Business Rx: Marketing a disruptive technology

May 4

As an app developer who sold his first start-up to Twitter, Martin Ringlein knows the importance of a well-designed Web platform. And as an entrepreneur who has spent a lot of time engaging, networking and speaking in the tech community, he also knows the value a well-planned event. He combined the two to start Crystal City-based Nvite, a platform that hopes to turn event management software on its head.

The pitch

Ringlein

“Nvite is a platform for planning, attending, and engaging with events. The real differentiator is it’s the first attendee-focused event platform. We really wanted to fix what’s not working in the current set of services and tools in the marketplace for event organizers.

“There are two kinds of event organizers — professional event planners, and all the grass-roots organizers who are putting together events. We did a wide analysis and a lot of testing with users and found that the event platforms available now are really focused on the event hosts, which makes sense on the surface because they are the customers. But missing from that equation is the fact that the success of events is really determined by the people who attend them. We changed the script. In our platform, we put the attendee first and end up appealing to host.

“Events have been critical to my own professional development and career progression. I came to realize the value in attending events often comes from who you get to know. In addition to giving organizers the tools to manage an event, Nvite integrates an opportunity for attendees to interact on social media before, during and after an event. The platform creates a full experience for attendees and a viral feel for an event.

“We are currently testing our platform with about 15,000 users and gearing up for a full beta launch in June. Our biggest challenge is getting past that initial hurdle of articulating to customers that we offer something better. Our competitors aren’t necessarily broken, but they could be better. We don’t want there to be a huge learning curve, but the things our platform offers will fundamentally change the event management software landscape. We think we have a disruptive technology.”

The advice

Elana Fine, managing director, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business

“The key is to communicate your value proposition and target as clearly as possible your initial customer segment. Be laser-focused on the customers who have the pain point that you are addressing. This is a crowded space and most don’t see it as broken or having unmet needs. Start out with the niche that sees the process as broken.

“Talk about how you would win a ‘bake-off’ between Nvite and existing players — the specifics on how you stack up against Cvent or Eventbrite, for example. It is critical for you to understand the types of customers who want to have much more integrated events. Which customers would care most about looking cutting edge and fresh, integrating with social media, and creating a viral effect with their event? These are the customers that are likely not being served by the current event management software features offered by your competitors.

“You’re trying to disrupt the event space, but most people don’t know that there is something wrong with it yet. In these situations, hindsight is 20-20, but it’s difficult to position yourself as a disruptive technology now. I would be very thoughtful and even hesitant about using the word ‘disruptive’ — I think it’s become a bit diluted in what it means to be disruptive, and it’s usually used in the past tense. You can solve problems for a lot of people without using that label. Most companies that have truly disrupted a market didn’t start out to do so; they just figured out that people wanted to do things differently and focused on solving that problem.

“Be clear about the additional value for customers and what that really means: Does it generate more revenue for the organizer? Does it create a different perception of the event for attendees? Clarify these points to figure out who to target first and as you are out there in the market, you’ll get more traction if you can be as specific as possible on how Nvite is different.

“As you start to talk to customers and figure out your real niche, be very specific about who you are solving a problem for. Your technology is young, it’s fresh. The benefits of your technology is that attendees can see who else is going to an event, it leverages social media, and it feels like it is new and cool. For certain organizations, that means a lot when their event is focused on creating an ‘experience.’ Find out who has that problem and isn’t served by the existing market players, and who doesn’t mind paying for a better solution.

“I think there is market share for you to have and to take away from some incumbent.”

Reaction

Ringlein

“This helps us understand how to communicate what it is that we’re doing and knowing that the way we communicate it should be tailored, whether that’s to a very specific type of customer and their pain point, or to potential investors.

“We have had different conversations with different audience segments and we realize it’s not always best to position ours as a disruptive technology.”

» Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.

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