Compete successfully with enterprises as a startup

competing successful with enterprises - Society3

Once in a while I meet entrepreneurs with amazing ideas but they don’t know how they could compete with even the largest enterprises.

I started my first company from scratch with $20,000 and needed to compete with 3 other businesses, each $200 Million to $1 Billion in revenue – 10 years later we were market leader on a global scale ($5B in revenue)

My second company was a little more different

I started my third company right after the bubble burst and competed with two other competitors who had $70 Million and $68 Million cash in the bank from pre bubble rounds – I started with $500,000 – 5 years later we were close to acquire one but let go because the due diligence made clear there is nothing we could gain – being the market leader already.

Here is how we compete:

1) In each case we developed a disruptive business model. We completely went of the beaten path and redefined sales channels or we made payments in very different ways, provided transparency were was none, service integration in the pricing and so forth. It was the market that forced the competition to follow us and compete with us – or loose it.

2) I never competed based on technology, product functions or any of those short term win or loose features. I learned: “The best product never wins”. However we did have great technology because we had great engineers – yet it was not the winning factor in the end.

3) Business is done between people. I knew I can win more customers when I have a nicer team – and I always had a stellar team. :)

In retrospect: all big winners won with a superior business model and amazing teams.

Obviously I don’t know anything about your business and therefor it is hard to make more specific suggestions – but look at your business model and your team before you even spend a millisecond on your product when it comes to competing for market share.

A good read to make sure you can handle such a problem is the question to find great founders

MVP, Minimum Viable Product

There is a concept called MVP – Minimum Viable Product.

Even though the name kind of says it all, the concept “MINIMUM” – “VIABLE” – “PRODUCT” indicates that there are as few features as possible, it must kind of work and it is a product – most entrepreneurs interpret MVP as the early iteration of a product they want to build. But that is definitely not the case. Let me explain it in more details:

1) MINIMUM VP
An MVP is supposed to demonstrate your core functionality that shows how your product is different from others. And as such focus exclusively on the core mechanism and process of the new solution. If you build a self driving car, it would be perfectly OK to use an old VW beetle that may have no lights and only one seat. But if it is perfectly self steering – you made a great MVP. Try to implement as little features as possible. Every “nice to have” feature destructs unless it is absolutely necessary to show the core idea.

2) M VIABLE P
Be aware that the MVP will only be used by early adopters and need to be seen by investors and other key people. They are typically smart enough to abstract the concept and imagine where you want to take it. It just needs to show the core feature in a very solid way. It need to work over and over again. The function needs to be robust enough that anybody can envision you build the whole concept in a beautiful way later on. Equally important, let the users experiment with it BEFORE it is ready. You will want to learn as much as possible from those users to build the final product after their feedback. Redoing a product is not only much harder but a rather “ready” product may mislead users to a behavior they may not be able to articulate their pain – rather leave it open in an MVP.

3) MV PRODUCT
Make sure that you have a well thought out business model that is actually the disrupting part of your solution. EVERY business model is reflected in the MVP. If the business model is lame, your MVP will not be too catchy wither. Make the PRODUCT reflect your business model.

Why so many startups fail

I’ve worked with over 100 startups in the past years and ran 5 businesses myself.

My experience – in this order: 

No. 1) Weak execution

Most failing startups could just not execute in a timely manner and/or showed a huge lack of judgment. They worked too hard on product features, too little with the market. They built too many “nice to have” features. They did not launch in time and did not work hard enough to build a use/customer base. Didn’t manage expenditures well enough. Failed to identify opportunities, failing to build strategic connection…

No. 2) No long term vision

It’s hard to convince a customer that your young startup is the right business if you just focus on your present product features. It’s hard to convince investors, partners, top talents if you can’t express where you want to take the company. 

As a result you won’t get enough traction and most likely fail.

No. 3) Superficial market/customer research

Lack of product-market fit. Very often startups develop products for themselves instead of for a large market. They keep their development too close to their chest instead of involving test customers very early on – even before they create their first prototype. The result is often to too far off from what the market needs. 

No. 4) Team weakness

No sense of urgency. Not fit enough on the technology side, not fit enough on the marketing side, not fit enough on the finance side, not fit enough on the operational side. 

5) Lack of connection power

Startup teams all too often underestimate the importance of building their own network of influential connections. Connections to influential users, influential industry groups, influential analysts, influential media, influential business alliances… Or they hope to find investors and mentors that provide those connections. In reality it’s just not working that way.

Re- money 

Many comments are made that money is one the problems. In all the cases and startups I’ve seen, lack of money never brought a startup down. Lack of funding is a function of one of the above issues – not a problem in itself. There is more money available than ever before – but the above weaknesses prevent startups to raise funding.