Customer check-in

One thing I find very fascinating is that for a lot of startups there seems to be an almost inverse relationship between the energy put into acquiring and onboarding customers versus the energy put into keeping them as happy customers for the long term.

Of course most startups do customer satisfaction surveys, NPS scores etc, but how often do you actually reach out to some of your customers to engage in a real conversation about how it’s going, how they use your product and what challenges they are experiencing?

Thought so.

The challenge tends to become more complex the more you’re driven by SaaS-metrics like MRR and ARR. Yes, it is vital that you understand these, but what difference will it make, if in essence you have very little understanding of what is going on behind the scenes, in the heads and minds of your customers?

One of many reasons that Amazon has become so extremely successful over the years is that they have always been extremely customer obsessed. They have always been looking towards understanding the customer, the journey and experience better and better in order to develop their many offerings.

And they have been remarkably successful to say the least.

You will most probably not be the next Amazon, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t steal a page our of their playbook and become totally customer obsessed.

Lesson one in that course is to start treating an existing customer and the relationship you have and want to expand with that one over time with the same amount of energy, you put into acquiring new customers.

(Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash)

Tracking progress

As a former business manager at Microsoft, I am almost bred up on KPI’s, metrics, tracking progress and so forth. Sometimes even to the extend where I have a hard time understanding, why it is a more alien concept to many. Including some startups.

The way I usually frame it is that you cannot play football, if you don’t have goal posts that help you decide, when you have scored the winning goal. Or any goal for that matter. If you don’t have goals, you’re just kicking around, and while that can be nice exercise too, it’s kind of hard to measure who’s winning and who’s losing.

So, if we accept that being able to set goals and track progress can be helpful, how do you go about it in a way that doesn’t kill you in bureaucracy.

This is where I actually back in the day got a great tip from my colleague at Berlingske Media, CFO Peter Nordgaard. He had a very simple way of looking at things and how to determine real performance that goes something like this:

You basically have 3 things you’re looking at in a traffic light perspective to set goals and track progress:

First you look a the market and the macro economic climate. What’s your assumptions related to overall growth in the economy YoY. Make that your target.

Then you look at the competition in the market. What’s your target market looking like? How much is it growing? Make that your first target? How much share are your most important competitors looking to grow? Make that your second target (and in effect your pre-dominant benchmark).

Finally, look at yourself. Given your assumptions about the economy, the market and the competition, how do you think you yourself is going to do? How much is you going to grow? What does that mean in terms of products shipped, sold, used or whatever your Northstar metric is?

Does your Northstar metric make sense in the light of all of the above (aka is it still valid as the most important single denominator in determining your progress)? If yes, good. Keep it. If no, come up with one that is.

Now you essentially have a Northstar metric and three sets of simple KPI’s you can track in order to determine your progress. And this is where it gets interesting:

If you end up short but the economy and the market has exceeded expectations, you will know that the buck stops with you. On the other hand: If you have done better than expected for the economy and the market, you have really put in a stellar performance.

While that in itself is super simple, it does another thing that is really great: It eliminates any doubt as to what should be the focus of your review and discussion about what to do going forward.

Because if it is your own performance that is sub-par, it will be evident, and you don’t have the need to come up with silly excuses. You can address the real problem. And move on from it.

So think about this super efficient approach the next time, you’re discussing KPI’s and ways to track your progress. We’re not too far off the start of a new year, so this might actually be as good a time as any.

(Photo by Tolga Ulkan on Unsplash)

Differentiation through humanity

In a world where more and more can be automated, run and optimized by algorithms, how do you develop true differention?

My bet?

Humans. And the human intellect.

As more and more gets automated and in essence standardized, human flavour, feel or whatever we choose to call it, will in essence be one of the most important if not the only true differentiator.

Your unique feel will be what separates you from everybody else you’re competing against.

That’s a good thing, I think. Not only will it allow us to focus more on how we deliver that value that is above and beyond what everybody else and their automated solutions can do. It will also provide us with a sense of purpose, fulfillment and joy, which I think is essential for us as a species to thrive.

So let this be a note to those who fear that machines are taking over:

Humans, being human and humanity as such will only gain in importance going forward.

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Are you interesting?

There is a lot of talk about the effectiveness of content marketing for startups. And while I don’t doubt that it has some effect for some, I am firmly in the camp where I would advice anyone to up their game significantly, if they want to do content.

Because there is som much ‘blah’ put there that’s just not interesting at all.

Compare it to a party, where you meet someone you have never met before. You talk casually.

What’s the most interesting conversation?

The one where the guy across from you just babble on in banal terms without even making the slightest effort to understand whether you’re interested or even paying attention.

Or the one who actually engages in a conversation, brings new perspectives to something you care about or at the very least can relate to and leave you wiser and eager to know more?

Of course you would choose the latter one.

And that’s my point:

Content marketing is the first one. Thinly disguised as being ‘customer centric’ it is essentially about the sender and demonstrates a lack of understanding and/or real interest in who you are and what challenges you are facing. Basically, it doesn’t care.

The latter one is content where you from an angle of curiosity explore the field, you’re working in making sure that you bring fresh perspectives to your field and basically is worth the time and investment for others to follow and engage with.

That kind of content doesn’t need to be hard to produce. It just takes someone who knows what he or she is talking about and with a willingness to write about it from time to time and a openness towards getting it out there and potentially get some interesting feedback.

It’s an approach that doesn’t fit very well with outsourcing to an agency, because it takes knowledge, real insights and – crucially – the authenticity and presence that you can only bring to the table, when the one putting the content out there is deeply immersed into the field herself – day in, day out.

That’s what will make it interesting and worth following. And that is what could be a great and efficient building block for building and nurturing relationships.

If you can go that route, you have a number of potential advantages looking at you compared to your competitors, who stick with the old, ineffective content marketing playbook:

You can essentially become a real thought leader. You can get valuable feedback from customers and other constituents that can have an impact on your business. And ultimately you can drive new leads to the business that will both be worth significantly more over time from a commercial point of view but will also be way cheaper to connect with than other means of advertising.

Because all it takes is essentially your insights, willingness to share and openness towards connecting.

(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

The ‘Worldview’ biz model

Yesterday we held local elections in Denmark. Always a super exciting day where people come out to vote on the issues that matter the most in their everyday lives.

While ideology seldom gets a lot of room in the local election campaigns, the ingredients are still there to pit people against eachother in order to force a result and ultimately the way things will be run locally going forward.

So it matters what your message is, how you word it, the level of nuance (or the lack of it), how you get it out, and how you build a loyal following enough to stick at least until the fateful vote is cast on election day.

It’s essentially about your local ‘Worldview’ and getting the electorate to buy into that. And that got me thinking (a bit off the rails but please bear with me as I think it’s quite important):

If you are into the media business and have ever harbored doubts about the advertising driven business model in an online context, beware of the new dangerous animal in town:

The ‘Worldview’ biz model.

This is the business model, where content creators with a particular worldview go solo or band together in small groups to deliver media content with a certain ‘worldview’ that users can subscribe to for a fee.

While there is every reason to applaud a business model based on subscription, the danger of the ‘worldview’ model is that it is only successful because it is inherently polarizing.

Just as ads supported business models have an interest in creating sensation and conflict to get the eyeballs needed to monetize on ads, creators of ‘worldview’ media content have an interest in painting everything black or white according to a certain belief system to get loyal subscribers to fork out their cash to access the content.

This, of course, means we’re likely to get more and more of it. We can call it a wealth of niches of special interests. But we shouldn’t neglect the fact that probably a good part of it is inherently dangerous to the commonwealth.

Want proof?

Look at some of the people with the biggest subscriber followings for paid newsletters. You will see a good few of them coming from people who have very clear ‘worldviews’, who are excelling in flaming the views of others in order to keep them loyal, hungry for more – so they will keep paying the subscription.

The phenomenon should definitely be taken seriously, and it should also be scrutinized. We shouldn’t gloss it over out of sheer admiration in the ability of some to build a sizable subscription following in a digital media world, where we have struggled for viable alternatives to the ads driven business model for years on end.

This is serious. And could potentially become quite ugly going forward.

(Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash)

Meta thoughts

Everybody that seems to have an opinion about Facebooks recent name change to Meta seems to have aired it by now.

So naturally, I thought it time to went my own two cents on the subject; why it changes nothing about the fundamentals, why it’s different from Googles renaming to Alphabet, why Mark Zuckerberg needs to succeed with the exercise and what bet he is making in order to make it happen.

First things first: Of course the rebranding from Facebook to Meta doesn’t change anything about the vast challenges that Facebook is facing.

On the contrary; the name change is a testament to the fact that one of the worlds leading brands in terms of market capitalization has become so toxic, it needs to be incinerated from public view.

It says a lot about CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his merry crew that they would rather throw their brand out than actually work to address and solve the myriad of issues affecting Facebook.

It’s will probably be the closest thing we ever get to Zuckerberg admitting guilt. Which of course he will never (see any reason to) do in the real world.

Second, the comparisons with Googles name change is some way off, IMHO. When Google changed into Alphabet it was basically for two reasons:

The original founders Sergey and Larry had pretty much lost interest in search and were looking to pursue other interests. And, more importantly, Google was doing so many different projects that had nothing to do with their core business that they probably needed an entire alphabet to keep track of them all.

Facebook – sorry, Meta – doesn’t have this. For all the existence of different apps, it’s still very much a social media company across software as well as hardware. Even though Mark Zuckerberg is dappling a bit on the side with other projects through foundations etc., it’s not like Meta is about to cure cancer.

Some would argue that Meta is much rather a collection of cancers than any kind of step towards a cure, but I digress.

No, there is a much more compelling reason for Zuckerberg to dip into the met averse in order to keep his collection of apps on a path of growth and prosperity:

The ownership of the operating systems and the platforms that come with them.

Facebook in its old form had grown way too dependent on other peoples OS’s and platforms being it Apple iOS, Google Android or whatever.

Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, because when you’re huge, you hold both sway and leverage within the ecosystem. But to Facebook it has been for the sheer reason that even though Facebook is huge, the OS owners are bigger and more powerful.

And – add to that – pretty pissed with how Facebook operates.

Example? Apples decision to limit apps ability to track users for advertising on iOS.

I could image Facebook has been the single biggest driver for the decision by Apple to roll that out. And on the other side, I could also imagine that that very move has been the biggest motivation for Mark Zuckerberg to go big on the metaverse and do the whole rebranding exercise to Meta right now.

He simply needs to build and own his own OS and be independent of the other OS owners.

So I think this is the light Meta and the bet on the metaverse should be seen; it’s Mark Zuckerberg big bet on creating a brand new form of operating system that he hopes will disrupt and replace and others, so he will be able to have to last laugh.

His biggest asset? The huge user base. If he can convert the users of the many Facebook apps into the univer…sorry, metaverse…he will have won.

Of course the biggest challenge that he will face in doing so, is the lousy history he has with many of the same users, who he through his failed stewardship of Facebook has failed time and time again.

Will they place their faith on more of the same, more immersed, potentially more powerful?

I seriously doubt it. But it’s pretty much the only big bet he can make.

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Getting inspired by others

How many times have you met a startup, which has claimed to be ‘Uber for X’, ‘AirBnb for Y’ or another version of something already in existence and hugely popular? Many times. And every time it has been cringeworthy.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all bad taking your cues from others, who have threaded the path before you and been successful at it. Far from it.

The difference is in how you do it.

You should NEVER do it in public. That’s the first lesson.

If you want to take inspiration and map your journey against someone who have done it before, do it in a war room of sorts; a place – physical or digital – where you can lay their playbook out, study it, plot your initiatives and try to follow their plan forward.

Pick the best, optimize it to your own reality so you get a feel for it and use it in your operations. By all means. If for no other reason because you have validation from those who have gone before you that the approach is effective.

Don’t talk about what you do. Just execute. Most people with even limited insight into the market will quickly spot the resemblance, but since your not being vocal about it, it will just seem like you have been inspired by the way others have done before you.

That’s happening all the time in the world of business, and it’s a perfectly cool way of executing your way to success.

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Who are you selling to?

Let me admit it straight from the bat: I have an overwhelming fondness for business models that addresses the users wallet directly.

Not in terms of forcing them to splash the cash but in terms of delivering products, services and experiences that solve meaningful problems and challenges to people, which they are both willing an able to pay for.

Having said that I of course also realize that there are product and services, it makes little or no sense to sell to others than enterprises or even public customers.

But there is another consideration I think is important to make, when you’re thinking about how to get your product or service to market:

Is your product or service one that grows bottom-up or one that will only get a decent chance, if it’s implemented top down?

Normally, we would probably think that products coming from below would have the greatest chance of being successful. I think this is true to the extend that the user experience is superior, and the product is solving a problem that is well recognized by all by at the very least being more efficient at it.

But what if the product or service requires a ‘leap of faith’ in order to be given a chance and get an opportunity to prove its real worth in delivering value to users?

Here, perhaps, it would often be better to go the entreprise route; find the internal champion of whatever problem or challenge your innovation is looking to address, making him/her see the light and how they could benefit from your product or service, and then let them buy it and roll out across the org.

The more new – and not in a consumer-friendly ‘shiny thing’ – kind of way a product is, the more I think you should bet on this enterprise approach. People can be unforgiving after one or two tries, and the corporate culture of moving slow but getting there in time might end up serving you well.

I guess, my overall point is this:

Look at your product or service and get crystal clear on the level of buy-in, it needs in order to be successful in a B2B context. The more buy-in it needs, the more patience you will need, and the more you should probably go the classic enterprise sales route.

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