Challenge the status quo

What is the one thing driving startup opportunity in the post-pandemic era?

The willingness of everybody to challenge the status quo and be open to new ideas, new ways of doing things and – with that – new products and services from new and inspiring companies with strong value propositions.

Now, what is the status quo?

Actually it is two things. And most of us are eager to leave both behind.

There is the status quo of the pandemic lockdown. Of course we want to be rid of that and get our freedom back.

But there is also the status quo of what was before the pandemic, and where we have had more than a full year contemplating what if anything that was before we would like to change. And how changing things are actually – even if forced by a pandemic – (by and large) less painful than what we imagined it to be.

Look at it this way:

The barriers of “that isn’t possible” or “I don’t need that” have been lowered by the past 12+ months of Covid-19.

If that isn’t a signal of opportunity to reimagine and reinvent things, I don’t know what is.

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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.

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Theory vs reality

Theory is NOT always reality.

Case in point:

A politician might think that incentivizing public employees through rating and a cash bonus is a great idea and will lead to better outcomes for all; not least those who are at the receiving end of the service and says thanks by providing a top rating.

But a public employee knows from experience that such a system will create a stampede towards the citizens who are nice, no hassle and provide the better ratings leading to the higher rewards, while those in need who may be cross, downright angry, unable to rate or just provides a poor rating will risk being left behind. Because in a rewards driven system no one (or at least very, very few) wants to pay the price of caring without getting the reward.

Right there is the difference between theory – or ideology of any sort – and reality.

For that very same reason it is super important not to be stuck in an ivory tower thinking you can outsmart reality.

You can’t. Your great ideas will most likely fail. It goes for ideology and politics, and it goes for business and startups as well.

But you can navigate reality. But it takes respect for reality. And that is achieved by immersing yourself in it and get your hands dirty, before you try to figure everything out.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

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)

Media should take some cues from MedTech

The other day I was asked by Lars K. Jensen to contribute 3 tips on digital development as it relates to media to his weekly newsletter, ‘Digital Ugerevy’.

Naturally, I obliged and delivered as I try to do every time a good friend of mine asks for a piece of advice or some input. And I consider Lars to be a fellow crusader through many years in trying to breathe some new life into a super challenged industry. So I was happy and eager to help

But it also got me thinking about how different the media industry is from what I am doing today. And why it made a ton of sense to leave it for someone like me.

While there are many great things to say about the media industry, it is super hard to challenge and affect. Not because people in it have figured things out, but because they think they have figured it out – and are thus very resistant to real change.

Why? Because the media industry is an industry that puts too much weight on the ego and – more importantly – ego-driven decisions.

I guess it comes with the inherent opportunities for public exposure it offers those of its tribe that puts themselves forward and out there. It’s human, I know, but still…

In the media industry there is no real price for trying to solve a problem as seen from the end user or reader. You will likely die trying instead. Because media people just know better; they are always the smartest people in the room – or so they think.

Contrast that with MedTech which is where I am currently busy trying to build a new startup ground up:

Here there is every price for trying to solve a problem for someone who is experiencing pain, agony or whatever it might be that ails them.

Here there are no-one being smarter about how to solve problems, because those trying to do it are most often deeply invested into research where they actually value figuring things out and secure the validity of what they try to bring to market before they do it. Everything else is a ‘No go’.

Here there are no-one winning an argument with “…but we usually do it this way”, because it is essentially the same thing as saying that the underlying problem will persist, and what we’re trying to do is inherently futile – which again would lead research for better solutions absolutely nowhere.

Here there is preciously little gloating. There are few if any waiting and hoping for others to fail as we’re all on the same mission to try and improve things.

Here it truly matters what you do. It is not a game.

Here there are visions of what might be if we succeed instead of longing for the past.

And I could go on.

Honestly: Is there any reason not to say “So long, media” and refocus your energy from something futile to something deeply meaningful?

I think not.

But I am still glad to try to help out and kick the can when great people such as Lars comes calling.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Better is better than cheaper

It is always interesting reading the newsletter of Benedict Evans, former Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Especially his essays.

One of the latest, ‘News by the ton’, about the challenges of legacy media has an enlightened graph based on Google Trends that shows that over time, internet searches has moved from looking for ‘cheaper’ towards increasingly looking for ‘better’.

It is significant in more ways than one.

On a banal level it shows precisely why traditional advertising as a model is f*****. The value of the message of ‘Get it with 20% off over here’ is just fast eroding and is close to zero. Traditional advertising has reached junk bond status.

On a more strategic level it shows that gunning for ‘better’ is more inline with the expectations and needs of your customers than gunning for ‘cheaper’.

Of course there will always be scavengers looking for a bargain, but as long as you deliver value above and beyond what you charge, you’re in a fundamentally good place.

And more importantly you’re in a more sustainable place business wise. Because you made the commitment towards being ‘better’ and always push for that – and not just prostitute yourself on the cheap.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Corona thoughts, Part 4

After the corona pandemic is behind us (and no one knows how long that is going to take, ed.), I am wondering if we will see the emergence of a new set of unmet customer demands born by the pandemic – and the withering of others, we thought we needed until this new reality hit us all?

The pandemic is a giant reality check on what is truly important on our lives, and what we can live without. Some are already suggesting that society will be changed forever, when we reemerge on the other side. Personally, I am not so sure. But if it is, it will lead to a change in priorities and, with that, spending.

For some startups it will mean staying in a death spiral. For others it will be their big opportunity. Spotting and betting on the right ones will potentially be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for investors, while others will be left to reflect on their losses.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Customer #1

The other day I sat down with one of our investments to discuss their potential future direction. It was an interesting and productive session with some key questions arising during the conversation. One of those discussions was around who the customer actually is?

If you’re developing a B2B solution, is your customer the company, you want to sell to, or the person(s) actually making the buying decision? The answer has huge implications. Because it has a big bearing on how you frame your value proposition, how you go to market and what you need to do to close deals and show value after the purpose.

My general opinion is that the more you can focus on the one customer – the actual person – the better. The more you try to put a value proposition together for companies and teams, the more watered down it risk being because you have to fit too many different needs into just a single box. When you focus on just Customer #1, you can be really razor-sharp. And that is exactly what you need.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)