What should startups digest?

Startups coming to market with a new product are faced with significant challenges. Is their product too much like an existing product or is it so novel that potential customers don’t understand its value or are sceptical? Startups have to tread a very narrow path to success which is strewn with boulders that can discourage them or throw them off course.

As noted by Andrew Vasylyk in the Fast Company article link below, the probability of failure is very high but “if failure is the default outcome, you have nothing to fear. You’ll either become a success and pleasantly surprise everyone, or fail as expected.”

Vasylyk references the wealth of advice available to startups, advice which is often contradictory. The Goldilocks product seems to be one that is not too far ahead of the game but also not playing catch up. Timing can be a real boost to a product as in the case of zoom during the pandemic. A product can be successful if it is both highly innovative and a game changer like 3D printers. Equally a startup can achieve success if its product does the same job as existing products but does it better and cheaper, e.g. innovative currency exchange apps.

Vasylyk points out that while many startups fail, some become stronger after a failure and often have a better chance of success with subsequent products. In my over 20 years experience of working in startups we changed tack and product features many times but always with a consistent goal, in the case of our current product ‘Helping CEOs cut through the noise and get real-time business performance insights‘. It wasn’t until we put sensemaking front and centre of the current product that we were satisfied that the goal could be achieved.  

In the aftermath of the pandemic, long established businesses in the hospitality and bricks and mortar retail sectors that manage to survive will have to start behaving like start ups. Surveying customers for their desires might be a good place to start but as Vasylyk points out “Customers are people and people can say weird things… What matters much more is what customers do, especially with their wallets“. The take away is that startups should readily take in as much advice as they can but quietly discard the advice that doesn’t make sense for their particular context.  

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”