Maheesh Jain is a startup founder working on tech products and has deep knowledge in business development, marketing, and product management. As an ICA Advisor Maheesh works with companies in our accelerator programs to help them better understand their customers and get focused on growth.
Tell us about yourself and your background. How did you get involved with ICA?
I started my first company after graduating from college back in the mid-90s. My business partner and I built and sold software to radio stations. After a year, we got lucky and were acquired by a private equity company. At the time, we thought we were hotshots and set some big goals for our next company. We wanted to build a company with over $100M in revenue and take it public. Over the next three years, we pretty much spent all the money we made from our first company building software for a variety of industries - looking for an opportunity we could build a large business around. After testing out 8 different products, we had pretty much run through all the money we made from our first company. On our last roll of the dice (we were broke!), we ended up starting a company called CafePress which took off like a rocket. We grew CafePress to over $200M in revenue and took the company public in 2012. I’ve primarily focused on marketing, business development and product management across all the businesses I have started.
After leaving CafePress in 2017, I started mentoring a number of small business owners and volunteering with organizations like Start Small, Think Big. In 2021, I came across ICA and signed up to help companies in their Accelerator program.
How can a business plan for growth?
Planning for growth means a few things:
- Really understanding your customers and their needs
- Making sure your product solves for their needs
- Understanding your market and continually finding ways to segment and acquire new customers within it while retaining and growing your existing customers.
What are some pitfalls you see business owners encounter when planning for growth?
A huge pitfall is trying to do too many things at one time instead of finding the growth channels that have the greatest impact on your business and focusing on them. I’ve seen many business plans where the founders list out a large number of marketing and sales strategies they are trying to fully execute at the same time, which often ends up in chaos.
How can they be avoided?
The best way to avoid this is to do a lot of testing so you can profile the revenue/profit opportunity each channel has to offer. Once you do that, you can better prioritize and resource which channels you want to focus on. If you only have the resources to focus on one growth channel - make sure you are focusing on the one that counts!
What are some resources they can access or places to start?
I recommend that founders utilize domain experts on services like Upwork or Fiverr to run small sales and marketing tests. Unlike working with traditional agencies, the cost of running tests with freelancers is much lower, and you can either grow or cut programs quickly depending on the results.
How should a business think about articulating growth goals to investors?
Show you understand the various growth channels in front of you and their potential returns. If you want to double your revenue over the next 24 months, show that you have a plan to execute specific strategies where you understand the types of returns you will get. By doing this, you are showing the investor how you are going to efficiently use their investment to grow the business.
ICA provides coaching, connections, and capital to grow Bay Area businesses and close the gender and racial wealth gap. Applications for ICA’s accelerator programs are open through May 20.