Is Your Startup a Flower or a Weed?

Photo by crabtree on Unsplash

My front garden houses some very well behaved flowers. The perennials arrive at the same time each year, grow, bloom, and die — all within a fairly short period of time. They are beautiful, colorful, and they add some class to the front of my home. They’re fun to show off.

Each year that same garden always develops some gnarly weeds, and if I’m not careful (OK, usually every year) they propagate, dwarf the flowers, and send seeds out into my lawn. If I don’t act to stop it, my garden and lawn will eventually be taken over by weeds.

My flowers are beautiful, but they don’t spread. My weeds are ugly, but they spread like crazy.

Two Friends

  1. The Flower

I recently met with a founder who is struggling a bit. He is highly skilled in his craft and has constructed what I consider to be a damn good product. He has some idea of who his target markets are, but he doesn’t know how to reach them. He doesn’t have enough customers to be cash flow positive yet — and he’s worried that he won’t get there in time.

His startup is a flower. When you talk with him, you get the sense that he is thinking, “Why don’t more people come and smell my pretty flower?” He’s polite, he’s well behaved, but he’s hidden away behind the weeds in his beautiful garden.

2. The Weed

I have another founder friend who is constantly selling. He works sales funnels, creates email, Twitter and Instagram lists, experiments with new products, and fearlessly cold calls. He knows who his target markets are and how to reach them. He’s killing it.

His startup is most definitely a weed. When you talk with him, you hear, “Yo, I connect with hundreds of new prospects each and every day. Plenty don’t buy, but enough do to make me a very happy camper. Oh, and yesterday I got another idea for a new product that some of them say they want — gonna go live with that this week and put it in front of everybody’s face!” He’s brash, he’s bold, he’s in your face (if you are in one of his target markets, that is). He’s popping up in your well manicured lawn.

I’d like you to stop for a moment and think about your startup from this perspective. Is your startup cultivating beautiful, precious, well behaved flowers, fun to show off but not spreading? Or, is it cultivating a crazy, pushy, ugly weed that is growing like … well … a weed?

A Product Without Distribution Will Die …

… because the venture won’t grow.

Distribution has been one of the hot buzzwords in the entrepreneurial field for a few years. Call it go to market strategy, market engagement, lead generation, channels of distribution, or just plain sales — if you don’t find customers and put your product in their hands (in exchange for money, that is), your venture will die. Establish distribution and you will thrive.

My friend The Flower and I talked about five things he could do.

  1. Identifying the different target markets (or segments, if you will) that can receive great value from his product. He had some idea of who they were, but he had not thought about them as separate groups.
  2. Identifying the group that will see his product’s value the clearest — and thus be most likely to buy right now. Since he hadn’t thought about his potential customers in segments, he hadn’t even considered the idea that some might see better value or more urgent need than others.
  3. Writing a different story for each group — a story that keys on the value and benefit specifically for just that group. Again, his homogenous approach (“Everybody, come smell the pretty flower!”) had never considered that each group might need to hear a customized value story.
  4. Directing targeted marketing campaigns toward the most likely buying group first (using their own story, of course), then quickly following that with campaigns targeted to each other group.
  5. Keeping his eyes and ears open for clues to add some products to his product line either to round it out (one size does not necessarily fit all) or to brand different products for different market groups.

In other words, he can certainly make it — he just needs to act a little weedy. By that I mean that he needs to stop admiring the pretty flower he’s created and go take it into the markets. He needs to pop up on some lawns.

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