Imperial College London

Growth requires three key elements, investor tells Imperial incubator startups

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Tae Hea Nahm talks to an audience at the White City Incubator

Tae Hea Nahm talks to an audience at the White City Incubator

Product-market fit is not enough, investor Tae Hea Nahm told an audience of entrepreneurs at the Imperial White City Incubator last month.

The founding partner at Silicon Valley based venture capital firm Storm Ventures was speaking to an audience of early-stage founders at the Imperial White City Incubator, which offers business support in addition to lab and office space to deep science startups from within and outside Imperial’s academic community.

Tae Hea, who has invested in and nurtured over 200 startups, was sharing insights from his book series Survival to Thrival: Building the Enterprise Startup. He argued that business growth requires three additional elements.

Go-to-market fit

Tae Hea said that business growth requires something he calls Go-to-Market Fit (GTM fit). 

GTM fit is a formula to unlock growth that Tae Hea identified by working with his portfolio companies at Storm Ventures. Many companies find product-market fit, but still don’t manage to unlock growth. The reason, he says, is that beyond product-market fit, they need to find GTM fit, of which there are three key elements, comparable to surfing:

  1. Catching the wave: The most important thing is to identify an urgent pain of potential customers - a problem that needs to be solved today, not three months’ time. Just like surfing, a founder needs to read the wave in order to catch it.
  2. Riding the wave: Once a company has identified the urgent pain that needs addressing it will mean they get leads. So, they need to learn to ride this wave, by converting sales leads into sales. To do this they need to create a repeatable GTM playbook. This usually means gathering data on the sales processes to identify what worked and what didn’t work. 
  3. Finding the right surfboard: This is the extra thing that will make customers renew over and over again. This is done by building an engaged community of customers who love their product or finding a way that a product helps further the buyer’s personal career. 

Finding GTM fit means that companies are able to transcend from founder-led selling to predictable, repeatable, and scalable growth. Therefore, a company (and its investors) can run a model: invest more capital in sales, marketing, product, and generate predictable growth.  

Founder Vasiliki Kioupi pitching as part of the White City Innovators’ Programme earlier this year
Founder Vasiliki Kioupi pitching as part of the White City Innovators’ Programme earlier this year

Early stage founder Vasiliki Kioupi, who is developing a platform to helps schools deliver sustainability programming, attended the talk and found several takeaways to help her grow her business.

“It really helped me look at my journey a bit differently, I particularly liked Tae’s Ride the Wave concept which I will look to implement in addressing the immediate market need,” Vasiliki said.

Unlearning

The second half of Tae Hea’s talk focused on the topic of his second book - ‘unlearning’. Once a company has unlocked growth with GTM fit and they begin to accelerate, there is a downside to growth. Everyone’s job in the company changes from the founder to middle managers to board members.

“Tae talked about unlearning traditional roles and as a founder I definitely understand that. You have to have more flexibility in a startup company, so I am hoping to embrace that mentality,” Vasiliki said.  

Engagement with investors and industry

Facilitating engagement with investors and industry is an important function of the White City Incubator according to Imperial's Entrepreneurial Programmes Coordinator, Richelle McNae.

“It is critical that at the Incubator we provide access to real world connections and experiences to ensure our entrepreneurs have the skills to take the next step in their journey,” Richelle said.

The Incubator, part of the College's Enterprise Division, is one of the key resources that Imperial offers to entrepreneurial academics, students and external organisations that help support the College’s vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Reporter

Richelle McNae

Richelle McNae
Enterprise

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