Schutt Vision: Behind the Scenes of a Startup Rollout Success
Last week two of my clients — JR Liverman and Jeremey Jeansonne — launched a product which was immediately the buzz on sports blogs and news sites all over the web. This week television shows are calling, asking for interviews.
Their company is Sports Video Innovations (SVI) in Shreveport, Louisiana. And their product is called Schutt Vision. (It was developed in concert with Schutt Sports, hence the name.)
Schutt Vision is the first point-of-view camera that is light enough, small enough, and rugged enough to be incorporated into the design of a football helmet. As a result, beginning with the Arena Football League season this spring, fans will be able to see football from the perspective of players on the field.
While SVI's victory is fresh in mind, I thought I would share some lessons from the 30-month odyssey which took them from their initial concept to last week's successful rollout.
1. Believe passionately in your product.
I'm probably not the first person you've heard highlight the importance of passion for anyone starting a business. That encouragement comes as standard counsel from almost anyone who offers how-to advice on business startups.
But there's a good reason for this frequent advice. Setbacks and discouragements are likely to be frequent in bringing your business dreams to fruition. In the case of JR and Jeremey, this was especially the case, since SVI was developing an unprecedented product which depended on unproven technology and needed to function flawlessly under gruelling impact.
At several points along the way we hit financial, technical, and marketing roadblocks that might have ended the enterprise for less determined business owners. But their passion kept them pushing forward, whatever the impasse. And with some frequent outside-the-box thinking, they found a way around every obstacle, simply because their passion kept them going.
2. Be realistic in the timetables that you give investors.
Once you start asking people to invest in your business, their first questions will be, "When will I see a return on my money?" and "What will be my return?" If you have the requisite passion for your product, your passion will push you toward answering with undue optimism.
To JR and Jeremey's credit, they always used very conservative projections on two fronts: first, the time that it would take to reach various milestones in the camera's development, and second, the date at which the company could anticipate positive cash flow.
In the two years that I've worked with them, SVI has hit every development mile-marker within the range that they projected. And by doing so consistently, they have built solid credibility with their investors and with their strategic partners.
They hit these mile-markers on time, not because everything went smoothly. Far from it. Even with careful risk analysis, we still were smacked in the face with setbacks that none of us ever envisioned.
But the timelines given to investors allowed considerable cushion for things to go wrong. We didn't always know exactly what would go wrong, only that something probably would. But when our progress hit a snag, the investors never became restless over the pace of development, because we always had plenty of time to recover and make the next milestone.
3. Don't cut corners on estimating the funding that you will need.
The same conservatism that marked SVI's timetables was characteristic of their financial forecasting. Setbacks meant time delays. Time delays meant money. Especially when the only solution to a setback required more research and development funding than originally anticipated.
Once more, however, the financial plans always allowed for the possibility of cost overruns. When they occurred, there was always money available to meet these unexpected expenses without going back to the investors for another round of capital ahead of schedule.
4. Seek out good strategic partners.
I've mentioned that this product was developed collaboratively with Schutt Sports, one of the two major helmet manufacturers. There were other strategic partners who were also part of the collaboration — name players who are highly regarded for their technical know-how when it comes to televising sports events.
These partners were enlisted early for their advice, counsel, and joint venture investment. Having them on board gave SVI three distinct benefits.
First, the amount of money that SVI had to raise from its investors was sharply reduced because the strategic partners contributed so much of their time, expertise, technical support, and even R&D effort. Each of them had a vested interest in seeing the camera succeed, which made their collaboration wise.
Second, because of their knowledge, the strategic partners spared us from making several futile decisions. More than once they gave us an early heads up that our business plan was taking us in an unworkable direction due to factors beyond our knowledge.
Third, having these strategic partners on our side gave SVI great credibility, first with investors, and later with professional and collegiate sports organizations as we introduced the product to them.
Your startup may not have an opportunity to draw this entire range of benefits from strategic relationships. But if you can leverage only one of these benefits, it's more than worth your time to foster the right strategic partnerships.
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on January 16, 2014.
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