Startup 101: Ensuring You Have a Real Strategy (Part 1)
'Strategy' is an overused and widely misused word. Especially in startup/tech contexts, it's easy to misrepresent survival and growth tactics, or a technology roadmap as strategy. However, in recent reading (of Gary Hamel's insights) I discovered a precise/concise definition that, if applied humbly and mindfully, could transform how startups navigate their busineses.
There are only two parts to a clean, executable strategy.
Part 1: Are you building products to solve problems that really matter to customers?
Part 2: Does what you do set you apart from any other players in the market?
In this post, I'll dive into the former to some depth.
Block 1 of Strategy: Building products that solve problems that really matter to your customers.
Broken to its constituents, that statement indicates:
- You are able to understand what really matters to your customers
- You are able to articulate which of those are problem areas for them
- You are able to articulate (these problems in terms of the) specific use cases and build solutions for each of those
By staying in constant touch with the end customers and putting themselves in the shoes of the end users, good product teams can easily capture and understand what matters to customers. In the same vein, good/great product teams are fairly good at articulating the problem areas back to their customers to validate their understanding. In fact, great product teams are able to go even deeper and understand latent problems that their customers may not be able to articulate.
However, the endemic problem with many product teams, even good ones, is what I call the 'Manufactured use case' and the consequent solutioning to solve for that use case. Even really good product teams are sometimes victim to this - no one's perfect.
Let me give you an example: the Augmented Reality Restaurant Menu.
Sure, when I go to a restaurant I don't always know: a) what the food looks like once it arrives, b) what the portion size might look like. But ultimately it's a low-risk decision and there are already tools to solve for this (Asking the waiter).
The solution to the manufactured use-case issue is simple: Always listen to your customers, with humility, and listen beyond their words. How?
1) Capture the difficult, latent problems: In B2B, customers usually describe a complex organizational answer a.k.a team that they're proud to have built, to solve for a problem that could otherwise be solved through simple automation. In B2C, people will tell you about how they had to get nifty and use 2-3 different apps/tools they use to achieve something relatively straightforward. If they're proud of it, they've solved a real problem - the job is to identify if they did it optimally.
2) When you articulate your solution to their problem, ensure they go into examination or exploration mode and ask questions on how they could use it, and not exultation mode wherein they find it way too cool to believe. Any solution that gets a "Wow that's so cool" in the first shot is likely solving for a cool use case, rather than the actual, boring issue. Apple bucks this trend, but Apple is Apple and no startup is.
Building Block 2 of Strategy in the next post in this 2-part blog. (EDIT: Here is Part 2)