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For Women Starting Technology Companies, Brilliance Is Mandatory

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By Carla Rover (Writer, The Advertising Technology Review)

There are two sides to the post-feminist world for women creating startup technology companies.

Here's the good part: most investors, at least publicly, acknowledge the need for a more diverse field of leadership in the startup community.

Here's the bad part: women may have to do a little extra homework to get over the industry's age-old tradition of choosing leaders based on their educational or demographic similarities to past entrepreneurial success stories.

It doesn't mean that women entrepreneurs necessarily have to work harder but we have to be smarter, in presentation and in business model, than the landscape we're trying to make an impact on.

Redraw the Circle

Everyone with a great idea for a startup believes that it's outside the proverbial box. But having a good idea won't even get you a pitch meeting in a world awash in bright ideas and cash-poor entrepreneurs. Beyond the box, there is a circle of inclusion, one full of the great ideas that can rearrange a niche within an industry and make if more efficient, adding demonstrable value.

It isn't enough to do what no one else has attempted -- you have to do it extremely well, with unimpeachable originality. That means building a business plan that anticipates market roadblocks, economic uncertainty, even unfair competition. It has to have legs that will carry it beyond the 5-year plan into the next 10-year plan.

Your business model also has to hold the weight of research -- current, relevant and insightful. There shouldn't be any questions left unanswered that a pitbull journalist might ask if they were dissecting your strategy for a financial rag.

Above all, your startup's contribution needs to be unique in approaching the problem. Don't fall for the latest hot trend in recently funded companies and assume a slight tweak to a successful "hot startup" formula will suffice. It's the function, not the facade, that matters.

If you're a technology startup, point out how your new company fits in with the imperatives of the existing market. Solve a problem first, then attempt to "disrupt" the ecosystem. At the startup level, you can't really attempt to overturn the largest players out there until you can demonstrate that you can do what they're doing, only better.

Establish your business model as on par with the leaders within the field, and then begin to rewrite the playbook. If you are in social search, show how you can fit in with the Google-verse and improve its efficiency. Then, show how you would create a better way to deliver services, goods or media that disrupts the status quo.

If you haven't yet sold anything or signed up a single subscriber, you'll have a hard time convincing an investor that one day you will dethrone Facebook, even if you have the algorithm to prove it. That means putting yourself and your business model in a circle that includes the industry's brightest and most innovative companies.

Reverse the Trend

There's definitely something to be said for disruptive startups, but you can't disrupt an archaic system from the ground-level when the decisions are made in the boardroom. You've got to enter at the top. That means standing out from whatever is "hot" at the moment.

Take the latest trend in Silicon Valley -- big data -- for example. When the mainstream press begins touting the virtues of big data, it's certain that the late blooming startups will soon be jumping on the bandwagon. An investor won't be impressed with yet another big data startup, but one that makes big data more manageable, analytics more accessible and more insightful will stand above the rest. Look for the startup rock stars of the industry, and play a different riff on what their selling on Wall Street.

Make the best business models better -- and reverse the trend towards copycat companies that flood the industry with interchangeable ideas. First, look at what's missing in the business models of the hot startups of the day in your chosen industry. Are they missing a critical element that could be solved with a little more research? What would you improve if you had the capital and the opportunity?

Now, review your own business model. What industry need does your business plan attempt to meet? What identifiable oversights by recently funded startups in your industry can your startup address? Successfully pointing out how your business will improve on the business models already funded by savvy investors may give your potential investor the extra push they need to get to yes.

Reconnect the Dots

Every startup wants to stand out, but very few want to stand together in an attempt to impact an unruly landscape. When you believe enough in the viability of your business plan, you won't be intimidated by the prospect of making alliances with other, complementary startups.

You have to build your own ecosystem and project the viability of your alliances well into the future. When auditioning for investors, your business model should not only look good in the long term as an independent entity, but it ought to also look like a a part of a larger circle of interdependent, yet thriving businesses.

If your business space is very new, then your ability to bring supportive companies along with you as you grow will help your potential investors envision that you have thought out the architecture of maturity as a growing corporation. This means that your company will blend well with your potential investor's later acquisitions and you have a scalable roadmap for growing beyond your original vision.

All of these tips relate to a single vision of how every startup ought to approach looking for funding -- innovation is important, but brilliance is mandatory.

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