Ah Sh*t

It pains us to think of all the amazing start-ups who didn’t make it. Groups of innovative and driven professionals who’ve created some really cool app, product or service that the world would have really benefited from. To say that they were just ahead of the curve or too innovative to market isn’t a fair assessment.

Think about it like this. You, as an amazing innovator and entrepreneur, have built something cool. Really cool. You love that it makes your life easier. And you know that it will make others’ lives easier too. But, they just don’t seem to be getting that message.

Many start-ups looking to scale-up are facing this harsh reality. They have something that will improve the life of others, but they aren’t getting the message to the right people.

In other words, it isn’t the market’s fault. As much as it pains us to type this, the problem may just be you.

Hold up. Did we just…? Yup. We held up that mirror. What do you see?

Too many amazing start-ups fail because they are forgetting to invite their customers in on the conversation. Instead, they stay too focused on their innovation and product and what it means to them. They talk about the science, research and tech aspects, and neglecting the ever-important “So what? What’s in it for me?” To be successful, a start-up has to sacrifice the science, tech and research, and instead talk to the customer.

So, what’s to be done?

First, you and your leadership team needs to take a step back and ask what problem(s) the innovation solves. This is trickier than it sounds, as you need to think beyond the immediate and obvious reasons you’re using the product, as well as looking past all the cool tech and science where you spend all your time. Instead of the details of what brought you here, think back to the problem you were initially trying to solve. And, if there are applications outside of what you initially created it for, list them too.

Next, your team must consider who might be experiencing these problems. Again, think bigger than the immediate niche. While you never want to cast your net too wide (you can’t be everything to everyone), start-ups still need to be able to identify a target market. You are not your customer. Neither are your friends and family. Go out there and figure out who you’re speaking to – who this innovation is important for – and talk to them.

Finally, your whole team needs to change how you talk about your product. Avoid jargon and hyperbole. Also, don’t adopt a patronizing and condescending tone. You need to identify both the solution the product offers and to whom, now it’s up to your company to open up a dialogue, where you both send information out to customers and…wait for it… receive information back. Yup, you can’t be the only one talking. You’ve got to listen to what your customers are telling you too. And, don’t forget, silence is a very loud response.

At BarnRaising Associates we work with socially-minded businesses, enterprises, not-for-profits and ventures to help them start talking to their customers. Both those they already have, and those who’ve yet been invited into the conversation. We ask the hard questions to get your leadership thinking like a stay-up, and put in the strategies to help make it happen.

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