When Dr. Meghan Walker first started seeking listings for Bright Almond, a service that connects consumers with licensed naturopathic professions, she assumed it would be easy.
“I was a practitioner and I said, ‘I want to see more people and I want to help more people,’” she recalls. Bright Almond’s CEO and co-founder assumed her peers would be similarly enthusiastic about a platform that allowed them to reach a bigger potential clientele. But getting in front of busy practitioners to pitch her offering proved more challenging than she expected. “Do you use technology, do you pick up the phone, do you go visit their practice?” she asks. “And how do you reach 20,000 eligible practitioners across the country?”
That wasn’t the only challenge the Bright Almond team faced in setting up and publicizing their offering. Here are four obstacles Walker highlighted, and how her team overcame them.
Simple can be expensive
Consumers have certain expectations of the online platforms they engage with, and Walker says it was tough to meet those within time and financial constraints. “How do we look high-quality on a budget from the beginning?” she asks. She points out that the simplicity of Google’s look and feel cost millions of dollars and years to develop.
Bright Cove didn’t have nearly that much money or time. “That took a lot of strategy and planning for us,” Walker says. “And then really, like any startup, we had to become experts at everything—SEO, design, copy.”
There’s no such thing as the perfect tech product. “You have to put it out there, you have to see how people play with it, and then you have to go back and change it,” Walker says, admitting that she’s a recovering perfectionist. The analogy she uses is paving the pathway before seeing how people choose to walk across a lawn. ““You really should let them start to walk and trample, and then decide where you want to lay down the cement,” she says.
But releasing a minimum viable product and then modifying it as necessary comes with its own set of challenges. Walker says she was surprised by how expensive it is to experiment. She says entrepreneurs tend to assume they can set out a vision, then conduct tests and trials to see what works and what doesn’t. That’s particularly true of web-based companies. “We have the tendency to think the online space is free to access, but to do it well you have to pay to play,” she says. “And you have to be bang-on—you can quickly spend a lot of money trying to get visitors online, and if you don’t know what you’re doing it’s gone pretty quickly.”
For professionals who work a fee-for-service model—think lawyers, doctors, naturopathic practitioners—time is money. “It’s really hard for them to want to make time for you, unless you can clearly articulate [how] you are going to save them money or earn them more income,” observes Walker.
Simply touting your tech solution won’t attract their interest, as the Bright Almond team learned. Practitioners have to be shown how the platform will allow them to develop their business or client roster. “Despite the fact that it would be really easy for them to use and it would save them a lot of time and money, the concept of what it was was just too much for them,” she says of the early days. “So I think sometimes you just need to back up and keep it really simple.”
Female entrepreneurs are underserved by the investment community—Walker says less than 5% of women-led companies seeking venture capital receive it, despite the fact that they’re no less likely to succeed than ones run by men. “I think given the demographic of where a lot of venture capitalists are in their life and their accumulation of wealth, they’re not necessarily used to women asking them for money or women seeking the direct form of feedback that they are used to giving,” Walker notes.
Once she’s in a room with the VCs, Walker is confident that she can secure deals. “At the end of the day, we confidently present our story, we present our numbers, we present our teams, and the company speaks for itself,” she says. But first she has to get in the door, and that’s where female entrepreneurs face obstacles according to Walker. “Once you have stepped beyond that initial shock value, if you are confident in what you’re presenting and you have something intriguing and you have a strong business argument, I think anyone who is savvy with their money is going to look past the gender bias.”
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