The crisis plan

One of the worst things you can do is to try and make important decisions when you’re under great stress. While it can sometimes be necessary, the chances that you get it right are rather slim.

The best way to mitigate the risk of ending in that situation is to always have a contingency plan; a pretty straightforward plan that says what you are going to do if the shit hits the fan, and you need to get into full crisis mode.

Will the contingency plan always fit the crisis situation spot on? Of course not. But it will give you a much better vantage point to deal with the crisis from than – worst case – sheer panic.

A good contingency plan should focus on how you plan to deal with the really tough questions, if you need to:

How do you minimize your burn to the essentials without risking killing your company in the process? How do you deal with your team and let them in on what is happening in the best way possible? And following on from that: How do you scale your organization to the new reality in the best possible way?

These are all super hard decisions that no one are comfortable making. But by at least having given it some thought well in advance, when things are still looking good and going in the right direction, you’re able to address them with much more clear eyes and a sharp mind.

You can always hope and work towards ensuring that you will never get to use the plan. But at least you will have one. And that’s a huge difference.

(Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash)

Ask strategic questions

Not everybody is a brilliant strategist. And that’s ok. Yet every founder team need a strategy for how to develop and grow their startup, and what do you do, if the very thought of developing a strategy just gives you an uneasy feeling?

The simple answer is that you make it as easy as you can for yourself by ensuring that you have a simple platform from which you can get to work on your strategy.

There are many different platforms, you can use. With platforms, I essentially mean approaches. And there is one approach that is more powerful than most and which will easily help guide you through the process without too much pain:

Start by asking strategic questions.

What is a strategic question?

A strategic question is one that borrows from the “How Might We…”-methodology of the Google Design Sprint process (or maybe it was the other way around, doesn’t really matter) and allows you to frame your goal and aspirations for outcomes as a question.

A couple of examples:

How might we utilize our strength towards Segment A of customers to launch successfully with Segment B?

How might we grow retention in our customer base over 97% month over month?

Get it?

When you asks questions like that, you can start plotting suggested answers to them. You can word these like outcomes, i.e. “Launch 1:1 Customer Success offering for Premium Customers” and then look at which actions you will need to take in order to deliver on that.

When you have that sort of Christmas tree of objectives and actions – essentially an OKR structure – you’re well on your way to formulating a strategy: You will be crystal clear about what you will be doing, what the result is going to be and why you will be doing it.

The rest is – more or less – just a matter of getting it written up in a format that can be shared and discussed with your team and various stakeholders, before it becomes the new strategy to guide your venture towards even more more success.

But remember: It ALWAYS starts with being able to ask the right open-ended questions.

(Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash)

What’s the right price?

There are a number of fundamental questions in business, and one of the most fundamental ones to any business is the one of what to charge for your product?

Clearly there is not one 100% correct answer for that question as it always depends on a lot of different things. And yes, pricing is a science in itself and super hard to get right. But there are a few simple considerations to at least get you started.

They are: Cheap But Expensive, Optimum and Expensive For Good Reason.

The Cheap But Expensive option is the starter option. Yes, it will cost the customer less than the other ones, but in reality it is priced in a way to ensure, (1) you get your starting costs covered and (2) there is every incentive to upgrade to a more expensive solution.

Think of this as the small but overpriced ice cream cone that really just screams you were too cheap to get a bigger one.

The Optimum price point is where the offer makes financial sense compared to the value you’re getting as a customer. Yes, you pay, but you also have a pretty good understanding of why you are being asked to pay what you’re being asked. It can be a super hard point to reach and get right, but this is where you want to be also for the sake of customer retention.

Going back to the ice cream cone example from above this is where the ratio between price and the scoops of ice, you get makes sense, and where you think the value is good enough that you also with a happy heart buy for your friends and family.

The final price point – the Expensive For Good Reason – is the where customers demands more of you, and you basically say “Ok, but it’s going to cost you then”.

This is a scary point for startups because it’s usually here where pilot customers, who haven’t really paid that much (if anything), and which the startup needs to prove its case to investors, reside; putting huge demands on the team for promised service, support and updates for very little if any return.

This is the price point where it’s ok to be greedy as a startup and consider that if a customer is asking too much, you can do the same in terms of asking for more money. Yes, you risk losing the customer, but if it was essentially making a loss, you’re in 99,5 % of all cases better off without it anyway.

At the ice cream vendor this is where you as a customer just want an obscene amount of ice cream in your cone, and you’re just billed accordingly. A totally fair exchange of value.

So in summary: Getting pricing right is super, super hard, but if you have more price points than one, you will want 3 price points:

A low price point that covers as much of your cost as possible and provides a clear upgrade incentive,

A middle one that scales well (“Most Popular Option”, as it’s often called),

And one for special requirements, where you basically ensure you get very well compensated for going out of your way to satisfy a very needy customer with their special needs – without getting distracted from your strategy and roadmap to support it.

(Photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash)

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.

(Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash)

Reframing “How Might We…”

In my previous agency job I spent quite a lot of time working with the Google Design Sprint methodology, and I even got to a couple of moments of fame, when I both ended up teaching the methodology at the Danish Technological Institut as well as running a sprint for Google themselves.

There were – and are – a lot of great things in the Design Sprint methodology, which when applied in the right way can really bring ideas, conversations and work in general forward.

One of them is the “How Might We…”-question. It is a very elegant way of reframing a problem into an open-ended solution mindset, you can actually use as the foundation for working on fixing that problem.

There is one issue with the question though IMHO: It is not really good at framing the context of the question being asked.

But maybe there is a simple fix for that which makes the question even more powerful to ask? And not only for Design Sprints but for general conversations about vision, strategy and “What’s next?” for our company?

What if you started your “How Might We…”-question with a statement of fact to set the context?

Like: “Since we now have a sales model that works for other peoples products, how might we best introduce our own private label offerings?”

Or: “With maturity reached in our beachhead market, how might we go after the next vertical to grow our business?”

By doing it this way, you not only provide context to the open-ended solution oriented question. You also create a strong sense of why it’s important – almost “do or die” – for you and your team to spend precious time on looking to solve the problem.

And it will eliminate time wasting from those that will always be asking “Why?” whenever you try to introduce a new important project and leaving them with no or at least very little opt-out from stepping forward to help in coming up with the future solutions.

Essentially it underscores the “We” part of this collaborative proces. Which I think is key to the exercise and – done this way – a significant booster to get you set for a concerted, co-operative effort.

(Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash)

Vision needs strategy

Most startups are founded on a vision; a wish to help bring about change to something in the world. But many lack a coherent strategy of how to get there in the end.

How come? The difference is in the meaning of the various words.

A vision is like a desert mirage. It’s aspirational, something we can imagine but is not real – yet.

A strategy is a plan to find the waterhole in the desert, so to say. It doesn’t have to be a complex plan with a lot of moving parts, but it needs to be a plan that can – if nothing else – convince people that not only might you be on to something. You actually also have some kind of idea of how to capture it.

Many startups frown at the word ‘strategy’ and doing strategy work is a pretty long way down the list of priorities. But while it’s true that execution is key and should take precedence over ‘thought’-work, they still need to set aside time to develop the plan.

Otherwise how are they ever going to make it to the fulfillment of the vision?

By luck? By endless trial-and-error?

Of course not. So get the strategy that supports the vision in place. Make it flexible based on what you learn on the journey, but nevertheless utilize it as a map to get to the destination, you’re longing for.

(Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash)

”iHealth”: Challenge or opportunity?

Rumors have been rife for some time that Apple is working on including sensors for blood pressure, blood sugar and alcohol levels in an upcoming upgrade of the Apple Watch-series.

“iHealth” – for the lack of a better term – seems to be on the horizon. And while nothing is certain at this point – and never is for Apple – the rumors should give Health- and MedTech startups in the consumer space some pause. Because a crux time for monumental decisions may be coming up.

For those focusing on consumer hardware and software the basic question is this: Should we continue on our hardware path, or should we double down on software and let the likes of Apple take care of the hardware part?

The question is a valid one for everybody working in the personal health space, and if the rumors hold true there is no reason to believe Apple is going to stop there. The giant will be innovating full steam ahead and include more and more sensors and features in their wearable devices with battery life most likely being the main hurdle to success.

And why will they double down in this area? Two reasons.

First of all while there is great need for consumer-related Health- and MedTech devices, there is probably not much love lost for any of them, if they went away – from a pure customer experience point-of-view. Very few people get that emotionally attached to more clinical devices, but they do to Apples slick design, and the Cupertino-based company will likely in general hold a huge advantage in moving from consumer towards Health- and MedTech rather than the other way around.

The other reason for Apples focus in this area is one that I have mentioned before: They simply have to to drive shareholder value at their current valuation. A company as big as Apple needs super big new opportunities to grow, and the health sector is one of the only ones left with an opportunity that is big enough to make a difference to shareholders.

What may end up helping some Health- and MedTech companies looking at this enlarged competitive threat is the fact that not every consumer is into Apple. While the companies products and design is popular in many quarters a lot of the less well-off customer segments, who may also very well be overrepresented in the health statistics, simply can’t afford Apple products or don’t see the value to justify the price tag.

In order words there may be room for an Android like ecosystem of products and services that serves specific purposes at an affordable price. But is that juice enough for a Health- or MedTech startup looking to make it big in the consumer space?

That’s a really good question.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Deadly theater

Time and time again I hear from and meet startups who are eager to follow the corporate partnership route to gain traction in the market for their startup.

Sometimes it works out well. Most often – I would argue – it doesn’t.

I know this from my own prior experience from the corporate side. Yes, I have been one of the ‘fools’ trying to introduce startups to the corporate world as tomorrows fix on todays problems only to find that the organization had no intention of being ‘fixed’, let alone by a startup.

I can’t count the times I have engaged with promising startups with some great products and services under their belt and spent a ton of time on building the case and getting them introduced to the company – only for everything to come off the rails once the handover needed to happen.

Undoubtedly, I have a lot of the blame myself, as I should have spent more time and energy on facilitating the internal relationships necessary to enable a great collaboration – to enable my peers and colleagues to ‘see the light’ so to say. I naively thought it was rather self-explanatory.

It wasn’t.

Anyways, there are still a lot of startups out there who seems to think that pilots projects and strategic initiatives with big corporations are the best path towards fame and fortune.

If you are one of those, I highly recommend, you get yourself a copy of “Death By Innovation Theater: 10 Corporate Innovation Lessons Learned by a Startup” by Søren Nielsen, former CEO of now closed down FinTech startup Ernit.

Apart from being very well-written and with a lot of great references, the book is a tale of why all those aspiring promises in corporate partnerships never really amount to anything for startups.

In the close to 100 pages, Søren walks you through his own largely miserable experiences banking – sorry – and counting on corporate partnerships to work only to find out that he and his team was never more than an afterthought at best and entertainment at worst.

When you read it, you might believe it. Or you might think that that won’t happen to you. Don’t delude yourself. There is every chance that it will. Take it from me as a representative of the ‘innovation fools’ in the corporate domain – we’re not that different from each other.

Should you completely forgo any opportunities to do partnerships with corporates? Absolutely not.

But as Søren Nielsen also states make damn sure, you’re absolutely sure about what you’re doing and what you and your startup are getting out of it, before you dive in and spend too much time.

After all, you don’t want to die on the stage, do you?

(Photo: Pixabay.com)