Competing in a sea of proliferation?

I’ve been revisiting an older post – Proliferation. Aggregation. Integration –  given the current state of the start-up environment and my informal involvement in a few sharp startups.   In today’s world, it is more critical than ever to understand where your industry/category stands. When the VCs and young devs where creating web apps at an unbelievable clip proliferation was the name of the game. We are seeing it today on the Twitter Platform – new services daily. Now my company is involved in this space, so I think it is a great space to participate (but I have very explicit rules for participation – ask me offline). The challenge for a proliferation stage company is breaking through the clutter:

  • You need a crisp value prop that manifests itself in a damn simple feature/benefit that people get immediately (like Summize).  As tempting as it is for you to tell everyone about all the things you can do and all the features you product offers, get it down to the one thing that people are actually in need of – let them discover the rest over time and leverage your full feature set as a retention driver.
  • You need a nimble team that can shift on a dime.  Brooks and I have evolved our strategy a few times since we started working together on The Graph – all while maintain our big vision.  The key is to not get to hung up on the product that will solve the problem you set out to solve.  The actual solutions will evolve – but your problem statement shouldn’t (it serves as the anchor point for the team).
  • You need to have your eyes on the metrics that matter – primarily focused on usage and WOM metrics given so many people sign up and abandon services in this stage (more here later).  While the standard traffic metrics are fun and key, get down to business.  Look at revenue (ARPU maybe), WOM (new users from existing users), usage (# of interactions a day will lead you to understand what matters in your product and what is driving engagement) and a myriad of others.
  • You need leadership with some real insight to focusing the team on building things because they should (e.g. a paying customer exists), not because they can (increasingly, ‘anyone’ can build web apps).  This is where I see a lot of startups fail.  No clear vision of how there technology evolves into an actual business.  Remember, there is a big difference between products, businesses and companies.
  • You need access to the business landscape to help you secure meaningful partnerships (this may or may not happen via your social media network).  Find advisors, old mentors, friends, neighbors and the like that can help you navigate the big landscape.  The more people you share your passion and vision with, the higher the probability that you’ll suceed at securing partnerships.  Focus on people that have done stuff, know real people and demonstrate the ability to follow through – avoid talkers and gate keepers.
  • You MUST demonstrate why you are different – to everyone involved (prospective users, investors and partners).  You likely didn’t give up your cushy salary and travel budget to build some P.o.S better, faster, cheaper me too – At least I hope not.

go start something!

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