He’s flown jets at 43,000 feet as a pilot for Delta Air Elite, been a keyboard player in a touring rock band and, in 1999, founded the first company to use video streaming over the Internet for marketing research – achieving a level of success he could never have imagined and growing his company into a multi-million dollar enterprise. But if you ask David Nelems what it is that he loves to do most, he’ll tell you about his passion for building things, for helping others and for making a difference. Which, as the VP of Innovation at the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, is exactly what he does each and every day – and which has made him not only the “Startup Guru of the Lowcountry,” but the man behind the launch of so many of today’s most successful local businesses.
A serial entrepreneur who has been involved in four different startups himself, David’s sole task at the DRCI is to help new and early stage companies in Bluffton and the surrounding area grow and thrive. So far, through his work at the DRCI (both in this newly-created position and as serving as its executive director from 2012-17) he’s helped to launch more than 35 companies – all thriving — right here in the Lowcountry.
“The main thing that I’ve learned over my past 25 years as both an entrepreneur and as someone who has guided others in the startup phase of a business is that a successful entrepreneur embraces simplicity and fear,” he advises. “As I help guide today’s startups through the launch and growth of their businesses, there are four main things that I tell them. First is to keep it simple. Second is to stay focused. Third is to embrace the fear. And lastly, as an analogy in reference to the LeAnn Womack country song, is to do it, or dance. These are the things that I truly believe are the keys behind every successful start-up, throughout all industries.”
David also has important advice for entrepreneurs and startups who may be overly-eager to get their products out there to start generating revenue. The key, he stresses, is being fully prepared.
“It’s not just about releasing the product or service. It’s about knowing what your product really is and if the market wants it – and about knowing your strengths and weaknesses,” he cautions, advising entrepreneurs and startups in the initial stages of launching a business to pay careful attention to the “prep work” – and to ask themselves the following questions:
- What is the vision three to five years from now?
- What are the first big opportunities you have to capitalize on to get going?
- How is the organization going to be structured?
- Who is your customer?
- What is your beachhead market? (a beachhead market is defined as a small market with specific characteristics that make it an ideal target to sell a new product or service.)
Whether your business idea is written on the back of a napkin — or you have taken the first few steps and are ready to “dance” — Nelems, and the resources of the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, are there to help.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Voice of the Customer (or VoC) is a term used to describe a process of capturing customers’ experiences, expectations, preferences and aversions, which provides a detailed set of customers’ wants and needs. VoC usually entails both qualitative and quantitative research.