The new reality

Currently it’s not for the fainhearted to follow the developments on the worlds stock exchanges. 15 years of bull market has been replaced by an ugly bear which seems to send anything with an incling of tech down, down, DOWN in the market. Well, it pretty much sends everything down to an extend where it can resemble a stock massacre. 

The development in stock quotes is not interesting in itself – things go up, and they come down again. What’s interesting is the shift to a new reality that the movements are an indicator for; the end of ‘free’ money, rising inflation, rising costs of production and a shortage of both key components and talent. It is truly challenging times. 

In the face of such adversity, you can be forgiven for giving up and just wanting to bury your head in the sand until this whole things blow over. Because how do you cope, let alone adapt to this new reality? Most of us have never tried anything like it, so we’re in uncharted waters trying to learn how to swim before we drown.

But it’s exactly when you have to develop a key ability in an instant that you’re perhaps the most capable of doing so. There is just no workaround. So when the immediate shock gives way, it’s time to assess where you are, and what all this means for you and your startup and start adapting to the new normal. And I think there are a couple of things, you need to address and get used to.

First of all, you need to control your burn and your business fundamentals. The good times where it was growth at all costs, and nobody cared about the cost are over, as far as I see it. Going forward there will be much more scrutiny on your commercial model, and whether its viable or not. If it is and you can prove it to investors, you will still be able to attract funding to grow and seize opportunities (more on that in a bit) that may present itself. Furthermore you avoid getting into a situation where you need to raise new funding with your back against the wall. That’s a bad situation to be in in general – now it’s just plain terrible for you. So don’t go there. 

Second, be aware that a lot of the ‘smart’ growth tactics you have deployed in the past and probably semi-automated probably won’t have anything near the same effect anymore. Your customers don’t have the same spending power or urge to spend, as they had before, and you will most likely see cutbacks towards skipping things that are considered non-essential. And let’s be honest; a lot of what’s available out there are non-essentials that few customers would truly miss, if they had to cut it. 

With that there is also an opportunity. An opportunity to put your automated growth machine on the back burner and instead spend some time and energy on talking to customers face-to-face, listen and really understand where they are at, what they truly need and how your product applies to those things. You wan’t to ensure that you truly understand how your product is truly – and please don’t blow smoke in your own eyes here – essential for them, so you’re still considered valuable and thus they will continue using and paying for your product. 

Willingness to pay is going to be the only metric that matters here. Forget about most other metrics right now. If you can’t get your customers to pony up the cash for what you provide and have them continue doing so, you have a serious challenge. It’s that simple. 

The benefit of this simplicity is that once you get this right, you will know that you have the strongest possible foundation that will pretty much insulate you and your startup from market turmoil. You will know for a fact that what you do and deliver is essential to your customers, and that any future downturn will hurt a lot of others before it hurts you. 

Knowing that is priceless. It allows you to get a bit out of the crisis “all hands on deck”-mode and start thinking about the future and pursue interesting opportunities. What do I mean by that? Could be that one of your competitors don’t have the same stamina that you do and suddenly provides an opportunity to consolidate. Consider it. If it makes sense, and you can get the financing right, consider doing it. Exploit the crisis of others for your own benefit. 

Do whatever it takes. And understand down to your very core that this is a new reality we’re looking and have to operate in.  

(Photo by Tobias Bjerknes on Unsplash)

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)

Doing your homework

What does it mean for a business, a startup or you to ‘do your homework’?

Does it mean being out there, staying curious about the problem you’re looking to solve trying to figure out what potential avenues towards solving it might be.

Does it mean diving into existing research to be able to say and tell others that you know what is already out there, and that is what you’re building from?

I am not really sure, although I do think the latter resembles more of an exam, where – let’s face it – the only objective is to pass in more or less flying colors and then move on.

The problem with homework is much the same as with communication: The effectiveness and value of it often rests not with the creator but the receiver.

Thus, is the receiver has a misconception of what doing your homework really is, you run the risk of putting in the wrong sort of work for the job while still being able to claim that you have essentially done nothing wrong.

See the problem? Or paradox, even.

The sense of having done your homework needs to rest deeply within you. You need to have a feel for what you need to know, what you need to challenge and the questions you need to ask to get the answers you need.

When you have that, you can think of yourself as having done the homework. But not before.

Homework is an extension of determination. If you’re determined to get something done, succeed with a pitch or with a business or anything else you put your mind towards, you will make damn sure you do your homework. And it will be yours to define and own. Also the results.

Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Jumpstart your insights

When we try to figure out what the jobs, pains and gains of our future customers are, it is tempting to do all the research from scratch.

But maybe you don’t have to. Maybe there are forums where you can get a pretty good feeling, before you spend a lot of time doing surveys, interviews and observe the behaviour of your customers.

One place to look is in competing products. Especially the ones that seem to do rather well.

Get your hands on them, try them out and reverse engineer the problem statements that lies behind the form and feature(s) of the product.

What is the core feature of the product? Does it cater to a specific target audience? Which? And why? And what is the core assumption behind how it’s done?

If you spend a bit of time reverse engineering the competition for jobs, pains and gains, you will probably get a pretty good idea about what the real jobs are that determines whether a customer buys and uses said product or not.

And then it becomes a question of your future product doing it better, cheaper or whatever. But preferably better since that will serve you well, when you start to focus on retention.

After all you shouldn’t make it as easy for another competitor to snatch away your customers from you, as it (perhaps) was for you, should you?

Another place where you can look for insights into the jobs, pains and gains of your future customers is social media. I know for a fact it can be a pure gold mine for insights into what needs, your product could serve.

The great thing about social media – and especially more niche oriented groups – is that people are unfiltered. They will be looking for advice and guidance, and the more they look for it, the bigger a felt need it is for them.

That is not to say that you should do everything, a community tells you to do. Of course you shouldn’t, and often the conversation ventures in a lot of different directions.

But if you take the time to look for signals – tone of voice, mentions of a specific problem again and again etc. – there is actually a ton of things, you can take away with you.

That should set you off to a good start before you start doing a lot of classic user and market research too.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Learn from Poor Charlie

Every once in a while I look to recommend a great book, if you’re looking to expand your horizon a bit.

This is such a time. But the book isn’t new. Far from it. I have had it for more than 10 years, but I have only gotten around to reading it now.

The book in question is “Poor Charlie’s Almanack”, a whopping coffee table book about legendary investor Warren Buffets sidekick and second-in-command, Charlie Munger, at Berkshire Hathaway.

In the book he spills the beans on his wisdom. And let me say it straight away: Much of it is common sense. But still you have got to give the man credit that when you live and act by a core belief system of common sense, you can do rather well for yourself.

Furthermore there is an incredible wit about Charlie, who turned 97 as we moved into 2021. While Warren Buffett has always been the one in the spotlight, Charlies wry comments and crystal clear ways of calling them like he sees them is amazing.

For that reason I highly recommend you look up Berkshire Hathaway AGM’s on YouTube and feast yourself in the two investors asking questions from their audience of shareholders. It’s priceless.

But Charlie Munger is also the story about something else that I personally hold very dear; the (wo)man behind the (wo)man.

While aspirational leaders and entrepreneurs have always fascinated me, I have tended to be more fascinated by their enablers; those who actually get the wheels into motion, do the nitty gritty stuff, aka work the engine room so the captain can be on the bridge setting the course.

I have a great personal liking for those. Most probably because it fits my own comfort zone best; being the one a step being doing the heavy lifting, making things gel and gently apply my contribution to things.

One thing is for sure: Charlie Munger has been exceptionally great at doing precisely that. And few people are more deserving of a coffee table-sized book than him.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Roadmap of experiments

When trying to understand a problem, it’s potential solutions and what you should build in the end, it is so easy to loose the big picture of what you’re doing and how that translates down to experiment by experiment that moves your product closer to something desirable.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the things I have found extremely useful is to build out an Experiment Roadmap; a sequence of experiments I think I am going to run in a particular order to get to the insights I need, before I feel confident in what our MVP should include.

The roadmap is important to have in order not to loose track. But it is not necessarily the actual roadmap. Because as we go about experimenting and being open to digesting our learnings and move on from them in the best possible manner, our roadmap changes.

So in fact we end up with the theoretical roadmap and the real one.

Why not just have the real one then and forget about trying to outline it in the first place?

Because outlining your thought process and your path towards anticipated learning and validation is an excellent catalyst for my own thought process. It ensures that I think about how NOT to fall into the abyss of just building what I feel, we should be building, without any prior experimentation.

In order words: Laying it out in front ensures that we follow the path of generating insights and validated learnings, before we build. And the actual roadmap of experiments is how the journey to get to the MVP actually forms.

By doing it this way we also get a chance of comparing notes and learn from our approach as we go along. What was the difference between ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ and why do we think that was the case.

Those answers may be able to serve us very well and make us sharper, better and more efficient going forward. At least that is what I am betting on.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

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)

Insight is value

People inside and outside the media industry are starting to take notice of the value of quality content; content that people are actually willing to pay for.

Hooray! Better late than never, I guess. And yes, this goes out to you late bloomers in the media industry, who are finally getting around to the idea of getting your income – your livelihood – from other sources than an advertising market going towards a CPM of 0.

Yes, zero!

Anyways, it’s great that the focus is now on how to create content people are willing to pay for. But at the same time, I think it’s valid to mark a point of concern:

I see a lot – especially media people – looking towards popularity numbers to decide, which content is worth paying for, ie looking at page views and different engagement metrics to determine what they need more of in terms of increasing their ability to drive payment direct from users.

I think this concept is flawed. And let me back it up with a couple of examples:

I pay a monthly subscription to Stratechery by Ben Thompson and have done so for years. I pay a monthly subscription to Exponential View by Azeem Azhar. And the only magazine in print, I subscribe to is the Danish magazine on current political affairs, Raeson.

What do all these have in common for me as a paying user:

(1) I can never guess what they are going to put out based on prior history, and it’s perfectly fine, because…

(2) I subscribe for the insights and outcome. Nothing else. And I am willing to pay for that – and continue to do so.

The last point is important. I strongly – STRONGLY – believe that the key to a great content business – streaming services apart which is a totally different ballgame – is knowledge and insight. That you actually know and have a deep, DEEP expertise in whatever it is, you’re writing or even podcasting about.

And this is where the problem risks returning for the regular newsroom. Because in the effort of doing more with less, be fast and always be breaking, newsrooms have lost a lot of that knowledge and insight that was worth something.

At the same time the internet has enabled the sources to have their own voices and charge for that. They have effectively cut out the middle man.

Which is why – despite promising numbers for digital subscriptions – legacy media will find it just as hard to build a sustainable digital subscription business with what they have got than it was with advertising.

Of course I hope, I will be proven wrong.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)