Win the fight for attention by communicating with relevance

The biggest challenge when introducing a new product is establishing a connection with your audience. Often, this is because you can’t do anything else until this is in place. This detail really hit home for me, when I went to an accelerator event in Mexico.

In this 2006 photograph, a man was receiving an intramuscular injection in his left shoulder muscle from a trained, registered nurse (RN), while his family was observing from over the nurse's shoulder.
Photographer: CDC | Source: Unsplash

One of the speakers was an immunobiologist client of mine, who’d developed a unique salmonella vaccine that could be combined with other vaccines. And it looks as though his vaccine is the only salmonella one which can do that.

I’d worked with him briefly as an innovation expert, and had a discussion about commercialization options as well as some pitch training. At the time he was struggling to see entrepreneurship as a viable route to greater impact. He felt comfortable as an inventor, and wanted to do more of that, not become a businessman.

It turned out I had unleashed a force of nature. Also drilling him in giving pithy explanations helped him hone down his message to something much more concrete for anyone who wasn’t already a fellow immunobiologist, or even a scientist. This one insight allowed him to communicate the relevance of his work to the wider public.

But more importantly, he started to believe that entrepreneurship was a viable route to greater impact. As it would force him to confront institutions that held him and other scientists back domestically.

As a result of both, he’s pretty much gone from a booksy academic researcher to a serious contender in getting funding to help spread the use of his product vaccine. This is the power of relevance and empathy in an age of dwindling attention.

One of the best ways to get (and stay) relevant is to focus all of your marketing and product efforts around a client profile. In theory there are millions of ways to reach an audience; in practice, you only need to reach a specific group of people. So figure out who they are, and then just focus on them. The best way to do this is the Hero Canvas tool. Grab a copy and get a quick intro for free with my Hero Canvas course.

Lean Startup 101

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Focused learning is the fastest way to validate a product idea.

Lean Startup is based on the scientific process, albeit more business focused, focused on learning fast when you know little. It’s the fastest known way to validate a product idea. Consider this a Lean Startup 101 introduction to how to use it in your business.

The first step of choosing a hypothesis to test is to map out your business with canvases. Business Model Canvas for the big picture, and any of the following three to figure out problem-solution fit:

  • Lean Canvas for the product
  • Javelin Validation Board
  • Value Proposition Canvas

After you’ve settled on a vision you’re happy to start testing, you prioritize what will give you the strongest boost in confidence. You try to get data confirming it’s true.

Let’s say you’ve now settled on a specific assumption you’d like to test. Which means you need to map a fuzzy concept down to one metric.

Choose a Metric

Choosing this one metric is the next step (and one which is largely driven by intuition).

Which number represents what you want to change? Or captures what you want to monitor? This requires some analysis, but also some subjective skill.

For example, do you want to increase sales or profits? There aren’t really clear answers, because it depends on where you are and what you want to achieve. A venture funded startup interested in growth at all costs is happy to be unprofitable, as long their growth is up and to the right. A bootstrapper will be monitoring cash flows and profits like a hawk.

If you are just exploring an idea and a new market, gather data to confirm that the external environment matches your assumptions. For example, one startup I worked with was testing out an idea about lending and borrowing DIY tools to strangers. They wanted to build a peer-to-peer lending platform for these tools. They found that consumers were much happier to lend out tools to strangers, than to ask to borrow.

Once you have problem solution fit, focus on metrics that you can influence with your actions. Choose one that’s actionable. Dave McClure’s pirate metrics are useful here as a high level starting point: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referral.

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Choose a success signpost

For this particular metric, figure out what means “success” to you–before you run the experiment.

This is a common point where founders trip up. What’s “meaningful”? Conversion rate hurdles are a good example. If I choose a conversion rate that’s too high, and the experiment doesn’t pass, I’ll have to give up on my idea. If I set it too low, I’ll be building a business around a bad idea and end up with a zombie product. In this case, a meaningful conversion rate is one which gives you a customer acquisition cost which is less than the expected long term value of a customer.

Create an explainer video for your complicated new product. Make sure your audience understands it, without being overwhelmed by technical details.

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Here’s an analogous situation I’ve seen offline. One team I worked with were gung-ho about an idea for a fitness app. They wanted to get 75% of the people they speak with confirm that the problem they wanted to solve exists. After speaking with 20 people, it turned out 30% confirmed that they had this problem. In this particular case, they’d been too aggressive about setting the success metric, as they would still be able to build a good business around 30% of a consumer market.

Choosing a success metric is also very much an art, one that requires a good sense of context and an awareness of other data driving the success of your startup. A great way to do this, by the way, is using the Grasshopper Herder experiment template. This is also available as a bonus for Launch Tomorrow buyers.

Intuition+imagination: the secret sauce

So even the scientific process requires intuition–to choose and formulate hypotheses with practical implications. What’s more, these come from a worthwhile vision, based on what’s possible for you and your founding team.


The 80/20 of Lean Startup

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80% of results from 20% of the resources

Remember the 80/20 rule?

You get 80% of the results from 20% of the inputs. Well, 80% of the results from using Lean Startup come from running experiments, in my opinion. Meticulously.

  1. First, focus around the product; prove your value hypotheses.
  2. Then, focus on growth; prove your growth hypotheses.

If you aren’t running experiments, you’re not learning. You’re doing what Ashley Aitken from Australia calls “Faux Lean Startup”. For example, think back to how tech startups launched in the dotcom days.

Old Traditional Way Faux Lean Startup
Business Plan Lean Canvas
Market Research Validate solution
Waterfall Project Management “Agile”
Alpha -> Beta -> v1.0 Alpha -> MVP -> v1.0
Private Beta testing Early Adopters
Launch Product Launch Product
Get market feedback Get market feedback

Faux Lean Startup means you replaced some of the dotcom era tools with “lean approved” tools. If so, you’re missing the point of lean startup. Lean Startup isn’t only about customer development, personas, and interviewing customers. UXers have been doing that for decades before Lean Startup existed.

In my mind, the classic example of this is using “MVP” as a synonym for beta product. Beta software means that you still expect to have missed some bugs in the software. Your unknowns are technical. An MVP is completely different animal than a beta product. It’s created to test initially one business assumption. With MVPs, you test unknowns on the business side—not technical ones.

80% of the results from using Lean Startup come from running experiments. Click To Tweet

It’s easy to fall back into the old pattern of avoiding what you don’t want to hear. It’s only human. You need to be deliberate about learning, in order to really get valuable feedback. A true lean startup implementation requires you to be running a long series of experiments (at least 1 per week). Minimize your own biases. Maximize learning when you know the least. See things how they are, based on data you gather from the market.

That’s the 80/20 of Lean Startup.


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How Early Can You Launch?

launch calendar launch tomorrowThe main thing about launches that I’ve realized is that people put way too much emphasis on them. They end up focussing too much on a one-off event, rather than on building a successful business. Sometimes, they end up paying a price for suboptimal trade-offs they make.

The goal of a traditional launch is to work towards a specific date. Your customers will expect to see the product on that day. You product development team has to get the product in a presentable shape. Launching works well as a tool to build anticipation.

But a launch is also a planning tool. The thing is, you commit to plans based on your assumptions. And if you are creating a new product, or entering a new market, there are bound to be some wrong assumptions.

For example, I’ve run or participated in a few Lean Startup Machine weekends in the past. Of the teams that are formed at the beginning, I’d say about 10-20% are still working on roughly the same product at the end.

This means 90% of early stage founders generated significant learning by speaking to their customers. If any of those 90% of ideas were launched without any customer engagement, there would have been a lot of back-pedalling to do. After speaking to many prospects over the weekend, most have an epiphany or two.

Engage with your market as early as you can. Here’s why you should do so in your startup:

  1. If you earn (or are already earning) revenue, you are proving the commercial viability of your idea with your chosen niche
  2. If you eventually do a traditional launch, you can start testing your marketing and positioning now. This typically involves getting your message in front of different traffic sources. Seeing what speaks to each niche. Optimize your growth. Improve your message market fit. Avoid low-ball price wars as a commoditized product or service.
  3. If you have revenue (ideally cash flow) then you can finance further growth. You can create internal positive feedback loops within your company. Self-finance your roll-out to different audiences.

If you are concerned you’ll be losing out on the marketing effect of “launch anticipation”, run a limited small scale test. Try giving your product away for free to a handful of ideal clients. Confirm that they actually spend the time to engage with it. Listen to their feedback. If it’s good, you can include the reviews as testimonials. If you need to improve, then at least you find out before you do an entire media blitz.

Or sell the product using paid advertising. Make 30 sales. Use those numbers to figure out all of the critical factors in your marketing. Quantify market size, customer acquisition cost, and conversion rate at different price points. Then you have a legitimate baseline for planning further investment in the product, or to reject it as a bad idea.

Once you do that a few time, you will be ready to start building anticipation. Do all of the usual “launch stuff”:

  • schedule media appearances
  • get in touch with your PR contacts and influencers,
  • try to get TechCrunch coverage…

Whatever is relevant for you and your product.

So there’s definitely a place for a traditional launch. It’s just after completing a lot of experiments–including marketing ones.

About to start a greenfield project?

Have Launch Tomorrow run an in-house "riskiest assumption workshop". Remote delivery options also available. Discover where to prioritize your validation efforts, to get to market fast.

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or call us now at:

US/Canada: +1 202 949 4478
UK: +44 773 952 7708
EU: +48 692 870 297

[image: dave cholet]