Bad market feedback

One of the hardest things for many startups is dealing with bad market feedback; the sense that what you have been trying to bring to the world just isn’t being that well received at all.

It is the flipside of doing market testing and validation. While obviously the right thing to do, we always go into a test in the hope that results will be good and support our hypothesis. Yet, many times it just won’t happen.

What to do then?

Obviously the answer is not not to do any testing. That’s just stupid; it won’t make the bad feedback go away – it will just present itself way later when you have put a lot more energy and ressources into a product that ultimately might be failing.

The answer of course is to (1) learn to deal with bad market feedback and (2) think about how you deal with particular feedback based on what it is that you’re testing.

The best way to deal with bad market feedback is to remember that the market and the customers are always right. If you get bad feedback it is a sign that something in what you’re doing is off; the wrong approach, the wrong customer segment, maybe even the wrong product.

You get the feedback, internalize it, redo and come back much stronger. And you understand and accept that there are no points for insisting you’re right and the market is wrong. None.

On the second point, you can grade how you do testing and work with bad market feedback. While it of course sucks to get very bad feedback for your product as such, getting bad market feedback for an outlier idea or approach is actually really, really valuable.

Let’s assume that you have been playing with an idea of getting a sub-set of your feature set earlier to market in order to start generating revenue. It’s not entirely ‘on strategy’ when you look at your vision, but you want to start generating revenue as soon as possible.

Should you do that? Or should you stay the original course?

Test it.

If you get bad market feedback from testing that outlier approach, you will have learned that (a) clearly your idea is not going to be a runaway hit and (b) maybe the opportunity you saw to get an early product out and essentially diversify is a bad one and will only take away focus and ressources from your main effort. If that is the case, you will be happy that the bad market feedback has helped you and your team dodge a future bullet.

So, in summary, bad market feedback can be extremely good and valuable feedback, as it can help you focus on what’s really important and utilize your ressources in the best possible way. So make sure you don’t get distracted on a personal level and take it in as a defeat that leaves you stuck in f***.

It’s not.

(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Control vs success

There is nothing as potent to pave the way to success as being in control.

There is nothing so blocking to success than to insist on being in control.

To some being in control is an all positive thing; it enables you to define the path to follow forward and ensure the necessary decisions are being made and the focus is on relentless execution towards a goal. The bigger, the better.

To others being in control comes with such a daunting sense of responsibility that you would rather not have it and potentially not do anything at all for the sheer fear of what happens if or when something goes wrong.

Some loathe not being able to be in control and will walk away from a potential opportunity just for the lack of being able to be in control. Others loathe being controlled and not being in a position to challenge the course of action, i.e. exert control, and will refrain from putting themselves into that position.

And some just hate that excess talk about control can ultimately block every path to future success.

Because at the end of the day some sort of control is needed to achieve great success.

Because if there is one thing that remains certain, it is that great success does not arise from a completely lack of control.

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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.

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The ‘why’ on paper

One of the really interesting things you come across when you’re trying to build what hopefully becomes a great and enduring company from scratch is how much of your initial belief system, values and ambition actually makes it through the immense exercise of making it all happen?

While it should be pretty straight forward to agree on that a shared vision, ‘why’ and core values, I think you also need to realize that getting from talking about it to actually living it and agreeing on it in your founding documents can be a significant exercise in itself.

This may especially be true when you’re trying to build something with great and experienced people centered around a shared vision and sense of ‘why’. You may not have known each other for years in advance before you take the plunge, and your co-founders may not be lifelong best friends of yours.

What you essentially end up betting on is ability to take something thats easy for you all to agree about when talking about it in meetings into something that you can all actually commit to on paper.

Don’t mistake what could be a huge thing and a big task to secure alignment for a minor detail. Because it’s not.

There is a – and will likely always remain – a big difference between talking about doing something and the need to get it done and then the real commitment towards making it happen. And the sooner you start and have that conversation during your process, the better I think you will be off.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)