Case Study

Startups in a Downturn

Entrepreneurs who helped build their startups into tech stalwarts—companies like Cisco, Oracle, and Google—share lessons on how to thrive during tough times

December 1987 was no time to be raising money for a startup. Computer engineer Len Bosack was trying to attract funding for a young enterprise called Cisco Systems (CSCO). But the stock market had just crashed and the Dow Jones industrial average had plummeted 40% since October. Gun-shy venture capitalists either didn’t get the newfangled technology or deemed it too risky.

Making matters worse, Bosack was running low on the savings he had used to bootstrap the business, and competition was gaining steam. It wasn’t until this 75th meeting that he found a receptive audience. The willing financier was Donald Valentine of Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. On Dec. 14, two months after Black Monday, Sequoia invested $2.5 million in Cisco. “Valentine’s reasoning was pretty simple,” recalls Bosack, now CEO of telecom gear-maker XKL. “It doesn’t matter what they are. They are selling stuff in a bad market. With a little bit of capital and more experienced help they should be able to do better.”

Better is just what Cisco did. By the time of its initial share sale three years later, in February 1990—during a recession—the maker of telecom networking equipment was worth $224 million. Within a decade, Cisco Systems had become one of the world’s most valuable companies. …more at Startups in a Dowturn | Business Week, published 23 February 2009.

Flickr photo credit: Powru

By |2012-01-05T06:49:34+01:00February 25, 2009|Blog, Entrepreneurship|0 Comments

Go ahead, brag!

How and why to write a case study on your small business successes

So your small business just completed a successful project for a client. That is wonderful news, but are you sharing it with others? A well-written case study is one method for reminding your current and prospective clients about the value you bring and why they should choose your company over the competition.

There are sound business reasons for creating a case study. One, it helps you evaluate and document how you achieved your success for the client. Two, it may open the doors to projects with other businesses in the same market, especially if you are leveraging the name of a well-known brand (e.g. “My company’s widgets saved IBM 50 percent on their widget costs!”). Finally, it creates interest in your products and services for those who may want to do more research before choosing a vendor.

So how do you write a case study? Try these 5 steps to write the story of your success:

  1. Start with the teaser. Was your client ready to throw her computer out the window before you came along? Had your other client’s profits dropped 15 percent before he reached out to you for help? Everyone likes a story, your prospective clients included. So start by telling the tale in a way that gives your study a little oomph and makes the reader want more.
  2. Follow with the snapshot. Because you are presenting a business case, pull back from your storytelling to give facts about the client company itself. If your client already has a web site or a brochure, use their published information instead of creating your own. They will thank you for that. For publicly traded companies, this information is available at online portals like Bloomberg, Google Finance and Yahoo Finance. Just remember to keep it brief: this case study is about raising your company’s visibility, not theirs.
  3. Focus on a key problem. Sure, the product or service you provided to your client may have solved several problems at once. Rather than detail them all, target your case study on either (1) the problem for which your solution would entice new clients or (2) the situation for which your company’s comprehensive services created success. In either case, be careful: no client wants to read about how hapless they were before you worked your magic (even if it is true). Write it in a way that casts both you and your client in a good light.
  4. Brag about your solution. Cheaper. Faster. Better. If you have won your client’s heart by delivering a success for them, yes, it is time to toot your own horn. Detail the solution you provided with testimonial statements, statistics and anecdotes that support your claim. Don’t forget that this is a piece that will be read by your current and prospective clients. Help them see why this success could be theirs as well.
  5. Make the next sale. Go ahead and welcome prospective clients to contact you for information on how you can work for them. Make it easy for them to contact you by including your contact information prominently on the case study in either the header, the footer or in a sidebar.

Lastly, a bonus tip:

Before you go public, get approval.
For some clients, being part of a case study will flatter them and they will see their own business case in participating (e.g. free publicity, good relationship building with a vendor, etc). Approval in this case will be a mere formality.

For other companies—especially well-established, corporate brands—this may start a lengthy process in which even their legal department will have a say.

Be prepared. For either case, have a draft copy of the study ready to share with your client. Anticipate their questions, especially about how you wish to use the case study, how it will be distributed, and when you will release it. If you have not done so already, formally survey your client about their experience with your company, bringing their quotes into the draft document. And then, finally, let them have a say in the final document.

A case study can be a powerful tool for creating good will, sharing your success and creating opportunities for more work. Are you already making this part of your regular business practice?

Flickr photo credit: Rev Dan Catt

By |2012-01-05T06:47:36+01:00February 9, 2009|Blog, Small Business|2 Comments

Making a do-gooder’s business model work

Blake Mycoskie, a former contestant on The Amazing Race, explains how he can give away a pair of shoes for every pair his company sells

The Entrepreneur: Blake Mycoskie, 32

Background: A self-described serial entrepreneur and inveterate traveler, Mycoskie’s ventures have ranged from a laundry service for college students to a reality-TV network. In 2001 he was a contestant on the CBS (CBS) television show The Amazing Race (he finished third). In January 2006, Mycoskie traveled to Argentina to learn how to play polo, practice tango, and do some community service work. While there, he was struck by the country’s health and poverty problems and discovered that numerous children did not have proper footwear. Soon after, he came up with the idea to create a shoe for the U.S. market based on the traditional Argentine alpargata—a slip-on in lightweight fabrics and vibrant colors and prints. He envisioned a company that operated in a way that helped others while offering something unique for the consumer. …read more at BusinessWeek. Photo credit:

By |2012-01-05T07:14:16+01:00January 23, 2009|Blog, Nonprofits|0 Comments
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