What excites you?

What intrigues you the most? Going after the same things everybody else is going after? Or going counter and look in places that most other people have abandoned?

I am all for the latter. While I recognize that there are indeed major trends out there and obvious opportunities, I personally find those that run counter more intellectually appealing. When I meet those I always ask myself: Is what they are trying to do just dumb? Or is it really super brilliant? It’s usually one or the other.

For me too much groupthink doesn’t do it for me. The argument for doing something because everybody else is doing is has always been weak and void to me. While there may be something there, the sheer fight over something with a lot of other piranhas eventually leading to a slide down to the lowest common denominator simply just isn’t that appealing. Add to that that the math seldom checks out for me; in a saturated market easy to penetrate, not everybody who claim whey will win will have the ability to win. Simply too many piranhas in the sea. Most will end up with a fairly decent haircut.

Going counter is another matter. Going where everybody else – or most – have already given up, while the problem at hand persists, intrigues me. I does something good to me to know that succeeding where others have decided not to even play takes something extraordinary, and that success rests on the ability to figure out what exactly that extraordinary component is.

Yes, I know the risk is bigger. It’s really do or die. The difference between making a bet on red on the roulette versus placing all your chips on 0. However, I love this approach for three reasons:

First, it’s deeply satisfying to get really challenged in figuring out something that’s super hard and not for everybody to dig into. It provides a sense of real accomplishment, when – if – you succeed in doing it.

Second, you can add the satisfaction of hopefully having been able to solve a real problem to people that others have given up on trying to solve. You get the sense that you’re affecting real change, creating impact and that people are substantially better off, because you decided to put in the work and effort that was beyond reasonable for many others.

And finally, the returns on your success are likely outsized – at least if the problem you have chosen to tackle is valuable enough to enough people. Because you were the one going counter, most of the pie will be yours. At least in the beginning.

Again, I fully realize a great opportunity when I see it, and I am not hellbent on making things as complex as they can be. Sometimes easy truly is the better way forward. But in terms of really what makes me tick, it’s the tougher challenge – the one where you really feel alive and in the zone.

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The right experiments

When you’re experimenting with new technologies and new ways of doing things, make sure that you get the order of sequence right.

Don’t fall into the trap of experimenting based on what is easiest from a technology point-of-view. While it may seem like a great idea and a good way to get started and move ahead with speed, the big risk is that you’ll be working with solutions looking for a problem rather than the other way around.

Instead look at the problem, you need to fix. And then start to consider what needs to be true from a technology point-of-view before you can start fixing the problem and bringing an actual solution to market for customers to give feedback on. That will dramatically increase your chances of getting out there with a real solution.

Will it take longer time? Yes. Will it me more cumbersome? Probably. But it’s the best way to go in order for you to ensure that you get real value and not just fun out of your experiments.

(Photo by Nicolas Thomas on Unsplash)

Easy to buy

When you’re building something to solve peoples problems, it can be tempting to build feature after feature and try to sell them all to the customers at the same time.

What often happens is that it can be hard to get the customer engaged in a dialogue or a trial – simply because you’re overwhelming them with information about features, solutions etc that they have a hard time figuring out whether your product is actually a potential solution to the key problem you have.

As an alternative, you could start smaller. Start by telling about one thing that matters to a customer segment, who you know is experiencing the problem. Use that as a way of engaging in a dialogue or a trial, from which you can build from, upsell and secure an ongoing relationship to a future happy customers.

Start small. Be easy to buy. And then take it from there.

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Don’t ask. Fix!

When things don’t go according to plan, many of us immediately start to ask ourselves the obvious question: “Why?”

But maybe that’s not the best approach. Because when you ask why something happened, in the absence of absolute honesty – which is often the case – excuses, good and bad will take over. Because we all know there is always a perfectly reasonable excuse for why something didn’t pan out.

When we make excuses we’re not only in essence being dishonest to ourselves and others. We are also failing to learn anything, so that we can get it right the next time around.

What to do?

Maybe we should focus on using the same approach any workshop will use, when you send your car for service. They will perform a diagnosis on your car in order to figure out what needs to get done. What they absolutely won’t do – unless your case is very special – is start speculating as to why something happened to your car.

They focus on fixing the problem.

You should do the same, when things don’t work out. Instead of pondering “why?” and coming up with excuses, focus on what needs fixing, and what you can learn from the experience. And once you have done that and have a moment for yourself, by all means start pondering the big questions in life.

But not a second before.

(Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash)

Solve my problem, please

Normally, we’re used to seeing startups looking to solve the problems of their customers.

But lately, I have realized that there is actually quite a lot of startups, who are essentially asking their customers to solve their own problems.

I typically see it in outreach emails asking me to go to a service or a product and do something specific; update something, try out a new feature or something of that nature. And it’s all perfectly fine.

But it also sends a signal that something is off; something is less than ideal. We have encountered a problem or a challenge on our end, and you, our dear customer, should ideally help us fix it.

Essentially, what you’re often communicating in this way is a shortcoming. Something you didn’t get right in the first place, and now you’re looking to compensate or perhaps even fix the issue.

You could of course argue that there is no other way than outreach to tell about new offers, features etc., and to a large extend, you would be right about that.

However, I could also make the argument that if you had a truly sticky product that your customers were so habitually using they knew it inside and out, they would find out these things themselves, and there would be little need to do outreach to already existing customers.

In summary: When your need to do outreach to your customers is on the increase, ask yourself where in your product or service, your core offering may be broken or less than ideal.

That is the problem, you should solve. Yourself.

(Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash)

Finding the edge

The other day I heard a fascinating episode of the podcast “Pivot” with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, where they talked with a guest about the potential in space exploration and colonizing the Moon and different planets.

In the podcast the point was made that when it comes to the Moon, every big nation wants to set up camp in pretty much the same place: Near the South Pole on the edge between the dark side of the Moon and the side that actually gets sunlight.

And why is that?

Obviously, the people who are going to be staying there, want to be in the light in order to function. But the most ressources, including the possibility for finding water, is on the dark side.

Hence you want to find the right balance of sun and darkness by being on the edge.

What kind of implication does that potentially have for startups?

One could be that in order to really be able to change things and make a profound impact, you need to be operating on the demarkation line between sun and darkness;

On the sunny side you will be able to communicate your vision and engage your customers by using arguments and value propositions that they will understand and engage with.

On the dark side you will be uncovering the differentiating way of solving your customers problems that will ultimately set you apart from the competition.

Now, what happens if you don’t find that line, that edge?

If you’re too much on the sunny side you may be able to get attention. But your offering will probably not over the long run be differentiated enough to sustain an advantage over the competition. Put in another way: You run the risk of flaming out in the sunlight.

If you’re however too much on the dark side, you run the classic risk of working on something that nobody will ever really figure out could be a solution to your problem. You will so to say be alone in the dark. Until you die (which startups doing something nobody can see the benefit of eventually do).

So think about your Moon-shot so to say and set about finding the position near the edge between light and darkness. It might take some serious experimentation to get it right, but isn’t that what any kind of exploration is really all about?

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Make a choice

You and your company can’t be all things to all people. You need to choose.

That’s always the first thought that strikes, when I hear of someone looking to build a multi-purpose product for a potentially big market;

Jack of all trades, master of none.

My rationale is that when you’re going for several and quite different use cases all at once, it becomes increasingly hard to communicate to your customers, why you’re exceptionally good at serving exactly their needs and get them to spend the cash on your product or service.

Chances are there will always by a small number of focused pure players who do a better job at solving the customers problem than you do with your ’80 % fixed’ approach (which is in essence what you communicate when you say “We can do all of this” instead of “We just do this”).

The argument can be a bit counter intuitive, I know. Because many will think that with more use cases come more opportunity to make an impact and be successful – not less. Alas, the devil is in the detail as hinted at above.

The contrast to the ‘one size fits all’ approach is to look at where the biggest addressable, focused market is – and then go after that big time. Yes, you will be doing one thing (you get my point, I am sure), but you will be focused, and the opportunity will be there to serve customers who are not seeing “A bit of this, a bit of that” as the solution to their specific problem(s).

Agree?

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Be problem-driven

There are quite a few really good arguments for why you should focus on the problem rather than the solution, when you’re trying to build a successful company. But there is one that I think takes the prize as the most powerful one:

By focusing on the problem, you broaden the opportunity for yourself, your company and your future success.

Why?

Because you start being less solution-focused. Not agnostic as such because there will always be something that you do that you need to put into the product to give it the real edge it needs. But less solution-focused.

You may start out developing and shipping one product, get a good reception and perhaps even some decent traction. And once you can see that the core fundamentalt of what you’re doing seems to resonate in the market, you can lift your gaze and start thinking about what’s next.

And this is where focusing on the problem rather than the solution enters the picture:

By focusing on the problem, you will see more opportunities just by looking. And others may present themselves that you would otherwise not have noticed. And this gives you opportunity.

Instead of being strong in a niche, you can become stronger in a space – and maybe even grow to become dominant of an entire industry.

Because you chose a laser like focus on the problem.

Looking in retrospect, most companies don’t become wildly successful by just doing one thing or having one product. They become wildly successful, because they understand the market they are in, the jobs, pains and gains of their customers and constituents – and the problem space they’re working on.

You should apply that approach to yourself and your company too.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)