Archive for February, 2011

If You Want to Dance, Think Compelling

Gaining traction as a new company is much like attending a middle school dance.  Individuals have wildly disparate memories of the middle school experience.  While I would never attempt to understand what is goes on in the minds of hormone saturated teenagers, the scene at a middle school dance can have a striking resemblance to emerging markets.

First, there are the established leaders.  These are often the class officers, top athletes and/or popular kids that everyone recognizes the minute they walk in the door.  Heads turn and other kids observe their every move.  If they choose to dance, they have no problem finding a dance partner.  Peers and parents alike typically admire these students.

Next, there are the “dangerous” kids.  They too are often noticed, and often secretly admired by some of their peers, because of their natural appeal to the “wild side” in each of us.  While we aren’t willing to take the risk, we can experience it vicariously through them.  Some are only willing to observe from a distance, and others are drawn even closer.   Like a mountain ledge without a safety rail, it draws us close.  Have you ever wondered why the “good girls” are often attracted to the “bad boys”?

Then, there are the kids who are remarkable is some other way.  Whether it is the excellent musician, singer or dancer, they get noticed.

Finally, there are the unremarkable kids.  They may be incredibly, smart, caring and talented, but nobody seems to notice them.  They are invisible, not because of who they are or what they are capable of, but because they are not recognized.  They blend into the crowd and go unnoticed.  Even if they accomplish something far more compelling than the darlings, the darlings’ accomplishments will be recognized because everyone is already watching them.

As painful as middle school memories may be, the entrepreneur building his or her startup company must recognize he or she is facing the equivalent of being the new kid attending the school dance.  Unless you are stunningly beautiful you will be invisible.  Being beautiful will require the financial capital to advertise during the Super Bowl, which you do not have.

The only viable alternative is to be compelling.  Creating a solution that is as good as, or slightly better, than an existing solution is a sure path to becoming unremarkable.  To gain traction the entrepreneur can start by ask the following questions:

Are we offering something completely new and different?

Jay Tapper started an interactive candy division of Cap Toys Inc., where he introduces an interactive motorized lollipop called the Spin Pop.  In an industry replete with darlings, Tapper’s product got noticed because it was it was unique.  Rather than focusing on making a lollipop that tasted better than a Tootsie Roll Pop, he focused on a lollipop that was interactive.

Do you have a competency that will allow you to fill a gap in the market?

Rather than rest on his laurels, Tapper decided to leverage the competencies developed with the Spin Pop to attack a gap in a completely different market—oral hygiene.  At the time, there were two kinds of toothbrushes: manual and electric.  While most competitors in this market were either focused on developing a $2.99 manual toothbrush with a more comfortable handle, or developing a $200 electric toothbrush with multiple functions, Jay focused on the gap—the white space in the market.  Since he already had the competency to develop an inexpensive device that spins, why not develop and inexpensive “interactive” toothbrush, at a price that was orders of magnitude cheaper than $200?  Enter the Spin Brush, now known as the Crest Spin Brush, following an acquisition by Proctor and Gamble.

Ask yourself what, if any, core competency you have that will make your business successful?  Is it a delivery mechanism?  Is it the way you acquire content?  Is it the relationship you will have with the gatekeepers?  Is it the interactive nature of the tool or product you are offering?

What is it about the existing art or current solutions people don’t like?

Weight management continues to be the bane of many American’s existence.  For decades Americans have increasingly understood the need to avoid obesity.  Even though there have been countless solutions offered over that same period, obesity continues to rise.  Why don’t the current solutions work adequately?  Although some programs are scams, most weight management programs follow the sound principle of caloric intake minus caloric burn equals weight change.  Yet these current solutions often do not work for people.  Weight Watchers addressed this by focusing on three inhibitors to effective weight management—lack of support systems, accountability and complexity.  They attacked the support and accountability issues by including, as part of their program, weigh-ins and support groups.  They also introduced the point system, which made it easier to monitor caloric intake, reducing complexity.

While Weight Watchers has been successful, obesity continues to be a problem.   Let’s suppose we want to offer a new solution to improve Americans’ success in proper nutrition.  We might start by asking Nutritionists what keeps their clients from following their advice.  Is it because:

  • The information is t00 hard to follow?  Then find a method for communicating it better.
  • Clients fear failure?  Then find a way to eliminate the fear.
  • Clients don’t have the proper support through the process?  Then develop effective support mechanisms.
  • Clients need accountability?  Then develop a way to introduce accountability.
  • Clients find it tedious or boring?  Then find ways to make it fun.

In this era of global competition, building a better mousetrap is not enough.  As a startup, you need to offer a compelling solution.  You need to make your product or service remarkable in some way.  As the new kid in school, it is the only way someone is going to ask you to dance.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

Site Index