Ravi Rajan is a program director working in India. He writes articles on technology trends and their impact on the basic needs of humankind
The Most Successful Technopreneurs Sell More Than a Product
"Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?"
That's what Steve Jobs said to then Pepsi Executive John Sculley when trying to convince him to work for Apple. The extraordinary thing about this one-liner was that Jobs wasn’t trying to sell Apple; he was trying to sell his vision of changing the world.
That said, the most successful technopreneurs sell more than a product. For example, Adobe didn't just sell us, Acrobat, instead they changed our whole way of working with digital documents. Elon Musk is not just building a car; he is selling us a pollution-free future and so on. Simply put, vision matters. You either have it or don’t.
As Michael Wolfe, co-founder at Gladly aptly puts it.
“The best companies are usually not started by people who want to ‘be an entrepreneur.' They are started by people who are knowledgeable and passionate about a specific problem, are driven to solve it, and then get busy building a company to bring to life,”
And before you even start listening to the best “start a start-up” podcasts, reading books written by successful start-up entrepreneurs, and taking advice from the youngest self-made millionaires on Instagram, you need to imbibe in yourself, certain qualities which all successful technopreneurs have.
Sure, they may seem to naturally have what it takes to be successful. While some may have inherent abilities that help them achieve their goals, it takes a lot more than that. Let us look at the top five habits every technopreneur should have to scale their tech start-up rapidly.
- They don’t design their business around VC
- They minimize It to the core features
- They hire the right team
- They are adaptable
- They are customer-centric
1. They Don't Design Their Business Around VC
Venture capital is a hell of a drug, and it’s possible to overdose on VC but too many founders make the cardinal mistake of orienting their business around venture capital from day 1. Successful founders, on the other hand, figure out stuff and then ask for venture capital. There are many examples of founders who started with literally no funding.
Nick Woodman used his savings and took $35,000 in loans from his mother to launch GoPro. He bootstrapped the business until 2012 when a tech firm Foxconn injected $200 million into his business. Two years later, the business was valued at more than $2 billion.
Craig Newmark kept running his classified platform business with his funds until 2004 when eBay finally invested $32 million for a 28% share of the company. By 2016 and Craigslist has made over $690 million in revenue.
Mailchimp was started in 2001 by Dan Kurzius, Ben Chestnut, and Mark Armstrong. But the start-up didn’t receive any funding from investors. Therefore, the founders kept running it by pouring-in funds from their own pockets. Now it has over 12 million customers. Last year it made more than $400 million in profits.
As you can see, none of these companies started with anything except your own money which can be called seed money. And these founders only raised money from VCs only after establishing the fact that, their product will be a success with or without VC money.
So before scrambling to schedule meetings with investors, read these inspiring stories. You can surely get alternative ways to think about funding.
2. They Minimize It to the Core Features
What is common between Facebook, Twitter, and Zappos?
They are all examples of companies that started with Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) which ultimately became tech giants.
Before Facebook, there was Facemash, a website created by Mark Zuckerberg and three of his classmates (Andrew McCollum, Chris Hughes, and Dustin Moskovitz) while students at Harvard University. The concept of the website was simple – users would be shown two pictures of students side-by-side and would have to choose which student was hot and which one was not.
The original Twitter prototype was designed for internal users as a way to send messages to other employees and view them on a group level. After the initial internal testing, Twitter was released to the public on July 15, 2006.
The original Zappos website was very basic and contained just a bunch of photos of shoes that were taken by Nick Swinmurn himself at a few different shoe shops. The main aim was to test his idea and answer the all-important question, “Will people buy shoes online?”
The whole idea is to start with minimizing your concept to just one or two core features – the features that you believe will help users solve their most important problem effectively. Typically, users aren’t going to adopt every feature a software offers – the ones that they don’t use will ultimately become a waste of the effort it took to build it.
Successful technopreneurs start with testing the market with only a few features, prove the concept, and then build the next set of features after validating the user requirements. The idea is to just provide the "core" and eliminate the frill features and then build up from that point.
3. They Hire the Right Team
it always boils down to the people and your product will decide the people you need to hire.
Saul Klein, the founder of Kano Computing, distinguishes three types of people in the perfect start-up team.
- A hipster – is a person who understands how to build technological systems to solve problems.
- A hacker – is a person who understands the human factors hidden by the problems and who knows what it takes to solve them.
- A hustler – is a person who knows how to reach people whose problems are to be solved.
A start-up is all about energy, innovation, and adaptability and the founder needs to ensure that his core team has the ingredients to make his product a success. These people need to survive in tough times of uncertainty and self-doubt so they have to be the best in class.
The number of people need not be significant but they should be the right people with extraordinary drive and much knowledge. Make sure to employ competent people who can make your business model a success. They are your A++ Team, willing to break out of their comfort zone and not afraid of challenges when the project changes gears.
Passion, Resilience, and a "Make it work" attitude are the top drivers of a successful start-up.
4. They Are Adaptable
In an ideal scenario, your products work as expected. Everybody who downloads the app will use it for months and months, you’ll get fantastic reviews, and your tech start-up will become the toast of the industry.
But that rarely happens. What is most likely to happen is that over time, your assumptions get validated based on the data/responses of the users. And then you may realize that your assumptions are flawed, to begin with, and a course correction is required.
So once you find that the users are not responding to your software as you expected, you need to adapt yourself to a new, more successful path. The whole idea of a start-up is to find out what solution your consumer is looking for. And by running tests based on real data – you can ensure that you are building software that has the potential to succeed.
Successful technopreneurs tackle these unfamiliar situations regularly. You might not know initially what to do, but the key is to persist until you find the answers. The greatest entrepreneurs don't always hit home runs.
Instead, they adjust and adapt their vision to circumvent adversity. Simply put, they have a persistent willingness to adapt to market trends and demands and do not abandon a product after releasing version one.
Delivering a better and improved version of your product, based on your customer's expectations is the key to being a successful technopreneur.
5. They Are Customer-Centric
When Levi Strauss was selling tents during the gold rush, he had the business sense to listen to one of his customers.
This customer was a miner and tailor who was dissatisfied with the strength and quality of the work pants available during the 1850s. Levi Strauss took his feedback and partnered with him to develop work pants with rivets and double stitching that we all love to this day. Levi Strauss was not doing anything new here. he was smart enough to listen to his customers, understand the market need and finally build a world-class product.
McKinsey in recent times has come up with a 3-stage customer-centric experience model.
The customer journey is a series of checkpoints from the first time a user becomes aware of your product to onboarding and transaction. Using various analytical tools and metrics we can determine what truly matters to the customer to ensure a uniformly consistent experience for the customer.
Design customer interactions according to the feedback and continue refining processes as you receive more data from the customers.
Use the existing customer journey to align your operational processes and empower your employees to deliver on user expectations. Link the metrics that measure customer success to your business outcomes and employee KPIs.
That said, successful founders realize that great ideas don’t mean anything if they don’t create an amazing experience around them. And they are always ready to adapt and change when customer feedback is mandating a new direction. There is a constant transition in place and they create the right conditions to make this transformational process painless and gradual.
Remember the key to success is not trying to fix the customer and force them to submit to your rules. Instead, embrace the change and adapt your product to eliminate the problem in the first place. Delivering a better and better experience at every stage is one of the most desired qualities in every successful founder.
As Steve Jobs has rightly said.
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”
- Effective Entrepreneur: How to Increase Your Productivity And Achieve More Faster- Christopher M Duncan
- HABITS OF THE HIGHLY EFFECTIVE ENTREPRENEUR-Rich E Shaw
- 8 Patterns of Highly Effective Entrepreneurs-Brent Bowers
- 10 Habits of The Highly Effective Entrepreneur: Successful Secrets That Get Results-Karwanna D.
- THE EFFECTIVE ENTREPRENEUR: Fifty-nine Rules to Create Value Throughout the Life Cycle of Your Company-George Von Von Gehr
- The Effective Entrepreneurs: Learn To Thrive With Both Mindsets-Coletta Fritcher
- The 7 Key Habits & Principles of Elite Entrepreneurs - Develop a Powerful Entrepreneurial Mindset and Transform Your Business-Walter Grant
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Ravi Rajan