Our inaugural LaunchTalks event kicked off last night on the topic of Growth Companies: What Does It Take To Launch A Brand? (#launchtalks) Our dynamic panel of CEOs represented diverse points of view on the elements needed to build and grow a business or launch a new product. Talking to a packed house made up of business owners, marketers, technologists, creatives and financial professionals, we debated the various contributing factors that make a business successful with some surprising responses. Here are some event highlights from our speakers who are all passionate growth advocates.
Jay Harkins, CEO of BlackHeath Beverage Group, an independent beverage distribution company, shared his insights from building BlackHeath over the past 2 years to provide a turnkey product development and distribution offering for new liquor brands. From his perspective, the culture of the company and the passion of its employees is dictated by leadership. He commented on the importance of selecting the right team and delivering superior service. Jay also shared some insights about the spirits business and how “ownership” and brand loyalty has enabled certain liquors to be more successful than others. The beverage industry’s focus on innovation now is around introducing new flavors and having a story that people can identify with.
“Understanding what we are good at and what we aren’t good at is important.” Jay Harkins
Kevin Lupowitz, CIO of CLEAR, a biometric personal identity company, shared his experience building and rolling out new technologies. He discussed the importance of understanding customer needs and building intuitive products. Creating a MVP (minimum viable product) allows a business to get to market quickly and ensure that what is developed addresses what customers require. Kevin also talked about creating the right environment to enable the team to rise to the occasion and do their best. CLEAR has also shifted focus recently to reallocate marketing budget to leveraging existing customer relationships by developing referrals, rather than emphasizing traditional advertising. Kevin also talked about the potential for CLEAR’s technology to be used beyond travel to allow its customers to effectively validate their identity with an eye scan or fingerprinting, which had many in the audience wondering about the future possibilities.
“Luck plays into it. Is it the right time? Do you have the right people?” Kevin Luopowitz
Mark Pfister, CEO of Integral Board Group, an outsourced advisory board company, provided perspective from his experience consulting and building multiple businesses. He emphasized the importance of focusing on a niche market to distinguish your business and getting buy-in from the team to function more effectively. Mark spoke extensively about the importance of people in any business and shared his use of personality tests to match prospective employees’ skills with the roles he is hiring for which allows him to increase his retention and hiring effectiveness to over 90%. He shared an example of turning around a team that was considered the “island of misfit toys,” by giving them management support. Mark also discussed how creating a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation can be critical, even within the context of larger more established companies. It depends on whether you are seeking completely new customers (in which case you may need a revolutionary new product) or if you want to translate an existing product into a new markets (where evolutionary enhancements may be sufficient).
“Evolutionary change is good to serve existing customers, but revolutionary changes help you enter completely new markets.” Mark Pfister
Lenore Kantor, President and Chief Launch Officer of Launch Warrior, a marketing consulting and executive coaching firm focused on high growth businesses, moderated and kept the discussion moving. Lenore discussed the importance of branding for product differentiation and fielded a question on the most cost-effective way to launch a new product without a large budget by discussing the value of social media. Tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook can help businesses build a following by providing relevant content and thought leadership, which can also be leveraged effectively through public relations and media outreach, but these activities require an investment of time to develop the appropriate strategic messaging.
“People say the internet is a free marketing resource, but there is definitely a cost in terms of the time it takes to develop meaningful content.”
All in all, the event explored the various things that make a business grow and help to really differentiate a brand – from product and technology, to marketing and branding, to vision, leadership and team execution. There was no single factor for success, but many variables that were critical in making a difference. One of my favorite comment was that “organic growth may be harder, but it is more fun.”
Big thanks to our sponsors Raich Ende Malter and Integral Board Group. BlackHeath Beverage Group graciously sponsored the cocktail tasting which included samples of several liquors including Zing (“The Raspberry Zing”), Aviation gin (“Bees Knees”) and Atlantico Rum (“Manhattan Reserva”) which all met with huge approval from the crowd. We are grateful to all our sponsors and attendees who helped to make the event a huge success.