David Morris Revised 2020 – original 2008
Startup founders love “Talking about their Baby”; they are just like new parents. The founding team’s passion and engineering’s enthusiasm heavily influence the company’s early direction and messaging. Upon launch, the company should be proud and celebrate, as the team has often been immersed in their work for twelve to fourteen hours a day six to seven days a week for two to four years developing their idea into an innovative product or service. Every corner case, feature, and capability has been painstakingly debated, argued, and rehashed numerous times. The product knowledge depth within the team is vast, and they want to talk about it all.
Initial presentations are akin to a new parent prattling on and “Talking about their Baby.” Or in other words, the early marketing and sales presentations are all about the baby and laden with “Speeds and Feeds” (detailed product technical specifications) to answer any possible questions or objections. After finding a few innovators and early adopters, which will buy new products based on the “Speeds and Feeds,” “blazing performance,” or “cool technology factor,” the team is excited and pushes forward. In their zeal to gain acceptance, this approach can lead to identifying multiple uses and diverse markets for their technology. In the long-term, having various market opportunities are excellent. In the short-term, it can lead to a lack of focus and spreading resources too thin in the most promising use case and market.
So excited and pushing forward, the startup expands and hires sales and marketing professionals. The stories of the fantastic sales wins are retold in onboarding and sales training meetings. The stories become the expectation versus the exception that they are. The newly minted sales team returns home, battered, frantic, and disillusioned. The message from potential customers is received as, “Your baby is ugly.” Defensively, the founders complain about how the marketing and sales teams, as well as potential customers, “just don’t get it.” Of course, the founders expect potential customers to understand everything about their product and its potential impact in an initial 30-minute presentation, even though it has taken founders years of work to build. The founders and engineering team loves their baby; why doesn’t everyone else? They know their baby is beautiful and unique and won’t accept any less as proud parents. However, the innovators and early adopter market where the team had been so successful initially is only a small subset of the overall market and not large enough to build a company. The founders face crossing the chasm (“Crossing the Chasm” by G. Moore) and the struggle to shift their messaging to resonate with the early majority needs. As the harsh reality of the broader market emerges, the challenge of selling to the early majority is about solving problems and deliver business value for which the customer is willing to pay. Furthermore, the realization that all technology companies have the “Speeds and Feeds” as table stakes and the top technology companies rotate through being the fastest, most scalable, or most innovative product or service periodically.
To be successful, founders and their startup must get over their “baby” and transition from product-centric “Speeds and Feeds” orientation to the simple solutions sales approach that highlights a business problem, delivers a solution, and offer customers business value. If you solve a painful problem, customers will open their wallets. But, how do startups uplevel their messaging?
Luckily, transitioning from a “Speeds and Feeds” to a “Simple Solution” sale shifts the messaging to a customer-centric perspective and prioritizes the best use case and market on which to focus. Most startups have the funding, focus, and workforce to offer a single solution that solves a specific customer pain point ( The Bowling pin strategy – G. Moore) and then, over time, expand their offering as they gain traction and positive growth. One startup for which I worked had an industry analysis said, “I will be honest; Company X is a one-trick pony, but it is one hell of a trick.” I took his comment as a big win, as having a noted analyst say you are the best at what you do is an enormous accolade for any startup, and it gained us significant notoriety. A startup with a customer-centric simple solution and focus is light years ahead of competitors.
Is there a blueprint for a startup to follow that can guide them to build a product that customers are willing to pay for and find an initial use case and market on which to focus? Yes, outlined by Steven Blank, who teaches at Columbia, Berkeley, & Stanford business schools, in “The Four Steps to the Epiphany,” the customer development approach is the blueprint followed by many successful startups.
David Morris – Morris Bytes – Copyright 2006 – 2020