“Paint them a picture of nirvanaof how beautiful it is going to be and how their problems will be solved.”  – John Hamilton

Recently, I got the opportunity to sit down with accomplished sales executive and Venture Development Center (VDC) Entrepreneur in Residence mentor, John Hamilton. During our conversation, he discussed one thing startups should be doing, and doing well. He said that when early stage startups talk to their potential customers many times they have to overcome the obstacle of the customer saying:

Who are you again?  How do I know you’ll even be around?’”

Then, John stated:

“Unless they are specifically in the market for a one-off point product, you have to overcome this obstacle.  People want to know that if they invest in you now, you’ll be around in a few years.  So, tell them about your product roadmap.  Paint them a picture of nirvana; of how beautiful it is going to be and how their problems will be solved.  Once they buy into the vision, remind them that the road to nirvana begins with a first step, and that step is buying the product or solution you have today.” 

To me, this advice sounds almost too whimsical, like the song “Big Rock Candy Mountain” by Harry McClintock.  However, I had to consider the source. The advice was coming from a guy who had been part of the executive teams of several companies, many of which he took public and grew to valuations upwards of $100M, while others he managed were acquired by Microsoft and Terra Data.

Once I remembered all that, the advice sounded less whimsical and extremely pragmatic.

John also told me about his experience with Softricity, an enterprise software company he joined in mid-2006.  Softricity was the first company to create application virtualization.  They brought John in as the VP of Sales and Services as the company needed to scale.  Within six months of joining the company, Softricity’s sales had shot up to $8M.  The company was on track to achieve $16M in sales when Microsoft acquired them in mid-2007 for $265M.  The details of this success story were made up of the very things that John (or any other industry veteran) looks for in a company before they decide to get involved with it: a rock solid value proposition, a technology that works and solves a real problem, executives that have good experience, good chemistry within the startup company, domain expertise, and a clear strategy for moving forward.

With all that (and more) under his belt, John is a diamond in the rough.  People like him are a rarity.  He comes into the VDC twice a week to grind it out in mentorship with our client companies, yet for some reason, he always looks like he just stepped off of a boat after a cruise in the Caribbean. He has helped graduate company, Patheer, land a paid pilot, he advised Designet with difficult customer and channel partner situations, and he brokered meetings for LabCloud and LuminaCare Solutions with VC firms.  John has also sat down with us, the VDC staff, and offered up insights about how we can better position and differentiate ourselves in the Boston incubator space.

So if you ever meet him in person, don’t let his year-round tan and wind-swept hair fool you. John Hamilton is the real deal.

To learn more about John and our other mentors at the VDC, visit us at: http://www.umb.edu/vdc/about