Underdog

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Why Startups Fail

I don’t want to be Johnny Raincloud here, but the truth is startups fail. A lot. Of course, this isn’t news. You knew this before you said “screw it, let’s do it”. And you’ve probably read an article or five on why they fail (i.e. here, here and here). Hell, there’s even a site dedicated to it.

Inevitably, you’ll see reasons like “ahead of it’s time, no market, not enough demand, ran out of cash, product mis-timed, no investor interest, couldn’t secure funding, too early”, and on and on.

Interesting enough, you won’t see the most fundamental reason, and the one at the core of many of those listed above—not getting people to care.

In large part, the startups that fail, failed to get people—both customers and investors—to care about their product as much as they did.

It’s as simple as that. They weren’t able to break through the noise and seemingly infinite choices of how to spend our time and money.

So how do you get people to care? Don’t just delight them, make them fall in love.

Use your brand to create an emotional connection. Understand who your audience is and why your product should matter to them. Then convey your “why” using your unique voice. Lastly, wrap it all up in an incredible experience that knocks their socks (and shoes, and shirt) off.

Do this, and you’ll build an army of believers and advocates strong enough to ensure your startup doesn’t become one of the walking dead.

Aug-17-16 a las 4:19 am Uncategorized. Sin Comentarios

Newsflash: No One Cares

“Startups mostly don’t compete against each other, they compete against no one giving a shit.”
Justin Kan, Y Combinator

The Apple App Store has over 1.5 million apps. Amazon carries well over 200 million products. As consumers, we have way too many choices and way too little time. So as a startup with limited resources, how can you break through the noise and create a following?

The answer: brand.

By the time the iPod came out, there were already a bunch of cheaper mp3 players on the market. If consumers had made a rational decision and focused solely on technology and price, the iPod would’ve failed—miserably. But Apple wasn’t selling an mp3 player. They were selling sleek design and 1,000 songs in your pocket.

Then there’s Land Rover. It routinely finishes near the bottom in quality and reliability—the basic thing a vehicle is supposed to do. So how is it that with so many other options, people are willing to be put on a waiting list and pay a huge premium just to own one? Land Rover isn’t selling an SUV. They’re selling the design, the legend and the story people tell themselves (and others) about who they are.

Key Insight: Create a strong brand and combine it with world-class design. Give your customers a story to tell. Think about how you want your audience to feel when they use your product.

Aug-11-16 a las 2:49 am Uncategorized. Sin Comentarios

You’re in the Wrong Shoes

People tell us who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.”
—Don Draper

In working with startups, we see this all the time. You’re laser-focused like Cyclops on growth; acquiring new customers, raising capital and becoming the next Uber. So when it comes to communicating with your audience, you naturally focus on what you want them to do in order to make that happen (i.e. sign up, subscribe, buy now). Makes sense.

But here’s the thing: if you take that approach, you’re not going to get the response you’re looking for.

Why not? Because you haven’t first put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re serving. You haven’t stopped to look at things from their perspective; to find out what matters to them.

In short, in order to achieve your goals, you need to address your audience’s.

Only when you understand who they are, what they want and how they belong, can you begin to communicate in a way that will resonate.

In the words of Mars Blackmon, It’s gotta be the shoes“.

Aug-11-16 a las 2:37 am Uncategorized. Sin Comentarios

Are you really prepared to win?

The burst of the .com bubble and Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup changed the way new products are built and launched. Incremental advances, staying lean and flexible and improving on the competition has been accepted—mistakenly as multi-billionaire investor and PayPal founder Peter Thiel notes in Zero to One—as dogma.

So, we cringe when occasionally we’ll hear startup founders say things about their branding and communication like: “What we’ve got is good enough” or, perhaps even worse, “we’re going to try and gain traction first and then we’ll work on addressing that”. SMH. Good luck with that.

The problem with that mindset is they’re disregarding their true differentiator and the most influential way to reach their target audience, generate word-of-mouth and create a loyal following. They’re disregarding their way to win.

Disagree? Just look at any industry to see the value of branding. Is Nike wildly successful because their product is superior? Or, is it because their brand evokes a feeling of aspiration? Is Coca-Cola the most valuable brand in the world (77.8B—45% of their market cap) because of their recipe for cola? The list goes on.

Key Insight: Obviously pre-seed startups and those with very little capital should limit their investments and focus first on validating their idea. But if you’re a startup looking to gain traction and grow, brand building should be a key part of your marketing efforts.

Aug-11-16 a las 2:33 am Uncategorized. Sin Comentarios

The Wrong Kind of White Space

Startups now know world-class design is a prerequisite for success (good for us). And, the importance of design becomes even clearer when you look at valuations and performance of design-centric companies (they destroy their industry’s average). Just ask Jacqui Boland of Red Tricycle who said “design has gone from a “bonus” or something you invest in once you raise money, to ‘table stakes.’ You’re not even in the game unless you have good design.” (Good article too btw)

So, it’s no surprise when startups come to us mentioning things like “clean”, “modern”, “minimal” and “white space”. However, the secret to world-class design lies in a different kind of white space—the distance between startups and their competition.

As a startup founder reading this, you might be tempted to think “my product is completely unique and I have no competition.” But hopefully you know better. Because even though the former is likely true, the latter most certainly isn’t. At the most basic level, you’re competiting for your audience’s time and the products they’re currently using to fill that space. And whatever problem you’re solving for them, they’re either not bothering to solve it or they’re doing so in a way that’s less effective than what you’re offering.

Any way you slice it, you’ve got to position your startup as something different. Something special in the minds of your audience. And that doesn’t just come from beautiful asthetics and intuitive UI (which again are both very necessary). It doesn’t even come from technology. It comes from creating a unique voice, both visually and verbally, that resonates with the people you want to serve. Only then, when you know how to truly connect with your audience, does the design work become world-class.

Key Insight: The startups that defy the odds and win are the ones that have competitiors but no competition. In other words, they’ve positioned their brand in a way that truly separates themselves from all the other options.

Aug-11-16 a las 2:05 am Uncategorized. Sin Comentarios

What Technology Can’t Solve

While we’re huge fans of technology (hence our focus on helping tech startups), there are some things it just can’t solve.

First, it’s not a true differentiator that can help you obliterate the competition. It can be copied or improved upon (and your competitors are likely working on one or both as we speak).

Second, even if you have the most innovative product ever conceived, you can’t attract customers, investors and top talent without capturing their hearts and minds—in that order.

True differentiation, growth and success is achieved by building a compelling brand experience through strategy and world-class design. Apple, one of the most well-known and successful technology companies in the world, knows this better than most.

Key Insight: Technology alone won’t cut it. Work on developing your brand and finding ways to connect with and matter to your audience. Pair that with world-class design and you’re well on your way to success.

Aug-11-16 a las 2:02 am Uncategorized. Sin Comentarios

Rudolph’s Last Supper

If you live in a city, chances are there’s a pizza place, or ten, within a few blocks. Each offers a similar menu, competing on the margins and fighting to gain a slightly bigger piece of the pie (pun intended—we’re here all week). So how has a small pizzeria in Hoboken thrived in an oversaturated market?

The temptation for any business, including startups, is to try and cater to the widest audience possible. But instead of having a menu of all the old standbys (Margherita, Pepperoni, etc), they’ve got exotic pies like “Rudolph’s Last Supper”—a seasonal pizza topped with green bean casserole and honey spiral ham.

Of course this means they’ll likely turn off some people who aren’t interested in a more unusual slice. However, it also means they’re not just another boring, commoditized option that has to try and attract new customers with low price offers.

Next time you order pizza, think about Rudolph’s Last Supper and consider how your startup can stand out, be different and create a following. The ingredients of failure (last pun, promise) lie in being in the middle.

Key Insight: Embrace different. Choose a select group to cater to, accepting the fact that some people won’t be into what you’re offering.

Aug-11-16 a las 1:56 am Uncategorized. Sin Comentarios

It’s Safer To Be Risky

Entrepreneurs have a higher risk tolerance than most. It’s one of the many reasons we love working with them. And yet, ironically, time and again, we see startups that are “playing it safe”.

As flawed as it is, we understand the rationale. The goal of all startups is to scale as big and as fast as possible. A.k.a. the ol’ hockey stick (and we‘re not talking Gretzky).

So, the natural inclination would be to cast as wide a net as possible, sand down the edges and scale things back a bit to avoid potentially turning anyone off. Safe: yes. Effective: hell to the no.

You see, that approach is recipe for failure. It might not be a quick death, but it’ll be a death nonetheless. The reason is because while you may not turn any people off, it’s not going to turn any on either. The best you can hope to achieve is creating something that’s very good in people’s minds. The problem with that is:

The marketplace is filled with very good. Very good is boring. It’s not worth seeking out, sharing or talking about.

It’s those 3 things that are the key to the hockey stick. The way to achieve them is to convert your audience into users and your users into believers (like obsessed Apple fanboys), one person at a time.

You do this by taking risks, being bold and being authentically and unapologetically unique. Will you be the worst in some people’s eyes? 100. Might some people loathe your existence? Could be.

But here’s the thing: you’ll be spectacular in other people’s eyes. They’ll identify with you and your story will become part of their own (sh*t, they might even get a tattoo of your logo). They’ll also sing your praises, telling everyone just how great you are. And when their friends do the same, the viral cycle is complete and that hockey stick is in range.

The truth is, literally everything is a risk. The question you have to ask yourself is, would you rather risk being remarkable or invisible?

Jul-28-16 a las 11:37 pm Uncategorized. Sin Comentarios
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