on-demand personal assistant service; literally allowing users to do anything on demand.

Magic was founded by Aaron Kemmer, Benjamin Godlove, David Merriman, Michael Rubin, Mike Chen, and Nic Novac in 2015. Magic combines artificial intelligence and virtual assistants with real people to create an on-demand service that seems almost limitless. Here are a few query examples that the company shared on their website:

  • “I left my credit card at a bar. Can you pick it up for me and bring it to my hotel?”
  • “Rent me the cheapest economy car at DFW airport for Sept 11-12, starting 7pm.”
  • “My anniversary is tomorrow, and I want a photographer to take pictures.”

Today, Magic has established a working app business model; charging around $35 per hour for their on-demand services. Their user base has opened up to serve corporate clients also – acting as a personal assistant for busy executives. Magic secured an initial seed funding amount of $125,000 and has since raised over $12.6 million.

Insights: Many startups are able to grow their revenues considerably by taking one solution and opening it up to other markets. Identify what target market you will serve, and also consider secondary markets that could benefit from your solution.

5. SafetyCulture

ideas that made people rich - iauditor

SafetyCulture is an app startup that aims to solve problems related to workplace safety and quality management. While the issue of health and safety or quality management may not sound like an exciting multi-million idea; those who manage these processes are in high demand for effective solutions. SafetyCulture uses a unique collaborative safety model, where workers can create and share new ways of working safe. SafetyCulture’s application, iAuditor, has now been used to conduct over 3 million safety inspections globally. The company also released SafetyCloud, which helps users manage data collected in the field.

SafetyCulture is an Australia-based company that was founded in 2004. In 2013 however, it is assumed that they made a huge jump in innovation and fundability – as they began raising a high level of capital; now equal to over $87.6 million.

Insights: App success doesn’t come overnight. In many cases, the original idea won’t be super successful and success comes after many pivots are made. Serving a niche market doesn’t mean your app can’t make millions, but it does mean that you need to really become the industry expert and learn what it would take to serve them in the most effective way possible.

6. Curefit

most profitable apps - curefit

Curefit is described as an “end-to-end solution that will enable users to take full control of their health to improve the quality of life and reduce long-term healthcare costs. In India, healthcare is estimated to be a $280 billion market by 2020. In response to this, founder Mukesh Bansal created a total solution that wraps preventative healthcare up into one app. By managing their health proactively through a suite of service offerings, users can reduce the risks of long-term chronic illnesses.  

So far, Curefit has raised over $55 million and is in the process of potentially securing another $75 million in their current round. The business currently has a revenue run rate of $15 million and recently acquired a stake in the Bengaluru-based fitness startup, Cult.

Insights: If you’re going to enter a crowded space, your app needs to really stand out. There are enough dating apps, on demand apps, events apps, etc. – what really makes yours any different? Curefit was able to combine several software products into one to create an end-to-end solution, whereas competitors were only offering management of a single health-related process. Your USP should be clarified, and you should only enter the market after you have clearly defined you competitive advantage.  

7. SignalFx

apps that made people rich - signalfx

SignalFx is a monitoring platform for modern infrastructure that was founded in 2013. The company collects metrics across the cloud, provides powerful visualizations and offers advanced monitoring services. Their major advantage is that they are able to deliver a consolidated real-time visualization of infrastructure, services and applications.

SignalFX was developed by two founders with impressive backgrounds. The Company’s CEO, Karthik Rau’s background included positions at Delphix and VMware; while CTO, Phillip Lio, spent 4 years working at Facebook as a software architect. Liu told TechCrunch, “I worked on the infrastructure team at Facebook. I built a lot of configuration monitoring tools.”

A common theme amongst apps that made millions, is that they’ve also raised millions to progress their software. To date, the company has raised a total of $103.5 million and is continuing to invest aggressively into their research and development.

Insights: There’s nothing that ensures a successful startup journey than solid experience. The founder’s backgrounds gave them a major advantage in operating their business and raising capital. If you want to know what it takes to run an app startup, go work (or intern) for one! At minimum, partner with an app incubator, as this will give you access to mentors who know exactly what it takes – helping you avoid obstacles that can be costly in both time and money.

Do You Have A Million Dollar App Idea?

A million dollar app idea means very little without excellent execution. One common thread about successful apps is that they launched into the market, learned exactly what their consumers were demanding and pivoted their businesses wherever necessary.

Lean startup methodology is the key to building apps that make millions. The first step to building a successful app is to launch your minimal viable product and begin validating your assumptions – or identifying where pivots are necessary. If you’d like to learn more about how to make millions from apps and how to position your startup for success, contact us today for a free consultation!

What are your favorite apps that made millions? What million dollar mobile app ideas do you wish you came up with first? Tell us about it in the comments below!

8 of the Best Pitch Decks
That We’ve Ever Seen

Great businesses are built on making great deals; and creating the best pitch decks with a branded pitch deck design is an integral part of presenting your startup to the people and institutions that can make great deals happen.

Startups are fundamentally different than other types of businesses. Although they are relatively young in age and smaller than enterprise organizations, they hold the potential for explosive growth. Take a new pizza shop as an example – no matter how successful they are and how great their product is, it is not a startup because it is not designed for quick and rapid scale. As Paul Graham of Y-combinator emphasizes, a key to a startup is its ability to grow.

Fundable startups sit in between the idea stage and the explosive growth – they have proven that there is a high potential for growth, but have not yet realized that growth. Usually, the thing preventing these startups from scaling widely is a lack of resources; they need all the help they can get to convince an investor audience that their growth potential is a real and likely possibility. While a strong presenter is necessary, nothing helps support an investor pitch like an awesome startup deck.

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Combined with a impressive presentation, a pitch deck is essential for successful fundraising. A great idea (or budding startup) with a sloppy presentation or pitch that leaves key questions unanswered has little to no chance of persuading investors to part with their dollars. An average idea with a great pitch deck will have greater potential. The sweet spot of a pitch however, is when you have an awesome and proven idea, a confident pitch and a memorable startup pitch deck that sells.

When it comes to pitching, competition is thick. Startups use all the ammunition they have – number of users, monthly growth, revenue, feature concepts, prototypes, MVPs, usage feedback, and anything else that will help prove their case. The best pitch decks provide an organized presentation that allows the founders to perfect the right arguments, in the right order, with the right visual tools to create the maximum effect.

A pitch deck isnt something thats just tossed together in a rush. The best slide decks are a mix of science, persuasion and art – using each slide as another stroke of paint on the canvas. It can be tough to create a winning pitch deck without some inspiration, so here are 10 of the best pitch decks that weve seen over the years and the reasons we love them!

The 8 Best Pitch Decks for Inspiration

1. Castle

Castle is an innovative real estate solution for rental property owners. This startup lives by the slogan, Put Your Properties On Autopilot! and exists to help owners manage their properties without the usual headache of being a landlord. Castle serves a niche market so you may have never heard of them; but still, they have one of the best pitch decks and one that you can definitely learn from!

Heres why we love it:
The pitch deck has a modern and exciting design with visual aesthetics that draw in the audience. Starts off immediately by identifying the problem – Rental property owners want to make money without the work of being a landlord. This immediately gives investors an idea of why a solution needs to exist. Uses simple icons to explain each point, making it easy for the viewer to digest. The best pitch decks know how to give an incredible amount of information without cluttering the slide. Leads viewers into a strong and concise elevator pitch – Automate landlording through software and on demand labor. Provides an easy-to-understand growth plan that showcases historical growth as well as projected future growth.

How much did they raise?
As of date, it is reported that Castle has raised around $3.3 million in investor funding.

2. Adpushup

Adpushup is a unique startup that has streamlined the process of optimizing ad placements. The solution allows publishers to optimize their ads by testing different ad placements, sizes and types. While the design of this sample pitch deck is extremely minimal, the data they were able to display was critical to their funding success.

Heres why we love it:
Traction slide shows rapid growth using impressions as a metric. By focusing on this metric, they are able to show that while revenues may not yet be established, there is already a high demand within the market. Includes a case study that shows the effectiveness of the product. Case studies arent just gold for potential customers, they also help sell your pitch to potential investors! Milestones slide shows how the Company quickly grew from a weekend project to 10 million impressions in only a one-year timespan. The best pitch decks aren’t just design heavy, but clearly state where the business started, where they are currently, and where they are going in the future.

How much did they raise?
It is estimated that Adpushup has raised approximately $632,000 to date.

3. LinkedIn
pitch deck examples - LinkedIn

(Click image to view pitch deck)

LinkedIns Series B pitch deck is an oldie, but it is a must-read for anyone looking to build a strong pitch. Although this deck is quite long and thorough, it is a great example of how a seed funding round pitch deck may differ from a VC pitch deck for a Series B round of financing.

Heres why we love it:
Because they had to explain how the internet works and predict how users would use the internet in the future. Remember, this was 2004! There are many factors that played into this explanation from online search to online payment – and all of these trends needed to be explained to prove why LinkedIn was the right solution for the problem. It clearly detailed their first priority – establishing the network; and furthermore, explained exactly why this was important to their ability to scale rapidly. The best pitch decks identify how the funds will be used to progress the business and push it to the next level. Showed how their actual growth far outscaled projected growth, proving to investors that there is a wide potential for growth.
How much did they raise?
In total, LinkedIn has raised over $154.8 million in investor funding, and was valued at $352.8 million when they went public in 2011. This pitch specifically led to a $10 million from Greylock Partners.

4. Canvas

Canvas is a business solution that allows corporations and organizations to digitize their paper assets. Their goal is to rid the world of paperwork by transitioning business processes into mobile apps. When it comes to the best startup decks, Canvas shows us how to use imagery and simplicity to get the point across.

Heres why we love it:
They start the pitch with simple visuals that show how all of our processes, from listening to music to reading, have become digitized over the years. They provide statistics to show how their application has helped high profile businesses like Pepsi and Healthtronics; giving them instant credibility. They use a clever strategy to compare competitors by showing that they focus on the why while competitors focus on the what.
How much did they raise?
Overall, the GoCanvas startup has raised approximately $24.1 million in investor financing.

5. SickWeather

Sickweather is an app that analyzes data to predict and forecast population health. The app claims to accurately predict illness outbreaks 91% of the time and 2 weeks before the CDC on average. This sample pitch deck shows how important credibility is – especially when your clients are some of the most respected brands in the world.

Heres why we love it:
It includes a pitch video. While this wouldnt be included in a presentation deck, it works fantastic for pitch decks that are sent via e-mail or posted to online platforms for viewing by potential investors. Early on, they provide a list of previous clients. These clients are extremely well known brands, which immediately gives the startup a high level of credibility and authority. Graphs showcase impressive growth in monthly recurring revenue, giving the startup a great argument for rapidly rising projections and forecasts.
How much did they raise?
To date, Sickweather has raised approximately $2.6 million in investor funding.

6. Match Box (Tinder)

Match Box was the original name for the globally recognized dating app, Tinder. Although there were many dating apps in the market, Tinder was able to succeed by adding a gamification aspect – allowing individuals to swipe left or right to express interest or to pass on another user. Match Box’s startup deck shows how to balance creativity and simplicity to win investors over.

Heres why we love it:
Its extremely simple but it uses a real world scenario to explain the problem (fear of rejection) and the solution (Match Box). It gives an under the hood look on what the app will offer. It shows a clear monetization model – and although it has changed significantly since this pitch deck was created, it at least let investors know that the founders had considered how they would create revenue.
How much did they raise?
In September 2016, Tinder received an investment of $1.4 million. Since then, the company has been acquired on three separate occasions.

7. WeWork

WeWork addresses the startup and freelance market by offering Space As A Service. Individuals can rent co-working space instead of renting a whole office; which helps them save on rent, provides them with a community of like-minded individuals, and offers services to help them advance their businesses. This VC pitch deck was created for WeWorks Series D funding phase and is quite long in length; but it shows how as more data is collected by the business, more growth insights can be presented for a stronger case.

Heres why we love it:
They use several slides to describe the why. It would be impossible to explain why coworking space is important without first describing how the employee economy has shifted. The WeWork Effect slide shows exactly how the WeWork business model meets the new demands of the market. Since this is a Series D pitch deck, the Company had to take several slides to explain their current traction. By describing their first mover advantage and showcasing their growth, they were able to successfully present the grand potential of their concept.

How much did they raise?
According to CrunchBase, WeWork has raised approximately $8.1 billion over 12 funding rounds and has had 10 acquisitions.

8. Crew

Crew exists to connect developers and creatives to clients, without the headache of normal freelance sites. Once a job is posted, clients are recommended three makers (usually within one to 24 hours) who can complete their job for them. We love awesome pitch decks, and Crew shows us how to really showcase the features of a product, while maintaining focus on the startup’s growth.

Heres why we love it:
Their growth is staggering and they showcase it with clear graphs that present a 10x increase in total project revenue. The pitch deck subtly describes the apps USP by detailing how the higher priced projects on the app bring in better talent than the low priced projects on other platforms. Furthermore, they show exactly how their app works from a user side – displaying a much cleaner user experience. They explain the data collected from their pilot launch. Having a strong MVP with great traction is key to securing investor funds.
How much did they raise?
Crew has raised approximately $9.9 million in total investor funding and was acquired by Dribbble in 2017.

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Creating The Perfect Pitch Deck

We chose these pitch decks as our favorite and best pitch decks for many different reasons. While some of these businesses are smaller and some are much larger, there are some elements that each of these great startup pitch decks have in common – and if you want to raise seed funding, your pitch deck should share these elements too. Specifically, the best pitch decks:

Specifically, the best pitch decks:
Address the problem up front and show the current state of the market.

Provide a tested and validated solution

Explain how that solution is better than the competition.

Showcase some initial traction and forecast future projections.

Your pitch deck will either give you a huge advantage during your pitch, or will completely turn investors off. Use our best pitch decks examples as your motivation to create something amazing and memorable. As always, if you want to create the best pitch deck, our experienced startup consultants are here to help! Contact us to today and set up a free consultation.

Is there an awesome pitch deck that should have made our Best Pitch Decks list but didnt? If so, tell us about it in the comments below!

The Best Ways
To Raise Seed Funding
For Your App Startup

Anybody can launch an app, but if your goal is to build an app startup that has the potential for large scale success – well, at some point you’re likely going to need to know how to raise seed funding. Building an app is an expensive undertaking; it can cost tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring a full-scale app to the market. Once you launch it, you’ll need additional capital to fund your marketing efforts and actually get users to the app. Knowing how to raise seed funding is critical to a startup’s business plans, as many major app startups must go through several funding rounds to maintain progress until profitability is reached.

Everyone with an app idea believes that they are ready to pitch VCs and secure a large investment to bring their idea to life. Unfortunately, of the millions of app startups (or pre-startups) out there, very few of them are actually in a position to secure even a minimum amount of initial funding. In this guide, we will answer everything you want to know about how to raise seed funding and convince investors to invest in your app startup.

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Is Your App Startup Fundable?

Is Your App Startup Fundable?

Often, entrepreneurs who have not been through the process of obtaining funding mistakenly assume that just having a great app idea is enough. It isn’t. These entrepreneurs are quickly humbled when they pitch their idea for the first time only to be hammered with questions that they weren’t prepared to answer. The truth is, an idea on it’s own has zero value to app investors. Everyone has the next idea that will “completely disrupt the industry!”; or the next “Uber for ____” idea; or the next idea for an app that will “really change our lives!” Mark Hurd (CEO of Oracle) once said, “Without execution, ‘vision’ is just another word for hallucination.” Unfortunately, very few app ideas ever become apps, and very few apps ever become fundable startups.

There are several steps between the app idea stage and the seed capital raising stage – and even if you know how to raise seed funding, you probably won’t if you haven’t at least progressed your startup to a certain position. At minimum, a fundable startup will have reached these three milestones before raising seed capital:

  1. Established Startup Team: A single-member team isn’t a startup team at all. Building a business takes more work than most first-time entrepreneurs can ever imagine, and doing it alone is usually too much work for one individual. Your team should be complete with several professionals that have an extensive breadth of knowledges, experiences and backgrounds. Each member should have a specific job that relates to their skill set, and particular talents that add major value to the overall organization. When you’re raising seed capital, potential investors will lean heavily on the strength of your startup team when making a funding decision.
  2. Validated Idea: It is not always necessary to have a full-fledged and already launched app to get seed funding for a startup business. However, it is necessary that you have tested the idea with real users and that you have validated every assumption. It’s not enough to assume that a demand exists for your app or to assume that your idea is the one that will effectively meet this demand. Ideally, you should have a functional minimal viable product with real customers using it, and should already be producing some type of revenue.
  3. Developed Strong Pitch: Even if you have a great startup, if you can’t communicate why it’s great, you’ll have no chance of convincing investors to trust you with their money. Make sure your business plan is strong, have an effective startup pitch deck in place and practice your pitch until it is ready to be delivered confidently, at a moment’s notice.

If you haven’t accomplished these three requirements, all of your efforts should be going into doing so – especially before seeking initial funding from seed investors.

You Already Know Your First Investor

There is one person out there that is in the perfect position to invest in your app idea – and you already know them. You guessed it…. It’s you! There is a bootstrapping stage to every successful startup. Some startups do so well in this phase that they bootstrap their way to success without giving away any equity for initial funding. Taking just the first steps towards building an app takes time, energy and money; and before you can ask someone else to invest their resources, you’ll need to invest in yourself.

By definition, an entrepreneur is an individual who takes risks to reap a large reward. It is quite the irony that many app entrepreneurs want seed funding firms to risk their funds, but aren’t willing to risk their own. Even those who have very little savings can access funds if they are committed to putting in the effort and taking a risk to pursue their idea. Ready to invest in yourself? Here are a few ways you can access funds to get your app idea into the minimal viable product stages:

  1. Business Plan Contests: Although many business plan contests also require businesses to be at a certain level before entering, some lower-prized contests and events also allow entrepreneurs to pitch in the idea stage. Some of these events may offer several thousands of dollars in prize money which can be used as seed capital funding to build a prototype or launch a first version minimal app.
  2. Crowdfunding: One of the best validation tests for your app idea is crowdfunding. If you believe that consumers in your market would really find value in your app, this method allows you to bring it to them pre-development and allow them to support it with their donation. However, succeeding with a campaign is not as easy as it may seem. It takes much work to successfully promote a contest, and the rewards must be worthwhile. App startups that have been effective with this approach however, have been able to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in initial revenue while forming a strong consumer base.
  3. Loans: We take out loans in our everyday personal lives, but for many entrepreneurs, personal loans have also been used to fund the launch of their startups. To secure a loan, you will need to have decent personal credit – likely you will not have established enough business credit at this point to secure a business loan. Before taking out a loan of any kind, make sure you understand the terms of your agreement and that you can afford to pay back the required monthly payments.
  4. Credit Cards: While only recommended as a last resort, many entrepreneurs have financed portions of their businesses on credit cards. Unfortunately, credit cards often have high interest rates, so you will pay much more to access these funds; but they are also quite easily accessible by anyone with a decent credit score. Again, it is important to only borrow money that you can comfortably pay back. Financing should only be used to better your position, but it can severely worsen your position if not careful.  

How To Find Seed Money For Your App Startup

How To Find Seed Money For Your App Startup

There is no shortage of seed money investors out there – some of them are obvious, some are hidden in plain sight, and some don’t even know that they are investors yet (maybe they need some convincing first). You may not know anyone who meets the requirements of an ‘angel investor’, but without a doubt, you can access investors if you try hard enough. If you want to know how to raise seed funding for your app startup, here’s a few places to start:

  • Explore Your Network: There is no better way to begin a positive relationship with an investor than through a direct referral. A great referral can move the startup/investor relationship several steps ahead before the two even have a chance to officially meet one another. Take inventory of everyone you know, and who they know. Tell people about your business and let them know that you are looking for app investors. Six degrees of separation is a real thing, and you probably don’t have to go six whole degrees to find potential seed money investors to pitch.
  • Join An Incubator: App incubators are made to take apps from their initial phases and to bring them to a fundable level. Many incubators have connections with app angel investors, seed funding firms and VC partners; and some are launched by VC firms themselves. Furthermore, many app incubators provide some type of initial seed money, in exchange for a small equity percentage, to help businesses bring their ideas to life.
  • Promote On Investor Platforms: With software startup financing being at an all time high, app funding sites have sprung up like spring weeds; acting as a bridge between fundable startups and angel investors. Sites such as Gust, AngelList and Dealroom allow businesses to set up profiles and promote their startups directly to investors. Even without knowing exactly how to raise seed fundings, investor platforms give startups direct access to investors that looking for amazing deals. These platforms are extremely competitive however, and to succeed in raising funds startups must meet several requirements to help them stand out against other startups.

How To Prepare for Seed Funding

How To Prepare for Seed Funding

Once you know how to raise seed funding and how to find investors, you will also need to learn how to attract them and convince them to invest in your business. These seven tips will position you for the most success when seeking a seed investment:

  1. Make your elevator pitch count – Sometimes, you only have a few seconds to make a good impression with an app investor. An entrepreneur should be able to effectively explain their business within just a sentence or two. Make sure that your elevator pitch is simple in content but offers enough information to draw curiosity. Your elevator pitch should be refined, reworked and optimized frequently until the most effective version has been established.
  2. Be the expertEntrepreneurs can become so fixated on all the features and functions of their app idea that they miss important things happening within their industry. Investors put their capital in people that they believe have the knowledge and expertise to truly deliver a successful product; and if you want them to invest in you, you must have an above-average knowledge of your market, industry and competitive landscape. Moves that your competitors make will have a direct impact on your startup, as will trends in the industry, government policy, and other important factors that may relate to the potential success of your idea.
  3. Know the numbersThere is one thing every investor cares about, and that is, whether their capital investment will produce a positive return. During your pitch, it is likely that you will be asked about sales, the number of users on your app, revenue, profits, projected revenue, funding requirements and more. Don’t pitch a seed money investor without knowing the numbers that represent your business. If they ask you about these numbers, and they will, you will lose major points if you fumble over their questions and will lose all credibility if you accidentally misrepresent them.
  4. Have a pitch deck readyDon’t wait until you’ve got an investor meeting scheduled to start working on your pitch deck; get it ready ahead of time so that you can focus on perfecting your pitch on the days leading up to your meeting, instead of building slides. Create a pitch deck that is captivating, compelling and that tells a story that investors can easily follow. Design is important, but use it minimally to enhance your pitch so it doesn’t draw attention away from the slide’s content.
  5. Show a demoTalking about how your pre-developed app will operate can possibly help app investors visualize it in real use, but showing a demo leaves a lasting impression. A demo or prototype may not be a totally functional app, but it allows potential investors to interact with your software and “experience” it for themselves.
  6. Pitch it wellThe key to pitching seed money firms or investors confidently is practice, practice and more practice. Practice your pitch in front of a mirror; record yourself and play it back for critique; pitch it in front of friends and family, and get their feedback; pitch it EVERY CHANCE YOU GET! Eventually, pitching your app idea will become second nature – the more you practice it, the quicker your confidence will build.
  7. Evaluate and optimizeUnfortunately, you won’t convince every investor to invest; but you will receive valuable feedback each and every time you pitch your app concept. Don’t lose sleep over an investor’s critique of your startup, but use their feedback to optimize your pitch. Each time you get rejected, you learn more and more about how to raise seed funding. Identify the weaknesses in your pitch and in your business, and strengthen them until they are no longer seen as weaknesses.

How To Raise Seed Funding – The Process

Knowing how to raise seed funding for an app is about as beneficial as having just an app idea – it means nothing without execution. In your startup journey, it is vital to be honest with yourself about whether your startup is truly fundable, or if you need to put in more legwork to validate your idea first. Once you know how to raise seed funding, that’s where the real work begins – because now you have to do it! 

How To Raise Seed Funding - The Process

Can’t decide what the next step is in your seed funding journey? Contact us today and schedule a free consultation with one of our app startup experts!

How To Win A Business Plan Contest

A well developed business plan creates the foundation on which a successful startup will be able to establish itself, and is especially necessary when considering participation in a business plan contest or pitch event. When every factor is considered – market and industry, finance, marketing, operations, and etc. – success becomes a long-term plan as opposed to a hope for a stroke of startup luck. Along with a solid pitch and pitch deck, a business plan is a critical element in your journey to landing a successful seed funding round. Writing an investor-ready business plan can be difficult, but securing funding without a solid plan in place is pretty much impossible.

Once you finally get the perfect business plan written, what’s next? For those who are far enough along in their business, submitting the plan directly to investors might be a wise step. For those who aren’t quite ready to approach VCs yet, but could use a financial boost to get thing going, participating in business plan contests can be a tremendous help. Not only do these competitions often provide significant rewards for the winners, they also often draw the attention of angels, VCs and even corporations looking to invest in or partner with the next billion dollar startup. Unfortunately, where there is honey there are bees – business plan contests often attract some of the brightest minds, and the higher the reward, the more competition you can expect. In this post, we’ll explore everything you need to know to find a great business plan contest, enter it with confidence, and win against other participating startups!

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The Benefits of Winning A Business Plan Contest

Business plan competitions are beneficial platforms that allow entrepreneurs to showcase their idea, product or startup to a group of judges. Often, these competitions involve pitching the idea or startup to judges over one or more rounds. Once each competing startup has presented, judges vote on which business (or businesses) will receive the offered reward.

While business plan competitions highly benefit winning startups, they offer immense benefits to investors who attend them also – access to early stage businesses that they can invest in before others have the opportunity. Furthermore, these competitions work to even out the playing field for entrepreneurs who otherwise may not have access to investors – winning a business plan contest could be the difference between funding your business’ launch or failing before you even get the chance to begin.

The most obvious benefit of winning a business plan contest is winning the offered reward. The reward value of these contests can vary from small amounts to extremely large amounts.  For example, the Panasci Business Plan Competition by Syracuse University offers around $35,000 in total rewards, while the Rice Business Plan Competition offers over $1.2 million in seed funding to it’s winners and runner-ups. Winning the right competition can impact your business greatly; providing you with the app funding required to progress your business from the app idea phase to launch and beyond. There is something that should be considered however – some business plan competitions may come with specific conditions that must be met to receive the funding; such as headquartering the business in a certain location, offering up an equity percentage, or being involved in a startup incubator for some length of time.

High-profile angels and VCs often attend larger business plan competitions, and even participants that don’t win the contest may attract the attention of an investor. In some cases, teams that don’t win may end up with larger investments than those who the judges selected for first place. Investors aren’t always looking for the same things in a startup; your idea might not be of much interest to the judges, but may be exactly what an attending investor was looking for! These investors aren’t only good for the funds they bring – some of them may provide a critical mentorship component to your startup; helping to advise your team for greater success down the line.

Lastly, one of the least recognized but most effective benefits of participating in a business plan competition is having your business plan and startup critically reviewed by experienced judges, entrepreneurs and investors. Even if you don’t win, the insight provided by the panel of judges will offer different perspectives regarding your startup. Ultimately, by applying this insight, you can further position your startup for success when participating in future events.

Finding The Right Business Plan Contest

The unique beauty of business plan contests is that they are relatively ubiquitous – and today, more competitions are popping up than ever before. A variety of organizations, educational institutions, and even individuals organize business plan competitions to seek out investable and fundable business ideas. In general, most business plan contests can be grouped into two categories:

  1. University Competitions: Many major universities organize some type of business plan contest through their business school. Eligibility may vary from contest to contest, but these contests are typically only available to those connected to the business program – students, alumni, and in some cases, even on-staff professionals. Due to these eligibility requirements, competition is generally limited – which means that participants have a much larger chance of winning when compared to contests with less regulation. Furthermore, universities know that any successful startups launched through these contests will give their business program a major boost in visibility and credibility. As a result, universities often go a step above to support winners of these programs – providing additional on-campus resources or even access to alumni professionals that can help them advance their businesses.
  2. Sponsored Contests: Sponsored business plans are those that are planned and hosted by an organization, corporation, individual or other entity. Specifically, these organizers ‘sponsor’ the competition – organizing the event, involving investors and judges, and securing rewards to incentivize winners and participants. Sometimes, these competitions may be sponsored by companies within a specific sector such as biotech, healthcare, urban transit, architecture, and etc.; while other times they may be part of a larger startup incubator or accelerator program.  

Business plan and pitch deck competitions take place several times each year in most major cities – and even in many less popular upcoming startup regions. If you are a student or an alumni, check with your university to see if they have a business plan competition in place – if not, maybe you can help them organize one! For those who are not eligible to join a university-sponsored competition, a simple Google search will provide you with several options. Search for “industry name + business plan contest” or “city + business plan contest” to see what upcoming business plan contest events you may be eligible to participate in.

Winning Big At Your First Business Plan Contest

Participating in a business plan contest can be extremely valuable, but the real goal is to win – and to win big! The key to winning a business plan competition of any type is to know what the judges are looking for and to position your startup, business plan and pitch to exceed their expectations.

Judging The Judges

In general, whether you win a business plan contest or not will hinge upon how your business idea is perceived by the panel of judges, and how they perceive you as an entrepreneur and presenter. It is worth noting that judges often come from various backgrounds with varied experiences; what may be a top consideration for one judge may make little difference to another. However, most judges compare businesses on at least the following three factors:

  1. Originality: Successful business ideas need to be original in nature and able to improve upon an existing solution, solve a wide-scale problem, or effectively meet the current market demand. Businesses that simply spin-off from other successful ideas are not looked upon favorably by judges or investors – since they usually have little advantage to compete against already established players. To win a business plan contest, it is essential that your idea is fresh, scalable, sustainable and eventually, profitable.
  2. Ability To Generate Profit: Even the most creative ideas need to be able to turn a profit at some point. Understandably, most investors aren’t interested in funding businesses that won’t provide them with a return in the long-run. In order to gain interest in your business during a contest, your business plan should show exactly how your business will provide a return for investors in the long-term. While some investors may be interested in other aspects of a business, such as their social consciousness or involvement, the majority of investors are looking for opportunities to grow their portfolio by investing in businesses that are capable of generating strong profits.
  3. Effective Presentation: It’s not always the best idea that wins a business plan competition. A perfect business plan and an exciting idea means very little if an entrepreneur can not properly convey their message during their presentation. In most contests, participants are given a set time limit (such as 10 minutes) to present – and expressing all the necessary information within this time period can be rather difficult. Judges look for confident entrepreneurs who can articulate their business enough to convey the efficacy and scalability of their idea properly. The knowledge an entrepreneur needs to possess doesn’t end with just the text presented in their business plan or pitch deck. Most often, there is a Q&A portion during these events in which the entrepreneur will be required to answer specific questions by judges and investors. The inability to answer these questions properly and confidently can quickly dissuade an investor from investing, or can cause a judge to give a lower score than they would have otherwise.

Preparing For Business Plan Contest Success

Success at these events are often linked to how well an entrepreneur has prepared themselves beforehand. One thing is certain – your competitors will be prepared; and if you aren’t, it will be embarrassingly noticeable. Unfortunately, in a business plan contest, there is no way to mask unpreparedness, especially among an audience of experienced entrepreneurs and investors. To best prepare for an upcoming business plan competition, consider the following tips:

  • Sell A Strong Team: There is one thing that’s more important than having a great business plan – having a strong and experienced team that can actually execute it. Management teams are what bind all the elements of a business plan together; combining the skills necessary to put the plan into action successfully. It is vital that your team encompasses a broad range of skills and that each team member has a specific job that will lead to the startup’s success.
  • Present The Problem First: Startups that win (in contests and in general) are those that truly solve an existing problem – whether the problem is shared by a mass group of people, or by a niche audience. There’s a lot of “cool tech” out there, but even simple ideas can solve major problems. Taxis have existed for decades, but a simple idea like ride-sharing changed the way the world views personal transportation. Prepare a pitch that is challenge/solution heavy by focusing on what the problem is, why individuals experience the issue, why current solutions don’t solve the challenges effectively, and why your product/service is the right solution for the problem.
  • Know Your Funding Requirements: Investors don’t want their funds to just sit in an account; they want to know that there is a plan in place to use these funds and effectively scale a startup from its current position. Have a funding plan in place – know how much funding is required, what actions need to be completed to successfully progress the business, and how each dollar will be spent to meet your launch or growth objectives.
  • Be The Expert: If there is any gap in your business plan, it will be uncovered during the Q&A stage. Investors and judges are highly experienced in asking the right questions to get a full picture of your startup and to gauge whether you are well-informed about your business, market and the issue that you are attempting to solve. It’s not a good sign when an investor or judge knows more about your business than you do. Ensure that your business plan is all-encompassing with vital information, and that you can answer any necessary questions without needing to reference your business plan. During the Q&A session, you should be able to answer questions proficiently, confidently, and with enough expertise to prove that you know exactly what you are talking about.
  • Listen, Learn and Apply: You can’t win every business plan or pitch contest, but you can definitely take the insights given during one competition and use it to propel your potential for success in future contests. It’s not everyday that you’re able to receive critical feedback from a group of investors, and when you can, you should take advantage of it as much as possible. Even if you don’t win anything in a business plan competition, the insights gained can be used to catapult your business to the next level.

Writing A Business Plan That Wins

Even if everything else is perfect – if you want to win, you must begin with a well-thought out, perfectly articulated and investor-ready business plan that tells your startup’s story in an effective manner. There are many factors to consider when writing a business plan from proper market analysis to financial projections – and any weak point in your plan will decrease your chances of winning. If you need more advice on writing a business plan, see our business plan guide or contact one of our experts today for a free business plan consultation!