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?

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Understand the root cause

Sometimes you can be so blinded by a specific solution to a problem that you completely forget what the root cause of the problem was.

When people are facing challenges of some sort, they seldom jump straight to very specific solutions to the problem.

Instead they dwell at the problem for a while – short or longer depending on problem, person and context – and then they start looking for A solution.

Now, the ‘A’ here is important. Because it implies that most times there are more than one potential solution to any given problem, someone might have. And every possible solution is an opportunity for you to be relevant.

It may very well be that you don’t have the most fancy solution. That your technology is not the most unique. That your solution is not the cheapest.

But does it ultimately matter if you’re the one of the options who have understood the root problem best? Are best at showing empathy? Best at using that empathy to lead people in the direction of your particular solution, when the search for a solution kicks off?

Maybe? Maybe not?

The point here is not to be too fixated and even fall in love with a particular solution. Chances are that before you’re able to get that fabled solution out in the market something will happen that makes it less relevant, non-happening or it just gets overtaken by someone else.

Someone who just understood the root problem better.

The above is not to say that you shouldn’t be focused and bold on bringing new solutions to market that can change how big problems get solved for real people. Of course you should.

But it is to say that you should never forget to make sure you understand the root cause of the problem, and by doing that keep your options for viable solutions open and pursue them as you see fit.

Doing that will greatly increase your odds of succeeding and – most importantly – drastically reduce the risk of running into a dead end.

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Arghh, it’s good enough

“They will love it, when they see it. And they will realize that this is just what they have been waiting for.”

Trying to build something for a market that’s nascent is super hard on so many levels. Yet, it is also one of those areas where time and time again, I meet founders who seem determined that their novel idea is going to take the world with storm, once they unleash it.

It is almost as if the future customers have just been waiting for this new breakthrough. Without knowing it of course.

Reality is it seldom happens that way.

Breaking into a new market let alone creating a new market and a demand in it is super, super hard. And founders who think it’s just a matter of making the technology work are doing themselves and their chances for success a big disservice.

Because what you’re up against is the most dreaded practical barrier of them all:

Good enough.

While they may not be using the optimal solution today, maybe what they have just works for their needs.

Maybe they have become so accustomed to nothing happening in this particular space, that they have stopped looking or even hoping for something better.

Maybe their habits are just so engrained in them that the very thought of doing something in a novel way is somewhat frightening.

The point is that there could be a lot of reasons but that the end result is the same – for the time being:

What I have is good enough.

Overcoming that dreaded barrier is not only a question about making technology work. It is also – and perhaps to some extend more – about packaging it right, getting the message right and getting it out there in front of future customers using the right channels at the right time.

And so much more.

The real important lesson here is that although the opportunity can seem huge, and there seems to be a big void in the market for something new, getting something new going in that void is going to take skill, experience, muscle (aka money) – and some degree of luck.

Don’t ever underestimate that job.

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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.

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Feel the problem

When you’re trying to solve a problem for someone, it helps a lot if you can empathize – even feel – the problem yourself.

Because it’s when you have a real sense of the problem, you release all those creative juices that allows you to not only look at the problem from different angles but also come up with ideas for how to try out different solutions in easy, creative and quick ways.

On the other hand, when you don’t feel the problem, it can be hard to not over-strategize and overcomplicate how you go about trying to solve it.

It just doesn’t feel natural to you, and when you’re stuck creatively, your only fallback option is the complex process, you bank on to see you well through to the other side.

When you do feel the problem, what you need to do next becomes more natural to you. You have an easier time setting the necessary wheels in motion, getting people onboard to help you and in general just get s*** done.

So make sure you can feel the problem before anything else. It will make the road ahead so much easier.

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Solving pay-day-loans?

Pay day loans are one of the greatest scurges of modern day finance; overcharging poor people for access to quick and often necessary capital to get by from day-to-day.

But is earnings-on-demand – live access to your pay irrespective of the monthly pay day at the end of the month – really the answer?

While I fully appreciate that it may be a more ethical solution with far less interest rates (bordering free?), I still don’t think it solves the problem:

Too many people are either (1) living way beyond their means or (2) in a position where they due to little fault of their own have more expenses than income.

In that situation giving people early access to their money is only going to make the issue worse longer term.

Why?

If you need 10% of your salary now rather than later, you will get 10% less at the end of the month. Then for the next month you will be 10% short + the 10% less you had going in because of the early advance. And so on and so on.

I understand this is a very strict interpretation of the idea behind earnings-on-demand, and that variations may apply. But I still think the underlying argument holds true:

That providing short term relief to people with a long term, systemic problem is no long term solution at all.

In that context what also bothers me a bit is the investor interest in this space. Because investors only flock if they think there is money to be made. And at who’s expense is this going to be?

Basically people who have little ability to pay to begin with. Does that really sound and feel right?

I am not so sure.

I think there are other things we need to get into play in order to solve the systemic issue.

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Igniting change

When you try to affect change and solve a problem in a new way, you need them to be ready to give up how they have done things in the past. Or get them interested in forming a new habit.

For some things it’s easier than with others. If you’re just presenting a more efficient solution – aka a faster way of getting from A to B – it’s (all other things being equal) easier to facilitate this change than if you’re trying to create improvement for people, who have been used to ‘nothing’ being the norm before.

Turning those around is tantamount to start setting expectations in a space where none may currently exist. It is like going from 0 to something and foster some kind of accelleration from a point of standing completely still.

You may very well only get one – or best case a few – shots at making it happen; getting from stand still to some sort of motion in the right direction. But if you get there, you (by and far) have it made.

But getting past this initial barrier – get the engine started and movement commenced – is your biggest headache. How to make it happen? How to make sure it happens, if it doesn’t happen in an instance? And – to some extend – how to keep the engine on and the wheels in motion.

In these cases disruption of the status quo doesn’t happen somewhere down the line. It either happens straight from the bat or maybe not at all.

It’s actually quite scary. But at the same time hugely motivating.

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Get the outside view

If you’re stuck in whatever you’re doing or trying to accomplish, look outside your team and get an outside view on what you’re doing and where you should be taking things.

True, the person you approach may not be a subject matter expert like yourself. But on the other hand the person is also not so deep into the matter, as you are and may thus very well be able to see things a lot more clearly.

And it is that new clarity that you need for yourself, your team and – ultimately – your business. It may be just what the doctor ordered in order to get you out of your current predicament and onto a greater and better trajectory.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)