Game-changing insights from Jim Connor on go-to-market strategy for startups

Jim Connor is a member of the Sand Hill Angels, CEO of First Focus Learning Systems and Producer/Host of the talk show Game Changers Silicon Valley (www.GameChangers.tv). He serves as a board member of Liftopia, Tabtor, KMVT Silicon Valley Media, the Angel Capital Association and Startup Learning,

Jim has been involved as an investor and advisor to emerging technology companies since 2007, currently serves as President of First Focus Learning Systems and is the Producer and Host of Game Changers Silicon Valley, a weekly technology interview about innovation. Previously he was President of JPMorgan SymPro providing treasury and portfolio management software solutions. His experience has focused on providing the institutional investor with the tools to analyze, manage and evaluate the performance, risk and compliance of investment and debt portfolios.

#1. Please tell us about your yourself and your work.

I was the founder and CEO of a software company providing a software solution to bond investors, Primarily corporate and government portfolio managers who had the responsibility for investing available cash in investment grade bonds.  The company with through several iterations, or pivots during its history and in 2003 was acquired by J.P. Morgan Chase. I stayed with the company for 3 1/2 years as part of the continuing agreement and that experience was very valuable as a Division President already large public company.  After the exit I became active as an angel investor, joined the Sand Hill Angels, served on the board for six years, was President in 2009 and Treasurer during 2011-2013.  I joined the board of the Angel Capital Association, and will complete my second term on that board, ending in June 2017.

In 2008, I became involved in a start up education company call First Focus Learning Systems. This decision was part of an evolving insight into the critical nature of providing an education commensurate with the requirements of 21st century jobs.  That experience save me “an education in Education”, as it serves to demonstrate just how difficult providing a high quality education was in light of and existing education system that had not been updated during the past 50 years. One of the responsibilities for this education company was to create video explanations of the course content for the various programs such as after-school classes, tutoring and summer camps. As I experimented with, I concluded that I simply had to learn how to to how to master this medium myself in order to get the correct messaging defined at reasonable cost.  

I found two classes offered by KMVT (a community TV Station), in Mountain View, CA and took both classes to learn professional techniques for television and video programming in general. At the conclusion of the second-class each member had a project of creating a 20 minute program. I did my program on the topic of community tennis. The feedback was happy program was above average.

I might consider volunteer work on other shows to gain practical experience in being a producer. A few months later the station’s Executive director and I had a conversation about creating a series of monthly shows about a topic of interest. It was clear to me that stories about innovation in Silicon Valley were accessible to me and might find an audience within the Silicon Valley community. We begin shooting in late September 2014 the show was named Game changers Silicon Valley.

Starting a television program is very similar to being in a new startup company.  As you talk to people about the idea, your friends will say”Hope it works out”, or just “good luck”.  Getting your first five guests is just as difficult as getting your first five customers in a startup. But we persevered and once we have 10 shows available, potential guests could see the format and the fact that the show appeared to be professional.

At this point time I’m pleased with the success we’ve had in creating the format that allows me as the host interview individuals who will be the Game Changers of tomorrow.  Our next step involves finding different techniques in formats to tell these stories. We are experimenting with a two-four minute “on the fly” interview  as well as going on site to the start up companies and discussing their challenges, products and solutions in their offices.

#2. How can a start-up with a few customers and technology position itself to fuel their go-to-market plan?

Startups undertaking a Go-To-market plan face many challenges, in my opinion, the most important strategy is to focus on providing a repeatable solution to a specific market or customer type. Startups have to focus on a specific type of customer with a cost effective solution that will generate benefits and allow the company build the case for prospects with the same or similar issue or problem to consider the company and its products. Once the company has that solution correctly positioned, it can make demonstrate the product, conduct specific targeted offerings, attend trade shows with the right messaging, and deliver a deployable product to customers in a cost effect manner.

#3. What are some marketing challenges for entrepreneurs?  

The marketing challenges for entrepreneurs are the following:

Most are technical people and do not understand or have experience in marketing, creating a brand, defining a market position, creating messaging and marketing materials.  Many entrepreneurs have the perception that if they build the best product, the world will find them and purchase their product on the technical merits alone.

#4. What is your advice to early stage software companies that aim to be Gamechangers of tomorrow?

My advice to early stage software companies that want to be the Game Changers of tomorrow is: Be an expert in your field (or have a members on your team who are experts, have knowledge of the client experience), find a few companies who you can work with as partners on the project. Develop a solution/ product that solves a problem efficiently and addresses the shortcomings of other products. Make that customer a success story in their organization, use that success story to develop a marketing testimonial – What we did with our customer who had this problem or issue. The best software comes from companies who partner with the end user, who continually involve the end user in the feature and function definitions and who test the solutions with the partner during the development cycle.

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