I’ve reviewed thousands of pitch decks from startups. After seeing a few pitches, I’ve noticed something that most inexperienced first-time founders share — they want to be everything to everyone. This is a misstep because acquiring the first group of loyal customers is essential in new product development and implementation. When you market to everyone, you sell to no one.
For the first-time founder selling high-tech products to mainstream customers, trying to please everyone from the start isn’t the most practical approach. It is essential to earn trust from initial groups of people (innovators, followed by early adopters) at the beginning of the technology adoption lifecycle. Mass market acceptance of an idea won’t occur until you achieve a tipping point between early adopters and the early majority–otherwise known as “the chasm.”
“Crossing the Chasm” is a marketing book by Geoffrey A. Moore that focuses on the specifics of marketing high-tech products during the early start-up period. The early majority won’t try something until someone else has tried it first, and this starts by serving one (type of) customer well. Narrowing your focus even when you aren’t entirely sure who your customer is is a better strategy than throwing stuff on a wall and seeing what sticks.
As mentioned in a previous article, veteran-founded company ID.me has been in their early adopters’ shoes and can see their business from their perspective. Having an intimate understanding of the customers’ journey is vital because it’s helped ID.me validate its product within the marketplace and prove that the unit economics are sustainable before crossing the chasm. According to Moore, the marketer should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group. ID.me, with an initial target market of active-duty soldiers, veterans, and military spouses, today provides a ubiquitous secure identity verification network to students, teachers, and healthcare providers.
Proven techniques to help you cross the chasm include understanding the whole product concept, positioning the product, building a marketing strategy, choosing the best distribution channel and pricing. Although “Crossing the Chasm” has become the bible for bringing cutting-edge products to progressively larger markets, it’s essential reading for anyone with a tech-enabled business targeting a niche audience. These days, there is a high likelihood you’re selling online. Below are four quotes from successful veteran entrepreneurs about early adoption, differentiation, and determination that may help you acquire early adopters and get your business going:
Define Your Own Category
“My innovation involved taking an idea from the telecommunications and banking industries and applying that idea to transportation business.”– FedEx CEO, Frederick W. Smith, Vietnam War veteran who received two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, and the Bronze Star
Focus On What’s Important
“Don’t get wrapped up in the superficial stuff or the trivial stuff. Don’t worry about a name or a title or even entities. The first thing you have to do if you want to start a business is to sell. If you can sell something, you can start a business.”– Growth hacker and Insurgent Publishing Founder, Tom Morkes, West Point grad who went on to command an airborne unit
Engage With Early Adopter Community
“Really, the whole military runs on coffee…it’s true to our background, to who we are in a past life, and it’s also taking care of the people who are taking care of us.”– Compass Co-Owner, Harrison Suarez, post 9/11 Marine Corps veteran
Keep Moving Forward
“Our favorite saying when times got tough was: ‘Drop by drop, a river is made,’ which is an Afghan proverb. And I think that was just a reminder to us to keep going, don’t give up when times get tough.”– Rumi Spice Co-Founder, Emily Miller, former Army Engineer Officer
Defining your category, focusing on what’s important, staying close to the action, and moving forward against all the odds are valuable attributes for successfully launching and scaling a business. If you’re truly trying to disrupt a market, then I hope you know it well, show that you feel the problem, and are empathetic to the customer. It often takes stepping into your customer’s shoes and seeing the business from the customer’s perspective. If there’s anyone that can accomplish all of these tasks, it’s a veteran.
Want to learn more about becoming a military entrepreneur? Try these other great articles from Harry Alford:
- BRAINSTORMING IN THE BARRACKS: HOW TO MAKE YOUR IDEA INTO A SUCCESSFUL STARTUP
- WHY VETERANS ARE UNIQUELY EQUIPPED TO BE GREAT ENTREPRENEURS
- MILITARY ENTREPRENEURSHIP 101: SUCCESSES AND FAILURES
- IS BUSINESS SCHOOL THE BEST PLACE TO PREPARE VETERANS FOR STARTUPS?
Feature image courtesy of Ted Eytan on Flickr