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Communicating Your Vision vs. Your Product

vision-320x240Here’s a classical mistake I’m seeing with some early startups that have a compelling vision, during the time when they come out with the first iterations of their product.

They try to blurt out their vision on the marketplace instead of communicating a user behavior they want to induce.

If you’re a startup, your vision was great for telling (and selling) the VCs about you and getting them excited, but your market needs something more tangible and concrete, that they can work with.

So, don’t introduce your vision to the market if it’s too hard to see the linkage between that vision and what the product does for users. If you are still early, the first versions of your product and your lack of initial critical mass usage will not provide enough gunpowder to visualize the realization effects of that vision.

UBER didn’t come out saying they wanted to revolutionize public personal transportation (although they may have told their investors that). Instead, they came out with a compelling product that enticed users to dip in it, and by virtue of their market success, we could see how they are revolutionizing the old taxi industry.

If you have a great vision, think about how you want your users to boot-up your vision. That bootup starts with the product, not the vision.

The gap between the vision and its realization is far too wide when you start, so it’s better to focus on what the product will do in its initial days, and let the vision’s achievement be an after-effect of your product success.

The reverse side of that problem can also occur if you overbuild the product way ahead of its propagation. If you overbuild to the point where you might think that you’re showing a version that is closer to your vision, you will inherit a very difficult on-boarding problem. The steps will be steeper for hoisting your users on your product.

But if you underbuild, or go to the market with an underwhelming offering, you may not be giving your users enough to hang on to, til you get them to that vision you have.

I’m currently working with two startups that represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One has overbuilt their product and is being challenged to hoist users on their platform. Another one has a great vision, but is having a challenge in explaining the initial boot-up process in a compelling way.

They each have a different set of challenges. To the startup that has overbuilt, I’m saying to them: “A mature product is not your vision; you’re making it more difficult for users to get on-board.” And to the one that’s putting the vision ahead of the product, I’m saying: “Park your vision in the background, while you put your product in the foreground.”

Market adoption with a less mature product is more important than a comprehensive product with no users. It’s easier to evolve your product usage and user loyalties as your product evolves with every iteration, instead of assuming they will jump in both feet because you have a “perfect product”.

This begs the following question which I have been asked: “Is the vision inconsequential to inducing the initial user behavior?”

My answer is that it’s not inconsequential in the long term, but it is less relevant in the short term. In the short term, you want to induce behavior that has a benefit to the user.

In reality, individual users don’t really care about whether you achieve your vision or not (or what it is). They are lured by what you offer them and how compelling it is.

Did you know that by using UBER you were contributing to them revolutionizing the transportation industry? No. Or by sharing on Facebook, you helped them become a content/media juggernaut? No.

So, what I’m saying is: Your vision is great. Park it, but focus your communication and delivery on what your product will do, i.e. to make the collective user engagement get you closer towards that vision.

If you say you want to boil the ocean, your vision will not be believable. But if you give each user a little kettle to start with, and focus on getting them to boil a little water in their own way, then before you know it, their collective actions will be enough to boil that ocean.

Visions are generally fuzzy, and they aren’t believable initially. They only get clearer as your market footprint increases.

=> Don’t just introduce your vision to the marketplace. Introduce your product rather.

=> Keep the vision for the VC pitches. Let it unravel on its own to the market.


Product/Market Fit, Competition, Marketing, Customer Development, Entrepreneurship, SaaS, Boards. Roundup #22 Oct 20 2014

SUM-ONLYAfter Product/Market Fit: Messaging, Positioning and Branding A lot can happen after Product/Market Fit. One of the key activities that gets elevated is Marketing. I wrote Get out of your building again, Part II, as a riff on Steve Blank’s Part I that focused on customer development. I posit that you need to get out of your building again, but this time, it’s for marketing outreach activities and to establish your physical presence where your customers and markets are. And to accentuate the importance of marketing, I published the outline of my next book on Startup Marketing. The title isn’t set yet, but it will cover Messaging, Positioning and Branding, 3 of the “non-analytical” parts of marketing, and ones that startups aren’t typically naturally good at. Truth is you don’t become a successful startup by not becoming a known brand along the way. Developing a Product that Users Want and Not Being Delusional In How to Predict Technology Flops, this Intercom blog digs up a CBInsights chart on the Top 10 Reasons Startups Fail, and not surprisingly, “No Market Need” is a distant first. The post continues by noting that you can segment technology’s impact and progress into 4 buckets: Breakthrough, Game Changer, Incremental and Disruptive. “What do all technology flops have in common? They failed to do a job for their customers.” In How to Avoid Delusional Thinking in Start-up Growth Strategy, one of my favorite entrepreneurs that write superbly well, Aaron Schildkrout has a great piece on Andrew Chen’s blog where he covers the reality of various growth levers: virality, press, bizdev, content, SEO, paid acquisition/direct marketing. Aaron ends with the power of “magical thinking”- noting that “the most important and powerful customer acquisition tactic is building a product that people love.” Complementing that CBInsights chart, Matthew Gallizzi dives deeper into each one of these 10 reasons, in How to Respect your Startup’s Context (and Grown Quicker), and tells you the gotchas to avoid. I like his multifaceted comparison of Confidence vs. Ego, e.g. “Confidence says: I’m valuable. Ego says: I’m invaluable.” Squeaky Wheel Wisdom for SaaS Churn Strategy Jason Lemkin advises: Don’t Fire Your “Worst” Customers. Hire Them a Psychiatrist Instead, because he has found “how little complaints are correlated to renewal rates and customer happiness.” That’s because the ones that churn are the quiet ones, and they leave without warning. Lean Startup Summarized in 12 Concepts If there was an executive summary to Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup book, Tren Griffin just wrote it via this blog post, A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Eric Ries about Lean Startups (“Lattice of Mental Models” in VC), where he distills its essence without missing a beat of substance. Easy Board Meeting Slides If you agonize when preparing Board decks, here’s An Alternative to Board Decks Some Seed VCs Actually Prefer. This NextView Ventures post gives you a cookbook approach with templates you can use. Startup Lesson #8: Things that Don’t Scale Tips from DoorDash If you’re following YCombinator’s How to Start a Startup from Stanford University, they are at #8 now. This one is with Stanley Tang, founder of DoorDash (re-inventing local delivery), on Things that Don’t Scale. And you might even enjoy the annotated Genius version. On the subject of competition, I liked Stanley’s answer: “At the beginning consumer demand was never a problem, even up until now. So for us it’s just about finding a need and just focusing on serving that demand. At the beginning competition doesn’t really matter.” Thiel vs. Andreessen Well, actually it’s Thiel AND Andreessen. An insightful podcast of Marc Andreessen interviewing Peter Thiel, and it is peppered with wisdom and wit from both. Here’s a good quote I hadn’t heard before from Thiel, on the subject of managing teams: “Conflict happens when different people want to do the same thing, not different things. The challenge as a boss is to have people do different things. If you tell two people to do the same thing, you generate a fight out of nothing.” The Sign of a Great Entrepreneur Having been there, I know that entrepreneurs can be stubborn and dogmatic. But there comes a time when they need to listen and be influenced by actual feedback that is beneficial. In All the Great Entrepreneurs Make this Change, John Vrionis of Lightspeed Venture Partners observes that Great entrepreneurs begin the journey as passionate artistic visionaries who ignore the counsel of many, and then EVOLVE to become excellent LISTENERS who make refinements based on feedback. So, can you make the switch from visionary non-listener to a proactive listener and refiner?]]>

Y Combinator, Advocate Marketing, Product/Market Fit, Gamification, Customer Retention, Metrics, Boards, SEO, Product Mgt, Roundup#15 Oct 20 2013

Startup Management is a manual selection from the hundreds of weekly articles being curated. Previous issues are available here. There are 24 article links in this edition.

Y Combinator Startup School

Here’s the Google Docs with lectures notes from the seminal Y Combinator’s Startup School event that just happened on Oct 19 2013,

Pricing, SaaS, Venture Capital, Biz Dev, Product Management, Sales, Marketing, Growth Hacking, and more, Weekend Roundup Must Read Sept 7 2013

Startup Management is a manual selection from the hundreds of weekly articles being curated. Previous issues are available here. There are 21 links in this edition, and please feel free to FORWARD to a friend, so they can sign-up and benefit too. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Product Management One of the factors in startup failure is when the product roadmap drifts away from the core value proposition. In Introducing Product/Value Alignment: What Comes After Product/Market Fit, I go over the steps to define a strong value proposition so you can align it with your product roadmap to facilitate the realization of your business model. And Gojko Adzic explains how to avoid a common mistake product teams make when they confuse themselves with their customers, in How we solved our #1 product management problem.

Introducing Product-Value Alignment: What Comes After Product/Market Fit

AlignmentReaching Product/Market Fit is a key objective in the life of a startup, whether it’s a journey, a continuum or a given point in time. But right after that, it becomes really important that your product roadmap remains totally coupled with your value proposition. I’m calling this condition the “Product/Value Alignment.” The first thing you should do after being satisfied with your market size validation, metrics traction and right features (i.e. product/market fit), is to check and update your value proposition. Your value proposition is the most convincing promise you make to your users, customers, and prospects. It might have already been iterated upon, but it should become progressively more ambitious and unique, as your product/market fit gains maturity.

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