Make it simple to buy

Are you unwillingly driving customers away from you by having a complex, ‘inside out’ business model? You should definitely check.

If you do, you should do your utmost to align your business model with how your customers are running their business and make an effort to just slide right in as the perfect solution to whatever pain, they’re experiencing.

The above dawned on me recently when I had a conversation with some great startup people about their business, their business model and their pricing strategy. While everything they said made perfect sense from their point-of-view, I realized something:

Every time their product was presented to a potential customer, the customer essentially had to first understand the startups preferred way of doing business before making an assessment as to whether their way of doing business and the product would make sense to get into their own business.

This seemed strange for a couple of reasons:

First, we know that the market is hugely competitive, and that complexity has the potential to kill any deal, if there is a simple alternative just there for the taking.

Second, we know that closing a sale means reducing the steps and reasons to say ‘No’ to a bare minimum. Whenever you introduce any kind of friction, you’re essentially adding potential opportunities for your future customer to just say ‘No’ to whatever it is, you’re offering.

So what to do instead?

Make an effort to understand your potential customers, how they do business, and what the challenges and pains are that your product could easily help them overcome. And then package your product in such a way that you’re the obvious solution for them to say ‘Yes’ to – every single time it’s presented to them.

There is really no excuse for making buying your product too complicated for customers.

(Photo by Ibrahim Boran on Unsplash)

Back in the engine room

One of the things, I have always enjoyed, is getting my hands down in the day-to-day grind of operations; ensuring that the wheels are in motion, running smoothly and any issue is dealt with in a timely manner. I absolutely love oiling the machine here and there, ensuring it spins properly.

For that reason I am excited to announce that I have joined our great portfolio company Cortrium as their interim COO for the coming months to help the management team there run operations and prepare for the next significant steps forward in the companys development.

I have been helping Cortrium out with marketing and other things for the past 9 months, and its a great company with an even bigger potential. The MedTech company specializes in longterm ECG Holter measurements and reporting, and they have a very innovative and forward-leaning tech stack of both hardware and software ready to help doctors and cardiologists diagnose people with atrial fibrillation, which is one of the leading precursors to strokes.

It’s not often that you get the chance to combine something you love with the opportunity to work on something where the ‘why?’ is as evident and awesome as in Cortrium, and I am really looking forward to working with the entire team to help them on fast forward.

(Photo by iSawRed on Unsplash)

Can churn be good?

Churn is inherently a bad thing for any startup. You don’t want to lose customers or revenue. At least not in the 99% of the cases.

But churn can also be spun into a good thing.

Churn is an opportunity for you to learn, what you can improve and do better. Because by churning, customers are essentially telling you that you’re not bringing enough value to them.

Hence churn is an opportunity for you to think about how you can deliver more value going forward. And start doing so. But you of course first need to understand why they churn – really understand it:

If they have chosen a competitor, figure out why? Is it a matter of features? Flow? Price? Or something completely different?

Should the churn make you reconsider your roadmap priorities? Or how you market and sell your product so expectations are better aligned, and you get better at understanding who the right and best customers are for you?

Etc.

There are plenty of opportunities to learn from churn, and you should. Unless churn happens because a customer goes bankrupt, each churning customer is an opportunity to understand the market, the customers and your value proposition to them better.

So take the time. Don’t neglect churn or accept it by relentlessly focusing on growth in new customers to compensate for the customers, who leave. First of all, it will be an issue when growth becomes harder to sustain. And second, and most importantly, you miss out on an opportunity to do better going forward. And reduce future churn.

(Photo by Junseong Lee on Unsplash)

Time for reflection

For many of us the summer vacation has already become a memory. We’re back from the beach, the mountains or wherever else, we have been spending time taking a much deserved break and getting some distance to work.

Personally, I have been back for a few days after spending 3 weeks vacationing with my family, and I feel both recharged and focused going back for what’s promising to be both an exciting and challenging – in the most positive way – second half of 2022.

Notice that there are two distinct states in what I mentioned: Being recharged and being focused. And while recharging during vacation should be a very familiar concept to everybody, I wanted to take a few moments to address the other part – the focus.

What I often find lacking with a busy work schedule is the opportunity to properly reflect and set a focus for my immediate future. With everything that is going on, it’s just so super easy to get so caught up in the fire fighting of things that those important moments, where you look a bit beyond the horizon and figure out what your plan is going to be, gets pushed to the side and never really revisited.

Getting a fighting chance to address these things and reflect about what you want to do and how you want to prioritize going forward requires some distance to your day-to-day work. And what better time to get that than while you’re on vacation.

Be sure that I am not suggesting you take work with you on vacation or that you spend your vacation thinking about tasks at work. What I am suggesting however is that you find those pockets of time when you’re on your own to reflect a bit of what you just got a break from, how it’s been and what you would ideally like to change going forward.

Changing your forward path may mean a lot of things. Obviously, for some it will mean looking to do something entirely different. But for most of us it will mean making some adjustments into what we want to focus on as being the most important both to the work that we do and how we help others achieve success but also to your own professional and personal development.

For my own part, while I have been out running for myself I have spent a bit of time reflecting on how I could best focus and structure what I would love to focus on and how I would like to go about it in order to also move myself forward, and I now have a pretty simple but good idea about the kind of work, I am going to focus on and how it (hopefully) helps put my employer and my team colleagues fast forward but also helps guide me in the direction, I personally have a big interest in going.

It hasn’t required a ton of thought. More the breathing space to allow little, existing pieces of the puzzle to try and find their places to give a sense of how it could all look and come to fruition. A perfect little personal project fitting in nicely with those leisurely activities, you can enjoy while being on a break, and where you’re not being torn apart from others trying to get your attention or wanting you to do certain things.

I highly recommend, you try it too. It is a super healthy exercise, and it helps you not only to get back fully charged but also with a clear view of where you want to go both professionally and personally in the months to come. But remember that whether you’re going to be able to stick to your plan is an entirely different matter.

(Photo by Lili Kovac on Unsplash)

How to win with corporates

I have always held a strong belief in the outsize value of strategic partnerships. And I must confess it has been a frustrating pain to be part of and watch a lot of good intentions end in absolutely nothing.

I am by no means alone with that experience. In fact I think it’s fair to say that it’s more the rule than the exception that these partnerships between corporates and startups don’t work. The excitement at signing is almost inversely related to the feeling of frustration and banging your head against the wall, once the partnership has to be implemented to start delivering on all the promises.

But it can be done. One startup, I have worked with over the last few months, has managed to get to a winning formula, and I thought I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of my learnings from it in the hope that you might use them to improve your own prospects with getting a great return on your strategic partnerships.

The first thing to consider is whether or not what you’re doing solves a real pain that the corporate has. Yes, we all know that big corporations can struggle with innovation, but that’s not where the real potential lies. Due to the law of big numbers, it makes much more of a dent in the corporate structure, if you can help them sell more or what they are already selling.

In essence that means that if you have something that makes the corporates product better in itself or provides leads for more sales of their existing product by giving their sales people cloud cover to reengage with their customers with something new and exciting, you could have something that is very valuable to a strategic partnership. But you need to have it mapped out beforehand in order to put yourself in the strongest possible position for identifying the right partner and do the hard negotiations.

If you succeed in coming up with a partnership, the hard work truly starts. A lot of startups mistakenly think that it’s all about teaching the corporate to adapt to their more lean and efficient way of doing things, but I honestly don’t think that’s the case. What I see working is in fact more the opposite; that the more you can factor in how they work in your own process and be open, transparent and accountable about it, the easier it will be for the corporate to integrate you and your product in their offering – which is essentially the only recipe for commercial success with a corporate.

Finally, you need to ensure that incentives are aligned. No matter what the corporate might tell you, its a matter of fact that they are ruled by objectives. That also means that key stakeholders bonus plans are tied to objectives, and they will do whatever they can to succeed with those in order to get bonuses and promotions. Nothing else will really be touched. So be damn sure you understand their objectives, their KPIs and bonus targets, and do whatever you can to slot into that in the simplest possible way. Make it super easy for them to engage – the less they have to think about it the better – and you’ll be in a good position to achieve success.

Does all of the above mean that you always need to dance to the corporates tune? Well, if you want to succeed with a strategic partnership centered around marketing and sales with a big corporate, I think the answer is yes. The balance of power isn’t in your favor, and the only thing you get from insisting you’re equals is…nothing. Then it’s much better to just eat humble pie, focus on the end goal of making things work and making a solid profit. And then stick to the formula.

That should enable you to consider frustrations over failed strategic partnerships a thing of the past.

(Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash)

Moving aside

The other day I met a startup founder, who had been struggling getting his business of the ground as a business for the past couple of years. Despite claiming the ambition of millions of users worldwide, he had only reached a couple of thousand within the first couple of years.

While there is always reason to celebrate great knowledgable people for taking the plunge to pursue their passion and their dreams and turn both into a startup, there are also times when you need to step back and take a more sombre look;

This particular startup was in reality nowhere. In order to have any prospects of success, they needed to step back, look at their core assets and find ways to build a revenue stream around those. Not out of curiosity. But out of necessity.

And yet the founder resisted. While claiming to be open to change, he was still very much set around the same set of assumptions that had brought him and his colleagues so little over the past couple of years. When I asked him what in their performance so far he thought mandated to continue approaching things the same way, he didn’t really give an answer, and I totally understand why: There was no real good answer.

The founder was faced with a ton of challenges, but what also become apparent to me is that he was at the center of a lot of them. And that maybe the best prospects of success for him and his startup was for him to find someone with a pair of fresh eyes and the right capabilities in terms of building the business, and then step back to another more product related role for himself.

He sort of agreed. Until he didn’t the next second. And we could have continued that way for ages.

While I completely understand that it can feel totally wrong to think in terms of finding someone better to replace you in a key role – and especially in a startup you founded – I think there are times, where it’s truly the best solution for all parties concerned. If you believe that the most important thing is to build a thriving business, personal considerations should matter less.

For myself I have always believed that building winning teams is about looking at the challenges facing you and then go about trying to recruit someone much better than yourself to help you overcome those challenges and move on to the next level with the business.

For that reason I have always tried to recruit the best and brightest and get someone who could not only challenge me and my thinking but also contribute to some vastly improved results within their areas of expertise. I think it’s wise for founders to think in those terms too.

The last thing anybody needs in any company whether it being a corporate and a startup is someone at the top with the ambition of always being the smartest person in the room, no matter what. Yes, that person might be brilliant and truly the smartest person, but in most instances – and my experience – there are quite a few even smarter people out there, we should instead be looking to recruit, onboard, get to work and start generating successes with.

Having this unbiased view of your own role can help you build the team that builds the great business together with you. If your too stuck on your own ego to realize that, you risk ending up becoming a founder who will look back and reflect on what potentially could have been but never materialized because you failed to make the right decision and move over to provide room for other great people.

(Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash)

Silent opportunities

Preventing something from happening is without any doubt one of the biggest opportunities in healthcare – and perhaps especially digital healthcare. Trying to keep people from developing a medical condition that requires cost medical care is a really good idea for everybody concerned. And given the nature of prevention – and thus lack of physical intervention on the body – it is an area that is really suited for everything digital.

But there is an opportunity that might be even bigger; helping look after those who have developed a condition to enable them to have an improved quality of life. I think there are at least two major arguments for why this is so:

One of the problems with being diagnosed with a condition that may last for life is what happens after the diagnosis has been given. It’s all very good that in Denmark there is a 30 day or so guarantee to get a diagnosis, but to many who are then diagnosed, getting the message might actually be the last time they have a truly meaningful conversation with someone who specializes in their condition.

Yes, it can be that hard to get the attention and follow-up, you would like to have, post-diagnosis. There may be a lot of reasons for why this is so, but I think two of them are a lack of specialists in general combined with a lot of conditions being considered relatively banal by any other than those who are actually suffering from them.

In those terms this is what I would call a silent opportunity.

Here digital tools for follow-up and disease management can be a real benefit, as they can supply the kind of ongoing help and advice that is otherwise inaccessible. Done right digital tools have an opportunity to take the place of a specialist and provide the person with the condition with all the tools needed to ensure a better quality of life.

In this also lies the second major argument for why I believe this is a huge opportunity: The value the tools can potentially bring to the patient.

If a digital tool provides significant value to a person with a condition – perhaps for life – I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t be a major business opportunity to strike a working relationship between provider and patient perhaps even for life. If the tool becomes an important port of ensuring the users quality of life, it is worth paying something for. Likely not a whole lot per month, but over time it all adds up. And, best case, with extremely little churn.

For startups looking to cater to this market it is an opportunity to build a really interesting business for the long run with a solid purpose to boot. Of course the requirement beyond being able to build something that truly adds value is that entrepreneurs are in it for the long run, as exit opportunities may be few and far between. But for the right people with the right incentives and motivation to make a difference, the opportunities are definitely there.

(Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash)

Unleashing impact

A couple of weeks ago I ventured a bit into unknown territory, when I attended the Green Impact Summit in Copenhagen. I wanted to get a firsthand view of what’s going on within the world of impact startups and get a sense of how it’s progressing from being a lot of great and interesting ideas into real companies that actually have a fighting chance both to create impact but also become great businesses.

I don’t know what I expected before getting there. But a couple of things surprised me.

First of all the sparse attendance at the event. There probably was a couple of hundred people in total, and many of them were from the startups themselves or from the supporting ecosystem. For all the hype surrounding the space it still seems like we have some distance to go, before it really draws the big crowds.

Second, I noticed that the creativity and skill in the solutions being showcased are not necessarily matched with business experience yet. It still seems like there is an abundance of idealism – which is fine – and not so much emphasis on actually making it a sustainable – viable – business.

Tommy Ahlers, the super angel (yes, I will call him that) said it well, when he noted that the impact investment community reminds him a lot of where the tech investment community was 20 years ago; a lot of great ideas, visionaries and willingness to share. But not at all the same kind of focus on the business side of things.

I fully realize that there may be some out there who would now suggest that thats all part of the plan. That the great and all important cause of fighting climate change in all its incarnations takes priority ahead of talking about business. But I think that is totally misguided; there is no distinction between impact startups coming up with brilliant solutions to our sustainability challenges and the ability to make a profit. Rather, I think they go very well hand in hand.

There is an obvious opportunity in this space IMHO for experienced business savvy people with an interest in pursuing something more meaningful than a corporate career to look at startups in this space and look for ways to collaborate and even engage directly in one of them, helping them succeed all the way.

In fact, I don’t think you can overestimate the potential of this sector to become a real Danish or Nordic growth industry, if we just show the ambition on wanting to make it about more than the idea and invention itself but actually put a laserlike focus on what it means and takes to succeed. In a big way.

It’s ‘just’ a matter of the missing people engaging directly with everything they have in the good cause.

(Photo by kazuend on Unsplash)