He was knee deep in it. And it was from his unique vantage point, squarely in the middle of the action, that Nathan Beckord’s wheels started turning.
Beckord was an investment banker during the dot com boom, and through his consulting work with startups, he recognized the passion he had for guiding young companies to success by smoothing out their operations.
Today, Beckord is the Founder and CEO at FounderSuite, the San Francisco-based tech startup that builds software tools to help founders build tech startups. Yes, that’s right–FounderSuite is an exemplary Startup Inception.
While consulting, Beckord realized that scaling his efforts with software would help productize his work, and once Beckord connected with Indianapolis’s Gerry Hayes, they started building FounderSuite last September. After running Beta from March to June, the FounderSuite platform has been released to the wild and is gaining traction.
After hearing about FounderSuite from Gerry and the team at Slane Capital, I got a chance to chat with Nathan Beckord to learn more about the startup for startups.
Software as a Service, or Service as Software?
Turning a Consultant into a Web App
Beckord will tell you that FounderSuite needed to be born. If, for no other reason, than to make his life easier.
“Consulting was nice, and it was lucrative,” Beckord said. “If I can charge $5-10k for a retainer,’ I thought, ‘Surely it would be easy to charge $15 a month for a product.’” But, it turns out, products present entirely new customer conversion challenges.
“Everyone thinks their startup is going to launch and hit the hockey stick right away. But I’ve worked with a lot of startups and that rarely happens. I knew that, but I still thought it would be easier.”
Lesson Learned: When you’re trying to productize a service, be patient.
“Getting adoption is two things: one part educating people about what you’re doing, and another part removing barriers to adoption.” Beckord has a strong background in consulting and investments, and working through the products has shown him different ways to problem solve. “People will say, ‘I love it, but it doesn’t have xyz,’ or ‘ I love it but I want to work with my co founders on it.’
Lesson Learned: Conversion is about lot more than landing page optimization.
Removing Barriers for Founders, and for Customers
FounderSuite launched with a handful of web apps, each designed to solve a specific founder-focused problem.
“I always get asked [as a consultant], ‘hey, I have an idea for a startup, here it is–what do you think?’ And I always want to know just a little bit more about it,” Beckord said, “What’s the market like, who are the customers, what’s the business model, that kind of thing. To give you a good answer about whether you should quit your job and jump into a startup full time, I need to be able to get some thoughtful feedback to you.
“Idea Validation is a way to sketch out a summary of your idea and push it out to your advisors for feedback. The original idea of that was actually from the advisor side–they realized that the system for feedback on ideas between advisors and founders was broken, so we built Idea Validation to solve that problem.”
In addition to tackling fundamental concepts like idea validation, Beckord is also interested in helping make order out of the startup choas that is fundraising.
“I’ve worked with startups raising before, and one thing I can say is that it always becomes very messy. You’re tracking what was said in what meeting when, follow on items, etc. in a big sprawling spreadsheet. Some people color code it, others tab things–everyone has their own method for dealing with the madness.”
“Investor CRM replaces that spreadsheet, and has plugins with Angel List to show where your connections might come in handy.”
Lesson Learned: Build your product the way your customers want it, not the way excel wants it.
“Half the time when I’m on the board of a startup,” said Beckord, “Unless the CEO is really proactive about asking for help, it’s hard for an investor to be really all that helpful. Progress Tracker is a tool to help keep investors better in the loop. That way, startups have a better chance to succeed because their investors are earning their equity.”
FounderSuite’s Founder’s Key Takeaways for Founders
Do customer research. Then do it some more.
You’ve heard it before: get feedback early and often. But why are so many founders afraid of doing just that?
“The initial products were itches we identified that we could scratch,” Beckord said. “…we spent this time in the first launch building all of these products. And for instance, progress tracker hasn’t really been adopted the way we expected it to be. So we’ve realized that maybe it wasn’t such an issue after all.”
“So now, after hiring someone to help with customer development work, we’re really excited about the feedback we’ve had from asking the question, ‘What do you want?’ If the first release was pushing tools out there, this one comes from pulling from the market.”
Just do it. All of it.
Be prepared to be Customer Service / Product Manager / Recruiter / Marketing / PR / Fundraiser / (all in the same day), said Beckord.
“If you let the marketing slip, the top of the funnel slows down. if you let your support emails age more than a day, you start to lose customers.”
Beckord’s insight into startup sales cycles is something I’d bet almost all product companies have felt.
“You might think it’ll take a month to get a deal done, but so often it just takes four months or five months. You can’t always simply sell better–sometimes, that’s just a reality.”
What do you think?
Let Nathan Beckord and I know what you think of FounderSuite and our conversation in the comments!
Join Verge and more than 200 founders, investors, educators, and lifelong learners on December 11 at 6pm EST in downtown Indianapolis at The Conrad. Tickets available here.