I listened to a business marketing podcast with Seth Godin this weekend and was struck by one of his points. He said that people should aim to solve a problem for a small group. Do it really well. Dominate this market segment before thinking of expanding their business.
If you think about it, this makes sense. If you can’t do well with a small group that is somewhat easy to manage, how are you going to kick butt for the masses?
Aim Small, Miss Small
This makes me think of the movie, The Patriot. In the movie, Mel Gibson and his kids were in battle to save one of his older boys. He says to his younger boys “Aim small, miss small”.
I’ve always remembered this. Don’t know why. Didn’t really even love the movie. The point of this is that if you have a laser thin spot to aim for, chances are a miss will still hit the bigger target.
If you have a small, niche group that you are creating your business for, you will be very in tuned to their needs. You will be hyper-sensitive to everything that evolves around their business. If you miss, you won’t miss by much since your focus is so narrow.
This is the problem with the generalist. Trying to make everyone happy is a recipe to make no one happy. By focusing on everyone, you will naturally gravitate towards features that will generally fit for everyone.
A specific group focus will force you to hit about 95% of their needs. You can dial in from there. A miss on a feature will still be pretty close to the mark. You don’t have this luxury as the generalist. Someone trying to please everyone may only hit about half of a business’ needs. Then a miss and you are not even hitting 50%. Not good.
Why Don’t We Learn?
This philosophy is obvious to me and probably obvious to most of you reading this. So why do we always violate this rule?
Peter Theil states in the incredible book, Zero to One, that the winning monopolistic companies are always describing themselves as a small insignificant part of a vast market, while really dominating their core market. Instead of Google saying that they dominate search, they say that they are only 3% of the advertising market.
Losers do just the opposite. Theil famously states that the losers create markets where there is no real advantage and try to claim it as their strength. He talks about a British restaurant in Palo Alto. They have claimed 100% of a meaningless market. They may be the only restaurant that claims to sell British food in the area. But, this distinction is meaningless. No one cares. They are still competing with all restaurants in this segment.
The other thing that Theil states about the “losers” is that they cling to the myth of the benefits of owning a small percentage of a large market. If we can only earn 1% of the market share in search, we will be a $100 million dollar business!
This is a losers argument. I’ve made it before. “If we only got 10% of the auto dealers in the nation, we will be a $20 million dollar business” These people never get there. I know.
So, again, why do most entrepreneurs never get there? Why do we always pick too broad of a market? Because all of the things that it takes to get there will delay the launch. And all of these things are much more fun than running the business.
- Fundraising is fun for a lot of entrepreneurs (fortunately I wouldn’t know on this one.
- Daydreaming is fun (guilty).
- Endless product development is fun (guilty).
- Waiting until everything is perfect is an excuse that we make that feels good (guilty).
It makes us feel like big shots to act like we are perfectionists. The fact of the matter is that people just do not want to be told “no.” Selling is hard. Getting told “no” by perspective customers stinks. And having the discipline to sell what you have is hard.
In software, most organizations’ sales people put constant pressure on the big shots to get the features necessary to compete. Customer service and execution really have nothing to do with it right? Be good at sales have nothing to do with it right? How about prospecting? Using the CRM? All excuses that entrepreneurs (guilty) have used to not have to go to work.
How many times do I need to learn this lesson? Our original plan was to launch ProblemSolutionHQ with six products! Heck, we will be lucky enough to have one of them that will be successful in the marketplace and provide a living for us.
Everything we have built has a good market fit. They are really excellent products. But, that doesn’t mean that they will be a success. Only when we got overwhelmed with trying to get these off the ground did we eat our own cooking.
We have narrowed the focus. We now know our “go to” market strategy. It is actually disheartening writing this. I’ve read Zero to One three times and yet I was going to try and launch six products at once!
How did we expect to stay on top of all of the details? How were we going to be tuned in to our customers so we could finish the product and get 100% of the way there to solving the needs for ANYONE let alone our small business brethren?
Call Informer is a great product that solves a real problem. If we hadn’t narrowed the focus, we wouldn’t have been able to pivot and truly reach a good fit for the pizza industry. This product can work for other industries, as well. Many people need to do better at the phone. But, are we experts in the hotel business? Can we hire and supervise trainers that will provide great value to our customers? We definitely will be able to at some point. Some point down the line when we have established ourselves and have more resources.
Aim small, miss small. This is the key.
And if you need an example, Facebook only tried to make Harvard students happy. Think that plan worked out for them?
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