Founders of technological startups often have the urge to keep working on their product. It has to be completely ‘finished’ before they enter the market. Often they have to be chased away from their computer. ‘The market waits! Go and find customers!’
Perfectionist entrepreneurs are often a pitfall for themselves. No single successful product was 100 percent ready when it was finding its way to its first customers. It was ready for 80 percent and it were those first customers who shaped the remaining 20 percent. The best entrepreneurs dare to jump when their product is not entirely ready. They dare to be vulnerable, they listen to feedback from their first customers and use it to further finetune and improve their product.
Today, speed is more than ever an incredibly important competitive advantage. Entrepreneurs often let others ‘eat their lunch’ because they stay too long in the lab or behind their computer, because the product is not ‘perfect’ enough. They let themselves be trumped by competitors who don’t necessary have a better product, but are more quickly seizing opportunities.
At imec.istart we organize ‘Founders Circle - Sounding Boards’ for entrepreneurs, together with Rubicon. In small groups of five founders, they address their biggest challenge, and together they search for solutions.
In 95 percent of the cases the challenge is not the actual obstacle, but hides a deeper underlying challenge. Perfectionism often hides fear. As long as the product is in their hands, they maintain the illusion that the product is fantastic and will change the world. From the moment they launch the product, customers may shatter that illusion. Every word of feedback is confused with criticism, any criticism is perceived as rejection. To avoid this, they keep adjusting the product and postpone this ‘make or break’ moment.
How can you break this vicious circle? Adopting a different view on sales can already create a world of difference. Many founders of startups have a completely wrong image of doing sales. They think they have to push their product, need to bluff, and have to convince a customer with an elevator pitch of half a minute. Those who look at sales in that way, are narrowing the customer’s choice to two options: yes or no.
We are trying to convince our founders to approach sales in a completely different way. Pull instead of push. Don’t bluff, but tell your customers in all transparency that you’re still working on your product and that you want to improve it further in co-creation with him. Don’t ask your customer if he wants to buy your product or not, but say you’re curious about his opinion. Selling is not about telling, it’s about listening. It’s not about giving answers, it’s about listing. Don’t consider openness and vulnerability as weaknesses, but as strengths you’re bringing to the table.
In your head a product can solve all the needs and wishes of your future customers. But you can only know exactly what those are when you get out there and ask feedback. ‘Is this what you need?’ This way, you can launch a product in the market that fits the realistic expectations of your customers. That’s a totally different mindset. You can only adopt such a mindset when you look at sales in a different way.
Many founders have a deeply engrained preconception that salesmen are pushy types. Nobody wants to be pushy, leading those founders to outsource their sales to call centres and job students. But those people don’t know the product and reel off a script. This results in bad sales, which in turn confirms the founder’s perfectionism. ‘You see, my product was not ready yet.’
At imec.istart we contractually determine that our investment in promising tech startups cannot be fully spent on R&D. One part must go to sales.
Sooner rather than later founders have to approach their first potential customers. Entrepreneurs really consider their product as their chid, and there is nothing wrong with that as such, but nobody wants a forty-year-old child that still lives at home.