IP Strategy 101: What Startups Need to Know

Photo by Ricardo Resende on Unsplash

Though startup founders wear many hats when they launch their businesses — innovator, creator, delegator, coder, fundraiser, and marketer — not many list patent attorney among their titles. In fact, the absence of a cohesive intellectual property (IP) strategy is a common trait of many startup teams.

With so many things to think about — building a product, hiring a staff, fundraising, marketing, sales and more — there’s often little time left for a patent strategy. The problem with this reactionary mindset is that by the time an IP problem is large enough for leadership to deal with, the entire business could be at risk.

That’s why having a plan upfront will save you from a lot of expense and legal hassle later on down the road. Here’s how to think about putting one together.

Be proactive: protect your technology and build your IP portfolio

Understand and take stock of all the IP that your company owns or uses. Then, identify what it is that sets you apart from other companies — that’s part of your competitive advantage, and what you need to protect, so that your technology can’t be used by another company without your permission.

One way to build your IP portfolio is, of course, to file patents. If you’re not certain where to begin or what specifically you can patent, you can discuss your options with a patent attorney, who can guide you through the process. You should also determine in which countries your patents should be filed. If you plan to stick to one market exclusively, such as the United States, a single filing may suffice — although many companies have an eye toward eventual expansion and may be well served to begin exploring international patents that will prove lucrative in the future.

You can also acquire patents by buying them: often, companies add patents to their portfolios by acquiring other companies. Having a solid patent portfolio in your industry makes it easier to expand your product and develop new innovations — and can sometimes be less expensive than developing the technology internally through your own R&D.

Be defensive: protect your innovation

One major reason you need a proactive strategy is to thwart off patent assertion entities (PAEs), sometimes known as “patent trolls.” Trolls tend to be shell companies with no tangible products or services that often purchase patents from existing companies or companies that no longer exist. They make most of their money by suing companies using those patents. And, over the last decade, patent trolls have ramped up their targeting of startups.

With the rise of startups in recent years, patent trolls have focused their efforts on these smaller, less patent-savvy companies in an effort to gain financial compensation.

With a single lawsuit, a troll can target multiple start-ups — most of which aren’t likely to have lawyers in-house, and don’t have the $3.2 million on average it takes to defend a lawsuit — which are likely to settle. Because of the windfall that settlements can provide, today, more than 50% of patent troll targets have less than $10 million in annual revenues.

What people don’t often know if that you don’t even have to own patents in order to be sued by a troll. Employing the third party technologies commonly used to run a modern business, such as cybersecurity software, video streaming or location tracking technologies, could put a startup at risk of a patent troll lawsuit. With the average cost to defend a software-related patent troll lawsuit sitting at over $3 million, it’s easy to see how patent troll litigation can easily put a startup out of business.

One of the easiest ways to protect your company against patent troll lawsuits is to join a community. My organization, LOT Network,, is a non-profit community of more than 500 companies that agree that if and only if a patent owned by a member company falls into the hands of a patent troll, that company grants the other members a license to that patent. That means that the patent can no longer be used by trolls to sue the members of the community. The usual uses of patents, like buying and selling, and suing companies who infringe on your IP, are still preserved. Best of all, membership is free for startups with less than $25 million in annual revenue.

There are other communities that companies often turn to after they’ve already been sued. Unified Patents looks to deter patent abuse and focuses on challenging the validity of low quality patents that form the underlying basis of many patent troll campaigns. Allied Security Trust is a community of companies who pool their resources to buy patents for defensive purposes.

Having spent more than 20 years protecting intellectual property at tech companies, I believe that an ounce of prevention is well worth the peace of mind and the pain averted in the long run.

IP Strategy 101: What Startups Need to Know was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Announcing the First 100 Exhibiting Startups on The Startup Program #SGGlobal 2020

While we can’t believe it’s already December, we are proud to announce the selection of our first batch of exhibiting startups! They will be showcasing their latest startup innovations in Silicon Valley in February as part of The Startup Program at the Startup Grind 2020 Global Conference!

Many Thanks!

Thank you to all the applicants so far who have inspired our team. After opening startup applications in August and completing thousands of vetting calls, once again, we bring you some of the top startups in the world.

To date, they represent 29 countries, and cover 27 industries, such as Software, Finance, BioTech, Retail and HR, harnessing technologies such as SaaS, AI, IoT and Blockchain.

These startups have been selected to a hugely competitive program based on their foundational concept, founding team, market fit, user traction and competitive advantage, amongst other things.

Before sharing the list of exhibiting startups, here’s a few things worth noting from our team:

  • Received and vetted 2500+ applications already
  • Accepted 100 outstanding startups
  • …and we are still processing a high volume of applications, so please apply if you haven’t already!

Experience The Startup Program

The Startup Program identifies fast-growth, high-potential, early-stage companies built by founders we think have what it takes to get to the next level.

We work with our community of more than 2 million entrepreneurs across 600+ cities, connecting, educating and supporting them throughout their journey. Our global network and community contributes to the Startup Program’s awesome exhibitions at our flagship conferences in London and Silicon Valley where all startups get the opportunity to showcase their amazing companies. We develop strategic partnerships with brands, governments and organizations looking to reach startups and provide resources to this highly curated community.

Whether you are bootstrapped, have raised a seed round of under $3 million (Grind) or are growing past $3 million and Series A (Growth), we have options for you. Exhibitors will receive a booth, onsite branding, the opportunity to connect with, learn from & pitch to 10,000 high-level Conference attendees, social media coverage to over 1 million followers, full access tickets to attend ongoing panels and much more.

Deadline to Apply

The deadline to submit your application for the Startup Program 2020 is December 15th.

Apply NOW and don’t miss the opportunity to be part of our Global Startup Grind Community!

The Top 100 Exhibiting Startups — Check out the full list here.

Click the image above to see all the startups listed for the Startup Grind Global Conference

The 2020 Startup Grind Conference

The Startup Grind Global Conference (Feb. 11–12, 2020 in Silicon Valley) is the event for startups everywhere. #SGGlobal provides an environment unlike anything else — where more than 10,000 entrepreneurs, partners, investors, thought leaders, and worldwide directors come together for two days of dynamic networking events, meetings with investors, access to invaluable resources, and inspiration led by top CEOs and influencers and more. Join us to connect with the largest startup community in the world.

We look forward to meeting you. See you there!

Announcing the First 100 Exhibiting Startups on The Startup Program #SGGlobal 2020 was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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2019 Gift Guide

Tis the season! Consider this our gift to you… we put our global heads together to come up with gifts for every person in your life, on any budget. Here is our list of “can’t live without” products (and maybe grab one for yourself while you’re at it)!

  1. Airpod Case. We all know one… the person that has all the latest tech accessories. Stock their stocking with a handy Airpod Case. They come in different colors to fit any personality, so spice up their AirPods this holiday season. Grab one from Amazon for only $8
    — Coco Chia, AirPod Case Connoisseur

2. Patagonia Vest. A winter wardrobe staple for all budding tech bros and wannabe VC’s! Especially useful for those who suffer from “warm arms, cold heart” syndrome. Get one from Patagonia starting at $79
— Imo Watson, Practical Jacket Enthusiast

3. Personal Zen Garden. You probably won’t have to look far to find someone in your life that could use a little relaxation. The solution (other than hitting the eggnog bowl with gusto)? A few minutes with a personal Zen Garden and all those stresses will drift away. Grab a personal Zen Garden for only $10
Mac Jones, Zen Specialist

4. Sous-vide. For the aspiring chef who maybe needs a little help? Get them a sous-vide and they can say goodbye to overcooking and say hello to juicy, delicious dinners. Get one for $200
— Karlie Valine, Aspiring Home Chef

5. Adidas Slides. The person that has everything? They’ll still appreciate these slides for the house, the beach, the corner store, and even a fashion show. They last forever, feel great, and look even better. Head to Adidas and grab a pair for $50.
— Grace Lancaster, Resident Fashionista + Deal Finder

6. Aer Daypack. Men and women alike need a sleek way to stay organized. This stylish backpack will keep everything in its place while leaving hands free to grab another holiday cocktail. The best part? An internal water bottle holder to try and rehydrate between holiday parties. Head to Aer to get one for $125.
— Becca Rogers, Queen of Fashion Meets Function

7. MUD/WTR. With the holidays come New Year’s resolutions and giving up coffee makes the list for many. Help them check that resolution off with MUD/WTR, a coffee alternative that replaces the caffeine jitters with increased focus and energy throughout the day. Get a tin of MUD/WTR for $30.
Madeline Ulivieri, Organic Enthusiast

8. Succulent. A few colorful succulents can brighten up any space, not to mention mood. Easier to take care of than a pet and don’t have to be taken to doggy day care on long trips. Get a succulent for only $20.
— Jessica Aldrich, Resident Green Thumb

9. Nintendo Switch Lite. Long commutes, road trips to family gatherings, or even just stuck on a long conference call. Everyone needs a way to stay entertained and a Nintendo Switch Lite will do just the trick. Snap one up for $199.
— Ashlee Hunt, Entertainment Enforcer

10. International Sim Card. Travelers can all relate to running from coffee shop to hotel, trying to find some free wifi. But this International sim card is permanently attached to your local sim card and allows data usage while traveling (without the exorbitant rates). Grab a card for $30.
— Guillaume de Smedt, Offbeat Traveler

BONUS GIFT: We know that everyone in your life would like nothing more than to be able to attend the premiere conference that is Startup Grind Global 2020! (Forgive our shameless plug). Our conference is the chance to network with the brightest minds from around the world & build relationships that are unlike any other. So it really is the gift that keeps on giving! Tickets range from $305–$550.

Happy Shopping!

The Startup Grind Team

2019 Gift Guide was originally published in Startup Grind on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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How to Use Push Notifications in Your Mobile Marketing Strategies

Do you enable push notifications on your smartphone? What exactly are push notifications? These are a form of alert or message that an application sends to a device. When the app is initially installed, a message pops up asking to enable push notifications. If you have any social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat downloaded and set up on your smartphone, it’s likely that you receive push notifications from them. On iOS and Android, the alert shows up in the form of a bar at the top of the screen.

But what exactly is the purpose of a push notification? Well, it is specifically designed to entice the user to re-engage with the app. Your notification from Facebook may literally say, “Your friend commented on your photo,” but the subtext yells, “Hey, look at me! I still have valuable content to offer you!” And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Push notifications give us real-time updates and let us know what’s going on. They can also be interactive by offering a button that links to a website. These alerts can be used for social media, promotions, or any other content the app thinks we’ll be interested in.

Feel free to skip to the infographic below to learn about some ways to increase push notification engagement.

The common thought used to be that once your app was downloaded, your job was done. However, within two days of download, nearly three-quarters of users abandon the app. Push notifications play a significant role in app retention. By reminding and engaging users, these alerts boost app retention rates. Now the focus is on getting people to actually opt-in to receiving push notifications.

Certain negative experiences such as aggressive advertising or loquacious family members on social media deter smartphone users from enabling push notifications. Marketers overcome this stigma by optimizing for the opt-in. There is more than meets the eye when it comes to this type of notification; it won’t work with just any text. Marketers have to implement a specific push notification strategy, including concise copy and best engagement times.

The success of a push notification is measured by its CTR or click-through rate. The higher the rate, the better your notification performed. There are different factors that can positively affect the CTR. Personalization, rich media support, and interactivity are some ways to beef up your push notification. Check out the infographic from CleverTap to see how push notifications can increase the CTR, thus driving conversion and retention rates.

To add to the surprising complexity of push notifications, optimal lengths and open rates vary depending on what industry the notification is for. There can be push notifications for business, entertainment, deals, education, health, travel, utilities, media, food, and retail. Similar to other ad campaigns, no push notification campaign should be the same across categories. They may share “power words” like discount or hurry, but the timing, length, and personalization will be different.

Determining the frequency of when to send push notifications is like walking a tightrope; it’s extremely easy to get off balance. Mobile marketers have to find a happy medium between too many alerts and too few. Either end of the spectrum will end in the loss of a user. With all of the clutter consumers are bombarded with today, it’s crucial to stay top-of-mind. If you send multiple notifications per day, you may be top-of-mind in a negative way. If you send hardly any, you will fall off the radar.

A/B testing can be used to determine which message or CTA (call to action) on your push notification yields the best engagement, or CTR. Multivariate testing can be used, however, changing only one variable at a time will likely result in a more accurate and clear conclusion. When A/B testing your push notification, two different versions of the alert will be sent randomly to your audience. The push notifications are sent at the same time and possibly with the same imagery, but they will contain different messages. The data from each are analyzed to determine which notification performed better.

When done right, push notifications can be an effective component of your ad strategy. They are a solid complement to digital marketing. Your digital promotions will intrigue consumers, driving app downloads. Subsequently, a proper push notification campaign retains these consumers by maintaining their engagement with your brand.

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Simone Musgrave – Grit, Sales, and using Femininity in business.

Aneme Dlamini of Startup Grind chats to Simone Musgrave of Musgrave Gin about perseverance, building an actual business, and bringing your femininity as a force to be reckoned with in the business world.

Aneme = A, Simone = S

A: Welcome!

S: Thanks.

A: So, I am not going to go with the traditional ‘background story’ (laughs), I am sure you’ve been asked that many times.

S: I have, yeah (laughs).

A: Cool. So, to jump right in, you left the food industry after 13 years. Why after 13 years, why not before or after then? You mentioned in your SG talk that you actually started Musgrave as a side hustle…

S: Yeah, I was single mom with two small children and I needed that stability. So I stayed in the role. It was also a really good role in the business. I got to travel a lot, I was exposed to every brand within the business. So, the role was a great opportunity to further learn the industry. But towards the end of my time there, my kids had finished school, and I felt like I was not being challenged enough. So, I decided to leave. So long story short, the timing was right (laughs).

A: Awesome! Uhm, I wanted to also question you about your thoughts on expansion (in business). So, first you did Musgrave Original, then Musgrave Pink. Musgrave Pink exploded and was well-received. But my question is, as an entrepreneur, when did you know it was the right time to expand?

S:  Yeah, so I always wanted to do a pink from the beginning. But I knew had to cut my teeth on a classic gin, and I launched the classic. But I needed more sales, so that meant I needed another product. My history being in product development and category management, taught me that. Also, from it, I knew that about a year, would do, for us to launch the next product. The timing, again, was important. People were starting to buy and love Musgrave, and they wanted something more from us. It’s never one factor, it’s a combination of factors. I also had the entrepreneurial surge of ‘f*ck it, I’m going to do this now.’ (laughs).

A: Okay, and how do you mix that sense of urgency and patience, like how do you balance the two for the sanity and sake of your business?

S: It comes down to discipline. What I have seen in the gin industry is that a lot of companies launch one gin, then another, and another, and another. That’s what innovators do, they launch products – the sexy part of the job. Having too many products does not make sense, for an early-stage business. The discipline lies in having a one or two product company and focusing on selling those products to the best of your ability. We haven’t launched a new gin since and we won’t. There is a fine balance between pushing your products and being disciplined enough to not want to do the sexy stuff all the time. It is all about reading the market and knowing whether it makes sense to innovate! ‘Cause often, just putting your energy into your current products will give you more sales and exposure than new products.

A: You’re quite fearless in the way you approach business and the way you have done things. Do you ever have days where you say, ‘Shit, I don’t feel like doing this today’? (laughs)

S: Yeah, the past few days actually! Being an entrepreneur is scary, you know.

A: Yeah

S: I have just had an employee leave me high and dry. No handover, nothing. Just dumped me in the shit. They were working the most important part of the business… So you’ve got to step up. I mean, who else is gonna do it? I am gonna do it! I now have her job, too. So yeah, there are days where I feel, ‘What the hell?’ There’s also the challenge of dealing with retail, when you’re a small player. It’s difficulty, quite a gritty arena to play in. Having said that, I don’t know if I get unmotivated, but I do get tired of the bullshit. And sometimes, that anger energizes me, other times, I just feel like running away (which I can’t) (laughs).

A: Yeah (laughs), that’s the thing about being an entrepreneur, right? You can’t just up and leave when you feel like it.

S: Yeah, I always say, my life looks sexy from the outside. The picture painted on social media is: I am travelling around the world, tasting different gins… but at the end of the day, I actually pick up boxes of gin and sell them. You can have the best product but if you don’t get on and sell them, it’s not a business.

A: So, talk more to that, right. The, what some would call, unsexy part of business, the actual selling of Musgrave Gin. What’s the daily grind?

S: The daily grind is getting listings (getting into the stores you want to be in), and once you’re in: managing that. So, most of my day is spent managing stock coming from the distillery into the warehouse, and out to the retailers – making sure that everything is on time! Big companies have big teams to help them do that. We are four, in the business.

Oh, and chasing distributors to actually do the selling. And finding answers to my questions like, ‘Why aren’t we listed here, I am paying you commission. Why aren’t we listed?’ So, it’s a chasing game, constantly. It all comes back to selling, that’s where I spend most of my time. The parties and the events are cool, but if you don’t sell, you can’t have an event. You have to be a good salesperson as an entrepreneur (laughs).

A: 100%! And talk more towards, what I call, the ‘fake entrepreneurship lifestyle’- entrepreneurs just doing it for the events, the glitz and glamour, the fame etc. What’s your opinion on it? I mean, you were self-funded from the beginning. Didn’t raise any funds etc. Not very typical. Versus startups that raise R 5 million bucks, but haven’t sold anything at all.

S: Hmm. Yeah, I don’t know if those businesses would survive. Also, someone else owns you. I believe in keeping the business 100% owned by myself. I think, if you see an entrepreneur being involved in the glitz and glam that may be just for show. A true entrepreneur does long hours of gritty work. The unsexy stuff – HR, recruitment, cash flow management, etc. So, the guys who you see raising R5 million won’t be around for long. I just don’t believe money comes easily, nor does quality business growth. I think, truly long-term successful people will have done everything from the ground level.

A: 100%! What are some of the characteristics that you define as ‘vital’, for an entrepreneur to succeed?

S: Grit! I really believe that they need to have grit. Grit and hard work. You have to be focused. You can’t let anyone tell you ‘no’. Whoever tells you ‘no’, just ignore them. And the ability to break the rules. You have to break rules every day. The rules are not made for entrepreneurs or innovative spaces. Just do it, and find out how, later.

I also believe an ethical or moral stance will keep you going in the long-term. The guys that say bad things about other brands, bad mouth others in the industry – aren’t going to work out in the long-term. You get caught out much quicker these days than in the old days.

If you can put all those things together, you can do anything you want with any product. And I look at the youngsters of today (you’re a youngster, no offence), and it is really hard to find those qualities. Young people don’t have as much grit. And in a time where you’re having to be an entrepreneur more than an employee, I really worry, sometimes.

A: What do you look for in employees, or in strategic partners?

S: Yeah, so for strategic alliances, we mainly look at whether or not the brand aligns with our brand and whether our customers align. We pay attention to how they speak to their customers, how they treat their customers, and all such things. From an employment point of view, I look for experience. We have a small team. And as a result, we need super-experienced people. I don’t really have the time right now, to grow people, in my business.

People management is the hardest part about running a business. The unsexist part, but it is going to be the future of business.

A: I have noticed that you’re very open, quite public with your vulnerability. Do you feel like that adds a certain authenticity to your business?

S: Hmm. It seems like people like to connect to human spirit. Things that they can relate to. Putting my surname on the bottle is me putting myself out there. Also, I was a single mom – I don’t like to talk about it that much, because nobody would ask a man in business if he was a single dad – I actually reject the question quite a lot. But it is my reality, and that is why I speak about it. I am who I am. I am on this journey, not to be famous, but to build a successful business and a legacy.

The ‘new consumer’ wants a story, they actually want to know the person behind the brand.

A: That’s quite deep.

S: Yeah.

A: How, if they have, have your daughters impacted the way you do business? Your values etc.?

S: Growing up in a single mom household (our cat is the only male in the house – laughs), they are quite strong and opinionated. They come with a force and a confidence, and I see them becoming powerful and vulnerable – in a balanced way. That inspires me to do as I do.

A: Staying on the parenting topic – as a parent you had to make sure your daughters were in school, everything was okay etc. How did you balance the discipline of ‘I really want to start this business vs. parental responsibilities’

 Also, what is your advice for parents that want to start businesses but are worried, for example, that the first six months will be unpredictable and they still have kids in school etc.?

S: Yeah, so I started it my business while still working. So, I was still getting paid a salary. Just make sure that you are exposed to very little risk.  For me, that worked. It will not always work. But I was at a point in my career where, they weren’t using me that much. So, I had a lot of free time. It’s about finding something that keeps you secure – even if it is your basic salary, and cutting your costs I wouldn’t suggest dumping it all and going straight into business.

It’s not about not taking a risk, it’s about taking a smart risk. I am not a conservative person in terms of risk, but I am conservative when it comes to making sure my home, daughters and other necessities are secure – then I do the risky stuff.

Also, a lot of people are in a rush. To become an overnight success. It’s okay to transition from a job into a business. I still don’t pay myself as much as I was earning at corporate.

A: What are some of the things that you have had to sacrifice?

S: I miss leave. Having time off with no responsibilities. That is what I miss the most. Going from four weeks of leave, to zero days at all, isn’t as cool. I don’t eat out as much etc., when I do, it is for Musgrave.

A: You had a baby food business that you said didn’t pan out too sexily. Did it knock your confidence as an entrepreneur?

S: Not at all. I am actually very thankful that it failed. I learned so much from that business and it actually launched me into the cool corporate position I spoke about earlier. Without that failure, I wouldn’t have been where I am today.

It was disappointing, yes. I felt like I had a good idea, and a good product. But you know, that’s part of the game. But I think, if you look at every successful entrepreneur, they have about 3-4 businesses that didn’t work out.

A: So, when did you know it was time to let go of that business?

S: Yeah, so you could see it, you know? I wasn’t making that much money, the sales were dropping. I was losing too much money on a monthly basis, to continue.

A: Do you feel like burnout is a frequent thing in your life?

S: Yeah, I do. I have burned out, almost twice, this year. As an entrepreneur, you hardly switch off. You can’t. It’s also part of your personality. A lot of entrepreneurs face the same problem. I think, part of dealing with burnout in a better way, is learning to see the signs. It’s not about taking four weeks of leave a year, it’s about that ‘in between’, are you taking care of yourself when you need to?

A: Do you feel like the Type-A/’never switch off’ personality ever disadvantages you? Do you ever feel like you dwell/overthink on certain things?

S:  Yeah, I do think it disadvantages us. Not so much overthinking, but I just think that we don’t become as effective. It’s not only about work now, it then becomes ‘I must do yoga everyday’ or I must go for my run every evening. And you just become obsessive. And it actually helps nothing. It makes you less effective, less creative, and less of a leader. With an A-Type personality, you have to watch yourself.

A: Just to go back to the beginning for a bit, how did you survive those tough first weeks/months of your business?

S: Grit and determination. But also being surrounded by amazing friends. Friends that are supportive and loving can do a world of good! My friends are my go-to group about complaints or successes, anything really. It is important to find laughter within the chaos.

A: One key piece of emotional advice to entreps?

S: There is an obligation to be true. You don’t really want to paint a sexy picture and have people saying ‘Oh, I can’t achieve that’. Always paint an honest picture of the way things are. You never know who you are inspiring.

A: The age-old question, being a female in a male-dominated industry?

S: Yeah, it is quite difficult. I often find myself having to put on my ‘manly boots’ in order to have an equal conversation. I am conscious of keeping my femininity with me in meetings, but also not letting people step all over me. And that balance is quite exhausting, I must say. I come back from conferences emotionally tired, sometimes – because I am constantly putting on my ‘male’ side.

A: What’s the one message you’d love to give to female entrepreneurs?

S: Self-belief and lack of fear. You just have to say to yourself that you’re going to do it. There is no other way. There really isn’t. If you have a good concept, and you work really hard, you will be respected and doors will be opened.

And use your femininity. Use it, actually. I am not saying wear short dresses or anything of that manner, but use your intuition. Women have a lot more perceptive ability, emotional connection, and are not as competitive. These three things can really work to your advantage, use your femininity!

A: Thank you so much for your time, Simone. Super awesome to chat to you.

S: Thanks Aneme!

Check out Simone’s super inspiring talk, here:

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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Behind the scenes: The challenges of building an EdTech startup

Are you thinking about building the next big thing in EdTech? Well, I have to say that the journey is really amusing but extremely challenging at the same time! Many have tried to revolutionize education and failed. That’s why you need to make sure you are up to the challenge and ready for a very long journey and not in it for a quick exit!

I want to share with you some of the lessons I learnt (and still learning) while building Knowledge Officer, a career-oriented learning platform for professionals who want to fulfil their dream career goals. I will share the lesson of each stage I have been through so far. We have witnessed 3 stages: pre-MVP, MVP and product.

Pre-MVP Stage:

This is the stage where you would do the market research and early customer development activities. You are still validating the problem and trying to understand the space more. Many founders, unfortunately, skip this stage altogether and go directly to the next one. They start building blindly without necessarily being equipped with the right knowledge and understanding of the space they want to operate in.

Challenges facing EdTech founders:

  1. Small Network: A small number of hugely successful EdTech startups (compared to other markets like FinTech, AdTech, etc) so a very small network to learn from and everyone is still exploring and finding his own way.

  2. Access to data: It’s very hard and challenging to put your hands on real, authentic and comprehensive data around the market size and different financial activities.

  3. Getting research evidence: This challenge continues in the upcoming stages but you should start thinking about it from the beginning. Education startups need science and research based evidence on their approach to learning and education. I would definitely recommend UCL educate program for that side.

MVP Stage:

This is the stage that comes after going live with an MVP and validating it with users. Usually, this is the stage where you start reaching out to investors as well. This is where you see real and live insights from your potential users and customers and get more confidence on the problem and your solution.


  1. EdTech requires rapid prototyping and pivots: I have been playing and testing EdTech products and platforms for more than 7 years now and I can’t remember one product that reached a massive success without at least one pivot. And because usually at this stage your runway is so short, it becomes really challenging to try different approaches and test many grounds unless you forced yourself to be super lean.

  2. Investment: It’s extremely challenging to raise for an EdTech startup and you will find very few VCs who focus on only EdTech investment. The reason behind that is that usually it takes years for an EdTech startup to start making decent revenues, let alone profits. Not all investors are patient to invest in a product and vision rather than investing in a business that would yield an immediate or near future return. There is also a challenge with all EdTech founders on how they materialise the impact of learning and education on their users and measure the value of what their product provides especially at that stage.

Product Stage:

Now, you have secured some investment or decided to bootstrap and have a live product with many users/customers. You now transition from your mere focus on building a product to thinking more about building a viable business that sustains this product.


  1. It’s not really that hard to acquire users for your product at this stage given your value proposition is clear and the product is somehow useful. The real challenge is with retention and engagement and keeping these 2 metrics at a healthy level while you are growing your user base.

  2. Monetization: As I mentioned earlier, it’s always challenging to monetize in EdTech and even the behemoth of this market are still experimenting and trying to figure it out like Duolingo for example. Historically, this is where EdTech entrepreneurs have failed.

  3. Learning is a very complex process and involves deep understanding of how the brain works and how people learn effectively. There is a mix of science, engineering and philosophy behind that which needs careful study and growth-minded teams.

  4. Schools/institutes/companies usually have approval process that could be very long depending on your product and the compliance needs especially given the difficulty to materialise the value your product offers sometimes because of point (3)

While reflecting on those challenges, I wanted also to summarise some of the most famous non-successful stories in EdTech and a short lesson to learn from each one.


Failure Reason


Layers of approvals needed for the product to be used. The usage of the product depended on approval from students and admin which complicated the relationship with teachers and made the process much longer and cumbersome.


Long story short, they failed to monetize to sustain the business.


Similar to Readmill and many businesses in the ebook industry, they failed to create a sustainable business model. According to the founder, “In the end the unit economics of ebook sales just don’t make much sense if you don’t own the platform like Apple, Google, or Amazon.”


There were doing well and raised from top VCs and investors till Apple came with its iPad and ate their lunch! They failed to cope with the disruption in the market.

Hope we all learn from those lessons and create EdTech products that truly serve learners, continuously innovate and create viable and innovative business models to sustain the growth of our companies. Fixing education and helping people to learn is a noble cause and we believe that learning is one of the main pillars of having a successful life. That’s what drives us to work every day till we get to fix the Skills Gap!

About Us

Ahmed El-Sharkasy is CEO & Co-Founder of Knowledge Officer. I have been working in startups for more than 7 years now between research, engineering and product management.

Knowledge Officer is a learning platform for professionals. Our mission is to empower a generation of lifelong learners and to help people, however busy they are, learn something new and relevant every day and achieve their career goals.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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Instagram influencer marketing strategies -10 ways to drive sales for ecommerce

Social media has become an integral part of people’s daily routines, we are addicted to it logging in and checking our feeds and getting likes on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. And, they were designed that way. Despite the recent Facebook data scandals, people have become so reliant on interacting on them, that for most people deleting their accounts is not very easy.  The latest data from Pew Research Center’s 2018 Social Media Use Survey indicates social media usage is not going to drastically decline (although some channels may have quarters where new user growth is slowing) or go away.

If you have an ecommerce or B2C product you should be investing in using paid social advertising and influencer marketing strategies to gain brand awareness, traffic or sales. Instagram, now has 35% of adults using it as 2018, which is a 28% increase compared to 2016. According to a recent Business Insider interview with Brittany Hennesey, Hearst Digital Media Senior Director of influencer strategy, “People scroll through 300 feet of [social media] content every day. That’s the size of the Statue of Liberty,”  Recent data from media agency Magna, is forecasting that digital advertising sales in the US will reach 108 billion, (a 15% increase from last year) with most of advertising dollars going to paid social content, followed by video and search. Conversely it predicts that TV, print media, and radio ad revenues will be flat or even shrink this year.  

So many large beauty and clothing brands are shifting some of their traditional advertising budgets to using influencers to promote their products, instead of doing TV commercials or print advertising, because the ROI is better. “It’s people that are the target demographic talking to the target demographic. And that’s what makes influencer content so much different than something a brand would make,” said Hennesey.         

So you maybe wondering if you are a startup ecommerce company how can you get more followers, sales and brand loyalty? Well I talked to an eCommerce Instagram consultant, Sean Kelly, who started a custom sports jersey company called Jersey Champs, and has managed to gain over over 1.6 millions followers to his brand’s Instagram account through a variety of methods including; 

  • Celebrity & Social Media Influencer partnerships

  • Instagram Engagement Groups

  • Contests & giveaways

  • Instagram shoutouts

  • Instagram Feed & Story ads

Sean gave me some tips on how eCommerce startups can use Instagram.  

Here are 10 ways your startup can increase your followers and  grow your brand using Instagram:   

1 Instagram Ads Through Facebook Ads Manager

If you aren’t running Instagram Ads in 2018, you are simply behind. Facebook Ads are the quickest way to drive sales to any business and you will see results immediately.

2 Learn How Instagram’s New Algorithm Works

If you’re interested in developing viral Instagram content, you’ll need to understand how Instagram’s sorting algorithm works. The platform uses a variety of factors, including timeliness, post engagement and post location, in order to determine where the post is displayed in a user’s timeline and whether the post makes it to the Explore page.

Three main factors determine what you see in your Instagram feed:

  • Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post.

  • Recency: How recently the post was shared, with prioritization for timely posts over weeks-old ones.

  • Relationship: How close you are to the person who shared it, with higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram, such as by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos.  

Beyond those core factors, three additional signals that influence rankings are:

  • Frequency: How often you open Instagram, as it will try to show you the best posts since your last visit.

  • Following: If you follow a lot of people, Instagram will be picking from a wider breadth of authors so you might see less of any specific person.

  • Usage: How long you spend on Instagram determines if you’re just seeing the best posts during short sessions, or it’s digging deeper into its catalog if you spend more total time browsing.   

3 Regularly Shout Out To Engaged Followers To Encourage Further Participation

As mentioned earlier, content with high engagement tends to attract new followers through improved organic reach. To keep followers happy and regularly engaged, mention them regularly in Instagram posts. Showing gratitude is a great way for brands to keep Instagram users engaged.  

4 Offer Discounted Pricing To Instagram Followers

Incentivize customers to follow your Instagram account by offering discounted pricing to Instagram followers. Some sophisticated eCommerce systems may be able to determine if a customer is an Instagram follower. If you don’t have access to such a system, you can simply share exclusive discounts with Instagram followers via automated direct messages to incentivize others to follow your account.

5 Instagram Shoutouts

A simple direct message to a large Instagram page asking for their shoutout prices will give you the direction you need in order to promote your products on their page. You can get your products put on pages with millions of followers for sometimes really cheap price if you know the right pages.   

6 Instagram Influencers

Companies such as HiSmile and Fashion Nova have blown up their presence by using social media influencers such as Kylie Jenner & Conor McGregor. You will have to work your way up there with influencers at just 10,000 followers or so, but you have to start somewhere.

7 Instagram Live

You should make sure to go live at least once a week to keep your followers engaged with your page. Be sure to host giveaways, Q&A’s & any other contests you feel would do well live.

8 Instagram Stories

You should be posting on your Instagram story every day. Once you hit 10,000 followers you will be able to include swipe up links in your stories which you can lead your customers directly to various product pages. Instagram promotes live video differently from other content formats. Existing followers receive a notification (if Instagram notifications are turned on), and live videos are promoted in a dedicated live video discover tab. This can be a great way for social media marketers to quickly increase account reach.   

9 Experiment With Instagram Shopping To Create A Better Experience For Followers

Instagram recently unveiled Shopping, which allows brands to tag items for sale in an e-commerce store. With just a tap on the tag, an Instagram follower can easily navigate to a product web page and purchase the product—all from within Instagram.

E-commerce brands that have used Instagram Shopping have seen incredible results. Marketers who work for e-commerce sites should use Shopping to delight followers, increase post reach and grow.    

10 Promote User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is a great way to demonstrate social proof while sharing compelling content. A number of highly regarded brands, including Mercedes-Benz (below), regularly share UGC for these reasons 


Those interested in growing their following on Instagram have a number of tried and true strategies at their disposal. Remember that the most effective Instagram marketers tell a consistent brand narrative through a variety of carefully produced and closely measured pieces of content.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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Coaches: How To Sell Happiness to Your Customers (Delivering on Your Promise)

People hire coaches to help them achieve their dreams. On the surface, many of those dreams look like mere money or a solid relationship, but underneath lies the drive to pursue happiness.

Effective marketing messages appeal to that desire for happiness. Happiness is the root of what people are after in whatever form they picture it, so it’s the strongest angle with which you can hook them.

For example, a barbecue isn’t merely a barbecue; it’s a fabulous tool for bringing the extended family together and creating happy memories one may cherish forever. Happiness sells, but not every product delivers on the promise.

Is your ad smiling?

Despite ads that depict smiling, laughing families, a barbecue doesn’t necessarily guarantee a joyous family gathering. After everyone admires your new grill, your family dynamics will likely be the same as always.

If people don’t usually get along, then they may descend into arguments even while devouring the best burgers they’ve ever had.

Experiences create happiness — products don’t.

If your aim to sell happiness is genuine, you’ve got to focus on selling the experience rather than the product. It’s not a hands-off, one-time sale. Think about it as promoting an experience that guides people toward the cultivation of their happiness from within.

In the coaching industry, this requires pushing your clients beyond their limits so they can have new experiences. If you’re a coach who only sells digital materials and pre-recorded webinars to maximize returns, you might want to consider adding the option of working personally with clients.

This may go against the wisdom of leveraging your time to make more money, but an absence of personal interaction inevitably sells one’s clients short. Coaching has the greatest potential to encourage breakthroughs when it’s a one-on-one relationship: You assume the role of mentor and your clients pay good money to listen to, and follow, your advice.

The challenge is to deliver on a promise.

The logistics are simple, but the challenge is to deliver on the promise. To deliver, you mustn’t sell ideas and dreams. You have to build a personal relationship with each person, set rigorous expectations, and hold clients accountable for measurable results.

You’ve got to be someone your customers respect and trust, even when you’re not letting them off the hook for procrastination or denial. You have to support them and ruffle their feathers in the correct balance, in order to get them to stretch beyond their limitations without quitting.

If you can’t get them past their limitations, they’ll never achieve the new experiences that lead to genuine happiness.

Selling a dream is like selling dopamine.

If the goal is to help people achieve their dreams and experience happiness, a steady flow of income from selling materials doesn’t inherently signal success.

Getting rich by selling CDs and coaching sessions requires nothing more than triggering the release of serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that induce a short-lived high of euphoria.

Don’t judge your success on the sales of materials.

In the coaching industry, it’s easy to sell inspiring audio CDs, seminar tickets, books, and other tools to clients who are hungry for change. The downside is that many clients never do the work and become addicted to the cycle of inspiration.

These clients are your best peripheral customers. They buy every book and CD and will do anything to come up with the money make it to your next event, but they don’t apply what they learn. It’s more comfortable to sit in a chair, pop in a CD, and get high on the inspiration.


When people become addicted to inspiration, they aren’t doing the work. If you base your sense of success on how many CDs and books you’ve sold, you’re employing the wrong gauge.

The only way to assess your level of success is by looking at the results your clients achieve for themselves. You might sell a million dollars worth of products, but are your clients enjoying the dreams they hired you to help them achieve?

Don’t encourage your clients to become addicted to your materials.

Think of your motivational materials as a marketing strategy to generate one-on-one clients. Your books and CDs are not the end product; personal time with you is the end product.

The materials you create to inspire people aren’t necessarily going to give them enough to achieve monumental breakthroughs in their life, but they might release that surge of serotonin and dopamine. The entire self-help industry sells the pursuit and promise of happiness, and if you want to stand out, you’ve got to deliver.

Personal development is still important.

Personal development is a $9.9 billion industry, and people pay thousands of dollars to attend seminars and conferences across the world. Among the most famous “happiness experts” are Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Louisa Hay, and Deepak Chopra. Dyer and Hay have passed away, but their books and audios continue to sell like crazy.

There’s an undeniable element of addiction to the industry. It’s an expression of the compulsion to buy things that will make you instantly happy. Various people pin their future happiness on the possession of a new car, a new iPhone, a raise, a bigger house, or a new relationship … or a steady stream of all of them.

Where is happiness?

People instinctively know that happiness doesn’t come in a box, but that doesn’t stop us from buying things. Many people feel directionless and don’t know how to be happy, so they turn to material goods and food for comfort, though it never fills the void.

You can’t sell happiness directly, but you can sell strategies designed to help individuals cultivate happiness from within. It’s ironic, but to sell someone on finding happiness within, you need to appeal to his or her compulsion to find happiness externally. Packaging is everything.

Your marketing message needs to appeal to the person’s ego.

Tips, tricks, processes, strategies, and tools sell. People want to be told what to do, and many of them desire a challenge. Even meditation — a highly effective method for cultivating contentment and possibly happiness — doesn’t get much attention unless it’s delivered as a guided exercise on CD, a month-long retreat, or a structured class.

If people knew that sitting quietly under a tree in their backyard could be as effective as any packaged getaway, many would still attend retreats for the experience. Who can argue with a beachfront resort, or a secluded mountain getaway in the forest with all meals provided?

Train clients to achieve one dream and they can achieve any dream.

Your clients are looking for happiness through something. It could be a better job, a successful business, or a specific level of income. They’re convinced that achieving such an ideal will make them happy.

You have to speak to them through whatever belief they hold, and coach them with that in mind. Will generating a six-figure salary provide your clients with long-lasting happiness? Probably not, but by coaching them to achieve one dream, you can train them in tactics they can use to achieve any goal.

Steer people toward their deepest desires.

Not everyone can become a millionaire by pursuing his or her dreams, but the process may lead to solid success. It’s your job to encourage everyone to pursue the activities that make them happy, rather than the superficial goals that probably won’t.

The most successful firms in any industry are born out of deep passion. While engaging in their profession, people often see opportunities to do something better, and that’s how many entrepreneurs are born.

Sari Mintz, for example, spent years as a passionate hostess but felt discouraged when her creative ideas extended beyond available resources. A master of her craft, she knew the value of personalized party accessories, so Mintz launched her own party supply company in 2004.

You can thrive and be happy.

She may not be a millionaire, but she’s thriving and happy, and her company is regularly featured in national publications, television, radio, and blogs. Success is when other people are aware of your product and want to get it.

Success is when you’re in business doing what you love. Money is merely a by-product of the success.

People want to go through a process.

Despite claims of wanting instant gratification, most people enjoy going through a process to get what they want. It’s why some people pursue passions through the daily drudgery of incremental mastery, and others hunt deer when they could buy venison at the market.

It’s also the reason people build a home on empty land when they could buy an existing house: They want to experience the journey. Your mission is to create the roadmap for that journey, and guide your clients through it.

The journey.

The journey makes people work for the results they want. You don’t to make too great a struggle, but don’t make it too easy, either.

People looking for a purpose in life are vulnerable.

Marketing happiness to a society in search of a purpose isn’t hard, but unless you empower people to do what they love, it’s not a sustainable strategy. If you sell dreams without substance, what little scraps of satisfaction people get will likely prove to be temporary.

Sooner or later, the stream of new books, CDs, or techniques will lose its appeal, and the quest for external happiness will shift to another source. Coaching people to create happiness rather than find it requires getting personally involved in each client’s journey.

You can’t deliver on the promise without personal interaction and committing to people’s long-term success.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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HyperWHO? HyperWHAT?

So, you’re probably thinking, what on earth is this guy going on about in the title of this paper that I am about to venture into.

Well, when asked what I am most interested and rather enthusiastic about at this stage in my career and personal life, the headline presented at the uppermost part of the page is often the response I get from family, friends, work colleagues and even random strangers I have the pleasure of sitting next to in the rather minuscule seats of economy class when I travel.

When conversation usually ensues, I often deliver a rather theatrical narration of what this ‘thing’ I am so fascinated by and believe is the future, which is, the ‘Hyperloop.’

I currently work for a large global organization that deals with container shipping as well as transport and logistics. I have been tasked together with a group of young individuals to travel to, and subsequently present our idea of the Hyperloop to the top executives in Silicon Valley next month.

In the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution that the world is currently experiencing, we effectively have to try convince these top executives, who may actually have worked in this industry longer than some of us have been alive, to start looking at the potential of the Hyperloop technology as new form of innovation in the transportation industry. The proposal forms around how our organisation can either be completely disrupted by or take full advantage of this massive opportunity that this technology presents. Honestly, I prefer the latter.

If you don’t know what the Hyperloop is, it may very well be your ride to work in the not so distant future. The Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation, essentially the “5th Mode” that the world will see as labeled by the brainchild of the idea in his 2013 White Paper, Mr. Elon Musk.

Attempting to explain what this technology is and how it will work is not the easiest of tasks, but I shall do so in its simplest form, here goes nothing.

Try to envisage travelling uninterrupted at speeds of up to 600 mph, yeah you read right, ‘Miles -Per-Hour’, and for those of you that prefer using the metric system, it equates to 965 kph.

Doesn’t seem realistic let alone feasible right? Let me describe how this may actually be possible.

The Hyperloop simply put, a pod (capsule) moving in a tube that is either above or below the surface of the earth, where the pod will transport people seated inside, from one destination to another. The Hyperloop pod uses an electric motor, which can be broken up into two simple components, a Stator and a Rotor. The Stator is stationary and the Rotor rotates. However, unlike a normal electric motor that is circular, the Hyperloop motor is linear, where the Rotor is on the pod that will move along the Stator, which is attached to the tube. The pod is propelled magnetically as it moves over the Stator.

The Hyperloop uses unique magnetic levitation technology to help lift and guide the pod off the track. What allows the pod to move at these incredible speeds is due to the removal of almost all the air in the tube by a series of vacuum pumps, reducing any drag our friction, essentially creating our own sky in the tube. By almost eliminating any drag Or friction in the tube, the pod will only require a small amount of electricity to achieve these astonishing speeds.

The idea and concept of a system where items are placed in pods and subsequently transported at high speeds through a vacuum sealed tube has been around for decades.

Remember ‘The Jetsons’ cartoon that portrayed how the future would look with flying cars and yes, vacuum sealed transportation tubes? Or, some of the older readers may remember the pneumatic air tubes that were developed in the 19th century, for the purpose of sending documents between different floors in a building, ring a bell?

The Hyperloop basically is an amalgamation of the Concorde plane, a rail gun and an air hockey table. The Hyperloop is designed to be energy efficient using solar panels, cost effective, reliable and faster than any existing high-speed train or airline transportation.

6 hours, this is the amount of time it would usually take you to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a vehicle due to heavy traffic congestion. 35 minutes, this is the proposed time it would take to travel between the same two cities in a Hyperlooop, saving you over 5 hours in travel time. If this does not excite you even the slightest bit, I don’t know what will.

So, our message is, disrupt or be disrupted. The Hyperloop is not a far-fetched or exaggerated idea, there are already massive companies like Virgin that are investing in and helping to develop this amazing and futuristic technology.

In Part 2 of this series I will go into greater detail of how the introduction of this technology can impact various industries as well as the society we live in. Hyperloop has the potential to change the world, so brace yourselves, The Future is Now!

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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Tech Startups Are Changing Education For The Better

In the last decade, we have been able to see an immense growth of technology involvement in education. We’re not only talking about using computers in the classroom anymore. Technology, big data and the Internet have started revolutionizing every aspect of education in the recent years.

Of course, students are benefiting the most from this technology boom, but they’re not the only ones. Parents, teachers and school administrators are all experiencing this positive change that is modernizing, improving and facilitating education across the planet.

This is all due to the innovative educational tech startups that have realized the need to fix the problems with the traditional education systems and transform the way we learn and teach.

Startups that Are Changing the Game

As you can imagine, the most influential tech startups in education are those creating some sort of apps for fun and interactive learning. These include learning apps and games for kids and adults that are created for computers, tablets and mobile phones, which makes them incredibly convenient.

Then, there are the startups that wanted to enhance the learning process through better file organization. Schools and universities around the world are using platforms and apps that allow both students and teachers to keep everything in one place, stay organized, share files and keep track of assignments.

Aside from that, certain edutech startups have focused on facilitating the school administration process, engaging the parents through progress tracking, monitoring things like class attendance, test results, and even cheating and plagiarism.

Finally, there are the programs that provide and facilitate video lectures and online courses for both students and future teachers. For example, more and more aspiring teachers are opting for online degrees like the Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care and other popular training courses, to be able to keep up with the trends.

The Revolution in Education

All these startups and their technology solutions have caused quite a revolution in education, and it seems like the changes are only going to continue. Here’s how tech startups are changing education for the better.

Personalized Learning

Technology has started erasing the problematic all-for-one learning model and introduced a new personalized one. Thanks to the innovations, students can now get a custom-made learning experience that significantly increases their academic success.

Learning on the go

With technology, students around the globe are now able to learn wherever they want, whenever they want. They can study at their own pace and keep track of news, files, assignments and grades with just a few clicks.

Countless Learning/Teaching Resources

The Internet has given us access to boundless amounts of information. When it comes to education, that means countless learning resources. There are hundreds of tech startups as well as famous companies dedicated to enhancing the learning experience, which makes it easy to find learning and teaching resources in the form of eBooks, video lessons, online certificates and a lot more.

The Greater Change

Edutech startups are already shaking up education systems around the world and remodeling the modern classroom. Not only are these innovations shifting the learning process towards personalization but also changing the roles of everyone involved – from curriculum creators, across teachers to students and parents.

But this change is a good one, and it’s only just begun. We have yet to see all the ways tech startups will continue to alter and enhance education in the future.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind

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