There is nothing more fascinating than to watch an enterprise go from idea to concept to product to funded to growing to thriving and to witness the swings in between. This is one of those stories where we dive deep inside the startup world as a company is going through this metamorphosis.
This is the story of Openera, a company focused on automated filing – and also founded in my home town of Ottawa, Canada. While document management may not be everyone’s sweet spot, the story that founder Peter Lalonde tells will resonate with every entrepreneur watching or listening. The story of how mobile enabled him to launch his first entrepreneurial endeavour. The story of how he validated his idea by talking to everyone he could. The story of how he kept on validating his idea along the product development path. The story of why he spent 5 weeks in the valley and what impact that had on his business. The story of the highs and lows an entrepreneur goes through during the lean times and during fundraising. You will also hear about how he closed a portion of his seed round at a bar.
What you won’t find anywhere in this episode is hubris, machismo (except the moustache, grown for a great cause in Movember) or veiled answers. Peter is open about his lessons, honest about his mistakes and shows the true charisma needed to become a great founder and CEO.
If you enjoyed this, why not tell him that now?
Here is a quick reference of what we covered in the show. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip
1. Did you sign a term sheet at a bar? 1:50
2. What is Openera 5:00
3. What is the problem Openera solves 7:00
4. Why start Openera 9:15
5. Peter’s process for defining his product offering 14:00
6. What did spending 5 weeks in the valley mean for building relationships 16:00
7. How did you come up with the original idea 19:00
8. How different is the idea today versus when you started 23:15
9. Why simplicity rules 26:00
10. How did you find your technical co-founder 28:30
11. How did you find your partners 33:30
12. How do you compete with incumbents moving into your space 37:00
13. What has the fundraising process been like for you 40:00
14. Why go down the funding route instead of finding customers first 45:30
15. How do you deal with the manic swings of being an entrepreneur 47:40
16. Is there anything better than being an entrepreneur in the mobile space? 51:40
17. What would you not do again on your next startup 53:15
18. What is the one thing you would do again on your next startup 54:45
19. People call entrepreneurs crazy – how do you deal with this? 55:45
My key takeaways
Talk to as many people about your idea as possible
I see this all the time – entrepreneurs too afraid to talk about their idea or making people sign NDA’s on the first date. Not going to happen. Not going to sell anything to anyone. Find the confidence (and the balls) to speak freely about what you are doing. Ideas, contacts, referrals, new directions, new features, new customer focus all stem from populating the idea in as many minds as possible.
If competition happens it validates the idea. If they box you out it wasn’t a good idea to begin with. Talking about it opens the door to partners, investors, customers and advisors. Share the passion you have. Don’t be afraid. Be confident in your idea or don’t quit your job.
Meet – in person – with the people that are important to your business
There is still something to be said about face-to-face meetings and Peter is the personification of the impact of this. Peter is everywhere, meeting everyone in person. The valleys (Ottawa and Silicon) – it didn’t matter. The key relationships he has today are as a result of getting in front of the people he needs to get in front of.
Have you identified the people of importance to you? Have you reached out to them to connect? Have you met them face-to-face? They will say yes to a meeting more often than not so what are you waiting for? Plus, if they don’t you can move on to the next person on your list.
Answer the “why people will buy from you” question first
You don’t sell technology. You don’t. Say that again. You don’t sell technology, you sell simplicity, a way for your customer to make their lives and the lives of their employees or customers or partners better/easier. Selling technology first means you are selling a commodity not an answer. Focus on the “why” and not the “how” – especially in mobile. Peter came to realize what the problem was he is solving and mobile just happened to be a great conduit to fix the issues his customers were having. Once he focused on the fix (in this case it was corporate document compliance – a pain that all his customers felt) and away from the generic sales focus (“we file your documents”), it resonated and he gained traction.
What do you think? Also, what do you think of the new format for the episodes? Do you like the chapters for quick reference? The takeaways? What else would you like to see. Leave a comment or two below or email me.
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About Peter Lalonde
Possibly the most tenacious & charismatic entrepreneur you’ll ever meet with an extensive background as a VP of Sales, Marketing, & Business Development at IBM, OpenText, GridIron (FileTrek), among others. When he’s not inspiring his team to ‘Make It Happen’ he can be found reading about startups, marketing strategies, and disruptive technology on his iPad.