In part one of my series on bringing new technology to market, I focused on two areas of business that entrepreneurs often overlook or take lightly: focusing on business before bytes and deciding who to hire when moving to a new company. It is very easy to build a great product and then wait for people to buy it, but it does not work that way. Nobody cares about technology on its own; it must solve problems. And those problems should be understood by talking with prospects and customers. In terms of personnel, there is no single right strategy, but when I start a new company, I prefer to bring on new people who have the knowledge set and skills that are relevant for that business.
In this second part of my series, I’ll focus on two more challenges entrepreneurs face: the “going first” problem and the ability to recognize the pivotal moment in any product strategy. Despite the seemingly endless number of decisions and problems that have come with it, I wouldn’t change my career course for anything, and I want to leave you with only encouragement to go for it with no regrets.
Conquering The ‘Going First’ Problem
Finding your first believers and early customers is a tremendous challenge. This is the much-feared “going first” problem. These are the industries, companies and people that, when presented with a great solution to a troubling and serious problem they face, don’t buy because they “won’t go first.” They are risk-averse. They want someone else to be first.
This is where early adopters are so precious. They see things before others do, and I genuinely appreciate every one of them. I often say, in my businesses, that if a product is worth $1 to us, then we have to make it worth $10 to our customers. It’s not just a fair value trade — that’s for buying pens and copy paper. It’s creating a value proposition that has a multiplicative effect — additive is just not interesting!
These risk-averse companies, those unwilling to insert some slight risk into their careers for a potential ten-times value payoff, aren’t your first customers. I don’t care how marquee your brand is; you simply have to let go of those who “fear first.” Don’t keep coming at them. They aren’t ready, and they are just using precious startup resources. They may be ready someday, but not now.
You will find — and need to put all your effort into — the individuals who see early adoption as a potential way to advance their career. These companies will have problems so critical — in addition to a desire for a larger competitive edge — that they will insert some risk into their plans. And then it’s up to you not to let them down (or recover quickly). Listen to their feedback, and move the product — and their career — along.
Recognize ‘The Moment’
There are many opinions that people will have on the “right” go-to-market strategy or how to enhance resources or issue a new version of a product. Nothing is ever clearly mapped out. You rarely hear the starter pistol. In fact, you may never hear one — or hear it many times. But there are moments. There are patterns to recognize. And they are often very tactical decisions.
A big mistake, though, is taking every piece of customer feedback as a “moment” — and then adding up all that random feedback and calling it a pattern. I’m not saying don’t listen to customers. But you cannot give every customer everything they want. A high rate of random changes — reactions to reactions — will bury your resources.
This is where good product management comes in. And it’s vital to get it implemented fast. The best way to sort out the signal from the noise in all that feedback is to find a pattern. Even better yet, ask a simple question: Will a customer pay for this?
Is it worth the time and money to invest in a product or large product feature if a customer won’t assign enough value to it to upgrade or pay for it? If not, you shouldn’t be going in that direction.
In the early days, you must maintain a rational, simple and lightweight product management process that finds patterns across customer behavior, has few gates and enforces those gates, saying no more often than yes. Instead of adding more to product features, focus on differentiation. Build the solutions and features that stand out, aren’t available and have high value.
When starting a new business, regardless if it’s your first, fourth or 10th, it helps to have some perspective and stay focused on the end game — not every point scored or missed. You learn a lot from your mistakes. You will undoubtedly make the best decision at a given time with the best data and counsel available. Looking back with regret means you’re failing to recognize your own growth or the new data or counsel you have before you.
There’s no crystal ball — no time machine. But you can tackle the problems in front of you with the best data available, a good sense of judgment from your experience and a good team of people. You’re not in this because you have all the answers, but rather because you still have a lot of questions. Imagining a scenario where your product is successful and believing in it is often the most critical driver in building great products.
Push the limits. In the startup world, there are no base hits — you’re swinging for the fences. If you get out while doing that, that is perfectly fine, but you have to get back into the game and try again.