Business Advisor gives us tips for early stage startups
The market approach for early stage startups with a Business Advisor
We asked for some advice from an expert Business Advisor on some points of interest to help startup founders in the early stages of their projects.
We met Ignazio Cogotti, an expert Business Advisor on startups
Ignazio Cogotti is the Advisory Director at Grownnectia, an Executive Manager, Business Advisor with a focus on Business Development, Business Advisory and Strategic Finance especially for early stage startups. He has significant experience in the healthcare and biotech market, in medical, surgical, diagnostic, and pharmaceutical devices, gained with some of the largest companies in the sector.
Hi Ignazio, we wanted to start this interview by asking you to tell us a little about your story.
I started working for a large group at Johnson&Johnson Medical where I spent 11 years in all the classic roles in sales and marketing, I was lucky to grow up in that school where they train you at incredible levels. I became a noticeable young executive, I still had to turn 31 and became head of a business branch for 5 European countries increasing my international experience. I left J&J for Bristol Myers Squibb where I gained experience in the pharmacy channel as head of marketing. I reached the top of my managerial career in 2005 holding the position of Chief Executive Officer and General Manager in a multinational company where in Italy I managed an important business and a headcount of about one hundred people. In 2010 I opened my own company in the veterinary sector (surgery, lab, and therapeutical nutrition) that I sold in 2016, from that moment I started working with early stage startups in the biotech sector first and then more widely touching all the markets with Grownnectia.
Ignazio, as mentioned, you are the Advisory Director of Grownnectia. Grownnectia supports startups from the early stages of life with the definition of the business model, up to more structured stages with the development of the best strategies for growth and traction optimization; in which phase do you take control and in what way?
My colleagues of the team and I take part right from the beginning (the kickoff meeting) by firstly defining the business canvas in all its nuances, mentoring the startup during the pathway and then producing various document sets that include Business Plan, Financial Plan, Executive Summary, Pitch, One Page, and other documents. Throughout the process we try not only to answer to the doubts (and there are many) of the startup founders but also to advise them on the best choices to make to grow and to have the right vision for the project.
Grownnectia makes the startup growth project sustainable up to structuring the best fundraising strategy, following the startup up to the Go-To-Market phase and we wanted to ask you which activities, preparatory to fundraising, do you personally take care of?
Fundraising is certainly an important moment in the life of a startup, indeed, it is the primary goal that the startup founder has when he/she starts, but, regarding this mindset, we often make mistakes in Italy. Fundraising is not the goal but an intermediate step (often more than one) during the startup lifecycle that concludes a series of particularly important activities that give solidity and credibility to the project and that must be completed before entering the investment market. I often summarize these phases with the three concepts of TEAM-VALIDATION-TRACTION. If those 3 areas are not carried out correctly, the startup cannot be considered ready and in most cases will not find investors. Behind those three business areas, there are often many months of hard work (of my team and also of the other work teams in Grownnectia) to advance startups, as appropriate, in all three areas. The Validation area, for example, is the activity that is most frequently neglected. The company evaluation phase is also essential, in that sector we are at the forefront, we use a template that I developed that uses 6 calculation algorithms. When we think the startup is ready, we make an assessment process and select the best projects to take to some initiatives like Pitch Days, Investor Days, and so on.
You are a Business Advisor and Startup Mentor, so we would like to ask you how you make your skills available to startups and which tools you use in your mentorship.
The tools and methodologies that we use are different depending on the work we have to do and on the stage of the project. However, at the basis of everything there is direct contact and dialogue with the customer, we must be in tune with the startup team and try to capture its goals and expectations, often trying to make people understand how “pivot” (change of direction during the path) is not a failure but a point of strength and growth. The tools that we use are many: the business canvas that we use is the Startup Canvas method by Massimo Ciaglia; as a communication platform, e.g., we use Slack; for project programming we use Asana; for financial programming, instead, we use a tool that I personally developed during 2 years of study which is a mixture of Excel, macro programming and links to external databases; then for the digital part we use many tools such as Google Analytics, SEOZoom, SEMRush, etc.
Would you like to recommend some tools to our startup founders or give some suggestions to better deal with market analysis and competitor research?
Regarding this point, I would like to quote the words of a great growth hacker and successful writer: Alessia Camera. She says: “you have to fall in love with the problem and not with the solution”. In a few words, the whole essence of the importance of validation. If we try to ask any startup founder about his/her project, be sure that everyone would start to delay praising the qualities and possibilities of their fantastic business idea instead of telling us how that idea solves a real problem (need) of the market that they have validated. The market and competition analysis are quite a complex exercise. The goal is to correctly show TAM-SAM-SOM and to validate them. Competition and Competitive analysis are also important and must correctly show an evidence of the correct UVP of the project, often using some specific software tools. Let’s not forget the importance of a correct and detailed (through the A.A.A.R.R.R. funnel) marketing strategy. My recommendations are in line with this thought:
- Spend time building the team.
- Spend time on the problem/solution fit validation process, the product/market fit and the construction of the MVP.
- Rely on experienced professionals, do not be afraid to ask for help, you cannot expect to do everything by yourself.
- Do not worry if the initial process takes you months to be completed, afterall Rome was not built in a day.
- Continue to follow the Canvas even after the startup is launched; the process is continuous and dynamic, month after month and year after year.
- Never stop trying to improve, today the markets change with exceptional speed, and you must be just as fast.