Founder Delusions

“Can you help us break past our plateau?” was what the tech company founder asked me … the first time.

This eventually became an enjoyable question after a decade of marketing consulting. Every so often, a founder calls the Silicon Strategies Marketing offices with a plateau complaint. I noticed various patterns with one uniting theme; that founders were all nearsighted and unable to focus on anything but the tree directly in front of them. Those different founders were at different points in corporate growth, and yet they all suffered from market myopia.

If your revenues are stuck and no amount of money seems to move them higher, then ask yourself if you might suffer from one of these founder delusions.

Primary Founders Delusion — the untested idea: Most tech products come from a founder identifying a feature or product niche through their insights into technology and some aspect of business or consumer buying. Often a founder will start building a product without performing any market research to verify demand. These founders rarely make a buck at all.

Secondary Founder Delusion — pats on the back: People are nice, which is a terrible thing. Not that being nice is horrible, but they often say things to provide misguided encouragement, which leads to false hope. Founders receiving back pats from friends, family, co-workers, co-founders, early employees and even an occasional angel investor will be encouraged to develop worthless products or not see market obstacles. These founders may struggle through to making some early adopter sales, but rarely gain the big-picture perspective to go further.

Tertiary Founder Delusion — early adopter echo chamber: Early adopters buy specific features that solve specific problems. Founders often continue to listen to early adopter advice on how to improve a niche product, which detracts from developing expected, augmented or whole products. These founders forever enhance their niche solution, and might with the grace of Gawd sell-out some day, though more often than not a larger or more agile company merely incorporates the founder’s product concept into other solutions.

Quaternary Founder Delusion — no whole product in first segment: Founders who struggle through the early adopter phase often fail to cross the technology adoption chasm because they do not identify a beachhead segment, determine what the whole product for that segment is, or are insufficiently creative enough to buy/partner to assemble the whole product quickly and thus dominate their segment before competitors become caffeinated enough to see the opportunity. Early adopter success leads to early majority laziness.

Quinary delusion — no next-segment planning: Even when a founder has led his organization to dominating a market segment, he can fall into a variation of the early adopter trap and simply enhance the product for his cozy segment. This is the final plateau for many companies that we knew and that have since vanished as markets changed around them (bought a Wang for word processing lately?)

If you plateau, ask what trees you are focusing on, else you’ll never find your way through the market forest.

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