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How Small is Your Problem?

Pivoting is easy when you do it on paper, on a computer or when you are starting.

You are always starting in a startup. Those who win are those who listen well. I like to say those who know best is the grandmother who calls me up at midnight with questions. Oh my, she’s not on my alpha list of users, who is she, how did she find out about this site, who has she told about this. WHAT was her problem?

Grandma is your pivot. Listen to her well, solve her problem. Keep listening to grandma. It’s just like when I go into an event or a room I talk to everyone, especially the old folks. They know more. You may make a friend and they appreciate you are talking to them. Because few do. You will gain their knowledge.
In my work at SilcionAlley Startup Asset management I work with startups in their early phases. Some have products, they all have dreams. My job is to make it as easy as possible for them to accomplish those dreams.
Years ago, I would speak to a really smart friend of mine, a friend who sold his startup in 2006 and doesn’t have to work anymore. I would explain an idea to him. There would be silence on the phone for 30 seconds and more and then he would say, “That sounds hard”. Another friend, a successful banker and investor, would sort of do the same thing. An opportunity, no matter how exciting, if it was too hard he would say, “That goes into the too hard to do category”, never to be heard from again. These guys are successful because they do easy. Easy is small. Easy is one customer. Easy is one thing. If you can’t describe what you do in a 140 character twitter feed, it’s too hard.
SiliconAlley Asset Management doesn’t do hard, we only do easy.
From idea, between your ears, and innovation, the monetization of that idea, only becomes successful when it’s simple. As simple as you can make it towards the successful completion of solving your users’ problems.
Users don’t care about a platform or how it’s delivered, they will tell you how they want it delivered.
Users just want their problem solved.
I have a client with an interesting photo app. It’s brilliant in its simplicity and yet they aren’t going to market because they want to add more features. If they don’t come to market soon they make my job harder. If they keep doing it, I’m going to fire myself.
Here is the tag line I came up with for them.  “Smile better” … and then the name of the company. This, I hope, replaces the platform, blah blah, blah. People don’t read the manual which comes with their computer, car, camera, they just use it. And that is how simple you have to make it.
Another potential client calls up with a really good idea but lost in the focus of what problem is.  The big problem that he solves for the client is a whole lot of other non-essential services he wants to offer the client. Not only has he created a sales cycle requiring the cooperation of several layers of corporate management, who historically have never played well together in the same sandbox, but he will bore a prospect to death who will get confused about his company’s offering. If we hire him, meaning if we let him hire us, he will have to understand easy.
Last I saw a presentation of a young NYC based startup. He has an interesting idea but one that is hard, if not impossible to execute. It would require the verification of user’s submitted information. In this initial conversation, we mentioned other opportunities for the user of this information and the value of having them share this information. As an aside, he then shared with me another piece of information which is the business he should be in.
Now, time for my Larry Elison’s boat story. I used to have a boat in LA. It was a nice boat but not a big boat. Larry Elison had a big boat. A really big boat. Three hundred feet give or take a few. I would point to Larry Elison’s boat and say vendor finance. What do you mean venture finance and I would tell the story. Larry Elison’s Oracle software company received its original big funding from the CIA to help them manage their data. Vendors don’t take equity usually, they want first dibs. That’s the reason Larry Elison is real real rich today and has several really big boats.
Back to my story. So the startup founder mentions a big customer in need of his solution. It’s a deep pocketed not for profit in the medical field. His product can solve their big problem. They have money with no dilution. What went from being a cute B2C market to now a solid B2B market with a reference customer has made this startup go from hard to easy.
If he comes back from his travels and calls, I will be excited to work with him. We will help him rewrite his business plan and his messaging. Find him better board members. Help him spec out and build his MVP. Raise him money and get him on his way with our people, resources towards success in solving a big problem for a big medical problem for this NFP.
All of this is part of our SiliconAlley quantum startup service. We help you distil the problem you solve as small as we can solve it.
Is the problem you solve as small as you can make it? If not, make it smaller.

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