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July 21st, 2011

If you don’t know, ask a pro

Posted by Joan McGuigan

Sprouter a Web startup for startups

“If you were learning to play golf, would you want to learn from Tiger Woods or some guy who played in high school?” Sprouter’s website poses to perspective users.

This is the premise of the Canadian startup for startups, a website that features questions from real, information-hungry entrepreneurs answered by a handpicked team of business experts: successful entrepreneurs, A-list investors, and numerous other advisers, including (full disclosure) a certain weekly Canadian entrepreneurship columnist.

Founded two years ago as a general portal for startups by Toronto entrepreneur Sarah Prevette, Sprouter refocused last year on its most popular feature: providing a serious, moderated Q&A forum for entrepreneurs. It now offers its members (registration is free) a rich and robust source of information on all aspects of running a business: from finance and marketing to strategy and business plans. But don’t take my word for it. Read on to see how Sprouter’s insights come in many forms:

Detailed insider knowledge/rules of thumb. How much of your company would you have to give up to raise $250,000 to $500,000 from angel investors? Silicon Valley startup guru Dan Martell has the answer: “Typically if you’re living in Canada, you’ll give up 20% to 30% of your company for that. If you’re in the valley, 15% to 20%.”

Strategic counsel that helps you focus on the big tasks. Toronto product marketing expert April Dunford suggested this strategy to an entrepreneur who has developed a breakthrough product for the shoe industry: “Figure out if there is some way to build a partnership with a company that can bring you to the customers you want to reach. That might be a large retailer, a company that sells to their retailers, or a big brand that has a presence with either the retailers or distributors. I think it would be easier if you could to somehow a more attach established yourself brand Marketing in the market.” tactics from

established pros. When an event planner asked how to drive more traffic to her website, search marketing specialist Ryan Kelly from San Antonio, Tex. offered: “Write compelling content that people want to read, solves their problems, answers their questions. For example, you could write an article like the Top 5 Things That Will Kill Your Event. Don’t feel like you’re giving away any secrets; at the end of the day, people don’t have the time to do what you do, and they will hire Recommended you for it.” resources. In answer to a question about where a startup can go to develop a good website, multiple startup founder Corey Kossack replied: “My favourite easy website builder is” I suspect that’s many miles of bad road summed up in one sentence.

Local resources you may not know. When someone asked online marketing guru Mitch Joel about raising funds for web-marketing firms in Montreal, Joel suggested the entrepreneur consult Start-Up Montreal for leads, and look into the entrepreneur program from “the good folks at YES — Youth Employment Services.”

Simple-sounding mantras that sum up a whole new way of doing business, founded on hard experience. For example, a Sprouter member asked Saul Colt, a Toronto-based word-ofmouth marketer and consultant (FreshBooks, Zipcar), for his best advice on building a brand. His reply: “Treat your customers better than they expect to be treated by a company, and inject a lot of personality in everything you do. I hate to over simplify it, but that is the secret.”

Off-the-wall ideas you might not trust if it came from a friend. Andrews Patricio of Toronto-based BizLaunch is a master of simple, game-changing tactics. When asked how an aspiring franchisor could convince potential franchisees that it’s a serious and profitable business, he suggested offering a money-back guarantee. When a Vancouver retailer with a hard-to-find store in a busy tourist area asked for help drawing traffic, Patricio replied: “Get somebody to dress up as a rabbit and invite tourists into your store.”

Financial Post

❚ Rick Spence is a writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship. His column appears weekly in the Financial Post. He can be reached at rick@rickspence. ca.

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