An entrepreneur has to worry about a hundred different technicalities before going to market, but the most important question isn’t technical at all: Will they love it?
WITH STARTUPS, TWO big questions keep their founders up at night. “Will it work?” and “Will it make money?”
Although these are far from being the only questions to preoccupy the entrepreneurial mind, they are important ones. A startup is usually the brainchild of an individual or a close-knit team that comes across a solution to a problem. In fact the first questions that get bandied about usually begin with “What if…”
- What if there were a way for everyone to use a computer wherever they were? Toshiba.
- What if there were a way to promote the automotive industry and protect the environment? Tesla.
But Toshiba did not make the first laptop, and Tesla Motors did not invent the electric car. The first laptop (or better said, portable computer) was the Portal R2E CCMC designed and invented by François Gernelle in 1980. Toshiba’s first clam-shell laptop came along in 1985 after a few other versions were tried. Why do we remember Toshiba and not Portal R2E CCMC?
The electric car sprang from the imagination of Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in 1832. Later in 1891, William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, built the first successful electric automobile in the US. The first commercially available electric cars came only 106 years later with the hybrid Toyota Prius (still available) and several thousand electric-only cars from such names as GM, Honda, Ford, and Nissan, although most were discontinued in the early 2000s. Tesla launched its Roadster in 2006. And while thousands of consumers are happy with their Prius, when people say electric car, they think Tesla.
Gernelle and Morrison had both hit upon the right ideas and had the right technological resources around them to put them into action. But the two are almost completely forgotten by history because they neglected one huge factor. One essential component that might have secured their respective places in posterity.
No Brand. No Recall.
A brand is, at its most elemental, an identity. This is where many entrepreneurs and startups get sidetracked with branding. Many people would like to believe that branding is about commercialization and sales. That when you start thinking of branding, you are thinking about ways to trick the consumer public or customer base. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. A brand is as essential to a product or service as your name is to you.
If you meet someone at a business networking event, he or she might give you their card and ask you to call. That is an act of branding. By handing you a business card, you can identify this person you met and distinguish him or her from the thousands of others you may have met in your life. Moreover, this person (let’s call her Sarah) tells you a little story about her business – it is a virtual office service. Then maybe she told you a funny story about a client who thought she was a hologram. Laughter. And another act of branding has taken place. Now Sarah is a living brand. You will remember her at least in part because she established an emotional bond with you – you laughed.
Do the Drones Fly?
Launching a startup and getting it to market is a huge undertaking for any entrepreneur. You have to make sure the app is properly coded and working, the shoes are well cut and sewn, the drones fly, or the coffee does not taste like battery acid, depending on what your startup is going to do. There are myriad details and technicalities that need to be sorted and tied down before launching your new product. If you leave out the branding, however, no one may ever be able to remember you.
Branding introduces meaning to your startup, a sense of its promise and purpose. You have asked yourself the What If question already; you have seen the problem that you are going to solve; but now it is time to articulate it. Giving your startup or product a name is an important first step, but being able to describe it, talk about its values and its personality will help people remember it. And that is eventually what will sell it for you.
François Gernelle named his incredible innovation the Portal R2E CCMC. This was not wrong – every product needs a name – but he did not do himself any favors by giving it a name that sounds more like a spare part than a breakthrough in personal computing. The name you choose for your company (or for its products and services) should be easy to remember and reflect your business in some way. This is obviously not always true – Steve Jobs did not pioneer anything in the fruit industry. But if you give your product a whimsical name, you will have to work all the harder to connect the concept with its execution for your consumers.
Once you establish the name, the “Gernelle Portal,” for example, you then need to go to work to imbue it with the other brand values that set it apart from the others. The best way to do this is to tell its stories. With a new or innovative brand or product, something that has never existed before, the stories will have to come from the imagination. You can tell the stories of how your Gernelle Portal will change the way you live, the way you work, and how you enjoy your life. Later, after people begin to buy it, these stories will be replaced by real experiences. Slowly the new brand will come to be associated with an idea – the idea of personal freedom or individual expression (as opposed to being tied to a workspace or an office). Now, no matter how much or how quickly the technology races past you on the way to becoming a Toshiba or a Mac, people will still remember your brand. You will have established yourself as the Gernelle Portal. And the R2E CCMC will have been left at the back of the shelf.
Next to the R2E CCMD.
Many entrepreneurs, when they are asked why consumers should buy their products, are stumped by the question. It seems like a harmless (and somewhat really important) question, but more often than not the entrepreneur has not thought through the answer. The product might be a clever or even an ingenious idea, but how does is benefit the consumer? And what should we feel about it?
When you get the branding right, the answers to these deceptively simple questions become second nature. The brand is the identity, and the whole reason that you wanted to bring this new gizmo to the public is because it has a real purpose – it saves lives! It saves time! Or, it is just a lot of fun! Whatever the purpose of the brand, it is part of its identity. The purpose, then, also carries a promise. One example of this could be a game app for android phones. If its purpose is to entertain us, then the promise is that it always will. Never mind that there are millions of game apps available to download. The brand is about you and your product, not how you compare with the others. Once the branding is done, then we will turn our attention to how differentiate it from the masses. entrepreneur
Answering the question about feeling may be more difficult. But think of other games you may have played in your life. Candyland? Childhood. Super Mario Bros? Nostalgia. Tetris? Boring. Angry Birds? Annoying. The first register that will affect your choices in playing games will be emotional, not rational. If you are coming out with a new game, how do you want people to feel? Excited? Suspenseful? Happy? Anxious? Or any of dozens of other emotional registers. The tone you adopt in talking about your new game will help create that emotion in the consumer. Later, of course, this will be taken over by actual experience, and (assuming you have written a good game) it will do a lot of the work for you. entrepreneur
Starting a new venture, as an entrepreneur or startup team, is an electrifying experience. It puts your creativity, technical expertise, organization, and business acumen to the test at all times. And while getting right and getting it sold are two important goals, getting it loved should come first.
Because when they really love your brand, they will buy and buy and buy.