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An Olympian’s approach to venture building: securing product-market fit and a competitive advantage

January 21, 2021
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9 minute read

Builder Story is a series where we get to know members of the Harvest team and their roles. We sat down with former Olympian Adam Froese, who leads our Venture Builder Program, to understand how he plays a hand in co-building globally competitive companies.

Q: Tell us about your background.

A: My career started in investment banking and corporate finance. I’ve spent the last five years working with public and private clients in the mid-market space, and developed a passion for helping them with raising capital, strategy and growth, and mergers and acquisitions. 

At Deloitte, I gained firsthand experience valuing and assessing companies that were constantly raising money or pursuing M&A activity for growth related purposes. It’s one thing to value a company based on textbook methodologies, but another thing entirely to actually see what somebody is willing to pay for a company and the process of seeing it through. 

My time in investment banking is where I had the opportunity to get involved in numerous consulting projects. I focused on strategy and capital growth, and from there, have advised several tech startups and helped them through the hurdles associated with the core considerations of building a business and getting them to a mature state.

Beyond my career, I’m passionate about high-level sport. I’m an athlete that played field hockey and represented Canada internationally over 190 times, participated at the 2016 Olympic Games, and many other major tournaments. I was also fortunate to participate in our team’s qualification of the 2020 Olympic Games prior to Covid-19 postponing the event.

Q. What do you do as the Head of Venture Building? 

A: I like to say that I know what that end goal looks like. I’ve seen a lot of the pitfalls associated with companies as they try to grow to an investable point, and know what it takes to avoid the common barriers to launching and scaling.

At Harvest, I create repeatable business models through our two programs: on the Venture Building side, we support companies from the beginning of their lifecycle by using a portfolio model that creates synergies from complementary companies that capture a significant market share. This helps them achieve a competitive advantage as well as the total ecosystem mission and vision we have for the Prairies. 

Then within our Growth Program, we address specific business needs beyond the company formation phase, such as support with financial modelling and strategy, growth marketing, talent search, and strategic partnerships

Through the Venture Builder program, I assess companies from a high level and evaluate their total value chain. Rather than defaulting to point solutions (those designed to tackle a single or specific problem), such as how to increase organic traffic, for example, I take one step back and see the bigger picture. I’m the person that strategizes what areas of opportunity are available for overall innovation and revenue generation. 

At our core, Harvest assesses opportunities through a portfolio lens. We strategize how to solve large problems in an industry vertical through advantaged businesses that are de-risked in their ability to achieve product market-fit. These same companies have an accelerated roadmap through shared resources and infrastructure. 

Using platform solutions that offer a more robust foundation, I help companies acquire the things they need within short timelines. Questions like, “if you had all the resources in the world, what would you build?” are the concepts I get at in my research and set out to answer.

The consulting and advisory work I’ve done with other tech companies has proven that time after time, the importance of product-market fit, deriving a strong competitive advantage, testing, and validating assumptions shouldn’t be underestimated. 

The incubation period of a startup or preparing founders and their teams for the market is one major area we specialize in. We help make sure that the market is in fact ready for what you have to offer. And if it’s not, we make worthwhile adjustments to ensure your solutions are relevant and viable in today’s marketplace.

Q: How does Harvest redefine a modern venture builder?

A: Harvest views the Prairies as a host or launching pad for total business growth. We have all the potential to build out companies, but at present, our resources are disjointed. That’s why across every company’s roadmap, we find solutions to plug in the holes of their total business lifecycle. 

Sure, there are institutions and organizations already dedicated to incubating companies and accelerating them along unique stages of their development. But more often than not as companies progress, they learn the hard way that not all support is made available or equal, especially when they reach certain funding milestones or product stages and are ill-equipped to sustain themselves.

Core competencies like access to capital, recruitment, and marketing services are usually separate resources that companies seek, but don’t often have the means to do so in anticipation of entering that stage.

What makes Harvest unique from incubators or accelerators is that we address the total business lifecycle and provide the necessary support from discovery, product development, validation, traction, and growth and scaling. We recognize the need for a co-building partner to guide early-stage and established companies to overcome the barriers of funding, validation of their products, and to ultimately de-risk their ventures. We connect the missing pieces to help companies grow and transition faster, without battling the common struggles that so often lead to failure.

Q: What are the common mistakes or considerations that companies overlook when developing a business plan for their venture?

A: First is the failure to validate assumptions and product market fit. This is what I call the “Mom Test.” If I tell my mom I’m putting together a cookbook and ask if she would buy it, of course she will say yes. Any mother will want to support their kid. But what if I changed my question and instead, asked her, “when was the last time you bought a cookbook?” or “do you even buy cookbooks anymore?”

That’s when you have your real answer. Asking the right questions and validating your business assumptions properly is the distinction between companies that achieve product-market fit and those whose ideas never make it off the ground because their solutions just aren’t relevant enough.

Companies need to test the problem they’re trying to solve, and it needs to be big enough that people are willing to pay for it. Then, there’s understanding unit economics and the part they play in a business model, establishing where your business can establish network effects and flywheels for key stakeholders that can promote, scale, and drive down customer acquisition costs. In other words, how a company determines its projections and forecasting will paint a picture of how many customers will use their products.

Q: How do you project revenue for a company that hasn’t started yet or is pre-revenue?

A: Measuring your market size, so your TAM  (Total Addressable Market), SAM (Serviceable Addressable Market), and SOM (Serviceable Obtainable Market) is crucial to understanding just how large the potential market is for your product/solution. I often see companies making the mistake of going after a rather ambiguous percentage of market size (that isn’t backed by much) using only a top-down approach, but neglecting the importance of looking at things from the bottom-up.

For instance, evaluating the total number of people in a region or area and the competitors that already exist gives you a tangible look at the market share you’re able to capture. When companies use a bottom-up approach, the reliability of their forecast will be stronger and more accurate. 

Your assumptions will also be better tested when you know the costs associated with building your business. What does it take for me to acquire new customers in new regions? What competitors already exist? Will I achieve product-market fit in this new area or customer segment? What is the marketing strategy required to capture new customers? What is the talent roadmap I need to establish to successfully execute this expansion? 

Among others, these are all pieces that need to be considered when building out your forecast.

Q: How does Harvest provide companies with fundraising support? 

A: Harvest unites all the disparate parts of the tech ecosystem, including connecting our clients with an investor network. Our team of in-house experts have gone through the motions of understanding the hurdles to access to capital, the questions that get asked, and how to best prepare yourself for that due diligence process so that you can be the most successful in securing financial support.

While we don’t guarantee that you’re going to get access to capital, we do support you on your pitch deck, financial model, and better assess what your sources and uses of funds are going to be from one fundraising round to the next. We outline the key questions investors will likely ask, so that you are better equipped when the time comes.

We walk companies through the stage gates and milestones of building a company and at which points in time you should be raising to get your business where you want it. If you’re raising capital off of an MVP, then your next stage likely involves obtaining more customers. Once you’ve grown your customer base and have proven validation in what you’re building, you’ll need to scale and raise more.

Q: What lessons from high-performance sport best transfer over to building new ventures?

A: “How to build a founding team that lasts” best ties into my sporting background. The relationship between co-founders needs to be flexible yet solid, no matter the differences in personalities, opinions, and skills. 

You’re going to have things you agree on and not, but having that total understanding of the people you’re working with and how they like to be communicated with ensures how you can successfully navigate business decisions. It’s the same as on the field–you respect players’ value and place, but work together as a team to achieve the same goals.

People think it’s easy to put together a founding team, but it’s much harder than it looks. Finding character cohesion, industry experience, and diverse but complementary skill sets takes time and opportunity for the relationship to be tested.

Founders need to choose their counterparts for the present time, despite how dynamic their business may be down the line. Rather than seeking leaders right off the bat, companies are better off finding drivers or individuals with technical skills who can execute. That’s because there isn’t much need for leadership at an early stage. More emphasis should be placed on founders who can drive the business forward.

Learn more about Harvest’s Venture Builder Program, and how we help elevate innovation across the Prairies, unite our tech ecosystem, and co-build globally competitive companies. 

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