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  • Angel Gambino

Local Innovation and Customer Discovery With Paul O'Brien

Startups often struggle beyond seed capital, and only half of all startups make it to a second round of funding. Paul O’Brien, Founder and Director of Funded House, Director of Founder Institute for Texas, and Angel Club Mentor says that “when it comes to driving innovation and supporting entrepreneurs, it's a question of reducing the risks as much as possible and putting the right community in place.”

By leveraging education and community, Paul and the team at MediaTech Ventures provide a structured curriculum that teaches idea - seed stage founders how successful startups develop and warrant funding. Last week, Paul joined me for an Angel Club AMA session to share insight on how to utilize local resources, history, and knowledge bases to innovate in the industries you know and develop your customer base.

Local Innovation: Use What You Know to Solve Problems Where They Are

Entrepreneurship is the driving force behind innovation, job creation, and economic growth. However, if there’s one thing that we can be certain of in the startup ecosystem, it’s that most things fail. “These things fail because they're trying to do things that will change and disrupt economies, and that is likely not to work,” Paul says. “Therefore, throw the conventional wisdom out the window, and focus on what you know and what you have experience with.”

Local entrepreneurs and investors are more likely to identify and solve problems within their community because they are intimately familiar with the needs of the people who live there. By leveraging what you know, you can begin to move capital into the things that you already do well to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is more impactful.

“We're not going to pick up the auto industry from Detroit and drop it in Miami,” Paul says. “As an investor, and as an ecosystem, you have to appreciate that you're taking a much greater risk by trying to do it there, then appreciating where it already is.”

Capital will always chase opportunity. When you double down on the talent, capabilities, and experiences that are local, that’s where you start to see opportunity manifest. “Don't just try to be an angel investor in the local community because you want to be in startups,” Paul says. “Focus on what you know, because it's your experience, your connections, your passion, and your network that is a greater investment than the capital itself. The capital just helps us track.”

Marketing and Customer Discovery: Critical and Constant

Paul “vehemently believes that marketing is the most important thing, and it's probably what every startup, every founder, and every program in the world messes up.” However, before you can develop any solution or launch your venture effectively, you need understand and execute marketing to know who your customers might be, which competitors are threats, and how to deliver a solution that should work as a company.

Oftentimes, founders begin the customer discovery phase with their family, friends, and personal network. While leaning on your network may be an accessible way to gather insight, the feedback might not always be reliable or complete. The most effective way to identify and understand your customer base is to talk with everyone and anyone, people of all ages, to understand as much about the broader market and what people think of what you're trying to do; from that, starting to define your ideal customer, to reach out to them directly through surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews, to inform your product, how to promote it, and the business model that might work for those customers.

In fact, withing the first week of their programs through MediaTech Ventures, the incubator expects founders interview hundreds of individual from the general public to gather feedback on their ideas. By reaching out to the individuals within your target audience and communities, you can ensure you are solving the right problem, and be confident in the foundation on which you are building your business.

Check out these resources from the Angel Club library for more insight on how to market your startup and grow your customer base!

More Resources to Grow Your Knowledge

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😇 Angel Club members can sign up here to connect with Paul and other innovators and investors like him in intros, our monthly curated introductions.

🎞️ A full version of the recording, in addition to investor and media databases, playbooks, templates, and tools can be found in the members-only Angel Club Resource Library.


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