It’s not rare that a conversation with a founder will go along the lines of:
Me — “So, whose your target market?”
Founder — “that’s the thing, it’s everyone!”
My personal experience of founders FOMO has come from when a founder is so overwhelmed with the possibility of becoming a ubiquitous product that they refuse to narrow their focus on one specific market. They believe that their product — and being a founder requires a level of audacity and self-belief that makes this answer completely understandable — is one of the 0.00001% of products that can not only be used by every person on the planet, but they are also able to communicate to each of these people that their product is right for them with the limited resources a startup typically has available.
It’s something I’ve pondered over for a while so imagine my excitement when I came across this Insight Squared podcast with Aaron Ross, where he summarised it perfectly
“I know you have an amazing product and everyone could use it,” Ross said. “But for most people, unless they really need it, the energy it takes to buy and implement and make it successful; it’s not going to happen. Focus on the areas where there is the most need.”
The problem with not having focus is that your resources only spread so far. OK, if I’m wrong and your product is great, how do you tell all of those people? You’ve got to start somewhere. So why not say, one day our product will be used by everyone. But for now, we are focussing on this niche of people who will buy it, enjoy it, and tell their friends that it’s a product they enjoy using. There’s absolutely no way you can achieve those things unless you focus.
Although I can’t confirm it, I believe that the psychology is that founders believe taking a smaller market is a sign of failure. We look at companies like Facebook, Airbnb, Pinterest and Ebay and say “they did, why can’t I?”. So here’s the thing…
When Facebook launched it was only available to University students at Harvard University. eBay’s initial traction came from being the place to buy and sell your beanie babies during their 90’s bubble. AirBNB still does local roll outs, ensuring that it has enough supply/demand to justify supporting a location on their platform. You don’t have to look too far back in your memories to realise that Pinterest’s core niche was, and probably still is, young women. For your product to win, it doesn’t have to be everything to everyone. It doesn’t even have to be beautifully designed and perfectly coded. As Dave McClure says:
Most founders think they have to be AWESOME for EVERYONE to succeed. In reality, they only need to be BARELY FUNCTIONAL and BETTER THAN ALTERNATIVES for a SMALL AUDIENCE, long enough to survive until next sunrise. Then they can gradually iterate & improve.
If that hasn’t convinced you to narrow your focus on choosing a market to conquer that fits your product, resources and roadmap, here are the main reasons founders FOMO will impact your business:
Weak Value Proposition
‘We do everything for everyone’. Fantastic, but the likelihood is that someone already has something. So you don’t only have to convince them that you’re right for them, but that you’re also better than their current solution.
No Network Effects
Information spreads and becomes gospel between people because there’s a large enough number of people within a confined space who hold and share a belief, enough to cross the threshold of persuasion for the non-believers within that network.
Poor Product/Market Fit
This is the thing people fail to realise about product market fit. It isn’t only about building a product to fit the market, it’s about finding a market that suits your product too. If you don’t choose a market to build to, you’ll end up with a frankenstein product that’s weak in all areas.
Slow Marketing Decisions
Here’s the thing about marketing, you can be absolutely brilliant at PPC, AdWords, TV and print but what if your audience only uses the apps on their smartphone to consume media? How do you know how your audience consumes media if you don’t know who your audience is?!
Let’s try this…how would you spend £1,000 to tell everyone in the world you’ve got the right thing for them? It’s endless, right?
Now let’s try this…
How would you spend £1,000 to tell inner city 18–21 year olds that you’ve got the right product for them?
It’s a lot easier to make those decisions. It’s a lot easier to make the rightdecisions. All you have to do is chose a market!
I really don’t think that products can gain significant traction nowadays without mastering all of the above. If you’ve already read Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm you will know that in order for a technological product to cross into mainstream markets, they require the validation of a smaller majority because they can’t make the leap of faith without some kind of social validation (this isn’t just putting faces on your landing page).
Ultimately, who doesn’t want to conquer the world? Over time, you can expand your product offering and compete in multiple market segments as more resources become available. But when your startup is still starting up, your job is simply to survive and make it to the next phase in your existence before the cash dries up.