Business Rx: Advice on getting customers for suggestion box start-up


From left to right: Jonathan Schilit, Brad Cater, Micha Weinblatt. of Betterific, on their first day at the DreamIt Ventures accellerator in Philly.
October 7, 2012
The entrepreneurs

Childhood friends Jonathan Schilit and Micha Weinblatt had always wanted to start to a business together. Weinblatt, already the veteran entrepreneur, wanted to expand beyond his T-shirt company, Crooked Monkey (profiled in Business Rx in 2010), and Schilit had just graduated from business school. Their new business idea came from Weinblatt’s ineptitude at making his bed. He pondered why fitted bed sheets didn’t have labels for the long and short sides. Weinblatt joined forces with Schilit, and ultimately Brad Cater on the technical side, to parlay his frustrations into a business idea for a customer feedback Web platform called Betterific. The goal is to create a place where consumers can share their ideas and suggestions with each other and with companies.

The pitch

Jonathan Schilit

“Betterific is a product innovation platform for companies to collect and solicit customer ideas and feedback. Think of it as a digital suggestion box for customers to improve their favorite products and brands, where other users can rally behind great ideas, and where companies can interact with their influential customers. Betterific will give the customer a voice in the innovation process, and will be their destination to share, follow and interact with ideas and brands across diverse categories and industries. Our platform will provide an exciting, interactive user experience for the consumer.

“Our goal is to be where the customers are — we don’t want to build a redundant online community. Our idea management system can be embedded into existing platforms. Small businesses might prefer a page on Betterific’s site, or bigger brands may want to embed our platform onto their Facebook page or even their own site. We’re just discovering the specific tools companies will want.

“Right now, we’re in the very early stages. In September, we entered the DreamIt Ventures tech accelerator program in Philadelphia. Getting accepted to this competitive three-month program has really made us focus on building our business 24/7. We’re taking full advantage of the program’s mentor meetings, legal help and talks from VCs and entrepreneurs.

“We need to build a user base. We’re going after brand evangelists. We want passionate customers with ideas. We’re in initial beta testing to perfect the user experience on our site.

“Simultaneously, we’re using our networks to reach out to contacts at large brands. We’re working on figuring out how to best meet client needs. We are having exciting conversations with prospective clients that are showing interest. We need a few ‘wins’ to build momentum. How do we convince these large companies to take a chance on a start-up?”

The advice

Jason Shrensky, entrepreneur-in-residence, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“While large companies are many times very slow at making purchasing decisions or implementing new technologies, I recommend a three-pronged attack to winning new business. First, make sure your product offers clear, compelling value when compared to the status quo or competing alternatives. If your prospects cannot quickly and easily understand the positive impact your product will have on their business, rework your messaging.

“Second, accentuate the positive aspects of your company being a start-up: You’re hungry and flexible. Unlike established vendors who are slow to change once their product is successful, your company has the ability to be aggressive with pricing and adapt the product to meet customers’ needs. Make this plain in your early dealings with prospects. They will demo your product and provide feedback. Make the changes in two days and not two weeks, and you will win them over.

“Lastly, ensure that your infrastructure gives your prospects no cause for concern. Specifically, your infrastructure must be secure, resilient (e.g., network redundancy, data backups), and scalable (i.e., can easily accommodate sustained increases in traffic). With limited resources, start-ups often skimp on infrastructure when creating product. Large enterprise customers are trained to sniff out these weaknesses.”

The reaction

Schilit

“Jason’s advice is spot-on. We have to (and have begun) positioning ourselves as ‘hungry’ and ‘flexible,’ and willing to adapt to feedback from all stakeholders. Demonstrating our passion, a clear value proposition, and a sound infrastructure, will be extremely valuable as we meet with potential clients, and continue to grow Betterific.”

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