At Seedcamp there were several startups, that target other startups as their potential customers. This is not unusual. There are many people out there giving professional help to startups in many different ways. However, this got me thinking about questions I asked a little late in my life.
Do you like to interact with your customers?
One of the facts in life I realized a little late is that you get to hang out with your customers a lot. You talk to them all day. You exchange emails. You attend their meetings. You pitch to them. You explain your product. You teach how to use your product. You listen to their feedback. You listen to their complaints. You answer their stupid questions. You patiently wait until their rant is over. All this requires a lot of, A LOT OF interaction. Actual human talking and conversation.
As far as the startups I’ve met at Seedcamp Ljubljana; Entrio founders will hang out with event organizers, bar, concert hall owners and agents, who don’t really understand iPhone, Android and how GPS devices work. The great entrepreneurs of Farmeron will spend a good deal of their time talking to farmers who may not be accustomed to using a web based software. The Labels founder will have to deal with headhunters. Now, these are three completely different kind of groups of people. I wonder if the founders realize that they will spend the next five six years of their lives hanging out with these groups.
I know this problem all too well first hand. Several years ago, I created a website for realtors. After my first meeting with a realtor, it became crystal clear to me that there is no way I could do that for another five years let alone five minutes. The project died there and then. I strongly recommend you to avoid the mistake I made and ensure that you can connect with the people you are going to work with for the foreseeable future.
However, this is not all to it. There is another side to the coin as well.
Do you fear rejection?
The buzz at a startup event can be quite addictive. Young, brilliant people, doing young brilliant things. Obviously, they all get along very well. They speak the same language. Who wouldn’t wanna hangout with these guys all the time? I worry that this accommodating feeling of acceptance among their peers makes some entrepreneurs lose their focus on finding their most promising customers. This happens subconsciously. Your mind finds justifications why it is better talking to startups than enterprises. You create imaginary proof that focusing on startups is the right way to go. You spend more time in the startup community (reading, preparing, meeting, traveling etc…), than on your actual work. You find yourself complaining that big business don’t get you or your ways. When you ever bring yourself to pitch to a bunch of suits, you subconsciously undercut yourself and look like an idiot.
At Seedcamp, I’ve met with at least two companies who viewed startups as their first and foremost important customers. Both of these companies had one client only and it wasn’t a startup.
Humans are prone to choosing comfort over challenge. Most people prefer failing comfortably to succeeding painfully. We don’t want to set sail to the cold dark seas and conquer our fears. We want to lay on the beach and enjoy our mojito. Unfortunately, everything significant in life is done by conquering inner fears. The art in entrepreneurship is how much of your inner fears you conquer. Choosing startups as your customers may be the result of an inner fear of rejection.
Inner fears are cunning and sly. They disguise themselves as being smart, prudent and fun. They have to be that way because in reality they are incredibly weak. One proof to the contrary and poof! they are gone. They are walls of cardboard.
If your inner fear of rejection prevents you from talking to people, I have good news for you. Having a meeting with a stranger is a matter of course in business life. You are the only one feeling uncomfortable about it. When you make your first attempt, you will be welcomed. Oh my God, they will even take you seriously. They will show up, willing and eager to give you an hour of their life and listen to what you have to offer. Do you know why? Because they will view you as someone who may help them. If it is a good fit, cool. You can move to the next step in the sales funnel. If it is not, it is not the end of the world. You try to learn from the experience as much as possible. Ask questions, figure out what went wrong. They will cooperate with you.
Do some fact checking. Get out of your head, go to the real world and find the right segment of customers with real tangible evidence: By trial and error, by learning from experience. To do that you need to talk to startups, small businesses, mid size companies, large enterprises or whatever segment you can think of. Then you should look at the progress you made with each segment and focus your efforts to the one that is most promising. If that segment turns out to be other startups indeed, cool. Congratulations, you get to hang out with your buddies. If it turns out to be realtors…Hey…Maybe it was me.
Find the people who need your help the most. Ask yourself if you like them. If you do, go on. If you don’t, don’t start up.
Yalım K. Gerger (@yalimgerger)