LAUNCH 2014: Inspiration and Insights for Startups

This week we had the pleasure of participating at LAUNCH, meeting with numerous startups who converged in San Francisco to debut their solutions.

Industry influencers and luminaries shared their wisdom with aspiring entrepreneurs, encouraging startups to be “unreasonable” and seek to change the world. Kudos to Jason Calacanis and the entire LAUNCH team on a well-executed event. I expect to see some new members in the LAUNCH hall of fame from 2014.

Here are a few highlights and thoughts about the event (while dodging drones).

Vue | @getVUE Blush | @blushmessenger Ripple | @tryripple

4 Keys to Startup Success (@davidsacks): David Sacks, corporate vice president at Microsoft (founder and CEO of Yammer and former COO of PayPal), shared some great thoughts on the underlying and enduring ingredients to building a great startup.

1. Market Need

2. Product Hook

3. Scalable Distribution Model

4. Non-Copyability

At Microsoft Ventures, we are always looking for startups with a strong product hook that have a “non-copy-ability.” While many entrepreneurs can boast strong market justification and proprietary IP, too often they fail to create a compelling product value and/or have unreasonable expectations on customer acquisition. In the age of “app-fatigue,” startups cannot pretend viral distribution is a bona-fide distribution model. Viral adoption is an exception to strong go-to-market execution and a compelling value proposition that attracts customers.

Build Emotional Attachment (@mcuban): I loved Mark Cuban’s statement regarding his ownership of the NBA Dallas Mavericks: “I made ownership fun. We weren't in the business of basketball. Fans remember who they were with, and that's what we need to sell.”

Customers are willing to pay more for an experience that creates an emotional attachment versus buying a product strictly for the bells and whistles. This is how you can develop brand affinity. In traditional consumer products, Starbucks and Nordstrom’s are two pinnacle examples of creating a strong brand experience. Not unlike an NBA owner or a traditional consumer company, tech startups who build emotional attachment have a stronger likelihood of success and differentiate themselves in a crowded market. Some great examples of startup success with an emotional appeal include Eventbrite, Splunk, Tableau, and Zappos.

Create an experience and build a story that engages your customers.

Natural Selection (@dfjjosh): During a VC panel discussion, DFJ partner Josh Stein remarked in response to the Series A crunch that “natural selection is a good thing.” While there is more noise in the startup ecosystem as barriers to entry are lowered, the Series A crunch reinforces the natural selection process and is raising the quality of “fundable companies.” Maturing markets, such as Israel and China, are filling this gap with new funds as market demand dictates.

Focus on execution. If your solution is compelling and customers adopt, then money will follow.

Potential LAUNCH 2014 Hall of Fame Candidates: Perhaps the best evidence of the feedback, insights and tenacity encouraged by speakers, are the LAUNCH winners themselves.

Congratulation to each of the companies below, who rose above the noise and distinguished themselves at LAUNCH 2014. Microsoft Ventures is eager to support and follow your progress as you endeavor to change the world. Aspiring entrepreneurs take note - this could be your startup next year. Get to work!

Hackathon Winners

Vue | @getVUE Blush | @blushmessenger Ripple | @tryripple

Best Overall ($200k investment prize)

Connect | @connectsanfran

Category Winners Best 2.0 - Credible | @crediblelabs Best Alpha - The Pocket Drone | @airdroids Best Design - Dattch | @dattchapp Best Consumer Hardware - Drop | @AdapticsHQ Best Enterprise Hardware - Density | @roundedco Technical Achievement - CSTM | @cstmglobal Best Benefit Corporation - HandUp | @handup Best Enterprise - Knox | @knoxpayments

Ice House #DreamApp contest winners

AdStage | @getadstage

Flyr | @flyrapp

Barracuda Hackathon Investment Grand Prize Blush | @blushmessenger