Attacking a problem

There are two types of problems, you can pursue solving, when you’re trying to build a startup:

You can go after a problem that is really obvious and outspoken. Or you can go after a problem that is non-obvious but nonetheless exists.

If you go after the first, chances are that you will be far from alone in pursuing it. Especially if the problem is big, painful, and the market opportunity is big enough. While competition is by no means bad per se, it adds another level of stress to your journey than those that are already inherently present.

If you go after the latter, you may be more alone in the space of your choice. On the other hand you might also need to spend more time and energy activating the market, as your target market will be so accustomed to nothing happening that expectations that anything will ever materially change are low.

Both choices of direction of the journey comes with opportunities and pitfalls for you. You can succeed in both – and you can fail in both. It is mainly a question about what ends up becoming the decisive factors.

What you however can always do is to make sure that you understand your market, your future customers and their pains related to the problem, before you just dive head in to create your solution.

No matter your approach it will de-risk the journey immensely for you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

A bit too Fresh

Some months ago I started subscribing to the Hello Fresh meal-kit service because I was puzzled about the international juggernauts foray into a Danish market that I already found quite saturated.

Fast forward a few months, and I am still subscribing to the service. Yes, it has it’s kinks and minor mistakes here and there, and yes, sometimes deliveries are a bit late. But overall the concept works, and it has made catering for the family meals a slightly less daunting and stressful task.

So while the service as such works, I am not too enthusiastic about the way that Hello Fresh aggressively markets their service;

Buying advertorials in leading tabloids is one thing. No problem there. But doing the same on less reputable marketing blogs with dodgy names and even dodgy’er content is just stupid IMHO.

On short term metrics the approach may work. But by associating themselves with these kinds of methods, they’re exposing their brand – the core of the service – into a less positive light, where people start to get annoyed.

I mean, why in Gods name do I get these ads in my Facebook feed multiple times every single day, when I am already a loyal subscriber?

The only thing these ads make me do is read the comments, where people are complaining about the advertising and relating them to some less than stellar reviews of the service on Trustpilot.

Customers are adding the numbers up, and my bet is that the tactics are keeping more people from subscribing than adding new subscribers to the service.

The trouble for Hello Fresh is that they will most likely not see this ‘dark number’ of potentiel subscribers who decide against the service. And they should. Because that is ALSO a direct result of their marketing efforts.

Therefore, dear Hello Fresh: Please review your marketing strategy and approach and stop giving your own concept and service a bad…ehhm…taste in the mouth.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Always be pitching

When you’re trying to get a startup off the ground, one of the things you spend most time on is…

Pitching.

Of course you pitch for investment or just any sort of backing really, because you need the support and all the ressources, you can muster, for the journey ahead.

But the pitching doesn’t stop there;

You pitch to future team members trying to get them onboard with the mission, generate excitement and – hopefully – install the love of the problem, you yourself feel, and which you just know is the secret sauce that will be key to (a) getting them onboard and (b) getting them to give it their all.

You pitch to existing team members and collaborators all across the pitch as you try to keep hold of and build the coalition, you have worked so hard to create, out (because no, any chance of success is not just about you – it is always about the team), so that in turn can crank out some impressive results.

You pitch to your backers to keep them engaged, excited and confident that they made the right decision when they decided to support whatever it is that you’re trying to do.

You pitch when you sit in meetings with your team discussing what the next experiment should look like, how it should look, feel and perform, because you’re most often the direct link back to your customers and their needs, pains and gains.

And of course – and perhaps most importantly – you pitch to existing and future customers; you go about trying to understand how you can help them become better off, and you pitch different proposals for solutions to them until you find the one that resonates the most. And then build from there. And pitch again. That job NEVER ends. And shouldn’t.

But pitching is hard work, no matter the context. So not being afraid to pitch helps. And being a good communicator does, too.

So if you think you lack something in the communication department, maybe that’s where you should be looking to invest some time and perhaps a little money in your own personal and professional development.

My best bet is that it will be worth it.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

R.I.P. Quibi

A mere 6 months after launch and after burning through a good portion of the 1,75B USD it had raised from investors, the short form streaming platform Quibi is closing it’s doors.

Why? Because even if they were almost too big to fail they still managed to hit the one big pole, other entrepreneurs work their butts of to avoid ever getting into an infight with:

No market need.

Well done.

Quibi founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman even kind of admit so in their open farewell letter on Medium:

Quibi was a big idea and there was no one who wanted to make a success of it more than we did.

An open letter from Quibi. to the employees…

Exactly, you were pretty alone in thinking this would be a spectacular hit.

Ouch.

Quibi was an exercise in hybris. It was an exercise in the power of the idea alone; that if you build it, they will come.

Again from the open letter:

Although the circumstances were not right for Quibi to succeed as a standalone company, our team achieved much of what we set out to accomplish, and we are tremendously proud of the award-winning and innovative work that we have produced, both in terms of original content and the underlying technology platform. 

An open letter from Quibi. to the employees…

Customers never really came. And those that did ran away as soon as they were asked to pay for it.

It is easy to poke fun of a grand idea flawfully executed. But you could also feel enraged;

That while aspiring entrepreneurs with truly great ideas looking to solve real problems, investors throw money at something that is…well, you get it.

This is what happens when people who don’t “get it” think they can become successful entrepreneurs if they just throw enough money at it.

This is what happens when the smartest people in the room decide to show the world just how smart they really are.

As such Quibi should be a lesson to all with no respect for the grind of trying to build on an idea and achieve product-market fit while at the same time be conscious about ressources spend.

It won’t be. It will happen again. And again.

Because Quibi will be forgotten soon.

That’s how ‘big’ an idea it was.

(Photo: Screenshot)

A roadmap of experiments

Currently, one of the things I am trying to do on our new MedTech venture is to build a roadmap of experiments to run before we get to the MVP itself.

Why am I doing that, you may want to ask?

Because I think it is super important to do whatever it takes to make sure that we can deliver some sort of tangible value from day 1 with our MVP. Nonetheless so because we’re in MedTech and because we’re dealing with a serious medical issue. We simply need to get it right.

But also because I think it makes overall sense as an approach. In fact I think it might even make better sense than to work on a more regular product roadmap at this stage.

Why?

Simply because at the stage we’re currently at there are so many unknowns and associated assumptions about where we might take this that the most robust roadmap, we can have, is the one articulating what we don’t know and thus need to find out more about.

But does that make it easier to do a roadmap of experiments than a more normal product roadmap?

Definitely not.

After all there are a ton of different experiments, you can run at any given point in time, and the trick is to figure out – or at the very least have an idea – which ones are going to give you most bang for the buck at any given moment in time. And where you take it from there – depending on how the experiment goes.

It’s a super interesting exercise in doing a blueprint for your activities while trying to make sure that you get to that ultimate goal of the experiment series; feeling pretty confident – on a data based basis – what should go into the MVP and hopefully set you off on a good trajectory for startup success.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Cakes, laptops…and news

Despite every intention otherwise, I keep returning to commenting on the industry, where I got my education and served a significant part of my career:

The media industry.

I just can’t escape the fact that I get almost emotional every time someone within the industry makes an argument that only serves to prolong the suicidal pain, the industry is putting on itself by not squarely facing up to the real market realities they exist within.

Latest example? Paywalls. Or rather; the customers lack of love for them.

Whenever a new survey comes out indicating that customers don’t want articles behind paywalls, you will hear a version of this argument from the industry:

“Oh, but this and this industry also has expectations that you pay for what they are offering”.

I have seen a lot of analogies for this with laptop-resellers and bakeries being just the latest. So let’s latch onto those and just briefly examine why this analogy is both flawed and – ultimately – downright stupid:

No matter if you went into a computerstore or bakery back in the 80’s or even today, there has always been a constant: The merchandise was sitting on the shelves with a nice price tag onto them, and the ONLY way you could get to walk out of the store with something in your hands was by forking up the cash to pay the price on the tag (or haggle yourself to a slight discount, but that’s beside the point here).

How about in the media industry?

Through 20 years the media industry have said to people coming to their ‘store’, aka news websites: “Look, everything here is free. Just feast yourself to your own delight.”

That advertisers paid for the privilege of offering the product to customers for free was a point lost on the consumers. To them it was just great that they could get something without paying directly. Who doesn’t like that idea?

Fast forward to today. Media entities are now busy putting (much needed and long overdue) paywalls up.

Now, naturally when you start demanding something from your customers in the way of payment rather than just offering it for free, a chunk of your customers will object to it. After all the feeling is that you’re talking something away from them.

But trying to reason that argument by comparing it to other industries, where you ALWAYS had to pay out of pocket is just misplaced. It’s like comparing apples to cheese.

And where it IMHO gets downright stupid is that as long as media people insist on blaming the customers that they just won’t all accept the change, the more time it will take for these same media people to focus on the things they need to do from their end to get out of the misery they’re in:

Developing the product into something customers find it natural to pay for, because it has that value to them.

As hard as it is in reality, as basic straightforward solution it is.

It is the only way this industry will ever be able to move out of this quagmire they’re in. And if blatantly stating when they are misusing their time on worthless arguments can help push things in the right direction that alone is a reason to keep on bringing it up and commenting on it.

Only trouble with that is that I am not confident they will ever really understand, let alone accept, it. Which probably also means that this won’t be the last time I feel the strong urge to comment on it…

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Always create value

One of the hardest things when building new products and services is to deliver real value to your customers.

I know, it sounds stupid. But it’s true. And there are two reasons for it:

First of all, you’re not the judge of what brings value to your customers.

They are.

That’s a frightening prospect, because in essence customers may choose to vote that what you’re doing – your whole idea – isn’t valuable at all to them.

If that happens, you have no value. Period.

Second, it is super hard to deliver value to customers and NOT necessarily pursue your original idea.

Why?

Because every time you put your idea out there with users and potential customers, their feedback is going to be somewhat different to what you had hoped and/or expected. And while it’s super important – and immensely valuable in itself – to get that feedback before you build, it is still SUPER hard do divert or abstract from your idea to wherever customers may seem suggest there is real value to be found.

The challenge is no less for founders who are most often driven by an original idea and feel very passionate about following through on it.

Having them – or being able to yourself, if you’re the founder – understand that your idea matters far less than the value your customers are looking to get, may be the single biggest factor deciding whether you will be successful or not.

(Photo: Pexels.com)

Destroy the problem

During the summer I have become involved in a couple of product management communities in order to built network and get insights and inspiration for tools and methods that we can use in our new MedTech startup.

Sifting through a couple of discussions in the forums, I came across a discussion on attitudes towards building and developing products that had one key term that I really fell in love with:

“It is all about destroying the problem.”

– Quote from discussion in Product Management forum

I love the phrasing because it totally spells out not only what needs to be done but also emphasizes the general why;

When we’re building products and taking them to market we’re doing so first and foremost to help people – our users and customers – solve their problem(s).

We can look at this as simply trying to solve the problem and then think that maybe we will succeed or maybe we don’t. Or we can look at the problem as a problem that needs to get destroyed.

What happens when we look at a problem as something to destroy:

(1) We become super determined.

(2) We have a crystal clear focus.

(3) We’re willing to do whatever it takes.

(4) We won’t be soft about it.

(5) We’re gunning for total victory.

(6) We also understand that we’re acting on behalf of others; those in need of our help.

(7) We won’t quit in our pursuit unless we’re absolutely dead.

In sum, we’re not (just) doing it for the fun of it and the thrill of the ride. We’re doing it because it is essential to do. It’s do or die.

Add to all of the above that I sincerely feel that having an ‘all in’ attitude to destroying the problem will serve you super well in both getting investors, team and customers on board.

Why?

Because you’re giving it your all.

I love it.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)