Be The Size You Are Now
Be The Size You Are Now
Why startups shouldn’t behave like big companies (and should be themselves instead)
A thought occurred to me whilst tanning my pasty legs on holiday last month.
There’s a temptation for startups to want to behave like big companies in the belief that you'll get more customers. There’s a fear of needing to get it right first, and to look the part.
But startups usually don’t have the time or money to behave like larger, established businesses and get it ‘perfect’ first time.
There’s a danger in trying to do this: trying to be perfect stops you from going live and getting a product or service out there, even on a small scale.
I’m certainly guilty of trying to be like the more established players and spending too long on something when really it just needs to go live. It’s a feeling that I am sure that we all experience, especially when it feels like our competitors are racing ahead of us. It must all be perfect, right?
Well, no, not really.
Bigger and more established businesses have hundreds of employees all beavering away for ‘perfection’. More money and more people mean big meetings and snoozy PowerPoint presentations that last for hours. It’s stuff we can’t emulate even if we had all the skills and worked 24/7.
Instead, we need to work in a different way.
We need to play to our strengths of being a small business. We need to work with our small tribe of customers to create our initially imperfect product/service that we continually evolve and develop for their needs.
This a wiser strategy when you are small and starting out. To do this, you need to take the time to listen to customers and their feedback.
But I find that many business owners are reluctant to speak to customers.
Maybe it’s ego, or social anxiety, or both? Perhaps it’s a fear that you may not like what people have to say and they could undo months or even years of work. Or perhaps you think bothering customers risks losing a future sale.
But remember this: the Segway failed because it didn’t listen to customers, so did the Apple Newton. And remember Google Wave? (cue tumbleweed). And countless others. They all paid a far bigger price by not talking in depth to a small group of willing customers.
And here’s another important thing:
As businesses, we make mistakes along the way, long before we get it right. So, would you rather make these mistakes in front of a mass audience, or a much smaller one?
A smaller, select group of customers are likely to be more patient (because they know you are starting out) and they’ll tell you honestly what they do and don’t like, in a smaller environment that you can manage more easily.
For example, while redesigning my website, I’ve had positive and negative feedback along the way; much of it useful and constructive. And a lot of it has been tough feedback too. But now, the site is in a much better place than if I hadn’t worked with a small group.
Something else I’ve learned from feedback is to just be ‘you’.
Don’t try and act like a bigger company than you are. You’ll just look like a poorer version.
It’s better to be the size you are when starting out, because your small tribe of customers will respect you more for it (and will help you on your way to making a better service or product).
Working with customers doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, either.
Meet them for a coffee or a lunch. Have a beer with them. Explore in detail with them about what you can do better (whether it’s your newsletter, website, or service for example), but keep it casual.
Why? Because it’s from these small conversations that great products are made.
Customers say things that you can’t make up and they will change your perspective if you listen more than you talk. For the price of a coffee, a seemingly throwaway comment might just spark an absolute gem of an insight or idea.
Once you’ve pleased a small crowd, it’s then a safer bet to reach out to more customers like them and become a slightly bigger player. Yes, it pays to take it slowly.
So, that’s my realisation: be the size you are today and work with a small group of customers. It’s a simple strategy.
We’ll leave the bigger, established players to do their own thing, and we’ll do ours.