Monday, April 4, 2016

Lately, I've been delving into what are the essential components to a newly developed startup's online success. I've also been attempting piece them together myself to create a preliminary version of each but of course, since I've ever actually had any experience doing these types of things, I'm finding it a little more difficult than I anticipated it to be. 

One of the first things I tried to do this past week was create and design a landing page for the company. A landing page is any web page that a visitor can arrive at or “land” on. However, when discussing landing pages within the realm of marketing and advertising, it’s more common to refer to a landing page as being a standalone web page distinct from your main website that has been designed for a single focused objective. That objective is typically tied to a conversion goal of some sort, usually designed to get prospective users to subscribe to a mailing list or to provide personal information for an account as shown in the graphic. 

Effective landing pages contain a combination of aesthetic beauty and simple functionality. Branding is essential with landing pages as well by providing a basic amount of information to the user along with an overall feel of the company through the company's colors and logo. 

Inherently involved with landing pages are drip campaigns. A drip campaign is a method used in direct marketing to acquire customers through repetitive marketing actions. It involves sending marketing information to prospects repeatedly over longer periods of time in order to nurture prospects or leads. Essentially what that means is, users who input their email or personal information into landing pages to indicate interest will receive periodical updates, special offers, or information regarding that company. 

Drip campaigns are vital in maintaining user interest in a product or service and that interest ultimately turns into a company's success if done correctly. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Lately I've been focused on doing research on the state of elderly care due to the fact that the startup I'm working with is focused on finding a convenient and cost-effective solution to elderly care. Although the intended audience of the business are to those in India, my research has been centered on elderly care in America just so that I may gain a broad understanding of the field in more familiar terms before I delve into a much less structured and chaotic one. 

American care of the elderly, as I found out, has a multitude of forms. The majority of these types of care center around established health care facilities. For example, Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFE) provide 24 hour non-medical care in assisted living facilities. They ensure constant supervision as well as assistance with activities of daily living such as bathing and grooming and under certain special plans, they may provide some type of medical supervision. In addition to RCFE’s, there are also Continuing Care Retirement Committees (CCRC). These establishments provide long-term uninterrupted continuing care complete with independent living units, residential care/assisted living, and skilled nursing care. Patrons to CCRC’s typically sign contracts for lifetime care in exchange for activities, help with meals, housekeeping, and other support services.

As with almost any type of research, there are of course statistics to look at as well. In the United States (in 2010), there were more than 735,000 individuals who resided in assisted living facilities. Of these 735,000, approximately 75% were women, the other 25% being men of course. More than 50% of these residents are over the age of 85, 36% are between the ages of 65 and 84. The most common activities which seniors require assistance for include meal preparation, management of medications, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring, and eating. Most of the residents also suffer from one or more of the top ten chronic conditions. (Graphic)
It's clear that a substantial portion of our nation's elderly reside in dedicated elderly care facilities but that can be expensive. Outrageously expensive, in fact. The cost of nursing home care can reach upwards of $80,000, more than a year of tuition at a University of California school (which is a lot, trust me). Furthermore, part time care can range from $20,000 to $25,000. The federal government will cover these costs at a point under Medicare, but as with any federal program, there are various hoops to jump through.
As a result of the high costs and red tape, many individuals attempt to take care of their elderly loved ones at home by themselves. In fact, 65.7 million informal and family caregivers provide care to someone  who is ill, disabled or aged in the U.S. However, despite the relative cost-effectiveness of this method, there are sacrifices involved. Individuals may miss work while caring for their loved ones or they may not have the proper medical equipment to provide sufficient care nor the necessary medical knowledge to do so. This is the crux of the problem which the product this startup is working on attempts to solve. I don't want to give away too much regarding this since I'd like to make it part of my presentation but providing high quality care in a convenient manner is something which is very important to my advisor. It's important to nearly everyone as well. The vast majority of people want their parents or other elders to be well taken care of in the later stages of their life and the current state of affairs can make that difficult. Hopefully, a solution can be reached soon and I believe that it will be.

Monday, March 14, 2016

This last week has not been as eventful as the last few, which is unsurprising as my advisor has been out of town for the better part of the week. Regardless, I used the time I had to get some reading done. I continued my reading of the book I mentioned in my last post, The Business Plan Workbook, and began reading through a number of case studies detailing the growth patterns and trajectory of other startup businesses in the past. Reading these case studies has been intriguing purely because it's unnerving how many ways a fledgling business can fail. More often than not, people believe that business will fail when the business doesn't sell enough to cover their costs. That's not false of course but there are a number of factors which can contribute to such an unfortunate result.

One of the case studies which stood out to me the most was that of 99Dresses, a company which allowed women to trade fashion items with other users. The founder of the company, a woman by the name of Nikki Durkin, created the startup almost straight out of high school with little direction and essentially no experience. Her business expectedly failed as a result as she found out almost each and every way it could have folded. She wrote a case study of her own experience in an attempt to make other hopeful business owners aware of the always apparent risks.

One of the risks she writes about is having the wrong people around you. As a business owner, it is very easy to trust the wrong people and bring them on as cofounders or other important team members. These people may not have the same vision in mind for the company as you do, they may be invested in the company from a purely monetary standpoint, or they may simply be people whom you are unable to get along with. Regardless what the case may be, having a team in place which holds the same beliefs you do as a business owner is vital. One specific instance which Durkin writes about is an event which caused one of her cofounders to step down due to having a different set of opinions on the future of the business. This happened just after the business was able to secure over 1.2 million dollars in invested capital. Unfortunately, since many investors saw the cofounders resignation as a sign of weakness, that $1.2 million fell down to about $500,000 in a short time after which only proves that starting a business with your friends or close relatives may not be the best idea.

That was just one of the biggest takeaways for me. There are of course other risks to be aware of such as ineffective marketing campaigns which have the ability to suck you dry of any and all money as well as low customer loyalty which can leave you standing on a cliff of irrelevance. Regardless, starting a business is one of the scariest things you can do and a venture in which one has to always be vigilant about possible risks.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Beginning (Almost)

I suppose I'll start by apologizing for not posting prior to this, it's been a busy last few weeks. However, now that I'm here, let me explain what I'm doing. 

My project is essentially centered around the process of creating a product which is able to connect caregivers with those seeking care at home in a safe and secure manner. The type of care can be diverse ranging from housekeeping, child care, and elderly care to more specialized care for chronic conditions, disabilities or physical impairments.  Being that my project is centered around the process of creating this solution, it is important to note that this entails learning how a startup business navigates through each step of the startup process including identifying needs of consumers, solutions to those needs, market research, unique value propositions, the whole nine yards. I'll get into more detail as I work through each step. 

The last three weeks or so have been eye opening to me in regards to this project. I've learned more about business in these last few weeks than I have in the previous seventeen years of my existence (though I don't suppose that says a lot). Once school was no longer on my plate,  my off-site advisor allowed me to have a week to myself before I began my work on the project. My off-site advisor is my father by the way, so I was just as surprised as you. Once my week was up, I got started. My first task was to read a book, The Business Plan Workbook by Collin and Paul Barrow and Robert Brown. The book outlines the steps to creating a successful business plan through seven phases of activity. A business plan, by definition, is a formal statement of business goals, reasons they are attainable, and plans for reaching them. It may also contain background information about the organization or team attempting to reach those goals. A business plan is vital to any business starting up, it's a roadmap, a blueprint even. At least, that was my understanding of it. As I took my notes while reading this book, I became aware of all of the work that needed to be done before even attempting to write a business plan. This includes outlining a strategy and purpose, performing market research to gauge public opinion, as well as monitoring the competition among other steps. With a new understanding of the type of work I'd be doing, I continued to take notes on this book and did so for the next two weeks. 

The third week (this last week) has been the most interesting thus far. Last week, my father and I attended a workshop of sorts in San Fransisco for budding startup companies hosted by the app development company, Appster after being selected to do so. At this workshop, I learned how to create a business pitch and all the steps necessary. A business pitch is a line of talk which is designed to intrigue potential investors or consumers in the idea behind the business itself. Have you seen the show Shark Tank? Imagine that but less scripted and a little more detailed. Delivering a business pitch to a room shouldn't take more than ten minutes but is the result countless hours of work. One of the biggest components of a pitch is the research behind it. Market research is crucial to any business starting up and I was able to take the first step in performing this research by creating a survey. Surveys are excellent for determining how the public feels towards certain issues or finding out if something even is an issue. With the help of my advisor, I created a twenty question survey that attempts to obtain key statistics regarding demographics as well as opinion towards the state of elderly care. That may sound very simple but after making more than five drafts of the same survey, I can attest to the fact that making a survey is more difficult than one could ever expect. 

Anyways, that's what I've been up to lately, I'm very much enjoying the whole process and I've already learnt more than I anticipated. I apologize for writing such a long post but the next one probably won't be this long. The picture included is from my trip to San Fransisco in case you were interested.