Startups, particularly those world-changing, curve-jumping, bet-the-farm kind
are a tricky business. The temptation for startups is, as Seth Godin would say, “to create average
products for average people”. The reason is simple, there’s a massive market of
average people. And, they want average products. Nothing too controversial.
Nothing that makes them too uncomfortable.
Guy Kawasaki, one of my favorite business authors addresses this in a recent
article titled “The Art of
Innovation”. Here’s #4 from that article:
“Don't be afraid to polarize people. Most
companies want to create the holy grail of products that appeals to every
demographic, social-economic background, and geographic location. To attempt to
do so guarantees mediocrity.”
But, my advice would be to not try and “solve for the middle” — but strive to
polarize an audience. If you’re really looking to make a big difference, you
want a group of people that passionately disagrees with your
idea/approach/business. Why? Because when you’re doing something that
polarizes, and you have a bunch people that passionately disagree with you, you
have a chance to find people that passionately agree. It is these
passionate people that help fuel the growth and help spread your idea. And
curve-jumping companies almost always have an idea that spreads at their core.
Your enemy, as in many walks of life, are not the ones that hate, but the ones
that are apathetic.
In short, have the courage to take a stand even if it means you’re going to
make some people uncomfortable or annoyed. Of course, you actually have to
believe in the stand that you take, but the idea is that if you believe
in it, push towards the edges even if it causes a big rift in your
So, let’s take a look at a small, recent example from my own startup,
HubSpot. I’m using the HubSpot case because I know it well and have been on the
“inside” of (as a founder and Chief Stirrer of Pots). It also just happened
yesterday as part of our own internet
The quick story at HubSpot is simple: We believe there’s a massive
transformation going on that is causing people to move from outbound
marketing (advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, etc.) to inbound
marketing. Inbound marketing is about increasing the chances that people
that actually give a flying flip about your offering will find you. (Not to
hunt down masses of people most of whom don’t give a flying flip and interrupt
them with your message). The idea itself is not that controversial. But, this
video that we created recently is. It’s short, and sort of funny, so go watch
it and then continue.
So, here was our issue. When building this video we had to decide: Are we
really advocating that companies throw away all of their old marketing methods
(including telemarketing) so they can switch to our way (inbound
marketing)? It’s just not practical. If we asked people to do that, we’d risk
losing a bunch of prospects that just wouldn’t take us seriously. We’d risk a
bunch of our prospective customers thinking we were a whole lot of clueless.
But, we did it in anyway. Then, we went a step further. When we created the
associated blog article, we gave it a controversial title “Dude,
Cold Calling Is For Losers”. Now, not only are we making fun of people that
are doing cold calling, we’re actually calling them losers. Remember,
we have 5,000+ people that are subscribed to this blog, many of them are
marketers, and most of them likely do some sort of telemarketing.
So, what do you think? What are you doing to “take a stand” when it comes to
the vision of your startup? What was the last risk you took online? Something
that would really irritate a big batch of potential customers? Share your
experiences here. I promise, we won’t hate you.
Apologies for those that think this is article too self-promotional. I
try to keep OnStartups focused on things that I think will help other
entrepreneurs. Often, my best exampes are from my own personal experience.
Nudge me back if I cross the line.