Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pat Your Head and Rub Your Tummy

Young start-ups need two things to survive: customer orders and funding.

The challenge, however, is that customers and venture investors often decide to "buy" based on very different messages.

To succeed with customers, start-ups need to articulate clear, focused value propositions. Often the nature of early stage product development is such that the product is of limited functionality and can best be sold by "narrowing the focus to broaden the appeal;" clear use cases, incremental value wrt products already in production, easy to install, and quick to show value.

Focus is often the key to early sales traction.

Investors on the other hand can often have a pejorative view of focus - VCs question nichey looking business plans ("is this a feature or a company?") and the proverbial "what is the TAM" and "can this thing scale" are often orthogonal to the product marketing challenges of selling version 1.0 products to skeptical customers.

In my experience as a VC and ex-startup CEO, young companies need to remember to develop and tell two stories. The first targets customers and explains specific, tangible, and focused value made possible via the currently available product. The second story targets the VCs and addresses the real concern with respect to scale, TAM, and a road map that supports the emergence of the company from a niche-product to a real company.

This challenge of orthogonal messages and the need to develop them simultaneously is similar to the age-old, "pat your head and rub your tummy" trick.

Some companies tell great customer stories and never get funding. Others are great at raising money, yet never seem to be able to sell the customer. It is the rare, and significant, early-stage company that can tell a story of relevancy that resonates with the buyer, while also painting a longer-term vision to VCs wrt how to build a large company that will make VCs a healthy return.

No comments:

Post a Comment