Insights and Opinions

Five Things Startups Must Do to Rev Up Business in 2016

For a startup to grow, it's necessary to raise money when the new identity as an innovator shines brightest. It's equally important to keep key stakeholders engaged, attract the best talent and retain the excited team you have. The prospect of riding a rocket ship that will change the world is powerful stuff, but how do startups communicate that promise?

Successful startups adopt the five pillars of design thinking -- Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. The following are another five pillars to establish credibility in the market and build a successful, cost-effective campaign to make you a stand out to investors, prospects, your people and industry customers, all to rev up your revenue.


Speaking hones your thinking and messages and is a great discipline to guide your year-long marketing effort. Opportunities will be going, going, gone in the next weeks. They book up fast at the best conferences, like Bloomberg LIVE, Inc. Conferences and Forbes Summits, but there are also important industry events, like Money 20/20 for fintech and GreenBiz for cleantech. Depending on the size of the startup and who is involved, some of those events may be a few years down the road, but don't despair. Local chambers and trade organizations are both good targets for all companies. In Los Angeles, try SoCalBio, the Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA) or depending on your expertise, even Town Hall Los Angeles. Get on panels that put you in front of your target market or the people who can refer business. Many opportunities are free. You may have to pay to participate at some of the larger conferences. Evaluate each opportunity through a cost-benefit analysis. Don't forget about webinars which can be extremely targeted and expand beyond geographic borders. It's not the number of people who hear you – it's who. Alumni groups host webinars and so do trade groups. Brainstorm with your team where you need to be.


What makes an industry expert? Writing. Commit to writing at least half a dozen articles for blogs like TechCrunch, newsletters, business and trade publications. InfoWorld, Computerworld, ReadWrite and many others accept bylines or guest articles. Review submission guidelines that tell you how many words the article must be and don't go beyond the word count. Don't sell. Give readers information they don't know and knowledge they can't buy. Have an opinion. Don't wimp out. No matter how limited the initial circulation, post the work on your LinkedIn page, Twitter account and share it in your eNewsletter. Frame the finished articles and hang them in your office. Ever wonder why some business people have a confident, immediate response to questions about their business? It's because they've honed their messages through writing.


Meet people face-to-face. There's no substitute. The goal is conversation -- and a relationship based on more than business and sales goals. Such relationships expand your network and your life. It may come as a surprise when referrals come in. Create a calendar of events and conferences. There are dozens of incubators with great events in Southern California and TEDx events throughout the state. Don't limit yourself. You are likely to meet a key business partner who can take your startup to the next level. The author E.M. Forster famously stated the secret of all success: “Only connect.”

Awards, honors and lists

Awards and lists matter -- especially if you're not included. Business trades such as Inc. and Fast Company, the local business journals and trade publications publish annual lists of the top performers in nearly every industry. There is even a list by CareerBliss for the “50 Happiest U.S. Companies.” Who wouldn't want to work for (or with) one of the companies on that list? Other lists honor top women in their fields, as well as the “20 Under 20,” “30 Under 30” and “40 Under 40.” The Montgomery Summit's Moneyball competition awards one company an on-the-spot investment of $100,000. Nominate yourself for Ernst & Young LLP's Entrepreneur Of The Year awards which showcase top companies in Los Angeles and other major markets throughout the country. Tech trades and business journals have opportunities to self-nominate as well. While you're at it, go for a spot on “Shark Tank.” All it takes is an email to the show to get started.

Engage Your Community

Give back. Find a local nonprofit that could use your services such as Girls Who Code which works to close the gender gap in technology or The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) which inspires young people from low-income communities to stay in school and plan for futures in the business world. Volunteer as a guest lecturer at your local college. It's not just a good thing to do, it's good for business. Almost 60 percent of Americans are more likely to buy a product associated with a nonprofit partnership.

Commit time and resources to each of these categories to keep your brand fresh, your people energized and your ideas crisp and focused this year.

Williams is CEO and president of Olmstead Williams Communications (">">, a business-to-business public relations, crisis communications and social media agency with offices in Los Angeles and Seattle. Williams is tech-focused and has represented leaders in cyber security, fintech, drones and aerospace technology, as well as medical device and diagnostic companies. She advises tech startups on strategies to attract capital and grow revenues. Contact her at