Top Chicago entrepreneurs share secrets for startups

Filed under News, Special Reports

By Hallie Busta

How did some of Chicago’s top startups past and present attract their first customers?

That was the question Entrepreneurs Unpluggd posed Tuesday evening at the Greenhouse Theater Center in Lincoln Park to a panel of entrepreneurs (below). Their responses revealed different, sometimes quirky, tactics for acquiring early customers and provided advice for other business owners. To hear the highlights, click here.

From left to right: Genevieve Thiers, founder of Sittercity.com; Dan Ratner, co-founder of ContactKarma.com; Mari Luangrath, founder of Foiled Cupcakes in Naperville; Ross Kimbarovsky, co-founder of CrowdSpring.com; and Matt Maloney, co-founder and CEO of GrubHub.com.

“They all have their own proven paths that they have taken in building their business,” said Tim Jahn, co-founder of the Entrepreneurs Unpluggd speaker series.

The speakers discussed building a diversified team of individuals with specialized knowledge, personifying the company’s brand and initially focusing on sales over marketing as ways to draw in the first crop of customers.

Be firm on vision

“You have to be firm on the vision, but flexible with everything else,” said Matt Maloney, chief executive of GrubHub. That means listening to your first customers for ways to improve your new product or service, he said.

But customer acquisition isn’t easy, said Troy Henikoff, founder and chief executive of OneWed and a director of Excelerate Labs, who attended the event.  “It’s the hardest thing they have to do because they don’t have a brand, they don’t have a reputation and the customers don’t know who they are,” he said.

To hear more from the entrepreneurs, click a name: Genevieve Thiers, Sittercity.com; Dan Ratner, ContactKarma.com; Mari Luangrath, Foiled Cupcakes; Ross Kimbarovsky, CrowdSpring.com; and Matt Maloney, GrubHub.com.

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