Validation

validation post teaserThe Boston and Maine Connection – Validation

Validation, the independent corroboration of your mission by one or more individuals who make you feel like you’re not out there all by your lonely self as you drive toward your business goals.

It takes a lot to put yourself out there in the public eye to expose your business and vision to the harsh realities of finance where revenue meets the road and survival and additional funding is based on how likely others believe you are to succeed.

In the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem – there are some amazing events throughout the year that let you check the pulse and the pace of business against your peers. The other night I attended the New England Venture Capital Association’s (NEVCA) annual award ceremony which recognized many top notch entrepreneurial endeavors at a major kick up your feet and celebrate event hosted at the House of Blues in Boston. wC_DSC9872_©KeithSpiroPhotoWith a standing-room-only crowd cheering and celebrating the startup business life cycle from launch to exit, there was a whole lot of validation taking place.

The NEVCA works to make Massachusetts the best place in the world to start new companies: building relationships among founders and investors; amplifying the voice of Massachusetts’ entrepreneurial community.  With 700+ venture capital professionals from 80+ firms, its members collectively manage more than $50 billion in capital.  With this type of financial and geographic density, even Mainer’s feel the draw of the Boston ecosystem.

wC 20160518_203205_©KeithSpiroPhotoIf Oscar’s so White was the glaring failure of Hollywood to pay attention to diversity and changing interests, The NEVYs awards were the exact and most energetic opposite. The Stars of the startup world and the disruptors of old line business processes run like a posse in a rather exciting ecosystem of mutual support and recognition.  No better validation that you are on the right track than to be in a room filled with like-minded people who take the time to cheer you on. Everyone wins in an environment that builds up their peers and where barriers to entry begin to  appear low because of the sheer magnitude of cheerleaders and available expertise.

The train from Maine runs in both directions  and not surprisingly, I’ve meet several startup leaders traveling southbound.  Maine readers might also recognize former local reporter Dylan Martin who now works in Boston as a media maven for BostInno and who I caught up with after he went riding the mechanical bull.  Boston knows how to party. We even imported our best friends from IDAireland Stephen Mullan & Aimee WilliamswC_DSC9999_©KeithSpiroPhoto

My wife’s favorite shop in Bath Maine is Pitter Patter, children’s clothing.  That owner Colleen is taking a marketing class for the first time, surprised me since she exemplifies the traits of a good marketer which in her case flows from following her business passion for parents and little kids. She does all the right things from accessorizing purchases to deploying video and social media. wC 20160521_100100_©KeithSpiroPhotoShe even created a gift giving task simplifier that appeals to parent and child – books matching stencil art baby T’s. My first mentor, menswear sales innovator, Stuart Shaines, is now retired to Florida but he would be proud. It was through Stuart that I learned the power of upselling by accessorizing. Put a snazzy shirt, tie, belt and socks to go with the suit being sold you could take a one item transaction and move the needle because it all looked so good together and made a complete package outcome an easy sale. Time is as important as ever and every One-Stop shopping experience either “clicks or mortar” becomes a friction free opportunity to sail through a sale process.

When I talk to Colleen about cash vs. credit card tactics and compliment her marketing , I always get a smile. This too is validation.  We all need it because we are all in this together.

Community, Commerce, Collaboration and Communication makes it all work well.

The Platform, she said, was Chocolate

The platform, she said, was chocolate. And much of the marketing centered around  fair trade cocoa and real chocolate chips.

I was sold. I got the whole concept in the first presentation. The hot chocolate mix was OK.cisse hot Cocoa pkg

What chocoholic could find fault with a product that had melting chocolate chips at it’s core? Even better, the founder of  Cissé Trading Co, Diana Lovett, had a passion for sustainable development which came out of her public health work in Africa. “I longed for a way to contribute to what I believed in through a business, so I created a cocoa company committed to responsible sourcing and investing in growers.”

As time went on and the organization grew from 2 to 4 full-time employees.  I became more impressed and engaged with the marketing, and the process, and the plan of this small but smart start up. A very human approach in touch with today’s need for consumers to know more of the story and less of the Madison Avenue product pitch.

Meet her farmers; LA FUNDACIÓN DOMINICANO DE PRODUCTORES ORGÁNICO The FUNDOPO cooperative is a Fair Trade certified organization made up of about 1,500 organic cocoa farmers in Altagracia, Dominican Republic.

Read Cisse’s accolades.  Yes, I am an investor. But now, after watching them move into box stores like BJ’s, family department stores like Target and uniquely fascinating distribution plans that include the likes of Krogers, I found myself becoming a Cisse Chocolate Groupie. The quarterly reports were easily digestible. Indeed, each financial data set, in the early days, came with a sample of a new product. cisseSuperThins pkg In the end, at the last of the samples, it was The Super Thins that pushed me over the line. I could no longer just root for them from the sidelines. I needed to help them get to the next level.

So I went to my local BJ’s, pestered them and became a member entirely because they now stock Super Thins by the truck load. The Whole Foods store in my neighborhood doesn’t carry it and I made a point of telling them that they need to catch up. I want clear and easy access to chocolate, Cisse Chocolate products to be specific.

CisseSuperThins_c ©KeithSpiroPhotoNext came the random public survey. In heading down to a meeting in New York City and purely as a lark, I brought a snack pack case to see what would happen if I carried it with me – most visibly – all the way down to NYC. I chose to never mention unless someone asked. Sure enough, people started asking me “what was it?” Why  was I carrying it and more importantly what did it taste like?

For those brave enough to ask the question – I rewarded them with one of my single serving portions and warned them to be careful as this was an addictive chocolate treat.The comments were all endearing & you can see the video here.c cisse survey says_185000

And so, I’ve come to recognize that I have become a brand ambassador for Cisse pure and simple because I enjoy the process as well as the product.

Please help spread the word. Visit and Share the photos of this journey here and be on the lookout for a guy carrying a case of super thins and sounding the call for eating good chocolate for good reasons.