Hey guys, this is for you! Yes you.
Actually it's for those (there are many of you) who strike up every conversation with:
"Who's your market", "how will you enter the market?", "how will you reach the decision makers?", "what's your go-to-market strategy?" and "what's the value proposition for your target market?"
After an initial urge to walk into the trap by actually answering those questions specifically (again), I get the blinding flash of the obvious (again):
Forget those questions, they are dangerous, very, very dangerous. Here's the reality.
"Failure is the best friend of the startup, fail fast and fail often!"
With a new product it will always be like walking in the dark, take one step at a time, be very aware and welcome resistance immediately for instant change of direction. Small and early failures increases your chances to get anywhere, thus seek failure as fast as you can.
There is absolutely no way I can plan for everything, nor is there a chance in hell that I know everything - so I have to face it and try out every step. If I think I have full daylight when navigating the dark corridor I will crash. No ifs or buts there.
Great article in Business 2.0 have some good examples.
[UPDATE: And here's a really good one in Redeye VC.]
"Neither I nor you is the market!"
Actually, this is more of the same - you really do not know much about the future at all. Well, I certainly do not.
I suspect the biggest single reason for startup failure is the leadership sitting in a closed room convincing each other that "those guys over there will use it for that", then proceeding to pour money in that direction as in development, marketing, building a specific distribution channel and pouring cement over a pricing model.
The chances that it will be "some other people using it for something completely different" is almost certain - so if I painted myself in a corner as above, I would basically be... eh... not in a good place. More here.
Do not find the market, let the market find you!
So what to do? Plan and act according to reality.
This is what we try to do at thingamy (we're an excellent example, boy do I know little):
- Create a product with real flexibility to do a lot.
Check. Thingamy can in fact do a lot different things (too much in the mind of many, utterly confusing when they think along the lines of the questions they ask). But it is built with that in mind, a bit like a spreadsheet that way.
- Create a product that is easy to change, tweak and expand.
Check. We have rebuilt the code from scratch umpteen times, halving the lines of code each time and we stick religiously to some simple basic principles where code and philosophy enhance each other. Adding a new feature is more hours than days. Effort goes into "platform" solidity and nimbleness, then let the market decide what else is needed over time.
- Make it easily available to the widest possible group of people.
Not yet. Within four weeks it should be easily available for test & play on our servers. So far only as download for people who can live with much head-scratching.
- Pull not push.
Do not target people, make it available to all and let people decide themselves if they're interested, then make it as easy as possible for those to find out how they can make real use of it. Examples, metaphors, stories, more examples, demos, discussions, community, low risk entry, extremely low risk no-brainer do-not-have-to-ask-boss implementation - working on it.
- Make it as easy as possible to understand and use.
Working on it, working on it. This is the basis for any useful feedback after all. But it is also a bit of chicken and egg as we really do not know what "makes the stuff easy to use"! So we have to try, let people try, try to understand how that worked, change and try again. Never ending story. Try, try, try.
- Have the mechanism ready for fast feedback.
Reminder to self: Get this better, much better, now. Current method is much too dependent on one-to-one discussions!
- Never ever pour cement over anything - product, price, terms, distribution.
Check. We do suggest a simple pricing and license model and so far have not heard any "ouch" or "yechh" so it might gel. And we have leeway for all kinds of "distribution" models where third parties adds much of the value for the end user - consultants, infrastructure suppliers, SaaS, anybody with a good idea willing to try.
Actually, the biggest difficulty is to find the balance between "blowing with the wind" and being "utterly stubborn". Have to remind myself all the time as stubborn and persistent is after all an import trait for the entrepreneur, just have to know when not to be that.
Hat tip to all the people who asked those questions in the first place, you know who you are ;)