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Having traveled 16 hours to attend the 2015 Launch Scale event in San Francisco, I was keen to capitalize on the value of the two day event. As winners of our local 2015 IBM SmartCamp competition we were invited along with 9 other global semi-finalists to attend, meet up and share our experiences. Over the course of the event we would hear stories from startups that had become household names, and get to talk to others that were on the way.

My immediate thought was that IBM had found us some stiff competition. There were some standouts in the top ten that I’m sure have a bright future, and it was great to see them at this early stage.

Of the presentations, there were a few themes that were strong throughout. Client centricity was possibly the most ubiquitous theme. From David Sacks (@davidsacks) who’s been involved with startups like Paypal, Yammer and now Zenefits, came a one liner to remember: “Our best ideas came from our customers, it was a good job we were listening.”

As I was sitting there I have to admit I mentally congratulated us; Our last 3 major feature additions have been directly suggested by our customers, and if it worked for Paypal and Yammer, it’s something we’ll continue to do.

Another common theme was the importance of focusing on your first customers. Troy Carter of Atomic Factory was one of the most interesting presenters over all. He told the story of how his music management business had gone into receivership and his house was on the verge of being repossessed when someone told him about an up-and-coming act that was looking for management.

That act turned out to be Lady Gaga, but after he signed her they still struggled to get traction with radio stations. Their strategy to overcome this – focus on the first 50 fans (customers) and “super serve” them. Long story short, it worked. These first fans would become a strong base of referrals and success.

Although a completely different market, Jake Ednes echoed this story with his real estate services company Rescour – although this time, it was the first 1000 clients he focused on.

A third overriding theme was the complete belief these presenters had in their company from the beginning, and their commitment to pushing hard for success. Many pivoted along the way, but they all listened to their customers and fully believed they would ultimately succeed.

For us, it was well worth the trip. Strengthening our conviction that yes, we do fully believe in what we’re doing, and reinforcing the idea that we can never stop listening to our customers, we need to keep evolving, and not for one second should we stop pushing.

Thanks to IBM for the opportunity and thanks to @jason for dinner (every night).


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