Addressing 'pain points' can lead to innovation
If you can create a new product that addresses a company's or a consumer's No. 1 or No. 2 "pain point," or problem, your company will see success, said Matt Larson, chief executive at Confio Corp. an information technology company in Boulder, during the Boulder County Business Report's CEO Roundtable on Innovation Aug. 29.
Money and time are each big "pain" points for most companies, Larson said. As an example of addressing those pain points, Larson points to Confio's work to compress customer databases to 30 percent of their original sizes and speed up the time it takes for computer users to be able to access them.
"If you look at a thousand companies that are addressing 'pain,' instead of 'nice-to-have,' the odds of them being successful are higher," Larson said. "The biggest pain in (information technology) is storage ... and databases are one of the biggest users of storage."
Online property management parent company Digital Technology Ltd., and the website Leaserunner.com was born out of owner Joe Buczkowski's personal "pain point," he said. The busy landlord said he had been managing condo units and other real estate the traditional way, with paper applications and background checks, when his son was born.
Buczkowski decided to create his own online software to screen tenants, and to look for previous evictions and the like, when he realized there was no existing software online to help him. The Louisville-based company now has thousands of customers in 2,000 cities around the United States, Buczkowski said.
David Mandell, owner of PivotDesk Inc. in Boulder, had a similar experience. PivotDesk sells "seats" to startup companies that might need some space in a commercial real estate building, rather than a lease to the space itself. Mandell saw the need to sell "seats" to startups as he saw the struggles they had as he mentored them at TechStars Boulder, a business incubator.
"It was years of seeing the same 'pain point' and not realizing the solution until recently," Mandell said. "We were seeing the same pain over and over again from great people who were doing great things. We know there's a market demand."
At Radish Communications Systems Inc. in Boulder, the "dreaded interactive voice response system" is the "pain point" addressed by the company's Choiceview phone system, said Theresa Szczurek, a co-founder and chief executive. In addition, Choiceview gives customers visual information for phone calls, as well as interactions with real people, Szczurek said.
"The market said it didn't like automated phone systems right now, (so) we introduced Choiceview," Szczurek said.
Listening to your customers also can help you address a "pain point" issue, according to Matt Steinfort, chief executive of Louisville-based Envysion Inc. Envysion installs video systems in leading Denver-based fast-food restaurants and other locations. The video system information is used to gather data that wasn't available before, Steinfort said. He requested that Envysion's fast-food restaurant customers not be named.
"We don't have a predisposed view of how (restaurant executives) should use video, but we listen to them. It's a phenomenal tool," Steinfort said. "It allowed them (the restaurant) to get demographics of customers by transaction: Who is buying bagel thins at 5 p.m. on a Friday?"
Listening also is key when helping new companies be successful, said Alex Sammoury, executive director of the Longmont Entrepreneurial Network, a business incubator. Startup companies accepted to work at the incubator must show their products to potential users as part of the process of getting ready for commercialization, Sammoury said. The companies are able to use the feedback they receive to evaluate their potential future success in the market, he said.
Using listening and observing techniques has worked for Tom Cross as well, owner of Tectionary Corp., parent company of TECHtionary.com, an online technology source for tutorials and mobile applications. For example, Cross said he created iFlipTips, which are on-your-mobile-device flashcards, after seeing CU students using 3 by 5 cards at Norlin Library on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus.
"I learned a lot about app(lication) marketing at Norlin Library," Cross said. "This is not the only (online/mobile device) flashcard out there, but it's something really simple."
Once you know your company product addresses a customer's "pain," it also helps to find a way to interact with customers when things are going well, not just when they're having problems, said Sean Oshman, chief executive of iSupportU LLC, an information technology help firm in Boulder. ISupportU company employees want to offer constant computer monitoring for customers, rather than rushing to help when a computer crashes, for example, Oshman said.
"It's engaging with clients in a positive way, instead of seeing them when they're upset," Oshman said. "You want to see them when they're happy, which they are a majority of the time."
Sometimes marketing is pretty important to innovation, too, as illustrated by Barry Cooper, founder of Cooper Tea Co. in Boulder. Cooper said he now wears his distinctive hat everywhere he goes - even though it goes against his etiquette of not wearing hats indoors - because it is featured in his videos for the company's B.W. Cooper's Tea on the Home Shopping Network in company logos, and in advertising.
The company's newest organic iced tea concentrate is "green," Cooper said, another current marketing trend. That's because the small bottle saves on the plastic packaging of as many as 64 individual plastic bottles, Cooper said. The roundtable was sponsored by Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP and held at the law firm's offices at 1712 Pearl St. in Boulder. Ehrhardt Keefe Steiner & Hottman PC accounting firm also is a sponsor of the monthly event.
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