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    Leesburg and Loudoun Startup Notes - When Does Development End and Selling Begin?
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    I had the pleasure recently to participate in an ongoing discussion among a number of representatives of the local Leesburg/Loudoun area business startup community - some who had started, grown and sold multiple businesses, and some who were deep in the sausage-making that is the startup process. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of expertise in the room with advice to those who needed it, as there certainly is throughout the vibrant Loudoun County business community.

    A couple of representatives from the local entreprenuer community included C2 Management out of Berryville, offering investment recovery and asset management services, software solutions and a service very apropos to the burgeoning Loudoun data center community - secure, onsite sensitive data storage media destruction and removal. The franchise brokerage community was represented, along with startups in the digital marketing, event management and data warehouse analytics spaces. As these Loudoun area startups gain traction and come to market, I'll highlight their succeses here.

    While most of the startup projects and companies in this group are technology-focused, i.e. creating IT services, software or apps to meet consumer or business problems, a very common thread of discussion (at least this night) revolved around a real chicken-or-egg problem for fast-moving, committed, funding-constrained new businesses. How robust, feature-rich and essentially complete does my offering need to be, before I can confirm and define my target market? When can I stop developing, and start selling?

    Eager, enthusiastic software developers are typically loathe to release code to the user base, before every last function, image and configuration tweak is fully complete and tested. This includes both the core functions, and usually a whole bunch of other very thoughtful, insightful and frequently esoteric capabilities for many of the users.

    The business or project investors are usually unwilling to move too far down the software lifecycle investment path without pretty clearly researched and vetted information regarding who might actually buy the software, and under what circumstances and timeframes. They usually need clear details about the target demographics and the most likely ROI thresholds.

    Here's where inclusion of some professional marketing strategy can be very helpful - to translate and package the core product and all its complexities in a way that is readily consumed and understood by the priority, target demographic. Many times there will not only be a launch marketing strategy, but also a "pre-launch" marketing strategy, to gain early buy-in, to vet the target demographics and to surface early indicators as to whether the ROI is justifiable. An early marketing strategy that also evaluates the digital, social landscape and search engine rankings can very quickly provide input for nailing down the ROI, and therefore the software engineering plan moving forward. Basically - when to stop developing, and start selling something that works well enough for those who will pay.

    More to come on the Loudoun startup community, a fundamental component of the regional economic recovery and Loudoun business ecosystem in particular.
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    Loudoun Business Journal - Summer 2014

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