You Build It. They Come. Now What? Part 3
In two earlier posts we shared thoughts on the sequence of important steps associated with bringing a web-based product to market. Part 1 described the 7 steps and Part 2 took a closer look at steps 3 and 4. This post, the final in this series, will explore ideas for building evangelization opportunities into your offering (step 5) and share some useful insights for building continuous improvement into your offering and your marketing (step 7). Let’s have at it…
Step 5 – Turning Users into Evangelists
The Goal: Elevating Users to a level of engagement so high that they become your sales and marketing departments!
OK, we admit that it is a lofty goal! But perhaps not. This is another example where thinking though all seven steps BEFORE you start step 1 can pay huge synergistic dividends. Simply put: the more you can integrate social sharing into your offering, the more you build evangelism into your feature-set and users that augment your sales and marketing efforts. Our advise: Attempt to build into your product’s DNA, everywhere appropriate, the ability for your users to engage others about/via your product. This will require intensive thinking and target-user research at the front end whether you can viably build in social sharing tools into your product offering. Here are some specifics to consider.
- Leverage the Major Social Networks to get the word out: Are there elements to your offering that represent newsworthy items your users will want to publish to their Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter / all of the above newsfeeds? If so, integrate the appropriate social sharing widgets along with carefully crafted auto messaging that will describe your offering in the context of what your user posts. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter users see examples of this everyday in their newsfeeds. If the message is timely, relevant, and comes from somebody they respect, the likelihood of a click is high. Earning that click is something you would have to spend time and money on otherwise. The major social networks dominate time spent on the web for a large cross-section of users… most likely yours. Why not leverage 1) the enthusiasm you are building in your user, 2) their social graph, and 3) the ever-increasing probability that your user’s friends will see their message due to the fact that more and more time is being spent on these sites.
- Build Social Networking Directly into Your Offering: Let us first define the concept– Give some thought about whether your user’s experience might be enhanced by integrating certain features/functions in collaboration with others, both in real-time (IM) or asynchronously (email, newsfeeds, ect). To the extent that you can identify and build useful features and functionality that only deliver if users are connected, you are implementing the building blocks that become the stair steps to the lofty goal of turning users into recruiters if not evangelists. Think about your own experiences. If somebody you are close to invites you into a group-based web experience, aren’t you more inclined to explore it? Now if this invitation leads to a well explained value proposition (see step 4), the vision behind step 5 becomes more achievable. In prior posts we have examined a slew of niche social networks operating on this very principle. Take a look at this list… how many of these sites are niche sites with social elements rather than niche social networks? Is a site solving real problems for businesses or consumers that happens to have social features a niche social network or a site with social features? Who cares. The point is that, if viable for your offering plans, social features will enhance your ability to leverage existing member engagement to build new members who also become engaged.
- Combine both of the above elements. Of course, your offering is unlikely to be the next 500 million-user social destination. Rather, if you are able to implement a value-added social layer, you will be leveraging your users to grow your base. Now, when combined with the social sharing tactics (as outlined in “Good”) you will be doubling down on your offering’s ability to produce user-generated recruiting. By drawing from two, somewhat complementary pools of user recruits (their social graph in “Good” and those with which they collaborate in “Better”), there is the potential for echo-chamber-like viral exponential exposure for your offering.
We want to be careful to acknowledge that this approach wont work for all New Market Entrepreneurs. Some web-based products/services just don’t lend themselves to social sharing as well as others. However, we would rather see you giving it serious thought before (or at least while) you develop product and have the opportunity to build it in while you can.
Step 7 – Continuous Improvement
The Goal: Relentlessly evaluating your product/service’s ability to meet perceived market needs (as well as your marketing’s ability to successfully communicate the value proposition and engender user adoption) and making both evolutionary and revolutionary changes as necessary.
A serial entrepreneur turned entrepreneurship professor at Berkeley and Stanford, Steve Blank’s blog is packed with insightful material. While there have been volumes published on the concept of continuous improvement, we want to share what Steve Blank has published on the topic to provide a better appreciation for the opportunity at hand. First, let’s set the stage (courtesy of Blank):
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
Everyone knows what a startup is for – don’t they?
A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.
Notice Blank’s “…SEARCH for a repeatable and scalable business model.” The emphasis on search is ours. While he defines this in the context of a startup, the same can be said for the life-cycle of a web-based product launch. It’s really about iterating. He offers the graphic below to illustrate this iterative process…
And the graphic below illustrates what’s under the hood in the first box above. Blank identifies 4 continuous, iterative Customer Development cycles: Customer Discovery, Customer Validation, Customer Creation, and Company Scaling. In fact, he has published a book exploring each of these four steps, “The Four Steps To The Epiphany”. While the first two of these steps commence prior to the product launch (the first of our seven steps articulated in Part 1 of this blog series), you actually never stop executing them.
Let’s call upon another well-respected entrepreneur and author of the current hot book, The Lean Startup, to shed more light.
We’re easily convinced by the argument that all we need to do is “build it and they will come.” And when they don’t come, well, we just try, try, again. What’s wrong with this picture?
Steve’s theory is that there are four stages of growth any startup goes through. He calls these steps Customer Discovery (when you’re just trying to figure out if there are any customers who might want your product), Customer Validation (when you make your first revenue by selling your early product), Customer Creation (akin to a traditional startup launch, only with strategy involved), and Company Building (where you gear up to Cross the Chasm). Having lived through a startup that went through all four phases, I can attest to how useful it is to have a roadmap that can orient you to what’s going on as your job and company changes.
Click here for the entire blog post
We know we are throwing a lot at you here. The point of all these charts and ideas is to drive home our conviction that continuous innovation in your product offering as well as your marketing communication will be a hallmark of your success. The data backs this up. Recall the Startup Genome Project mentioned in this post? In their work analyzing successful startups, they define a change in product/business model based on the kind of innovation process described above as a “Pivot”. First, here’s a refresher on the Startup Genome… they are the real deal (and both Ries and Blank are involved).
In this report we reveal in-depth research about what makes Silicon Valley startups successful. The report is a 50 page analysis based on data from 650+ web startups. The report was coauthored by Berkeley & Stanford faculty members. Other contributors include Steve Blank, the Sandbox Network, and 10 accelerators from around the globe.
The goal of the report is to lay the foundation for a new framework for assessing startups more effectively by measuring the thresholds and milestones of development that Internet startups move through.
Among their findings,
A pivot is when a startup decides to change a major part of its business.
Most successful startups pivot at least once. Startups that pivot once or twice raise 2.5x more money, have 3.6x better user growth, and are 52 percent less likely to scale prematurely than startups that pivot more than two times or not at all.
If you are curious to better understand the multitude of pivot possibilities at your disposal, check out this post.
Sorry for all the wonky-ness. But we hope serious New Market Entrepreneurs will find them a helpful stepping-stone intro to the plethora of recent published material providing powerful frameworks for executing a continuous improvement methodology while blazing your entrepreneurial path armed and dangerous!
We also hope that this series of three posts on the seven key steps to bringing a web-based product to market will prove helpful to your endeavors. Please let us know how it goes and what you would add or delete to/from these steps!