These two mistakes almost killed our start-up
This articles was first published in May 2018.
In the first months of our start-up journey, we spent time, cash and a lot of energy on what was neither useful to our product nor to the market segment we wanted address.
These mistakes almost killed our start-up.
“Use the latest technologies”, of course…
We thought it was important for us and our customers use the latest technologies. New programming languages and new technology platforms that we did not master at the beginning. We knew that we could master them and we were convinced that it was part of our learning journey. After all, we are here to learn, right? Actually we didn’t really know were to focus our learning efforts.
As two technical co-founders, we had some valuable advice from reputable technologists. We started using a programming language that is now widespread among developers, but at that time we had difficulty finding developers who could help us quickly. Some of the developers that helped us were crazy like us and we learned on the go. So we dealt with a lot of technical challenges that took too much of our time, cash and energy. Were the technical challenges really the battle we wanted to have at that stage?
“Amazing and outstanding features for our customers”, of course…
We spent time, cash and energy developing features that we thought would make a difference. Even, the need of some features were confirmed by our first early-adopters.
“We must make a difference when our application is out there”. Based on the early-adopters feedbacks, we built an amazing search engine, e-mail marketing tools and developed a mobile application. These features were too complex to maintain and to develop for the small amount of clients we had. Plus, we did not lock customers to pay before we consider working on these features, in addition to all the constraints about our human and financial resources.
We worked really hard and spent time and cash and were happy to present to customers what we did. We realised later that those were not important to them.
Actually, our early- adopters were not really our market. Our business model could not fit, we knew it late before we consider a pivot.
Finally, it turns out that the first businesses that started to use and pay our solutions with a real commitment did not ask for a search engine, they did not ask for a mobile application, they did not even ask for e-mail marketing tools. They asked for the very core value of our solution: automating booking and scheduling appointments. They did not want their clients to come to our Web application to book appointments, but they wanted their clients to stay and book appointments on their Web sites (using our simple while label plug-in).
And it’s not over: this new market segment was willing to pay our product 10 times more than what our first clients were hardly willing to pay!
We stopped the search engine and the mobile app (we kept the email marketing tools for some other reasons).
Until now, some clients, ask for mobile apps, actually they just ask because it is trendy but they don’t know that they don’t need it. Didn’t we go through this, we would jump and create a new mobile app, wasting our time and customers time and money.
Now I understand why Vinod Khosla said: « If you want to do great products don’t listen to your customers… »
That is a little bit of an exageration, but I believe it is very deep in meaning. Doing this pushes us to really understand our market even more than would do our customers. This is how we can exceed customers’ expectations. This is how our value proposition can be at it’s highest place. This is how we can impress our customers with our solutions.
Now, we still try to make best use of new and relevant technologies and deliver outstanding features for our customers. But we really ask ourselves more than 5 times « why? » before going further. We make more efforts on understanding our customers’ needs and challenge ourselves and our customers on the needs they express in line with what we believe and where we want to go with our products.
After all, customers only care about the real value you bring – the solutions you bring to their problems – but really not about technologies you use or list of features you have developed.