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)

Blind purpose

Purpose is a great thing.

Until it kills you and/or your business.

I was reminded of this on LinkedIn when I read a holiday greeting from a former colleague in my feed. He works in a very troubled industry, have had a super challenging year but was none the less grateful to be working on something with great purpose.

It’s all very well. But the trend line is still pointing one way. Down.

If you are working to serve a higher purpose, your biggest obligation as an executive or any sort of employee with just a minimum of clout should be to ensure that you can keep doing what you’re doing – fulfilling your purpose.

If that takes a change in business model, fine. It that takes change(s) to the product(s), fine. If that changes working hard on developing your mental model and understanding what it is that enables you to ultimately do, what you are out to do, fine.

But, for the love of God, don’t just lean back and reflect on your purpose, while the house is on fire.

If you do, it will end up killing you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The real drivers for success

One of the general misconceptions about startups is that too much value is being placed on the idea itself or the work you have already done, and not enough value is placed on what’s needed in order to get to where you want to be with your company in the future.

It is so easy to scoff at a product vision, but the reality of the matter is that when you define a bold and daring vision for your new venture, it becomes more apparent all the things you need to get in place in order to have any chance of getting there.

Let me mention a couple;

In-depth knowledge about the market, market dynamics and the customers, you’re addressing so you know what’s needed from the product(s) in order to get in front of the right future customers and actually convert into sales.

The talent needed to make things happen, so you make sure you have all the right competencies in place, which – if they are just remotely good at what they do – will have plenty of other options on the table than to join your merry crew.

The money needed to make the vision come through and fuel both the roadmap and the growth you have envisaged in order to get to the position, you want to get in.

And these are just to name a few.

The easy thing to do here is to just not care about these things, save them for later – and run into big, big trouble later on.

That happens;

When you build something nobody wants or there is just not a big enough market for. It remains the primary reason startups fail.

You cannot attract the talent you need because they have all chosen to join the other companies where they have a better feeling of what they are aspiring to do and they’re moving more diligently in the right direction.

Investors will turn their backs on you because your basically not fundable for above reasons or for something else.

See the connection here?

The best decision, you can make, is to focus less on past achievements and more on what is needed – not from you yourself necessarily but from everybody else – in order to get to where you want to be in a few years time. And then work towards ensuring that can actually happen.

That is going to make all the difference to your success.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The dangers of ‘digitalization’

The Danish Management Society‘s new focus on “Digital Reshaping” – whatever that wording means – made me think;

Whenever somebody talks about the need to ‘digitalize’ products or processes in an old industry company, you as a digital expert should be quite alert. Perhaps even worried.

Because what does the phrase really mean?

I will tell you what it seldom means;

It seldom means that the company in question is looking to question every single process and product it has in order to ask itself questions like “Is this still relevant?”, “Does the product serve a clear need in the market?” and “Have we REALLY understood what it means to make this a success in the current and future market?”. And make the necessary brutal decisions the answers demand.

It seldom means that the company is looking to change it’s entire operating model to embrace the uncertainty of a fast moving market and favor smaller, nimbler experiments as a way of understanding the need in the market before pushing for the big product delivery. And it never means a higher tolerance – embrace even – of risk. Or even a longer time horizon to get things right.

And it seldom means being really ambitious about the people you get on board and – crucially – the mandate you give them to actually make the needed changes happen and – hopefully – put the company on a better trajectory.

All of the above are in my humble opinion key elements for actually making the necessary things happen that will change the trajectory of the company into something better aligned with the needs of the current and future market and customers.

Of course you could be in luck. But alas, you will seldom see these things. What you will see when companies look to ‘digitalize’, though, is;

Doing more of the same but in a slightly different way. Typically by investing in expensive systems from convincing vendors and trying to operate them even though they are often overblown compared to the value they end up delivering to your company.

More of the ‘big bang’ releases that are being touted – using various fancy words – as ‘transformative’ or even downright ‘disruptive’ (which they never are, ed.) that end up failing in spectacular and (sometimes) even depressing ways.

The same old guard of people sitting there making all the decisions lacking the necessary insight into the depths of the matter and what needs to be done while confirming to each other that they have long ago figured this out. And the ruthless of identifying the scapegoat for failure and weeding out of everybody else, who think and try to act in a different way.

The end result?

More blindfolded investment. More wasted investment. More convenient scapegoats when things again don’t go according to the grand ol’ plan.

And very little real change.

So beware. And demand all the right answers to the proper questions, before you get involved.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Balance your foresight

When you build new products, you need to be a bit ahead of your time.

You need to be on the lookout for trends that may emerge and have an impact on your product.

What are the signals that suggest opportunities for you, and what are the signals that could put your product in jeopardy if left unchecked?

Both are equally important and needs some serious navigation around.

But there is also a balance to be observed.

Because on the other hand, looking to far ahead and thinking to much about it may emerge you in a fantasy world, where you fail to deliver here and now and – crucially – you get so overwhelmed by what others are doing and could potentially be doing that you just think you don’t stand a chance anyway.

If you get to that point, you’re as good as dead.

So don’t get yourself into that position.

But find the balance so you know what constitutes enough foresight but not too little focus on the present.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The negative value proposition

Is creating value as a startup with something new always inherently positive for everybody concerned?

Maybe not.

What if part of the value creation you offer is to help take away the uncomfortable pain of someone having to confront someone else with a problem, the first one really just want to be rid off? Is that a positive for everyone concerned?

Case in point:

If a healthtech startup as part of it’s value proposition offers doctors the ability to spend less time with patients, is that a net positive for all? Why it may help drive down cost for the health sector as such, wouldn’t it be a loss of value instead to a lot of the patients affected by being less able to actually meet an expert?

I am not saying here that it’s wrong, and you shouldn’t try to deliver that kind of value. I am just suggesting that what you may offer as a positive value to one set of stakeholders might be seen as the opposite to another. And you need to be aware of that and own up to the fact that that is what you (also) do.

Especially so if you’re dealing with vulnerable people.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

5 learnings from HelloFresh

Recently I made a commitment to try different products and services out in order to try and get a better understanding of what it is the best consumer-focused digital companies do that make them so successful.

My starting point was HelloFresh which just recently launched in Denmark.

Monday I got my first shipment from HelloFresh; 3 meals for the week priced at ~130 DKK per meal for 4 people. And these are my first 3 learnings from HelloFresh:

(1) It’s fresh ingredients. I know the point is banal but it needs to be made because it’s important – especially with such a brand name.

(2) HelloFresh operates with a “Zero Waste” promise, and it is easy to see why; everything is sorted for the various means in neat recyclable paper bags, and the measurements of ingredients are exactly what’s needed to cook the meal – no more, no less. When you’re done there’s nothing left – food nor packaging – and thus the promise is kept. Check.

(3) Besides being totally measured most things are clearly branded “HelloFresh” signalling that someone has gone the extra mile in execution of ensuring that things are what they are promised to be and in the quantities needed. It gives a nice touch of care and attention to detail and ensures that both brand and the brand promise is present from start to finish.

(4) With the food NOT being pre-prepped you still get to enjoy the process of cooking even if it’s super easy. It’s quite different from something you just need to heat, and I think being able to add that little extra touch and having some sort of control is super important. Convenience goes a long way but only such a long way. You’re part of the product and process, and in that way it gets under your skin and helps build preference. Pretty clever.

(5) Even though the introduction offer is 30 % of normal price, at 130DKK per meal there is more than enough tangible value in the kit in order to make it attractive. I mean, try to go to the super market and buy groceries for a 4 person meal in Denmark for 130 DKK (or even 170 DKK) with EVERYTHING (except salt, pepper and oil, but you get my point), and you will often come up short. The point: Even if the individual recipe fails or something goes wrong, the value of the offering compared to the alternatives are still there making the offer trending towards a no-brainer to at least try out.

These are just the first few thoughts. I fully realize that it sounds like a glowing endorsement, and maybe it also is. I am just positively surprised by the sheer completeness of the offering in both product, messaging, packaging and everything.

There seems to be no stones left unturned here. Which I guess is the truly inspiring part.

(Photo: Private)