finding your own place under the digital stars
[photo credit: Sil van der Woerd ‘Requiem 2019’]
Internet-based, service, marketplace and sharing-economy startups, or ‘web and app’ for short, grow with a natural awareness about their digital presence. After all, they populate the world of the Wide Web and their survival critically depends on how discoverable they are online and the experience they offer in bytes and images.
The same doesn’t necessarily hold true for hardware and high-tech startups. I could count the ones making good use of the online world on the fingers of my two hands… well, maybe on more, but you get my point.
They develop products – things you can touch, put in your house or pocket – and tend to ground their work in the brick-and-mortar world. They are busy sorting out prototyping and design, inventory risk and logistics, and more often than not forget to take good care of their digital blueprint. Or do they?
Whatever the reason, the result is the following: A good deal of hw startups are missing on the huge opportunity to discover their future clients right when they need them most.
This trend is gradually changing with the rise of the exciting new world of Internet of Things, which makes the marriage of hardware and software within one company and product more natural. With the development of an IoT app, the digital also starts claiming its place in the high-tech hardware startup cycle.
Letting People Find You on Their Own
Once upon a time people used to buy things from the shop, then other people started selling them things on the TV, door to door, at the bus stop… Well, guess what, people don’t like things being pushed on them. They like discovering things they like.
They do that online.
Just think about this: we rely on the internet for literary everything; lately also for banking, mobile payments, catching a cab, and so on. It should come as no surprise that the people that you are targeting are probably already looking for you, online.
Especially the kind of people called early adopters. Early adopters tend to be curious adventurers who enjoy discovering new products and services on their own. They proactively scrounge the internet for cool new creations. Now, if your startup happens to be online, diligently describing exactly what it does, they will find you.
Customers and the Digital You
Success = 3 parts listening + 2 parts ??? + 1 part luck, they say.
Joking aside, discovery is just one aspect the internet can facilitate for you. What it really has got to offer is conversation.
A quick rewind: In the previous post we mentioned that only customers can help you build a working business model. The first step to connecting to your customers is imagining their greatest pains and joys. Step #2 is testing whether the pains are real and step #3 is testing if your solution, aka product, solves the pains.
One way of getting there, as advised by Steve Blank, is by stepping out of your office, finding and talking to your ideal audience.
Another way is allowing them to talk to you, online.
ThingsCon – Hardware Startup Conference of Berlin
Conversation is not exactly the secret weapon of the web, for it is no secret that one can engage in meaningful interactions online; but it is more powerful than simply being present.
In fact, activating your hardware startup in the digital world will likely encourage spontaneous and important dialogs between you, your brand and various communities and influencers online. That will help you get the so-much-needed early feedback on your idea, prototype, and thus shorten the time to your first MVP or functional prototype.
You just have to make it easy…
Making Online Conversations Happen
The tete-a-tete of digital world happens via social media, forums, Quora, contact forms, emails, comments, blogs, etc., which all make it so easy for you to reach out. But no matter what medium you use, you’ll eventually need a point of reference for your product and this is always going to be your website.
Your home is your fortress just as your website is your kingdom. You reign there. It’s where you anchor your story, product, and team. Don’t be afraid if the picture is not complete yet; you’re a startups and you evolve constantly. So will your website. It need not be perfect – you have to start somewhere – building it piece by piece, one brick at a time.
One more thing – the best way to prove someone wants your product is if they buy it. So why don’t you allow people do that by arranging a Purchase button on your website?
Ok, maybe you are a bit too early for a website and totally unclear about who you want to be; you have no product yet, just an idea and an Arduino. Then what you’d want to have instead is a landing page.
A landing page can look as simple as this:
Name, logo, photo, a promise, maybe social channels and… a subscription form
A landing page is not only a perfect substitute for your website, but also a great way to 1. illustrate your device with minimum amount of words, and 2. trigger early-adopter’s interest.
A landing page can additionally help convert interest into market and product validation.
Allowing Feedback Come In Easily
If you create the ways and channels through which people can give you feedback with a little note of encouragement, you’ve done 50% of the job.
How can you achieve that?
A subscription form is the fastest way to create your first customer contact base. Email is a very personal space which almost nobody wants to see invaded by commercial content. If people have given you, willingly, access to that special domain, then they must be genuinely interested.
Chat is not a must, but it’s a nice-to-have. Needless to say, it’s the simplest way of talking to your customers, answer their questions on the spot, but also get immediate feedback about what exactly sparked their attention. It offers instant personal touch and extra customer care to your brand.
You can install a chat function on your website, such as Snapengage, as a plug in.
To start with, your startup is more than just a product. Social media is the perfect place to showcase that; everything from your company culture to exclusive updates, and new features, e.g. everything that makes you a brand with value and personality.
Social media is also about engagement. I keep on using this word but what does engagement really stand for? It’s just another word for conversation. You listen, you follow the right people and you give a ear to what the people who follow you have to say about you and your product. You also ask for feedback and reach out to influencers:
Polymer – the hardware makers network – asking for feedback
Hootsuite reading out loud customer feedback
Vesselina from Eleven.bg having a chat
Growing Your Beta Community
Once you are up and running with all of the above, you can give your brand a little push. Many hardware startups plan a crowdfunding campaign. Fair enough, but crowdfunding is doable only with the confidence you can earn enough backers. This usually means a solid mailing list.
And don’t forget to always update your beta subscribers: