The truth about exposing your startup

So you have a startup. Does your mom know? Swell! Let’s kick things off by setting the cornerstone of our story. We are all familiar with all around excellent products that at times have failed to make an impact due to improper exposure. This, contrary to popular opinion, isn’t elementary. Colossal companies have suffered because of goofs and undergone public humiliation, or even worse, financial losses, as a result of what seemed to the public as elementary knowledge.

And then there is your own product. You might as well be a hardware/software startup, come to think of it, if you are a hardware startup developing an innovative product, especially if it is targeted to consumers… well, you might find yourself in trouble. Assuming that your product is very early stage and your access to capital is limited, you have one chance to successfully plant your product in the market. And to keep things simple, in this article we will leave out the occasions where you might have registered I.P. covering your ass (e.g. a patent) as that complicates things on a whole different level.

But I digress; it is paramount to properly expose yourself, your product and other relevant activities you might be involved, to your friends, relatives, followers and by extent your potential investors. Of course there is a certain hierarchy to undertaking such a demanding task. But first and foremost you need to realize that a brand and its culture take lengthy stretches of time to mature. Many companies let their product define their culture, but in your case, you are going the other way around. It all starts with a vision and a mission statement that moves your target group, a very handy skill in such cases is the ability to detach yourself from your work and be objective or even down right ruthless at evaluating it. Once you nail this, you can build your empire on it. This is about the point where I make it sound too easy and scare myself, so let’s put our feet back on the ground. This, will, make, you, bleed. Take my word for it, if your road isn’t paved by serial failures you are either selling sugar water or doing something wrong. So kiss goodbye to that magical juice that inhabits your brain and start low. Get access to a group of people that represent your end user (who necessarily aren’t your customers, but are the one that create the demand for the product). They will be your lab rats, you need to keep them interested in your product by making them feel unique (e.g. special events, early access, rewards) and at the same time squeeze them for feedback till their souls run dry. Do take note that your 1st degree relatives are banned from the lab rat club for life. You don’t want to experience the gradual suffocation of sugar coated feedback. But do let the grandma in, just so that she can feel proud for you and your internet business.

One option in branding is to try and copy your competition while continuously differentiating in various aspects. This, though, guarantees that you will always be one, if not several, steps behind. On the other hand, you can start far and wide with multitudes of varying samples (marketing strategies) to test your lab rats and keep narrowing your research and marketing strategy based on results. In order to even get this started, you have to be able to relate to your end user, sketch out his personality, match that to his routine and find the gap where you fit in. Most importantly, decoding results and statistics is a whole field on its own. Your opinion isn’t necessarily the correct one and it definitely isn’t the only one. There’s also bound to be a plethora of situations where nothing will make sense to you, that’s expected, so keep an eye out and do not despair. This all comes down to being persistent and putting in effort day-by-day. But don’t take my word for it, put your trust in the law of chances.

I have already put in too much time in explaining basic theories. So I’ll jump into something more concrete. As previously mentioned, company culture does not sprout overnight, it ain’t a mushroom. And a basic tool to induce hype is to simply let people have small peeks into your daily progress. We all are the proud owners of a thin slice of technological brick that sits in our pockets and has the capability to decently capture moments, to say the least. So use that thing and show them lab rats of yours what it’s like to be in your shoes, make them look up to you. Keep in mind that people want to relate to things and be part of them; that can also be your team, besides your product. Show them that you are cool and quirky people with a sense of humor and passion for what you do. You are the kind of person that put your company’s sticker on a 2.000€ worth of a MacBook and proudly shoves it in everyone’s face. As for us, a hardware startup that managed to burn through €15k, put in roughly 4.000 man hours in product development, and 12 months down the road since we got incubated, and to this day, the highest turnover was attained by our GoPro session camera. It’s small, compact, connects via WiFi and coupled with an iPad it makes a great combo for almost instantaneous capture, download, edit and upload of footage.

There is also this place (Medium), where we also share our thoughts and experience with all sorts of people. Statistically most of the people that read this article are not involved in a hardware startup. But might take an interest in the article, give it a good kick by sharing it and a few butterfly effects later it might end up converting hugely, or not. Also, do keep in mind that we just now began writing articles about our experience and general view of things, expressing ones opinion needs to be done meticulously as there are plenty of aspects to take into account. Then again as every chessboard has pawns, your company has you. You are probably not in the market yet, people do not recognize your logo nor are familiar with your little skunk works. But that two legged walking bag of matter you have the privilege of inhabiting during your little life is the face of the company. You need to be flawless all around, from the way you dress and the way you smell all the way to the beasts that escape the dungeons once you open your mouth. People are mean, they can turn you on your head and make up reasons to hurt you. Your job is to give them no ground and remain stoic to their attempts of rendering you vulnerable.

Then there’s your product. Your market too. On one hand you don’t want to release your product early enough because there is still room to improve, and on the other hand you are afraid someone will catch up with you and release first. This is an underlying fear you are going to go to sleep with. Every. Single. Night. And there is always going to be room to improve, to quote Reid Hoffman “if you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late!” Come to think of it, man’s got a point. By this time a lot of patient people followed you around and are eager to see what has hatched under your wings.

So let this birdie fly away, you’ve done your best, and it’s better to die today than painfully drag it on. If you and your colleagues managed to properly blend the right amounts of dust and gas, a star will be born. What comes next? Well… you get sucked into it by its immense gravitational force. But that is a different story for a different time.