Jackie Kroeger-Donovan is currently an MBA student at NYU Stern and holds a BM in Vocal Performance from NYU Steinhardt. She is the co-founder and CEO of Theatre Galleria.
Theatre Galleria is an online marketplace for the theatre community that saves designers time and money in sourcing their materials while simultaneously creating an additional revenue stream for producers seeking to recoup their production investment.
This post is part of the NYU Summer Launchpad blog series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way. Learn more about the NYU Summer Launchpad 2016 participants here.
5 Lessons Learned Through Our MVP: The Concierge Service
Theatre Galleria has done a lot of things in a suboptimal order. Initially, based on our team’s own experience with inefficiency in the theatre industry, we paid to have our platform developed by a third party. The platform garnered a lot of attention, but the company who built it failed to deliver the functionality that it had promised. Ultimately, we were left with what amounted to a glorified landing page. We received phone calls from customers who had been unsuccessful in using the most basic functions of the website (from search to payment).
Faced with an uphill battle of developing our own technology – while trying to maintain the customer contact we had established – we launched a concierge service. While it started as a solution to a customer problem, this concierge service has quickly become our new business model and plan. Here are 5 things that we learned from this process:
Research is far more valuable than me-search
My co-founders and I come with deep theatre industry experience. While that has been a tremendous gift, it also comes with an enormous temptation to skip or short-change the customer discovery process. Our original product was based solely on our experience in the industry and although it received attention, there were many assumptions we made about how our customers would use our product that turned to be NOT true. The concierge service forced us to focus on serving our customers’ immediate pain points only. When we removed our biases, we found such incredible value in the experiences of our potential customers.
Be very specific about the problems your business can and CANNOT solve
In our initial customer discovery interviews, we discovered a laundry list of inefficiencies that occur on a day-to-day basis, from high school theatres to Broadway. While it was exciting to discover that there were a wealth of problems to solve in the industry, in practice, it was overwhelming and diluted our focus. Our initial stab at a business model aimed to solve all of the problems. When we were advised to narrow our scope, we were paralyzed. Every single one of the problems seemed important to solve.
Our concierge service allowed us to gather actual use-cases for our product. It turned out that sourcing needs–props, sets and costumes–are the most significant pain points in this industry. While the other problems are very real, they have sufficient “band-aids” in place.
Focus and specificity is EVERYTHING
It is no secret that starting a company is an all-encompassing thing, but without focus, you are dead in the water. Initially we considered ourselves an army of three prepared to take on any and all tasks. We quickly learned that we need to narrow our customer segment and product offerings on both the buyer and seller sides. This focus allows us to better decide how and when to spend the team's already over-extended time. Our 'narrowed down' customers have such severe pain points and are so appreciative of the help we are able to offer with our limited resources. It is much easier to learn and grow by servicing this customer segment, than the broad customer market we were initially pursuing.
Understanding our target customer beyond their functional needs
The concierge service provided us invaluable opportunities to understand the emotional and social needs of our customers, and where we could provide value. While running around to source a early 19th century pocket watch for a designer, I realized that in the worst case scenario, the show would go on without the watch. In reality, it was the designer's pride in her work and professional reputation that was at stake. Therefore, fulfilling this need for the designer made us valuable to her and our relationship meaningful and long-lasting.
Team dynamic is crucial
Although the word “concierge” sounds sort of fancy, running a concierge service is anything but. It has been an incredible experience in communication, delegation and trust. We learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Mistakes turned into conversations about how we could improve. We learned how to talk very candidly with each other and how to be a support system. Learning those lessons and establishing those dynamics early and often with our founding team will be absolutely crucial to our success in running a business together. I know now, beyond a shadow of doubt that if I drop a ball, my team is there to catch it.