May 3, 2012
In every startup’s tale there’s a plot twist: the critical point at which you figure out that while you may have hit on the right problem, it’s for the wrong customer. For instance, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is often quoted as having tried to bring crowdsourcing to nonprofits before he offered it to businesses.
My journey through this latest week of Women Innovate Mobile with my startup, Appguppy, has been no different. The critical turn took place when one of our mentors, Stacey Gutman, Director of OPEN Forum at American Express, posed a simple question – who were our customers?
With the rise of the lean startup movement, the idea that an entrepreneur knows everything about their customer is actually an assumption that requires testing. At Appguppy, our stated goal was, and continues to be, the democratization of mobile by bringing a true DIY mobile solution to a market that was effectively being locked out. But as a startup committed to being in sync with our customer base, we had to pay attention to the real life trends unfolding on our platform. And after throwing our software out there and doing some testing, our stats showed clearly that our early adopters were, unexpectedly, musicians. So we had to quickly make a decision about whether or not we wanted to be the startup catering to a market likely to emerge two years down the line, or a market sitting in front of us.
What do you do when the facts end up staring your startup so plainly in the face? Well, you gather your mentors and investors around you, take a deep breath and figure out how you’re going to quickly iterate. And what’s the entrepreneurial asset that goes hand-in-hand with iterating? Humility.
Iterating, in contrast to the oft-vaunted pivoting, can certainly be viewed more as a strategic decision-making process to stay abreast of ridiculously obvious trend lines rather than a complete re-evaluation of your startup’s business model and/or long-term vision. But iterating still requires a certain measure of humility because it involves declaring your facts, assumptions and your rights wrongs.
Iterating in the context of a three month accelerator program is no joke. Fortunately, my CTO was able to quickly determine how to upgrade Appguppy’s platform and functionalities in order to provide the optimal experience for our target vertical. Meanwhile, my business development partner and I quickly determined how to restructure our customer acquisition policy in order to capitalize on this newly identified opportunity.
Right now we’re focused on rolling the cart down the aisle of the flight we’re actually on, rather than the one we thought we’d be on. Our passengers may be different, and we may be switching out beverages to suit their needs, but ultimately we’ll be flying to the same destination. It’s just that when you’re a startup, you figure out that some passengers are willing to get there faster than others.
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