Elevator Pitch: Cognitives

Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we're talking with Tom Spencer, co-founder of Cognitives.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea.

Cognitives is a publishing and content marketing platform for brands, publishers, businesses, thought leaders and anyone who works with content. it lets you harness your community to create great content.

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

We are a SaaS play, meaning we can deliver the solution to anyone, anywhere via a subscription model. Although that sounds great, it actually comes with serious implications for the amount of capital you need to realise your idea and take it to market. David Skok wrote is a thinker who really unpacks this notion well. Essentially it means in a typical direct route-to-market for a SaaS company, the more you succeed, the more money you need.

So our key strategy to get around this (once you get to product/market fit) is a channel and strategic channel route to market. Essentially relying on other people's sales resources to take your platform to market. This is done in partnership, so channel partners of all sizes are tied into the greater outcome. This is a key failing of SaaS plays that you see, where myopic thinking about the route to market, often heard as "I will sell this to a customer one at a time" kills a business before it even gets started.

What's the biggest challenge facing your business?

Finding great people who want to go on the startup journey. In the US it is a different culture, where people, particularly smart and motivated ones, see the real benefit of making their mark on the world through a startup journey. The Australian market is different - it feels a bit more risk averse here.

How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

For us differentiation is more about how you solve for a problem. There are so many digital tools people use to solve for the socially integrated, community driven publishing solution we provide, and they are typically expensive, cumbersome and require ongoing work. So we solved for that solution through an holistic platform approach. Like HubSpot or Pardot do for Inbound Marketing, we provide a suite that lets you win at the game of content.

So when people ask me about competitors I am more likely to ask them about how that problem is being solved, rather than what the problem is - as in most problems online, if you have enough cash you can solve just about anything. But most people don't - and that is our market - the people who are locked out of great publishing technology due to the way the industry is currently solving that problem.

What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?

Cloud applications, apart from Cognitives :) I would say Dapusle is one of my new favourites. It's like Vasecamp and Trello mashed together in a spreadsheet and I love it - we keep our whole business on there. From project management, to leads, to new ideas, kaban boards and sprints - everything!

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

I will go with a good thinker in the startup space for this, more about finding your own path than business:

Reid Hoffman - founder of Linkedin - said in his book the Startup of You, that you need to find the perfect apex between your natural abilities, your interests and what the market will bear - if you find that spot, then work no longer feels like work - it gives you energy, and you will be successful purely because you can outthink and outwork anyone else who is either not as talented, not as interested or hasn't found their market niche.

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