Startup culture is here to stay. Entrepreneurs and innovators have remade the business world in their own image over the past few decades as technological change rapidly advanced and “traditional” businesses struggled to keep up. Even once they’ve made it big, the companies these visionary CEOs started continue to live by the scrappy startup ethos that is baked into their DNA.
What separates startup culture from the traditional business practices it is challenging? What lessons can those of us in more traditional working environments learn from the success of startup culture? I’ll be looking at those questions and more as we explore lessons from startup culture.
Powerful Product Development
In my experience coaching and working with a multitude of early-stage startups, I’ve seen great ideas fade away and uncertain ones rise to the top. While a number of factors can impact the success or failure of a young company, at the core is the quality of the product or service that is being created.
Whether you’re a startup company founded to deliver on a big idea for a product or service or an established company looking for your next big thing, product development is the foundation of a successful business. One of the major lessons I’ve learned from watching startups struggle or thrive is this: create a solution, not a product.
Instead of simply building an exciting product, companies should emphasize solving a consumer problem in order to develop a solution that real people actually want. As Viget reminds us, no less than “billionaire businessman Richard Branson said, ‘To launch a business means successfully solving problems.’” Too often, I’ve seen teams of all sizes labor over a product, adding features and functionalities, only to learn that there was no market need for it. It didn’t solve anyone’s problems.
Successfully Solving Problems
Kenneth Trueman writes on Hacker Noon that “Whereas a product has the potential of doing something, a solution is the application of a product to solve a specific industry need or business problem. Note the word specific.” And indeed, specificity is the point.
One of the most inspiring examples of a solution-focused startup is The Ocean Cleanup, founded in 2015 by a Dutch entrepreneur to solve a very specific problem: the accumulation of plastic waste in the ocean. Even before their solution had been proven, The Ocean Cleanup acquired investment based on the urgency of the problem they set out to address. Their product, which involves a floating barrier and a 3-meter deep “skirt” below it, uses the natural forces of the ocean to propel itself through areas in which there is a high concentration of plastic. By singling out a specific problem and developing a tailored solution, the company has achieved great success and is currently in the process of eliminating 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over the next five years.
In many applications, the creation of a Minimum Viable Product accelerates the product development process through early testing of consumer response to a specific solution to a specific problem.
Marketing Your Solution
Not only does a solution-oriented product fit easily into a market that needs it, but marketing efforts are simplified by the fact that the selling point is clear: if you suffer from this problem, our product will fix it. Sometimes this involves educating consumers about a problem they weren’t previously aware of, but the solution remains the same.
As Sona Jepsen writes for Entrepreneur, “Selling a solution requires that companies fundamentally change how they do business: Instead of pushing products, they must create genuine connections with other people.” While this shift is a fundamental change, it’s not difficult to accomplish. By simply making yourself aware of the specific problems facing your target market, you can both create compelling solutions and market them effectively.
The solution-oriented approach to product development is just one way in which large and small companies can adopt startup principles to increase their chances of success. Stay tuned for future installments examining other lessons from startup culture.