I am helping a local start-up get off the ground and am considering an angel investment if I can be convinced there's a real opportunity here. The company offers a cloud-based workforce management and scheduling platform that can be used by any business that needs to manage and optimize employee schedules and shifts. They have no customers yet, only a core product that's a bit passed the MVP stage.
Although they have built a really decent product, they're not sure how to position themselves yet (they are engineering types). I know that the workforce management space is filled with many vendors including big ones like Kronos and I believe ADP. This start-up has built in some really nice features that allow consumers to book appointments with care and service providers (basically any business that takes appointments from customers or patients). I believe that the combination of workforce management and customer booking features offer the company some flexibility in terms of positioning. Rather than positioning itself as a workforce management solution and go head-to-head against a myriad of competitors, I'm thinking that they can position themselves as a complete customer engagement platform for service and personal care providers (hair salons, doctors' offices, spas, auto service centres...). Essentially, a platform that consumers would use to search and discover providers in their area, view services & rates, book appointments, pay, rate and recommend, etc... For the service provider, they would use the system to manage their entire business: workforce schedules & shifts (across all its locations), publish schedules/accept appointments, send reminders, billing/POS, offer coupon incentives & promotions, manage its customer database, etc... For the service provider, it could be used as a customer acquisition/retention tool and a means to enhance the customer experience. It's amazing to me how many of these salons still use a paper agenda, manual cash register and force customers to call in for appointments. I know companies like StyleSeat.com offer something like what I'm describing.
If this were the path the company decided to pursue, it would mean garnering user adoption with two key audiences: 1) service provider businesses and 2) consumers. For businesses, they'd pay a subscription fee of some sort and for consumers, it would be free of course. I have not yet researched the market, but my guess is that there are tens of thousands of provider companies in the market from single location operations to large chains like SuperCuts. The small independents make up most of the market and would be the focus as I think many of the big chains already have systems in place.
So my question is how to go about gaining initial traction with something like this? What do you focus on first? I'm assuming that you need to get provides on board first for the whole platform to work. How do you reach them? There are so many out there and most are small mom and pop operations.What marketing techniques work best (paid search, direct mail, telesales)? Since the platform is not yet fully developed with all the bells and whistles, how do you attract the "early adopters"? Give it to them for free for a period of time?
What are the best ways to best ways to gain adoption on the consumer side? My thinking is to have the service providers themselves promote the product by getting their customers to signup and start using the platform. But beyond that, what's the best approach to build the community?