Path to Startup Success: Sell-Design-Build vs. Design-Build-Sell

By Maria Squicciarini, Senior Director, SAP Global Marketing and Global Program Lead for SAP TechEd at SAP


The May edition of the Coffee Break with Game Changers broadcast on Voice of America is now live. This month’s episode – Path to Startup Success: Sell-Design-Build vs. Design-Build-Sell – featured a lively discussion about which approach is best for your startup. Should you design and build before you sell your idea, or sell the vision before spending resources to design and build?

Host Bonnie D. Graham was joined by three experts from the startup world. Colleen Hardwick created the startup PlaceSpeak, a pioneering, award-winning location-based smart city citizen engagement platform, with the support of the National Research Council of Canada, Industrial Research Assistance Program. Fouad ElNaggar is the Founder and CEO of Sapho, a startup that empowers employees with a modern portal experience that surfaces personalized and relevant tasks and data using micro apps. And Luisa Silva leads marketing enablement and go-to-market with Startups for EMEA as well as at the global level for SAP Startup Focus, to nurture, accelerate, and recommend investment in next generation startups’ offerings based on market potential and transformational technology – the SAP HANA platform.

The general consensus amongst the panelists is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach. If your startup is focused on improving an existing business model or product — building a better mousetrap – you may be better served by the Sell-Design-Build approach, which enables you to validate your business case prior to engineering, rather than investing the time and money to build a product no one wants. Whereas if you’re trying to build something completely new — something that will create a paradigm shift – the Design-Build-Sell approach enables you to provide an entry-point for both investors and customers, something to which they can relate and upon which you can build over time.

Hardwick and ElNaggar both advocated for a hybrid approach, explaining that you need to be agile enough to Design and Sell when needed, regardless of your initial plan.

Hardwick explained that she’s been on both sides. She’s sold a vision without any revenue, and she’s started with revenue in place and built around that. The ability to be agile and responsive, she says, plays an important role, no matter from which side you start.

ElNaggar shared his perspective via a favorite Mike Tyson quote: “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”   What’s critical, in ElNaggar’s view, is making sure you don’t freeze when that punch gets thrown. You need to build to your vision, but you also need to be agile and willing to iterate. The right path is a combination of both.

Drawing on her experience helping startups successfully bring their offerings to market, Silva argued that regardless of the approach you take, it’s critical that you find the right way to message what you’re bringing to the table to the people who don’t yet understand where you’re going. You need to articulate the use case message for a solution that people don’t yet understand or for which they don’t see a need.


Tune into the broadcast – available now on demand – for more, including:

  • The role of the entrepreneur as a catalyst
  • How much customer feedback is too much
  • Is staying the course in the DNA of successful entrepreneurs


Listen to the replay here.