Always stay alert

Just because you have made it once, doesn’t mean that you have made it forever.

Just as you replaced an incumbent by delivering a better, smarter, cheaper or whatever solution to your customers pains, somebody else could come in tomorrow and do to you what you did to them.

Just as you worked tenaciously to get to where you are today and be successful, numerous other players are plotting the same way against you as we speak.

So always stay alert. Always be ready to change and transform what you’re doing in order to stay ahead.

The second you stop doing that you risk becoming a lame duck.

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Find focus in a story

I have always found that one of the most efficient ways to establish a focus is to start with the desired outcome and then tell the story about what everything will be like, when that outcome is achieved.

My experience is that by doing that you can build a narrative of a desired future state that is so compelling that you’re willing to do your utmost to get there. Which of course means doing whatever is necessary to stay the course during the journey.

Of course, sometimes thing won’t go according to plan, and there will always be some deviations along the road. And in extreme cases you may even need to pivot. But no matter what you still have your story to stick with to help inspire you to continue despite the odds stacked against you.

You can call these stories many things. Some call it ‘purpose’ but personally I find it a bit to inefficient to stick to. I like going that bit deeper into the story and make it more tangible by putting scenarios and faces towards it. I find that by making it personal, it gives me more energy and allows me to focus better. But maybe that’s just a matter of individual taste.

No matter how you go about doing it, having a compelling story about the outcome you’re trying to achieve with everything that you do is always a good idea. It will bring you energy, when you need it, and it will also help you in figuring out, when you have arrived, and you can truly celebrate your achievement.

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(In)efficiency rocks

Maybe the headline is a bit controversial, but let me try to explain what I mean.

Oftentimes I see products that are super efficient in who they are targeted towards. You can see from the product and the words being used to tell about it that the team behind has been guided by a very clear idea of who they were building the product for.

All that is good. In some respects. But potentially limiting in others.

Of course it’s great to have alignment with who you are solving a problem for as it should increase your chances of getting Product Market-fit for your product. The flipside however is that that exact approach has a risk of you being limited in your thinking and thus in what your product could do and become, if you had a bigger perspective.

A lot of this has to do with setting the right strategy, and even though many will claim that they have had thoughtful strategy processes, it is also rather safe to say that not all people who work on developing strategies are great strategists.

If for instance the people in charge of developing your product strategy are very minded on a specific outcome, chances are that they will build the plan that suits their purpose and delivers on what they wanted in the first place. And they might very well not be the best or most profitable plan.

Thus what you should do is first of all to ensure that your strategy planning has the right source of altitude from the beginning, so you really get the broadest possible view of the horizon. And then you should go about being inefficient in building your product.

Now, that sounds pretty horrible, so what does it mean?

Essentially it just means that you should resist the urge to have a specific, narrow outcome in mind and build your product towards that. Yes, you might be able to get a very efficient process going towards that goal, but the goal itself may well turn out to be limiting.

Instead by taking a more inefficient approach you’re being open towards outcomes. Your mind becomes broader, and your thinking in terms of how your product can be applied and for whom will be bigger and ultimately have greater chance of profitability. Provided of course that the features and value proposition of the product itself is still razor sharp.

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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.

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Dealing with lost outcome

A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of helping an interesting startup in the data management and analytics space get off the ground.

Part of that was to help them pitch to early angel investors in order to get the first funding. And one of the international investors we talked to had a point that stayed with me:

“To me this just looks like data porn”.

What he meant was: A lot of numbers and statistics but very little real actionable insights that made sense to him. And which he thus doubted would ever make sense to future customers.

His point came back to haunt me when I read a statistic claiming that 80% or so of SMEs really don’t know how to capitalize on their data, while reading another place that 90% of the companies providing the data management and analytics tools at the same time think they are delivering a killer user experience that just unlocks value at the click of a button.

There is something that is disconnected here. And I have a hunch what it might be:

The ability for SMEs to identify the outcomes they’re looking for – put them into words – coupled with an inability of the providers to think in terms of outcomes rather than inputs and analytics, when they design products.

It’s like one party is from Mars, the other is from Venus. And somehow they just can’t find each other.

In all fairness, I don’t think this is only true with data management and analytics. I think it’s a more generic point across B2B products and services; that startups and vendors are so focused on developing great products based on their own merits rather than developing great products that helps future customers get to the outcomes they are looking for in the easiest and most painless way possible.

So what could a remedy for all this be?

Communication. Built-in communication. A built-in communication and story telling strategy so to say that informs how the products are structured, the user experience defined and the value being delivered to the customer in such a way that they will not for a second doubt they have chosen the right product to help them get the outcome they have set for themselves.

A lot of things are happening in parallel in product development today, and many of them are good. But I think they lack the glue of the overarching story; the keeping track of the ‘Why?’ of it all when it comes to delivering value and outcomes including all the bigger and smaller sanity checks, you should include along the way.

Great communication could be that glue.

Great communication could tie prioritization of the roadmap with the user experience, the optimized flows and how you present the product and it’s core features to products. Great communication should be the rocket fuel of the growth story as well and dictate how the product is communicated, being sold and serviced afterwards.

Because communication is not only about PR, press releases and coming up with the creatives for the next campaign. Communication should be a key component of both product, sales and company strategy.

So people like the business angel from above and the customers, he was thinking of, instinctively ‘get it’ because the story points directly towards achieving a highly valuable and desired outcome.

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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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The power of a (new) story

Back when I took the Prof G Strategy Sprint with Section4, one of the things that stayed with me was just how powerful a great story is in shaping entire companies.

I was reminded the other day, when I had a meeting with a seasoned communications professional, where we talked about what great people with a background in communications have to offer a startup board of directors.

The answer is: More than you would think.

Because aside from offering advice and help out on the PR and communication strategy and associated activities, what they can also help do is reimagine the entire mission of the company.

Now, why would you ever want to do that, you may ask?

Simple, really.

When you start out you may have a rather narrow mission in mind. You’re pretty set on the problem, you’re looking to solve, and who you’re solving it for. If you’re good (and lucky) you will have an excellent North Star guiding the first part of your startup journey.

But what happens when you have got that first product in market, and you have started seeing some traction? Do you focus on doubling down and getting even better at delivering your value proposition to that particular client segment, or do you start looking for ways to expand your footprint into new segments?

If you decide on the latter, it will most often take reimagining the vision. If fx you’re a MedTech company looking to serve a particular niche of hospital clinics, you may wonder if you could go direct to consumer – or direct to patient as it would be in this case.

That would entail a new storytelling. A broader vision and mission that can still be tied down to the original purpose behind the company so as not to alienate anyone on the team in process.

Done right this re-crafting of mission or purpose, if you will, could unlock the journey towards new value propositions, new products, new revenues – and new highs for the startup.

And having someone close to the company – eg on the board or an advisory board – with deep experience within communication could be the ideal catalyst for that sort of transformation.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Records or music?

“Are you in the records industry or the music business?”

Maybe it seems like a banal question, because the two at face value sound like one and the same.

But they aren’t.

The latter is about the value proposition. The former is about the mode of delivery.

The key thing to consider, when you’re looking to deliver value to customers, is your key value proposition. The music so to say.

You then deliver that through whatever channel is best suited – for your customers. That means that you never ever get stuck in an insistence that you deliver it in a certain way, take it or leave it.

In other words: You don’t insist on delivering a record, if what the customer wants is the single delivered through a different channel, medium or packaging. You just do whatever the customer says and what fits into the customers habits and lifestyle. Period.

Sadly, a lot of legacy companies insist on being in the records industry rather than in the music business. They do so at their own peril. And they are – and will be – paying a price for it.

Don’t be like that.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)