...that’s if they can just get enough users to make the magic to happen.
This is particularly true for social network start-ups, as well as the collaborative consumption space, an emerging new category of (mostly) online peer-to-peer marketplaces that enable people to sell, rent, trade and share with each other. Over the last year or so, a number of these services have emerged in Australia; from Open Shed,
enabling you to rent things from your neighbors, to Airtasker
, matching people who have time to spare with people who need things done and Jayride
, a ridesharing platform helping people travel from A to B. More than just creating a new unproven service, these businesses are looking to change the way we live. And yet if they are unable to cross the first hurdle of initial traction, their chance of achieving that much loftier goal diminishes rapidly.
The start-up community is exploding across our cities, with incubators and coworking spaces emerging to bring together aspiring start-up entrepreneurs. Here they find a valuable sounding board, experience-by-osmosis from working alongside those who are a few steps ahead, and of course those crucial first users. But there is a big leap between the early adopters and those first customers. Herein lies the problem.
In famous entrepreneurial cities around the world, like San Francisco, New York and Berlin, there is a great culture of trial and error within the start-up community. But more importantly, there is a wider population of people prepared to get their digital hands dirty to try out your product, and provide the critical feedback you need to iron out the bugs and improve the experience. In Australia, not only is incentive low to try out new technology (‘if things are good now, is it really worth the effort to make them better?’ seems to be the common belief) but there’s an even lower tolerance for the clunky experience of v1.0. And you can forget about actually receiving the critical feedback that might help to make the product better - I once had a friend tell me, the day after the launch of a new social app, that he was going to delete it immediately. A relatively minor user experience added up to the fact that it 'didn't work', and he wasn't going to wait around for the bug to be fixed.
Entrepreneurs have two choices: restrict your focus to only tech-savvy early adopters (and consequently reduce your market to a fraction of its former size); or help educate your target users in the process about the challenges, ideal evolution and end goal of your product; help them come along for the journey. Peer-to-peer accommodation marketplace Airbnb (http://www.airbnb.com) had a long road before finding the sweet spot that makes their marketplace tick. It was only after founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia travelled to meet hosts and guests, finding out why they were even using the service, that their secret sauce became evident. As the team was told by investor Paul Graham during their Y Combinator round
, 'having 100 people who love you is better than 1 million that kind of like you.
By placing your potential customers front and centre to get a better understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, you will be more equipped to add value to their lives. But you don’t always need to learn the hard way – there is so much insight to be gained from listening to the experiences of other entrepreneurs. Just by playing around on their apps, websites and platforms, you’ll be able to gain insight into what’s going out there in your field. You’ll also be able to request reciprocal feedback when you need it. Being open and honest about the challenges you are facing will help others share their wisdom with you, further enabling the start-up community to progress as a whole.