Building something? Careful down that rabbit hole
Recently, I was speaking with a company building a healthcare analytics platform. That same week, I also met a hospital wanting to re-imagine patient engagement.
In a lot of ways those conversations were similar. Future focused. Enthusiastic. They were entrepreneurs with great experience. Obviously knew what they were talking.
And yet...both dealt with the same challenge.
Too many good ideas. Each fighting for focus with the other. A recipe for mediocrity.
Sure, coming up with ideas is great. Trying to run after all of them is not.
Digging a well in many places never yields water. You’ll only end up with a hole here and a hole there. Never going deep enough.
When you begin to execute ideas, they consume you. And your two precious resources: time and money.
Sooner or later, entrepreneurs learn that the market doesn’t take very well to less differentiated ideas. When you spread your resources thin, it's difficult to make any one idea standout in a cluttered world.
Driverless cars for healthcare - good idea?
Say you have an idea for driverless cars in healthcare. Good.
It has many applications. From picking up patients to carrying medical equipment. However, the idea is still too broad. A broad focus makes it difficult to find your first set of customers.
The way to sharpen your idea is to begin with problems. And people with those problems. Problems that you might be aware of. Or, those that bother you.
In your worldview, who has the most need for driverless cars in healthcare? Let’s say, you come up with the answer as patients.
Okay, what kind of patients?
Hmmm…may be patients who can’t drive. Or, shouldn’t drive. Or, who find it difficult to hire a cab. Or, who don’t like bothering friends and family for a doctor visit.
May be, say senior citizens. Driverless cars for senior patients. Better than driverless cars in healthcare.
Let's sharpen further.
Driverless cars for independent senior patients during day surgeries. Even better.
At this point, you may wonder…but, isn’t this too narrow? How will I conquer the market and be like Facebook or Google? (I’m sure people have now stopped saying Uberization of…).
There’s lots of time for world domination. At the idea stage, it’s time to focus on one clear idea with one strong use-case. Go a mile deep.
You have to learn to serve somebody well. Well enough for them to say "thank you for doing this". Before you begin to serve everybody.
Who decides which idea to focus on?
Is it the technical founder? Or, the business guy? Or, your angel investor?
Who decides what you must build? Which features are important?
No one from your company.
Many a startup have eaten dust feeding a founder’s ego. Burning billions of dollars. And blood and sweat of countless hardworking people.
So who decides? You allow your customer to decide.
This might be counter-intuitive to worshippers of Steve Jobs' gospel. He often said that customers don't know what they want. You simply need to build and show it to them.
May be true for Apple. But most companies don't have their discipline, intuition, or creative process.
Allowing your customers to decide. It doesn't mean running a market survey and asking them to pick the features from a SurveyMonkey questionnaire.
It means having the patience to understand your customers deeply. So well that you can grasp their biggest pains and desires. Even those that they may not be able to articulate.
If you listen well. You will hear the signals. In fact, you will hear the signal so clearly when you get it right. That's what develops intuition to second guess what your customers want.
Getting priorities right
Once you know what your core customers want. List their problems exactly in the order of their priority.
Can you group one or two top priority items and make them your problems?
What can you develop that will make their life better? Surrounding those 1 or 2 problems.
Devote all energies in developing your product in that direction. Build those features first. That directly and meaningfully address their biggest needs.
Get that right by allowing your customers use your product. Observe them in action. Are you getting the signals that they love what you've done? Are they pleased?
It's only then that you focus on your next set of features.
What if they don't like what you've built?
The answer to that is actually simple. Scrap it and do it over. Or, pick another problem to solve. Accept that beta product doesn't meet their strongest needs.
You may be thinking...but, I've spent so much money and time on this.
Know that you'll spend a lot, lot more. By going down that rabbit hole.