Market positioning for startups – focus, focus, focus

I was on a call yesterday with an inspired and talented management team.  As we walked through the deck, one point particularly struck me as I listened to their well-honed pitch.  The company was trying to boil the ocean and do everything for its customers.  While it was great that the team seemed to understand the market and the problem that their customers had, I must say that I started to lose interest by the fifth differentiating feature of the product/service.  One slide really highlighted the problem for me – it showed a feature list of 10 features and then showed 3 different competitors who were either already well established public companies or well funded startups that only offered 30% of what this angel-funded startup would offer.  In my mind I was wondering how an angel funded company could go-to-market against companies with billion dollar market caps or with $30mm of venture funding which were highly successful because they were incredibly focused on a subset of problems that this start-up was trying to solve. I know, I know, I always like entrepreneurs to think big but that must be balanced with how a startup goes to market.

You see, it is always hard for a startup to enter a market with an end-to-end product positioning as most customers expect large companies to cover this territory.  What most customers expect from startups is innovation and breakthrough offerings, not end-to-end solutions.  Going back to the call, my humble suggestion was for the management team to complete their beta test with their handful of customers and figure out which 2 or 3 features were the most compelling and differentiated offerings with respect to their competition and market.  They should then plan their go-to-market strategy with a more focused approach that emphasized a new and innovative offering instead of a "we do it all for you" approach.  In the long run, if successful, the startup could always add another feature or two as they grew their customer base but keeping the message simple early on is imperative to drive a successful product launch.

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