Don’t Build a Sexy Startup

A treasure map to untapped (and unglamorous) riches.


I’m going to tell you a secret.

It’s not a very big secret. You may already know it. In fact, if I tell you this secret and you don’t look at me after I tell you my secret and then say “Jordan. I knew that.” then this secret isn’t for you. And yet, everywhere I go, it seems like I am the only person talking about this secret.

This secret doesn’t make you famous. It’s not glamourous. Even if you capitalize on this secret like a rockstar, you won’t ever become a household name. You won’t be able to afford a supercar, or a third home (but a second home would be nice). My secret is not a home run, it’s a base hit.

Statistical analysis and data reconfiguration.

Yo.

Everybody wants to make a consumer app. Everybody wants to invest in a consumer app.

Of all the hats that can be worn, we all share the consumer-hat.

We want to be entertained. Some of us want to be infotained. We want to connect with other people. We value our privacy. We want to eat food. We really hate sitting in traffic.

Everybody can relate to what everybody is from 5pm — 8am.

But that’s really not where we spend most of our time.

Free the Slaves

I am a young guy. I haven’t spent too much time in corporate America. My evidence is anecdotal, and that I am pulling data from a small sample set.

I like to work in ratios though, and of everybody I have sampled about this, I am pretty sure that I am getting a true/false ratio of over 90%.

At every organization there exists at least one spreadsheet that is absolutely vital, it is usually emailed around every morning, and it is almost always called “something something — MASTER.”

Usually each one of these ‘MASTER!’ spreadsheets has a person attached to them. That person is the MASTER’s slave. Cuz they are a slave to their ‘MASTER!!’. Get it?

You can always identify the slaves because every once in a while you will find yourself on a conference call inquiring about some obscure business process and the person on the other line will stop you:

“You know, I’m not entirely sure. Pete handles that process for us. Let me go get him.”

And then Pete the poor slave jumps on the call and you play Candy Crush and Snapchat your friends until he is finished describing what the purple and green cells mean in his ‘MASTER!!!’ spreadsheet.

I bring this up a lot. The most recent time I brought it up, my rant recipient happened to work at the mega-accounting firm; Ernst and Young.

They, you know, do audits for giant corporations.

Corporations that you have heard of, with national TV commercials and a 14.78B market cap.

So my buddy, we’ll call him Matt, was telling me that they were doing an audit for one of these giant companies in the retail sector, and low and behold they came across a slave named ‘Wendy.’

It was poor Wendy’s job to take all the returned items from last night [for this $15B retail company] and enter them in her spreadsheet one row at a time.

When she was finished she would email the spreadsheet to the appropriate next person inside the organization. What happened next I can only guess, but I assume that person appended the total to another ‘MASTER!!!!’ spreadsheet.

Look, I love spreadsheets. I prototype everything inside of them. Now that I can extend them using tools like Google Apps Script they are even better.

But spreadsheets are flawed all-day baby, all-day.

For one thing, visualizations suck. Data validation is rudimentary. The idea of user scope is non-existant. They don’t automate easily, and when they do the records are not permanent. They can’t handle large sets of data.

No worries, that’s why we invented databases & webapps.

You want to make money? Find a slave and free them from their ‘MASTER.’

But what about poor Wendy’s Job?

“But Jordan, what about Wendy’s job.”

Says you.

Aren’t you talking about eliminating her position entirely?

Nope. I’m talking about eliminating one of Wendy’s primary job functions.

I’m talking about giving Wendy her job back.

I have experience growing and managing teams, and one of the most interesting things I have learned is; people hate being treated like robots.

Total shock, I know.

Humans are actually pretty great at not being robots. They can reason, they are great at analytical thinking, they can calculate decisions with multiple variables astronomically fast.

If you can change their work from being a robot doing data entry, to being a human doing data analysis, employee morale improves. When employee morale improves, employee productivity improves.

Look at you. You just created multiple efficiencies.

The Catch

The catch for freeing the slaves, is that it can be really difficult to do customer development for your product.

When you are building a consumer product, feedback is everywhere, but when you are killing inefficiencies in middle management, the feedback you need is very specific.

All of the B2B consumer products are probably already taken. For example, all salespeople stood to benefit from nuking of the Rolodex. Then the SaaS model came, and there was a benefit to nuking the client (apps you install locally) CRM.

And so now we have Salesforce.

You don’t have to create Salesforce to buy a boat. You should be more focused. At least early on.

The problem with being focused though, is that you are creating a product for a very specific person, usually within a very specific industry.

If you don’t know exactly who that person is, then you are creating the wrong product. Find the slave first, and then help them automate their workflow.

The trouble is, you want as much feedback as possible. So you end up going around to consumers telling them about what you are working on. Muggles can’t help but give feedback.

Free the slaves, consumers are already free.

Just politely ignore it.

The really tricky part is when you chat with somebody who is a consumer, but you can’t tell. Maybe somebody that’s just one industry away.

Go ahead and gather their feedback. Then archive it. Once you are done springing everyone in your specific vertical you may want to move over to their vertical and free their slaves.

But you have to put your own oxygen mask on first.

Go beyond customer service. Get a job in middle management (easier said than done I know) and actually feel the pain.

Put the chains on yourself for 6 months to a year. Are they heavy? Or are they bearable? What sort of access to OPM (other people’s money) do you have in this role? You wear the chains but your boss buys the keys. What convincing does he need to justify setting you free?

It’s not fun and it's not glamourous.

It is, you know, work.

Conclusion

Businesses have endless budgets for one type of tool. Tools that pay for themselves.

B2B Tools can pay for themselves in two ways.

They can reduce more costs than they cost. In this case you are going after a cost-center.

They can create more revenue than they cost. In this case you are going after a profit center.

  • Find a slave, work with them to create something that frees them.
  • Calculate how much a) money you can save the org, or b) how much money your app will generate for the org.
  • Buy a boat. Get bored. Do it again.