Having worked with a few tech startups, I’ve found that they all have one thing in common: they’re all founded by courageous dreamers. From online nonprofit crowdfunding to outsourcing web technicians, each of these entrepreneurs saw a need in the market and created a business where none had previously existed.
But oftentimes it’s not easy to do so.
It’s hard enough to grow a business in an existing industry, where past entrepreneurs have proven that there’s a chance of becoming successful. In emerging industries, however, it’s even harder, and you’ll need to find new methods of operating your business in these industries in order to succeed.
That’s not to say that it’s impossible. In the past ten years, online entrepreneurs who’ve founded Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Pinterest have shown us that it is possible, and they’ve proven the immense potential for profits that the online marketplace holds. What can we learn from these and other Internet giants?
Listen to Your Audience
Airbnb now is a thriving business providing travelers with unique and affordable places to stay, but in its early stages, its reach was limited in New York City. While it had garnered the attention of a small core of users, it wasn’t reaching its full potential. Its founders went back to the drawing board and asked their clients some changes they wanted to see. They found that their customers wanted to rent entire houses, not just a room or two. In response, Airbnb changed their policies to reflect their client’s needs and an immediate rise in sales.
The moral of the story? “Having a small base of users means that your company is on the right track,” Entreprenuer.com’s contributor Robert Wallace says. “It also means that your work has only just begun. Put yourself through each step that your customer takes, and try to identify restrictions. Talk to users. There’s a chance that you’re limiting your own reach, and that simple reforms can greatly expand your popularity.”
Educate Your Market
Currently, Mint is a popular site that allows users to track all of their personal finances in one place. A few months back, however, many people were reluctant to use it because of the risk that hackers could steal their sensitive information.
The solution? Mint decided to educate their target market. According to Noah Kagan who has worked with Mint, “we created a blog to really educate people about personal finance.” Kagan explains that, “By delivering useful articles that taught people simple and actionable tips about their finance, people trusted Mint and shared the content. It was never about the business or why Mint was best—it was about the reader and what she needed to know to improve her finance habits.”
The late Steve Jobs is arguably the undisputed king of innovators: he created a new market, brand, and lifestyle. At its epicent, Apple was founded with the purpose of making quality products while upholding the company’s three core principles: “First, Apple would empathize with customers. Second, Apple would focus on doing a few things really well. Third, Apple would impute its values (simplicity, high quality) across everything it did — not just within the products themselves, but also through the packaging of products, the look of its stores, and even the way Apple created press releases,” comments Dan Lyons on Hubspot.
In other words, Jobs didn’t just sell computers; he created a strong and memorable brand image and a certain standard for his products. In other words, his imagination and innovation didn’t stop at the technological level. They also had a hand in how the the products would be marketed, which was one of the key reasons why Apple became so successful.
Making Life Better
Convincing the customer that they need your product is one thing, but convincing that they need your entire brand in their life is another. Google and Nike succeed at the latter, and that’s how they’ve become such powerful companies in their respective industries. As Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the best-selling book Content Rules, says, “Google might be a technology company, but its story isn’t about search algorithms and operating systems; it’s about the ways its technology connects people and enriches their lives. Similarly, Nike’s ‘Find Your Greatness’ theme isn’t about shoes or gear; it’s about inspiring the athlete in all of us.”
The Value of Teamwork
The most important thing that entrepreneurs often overlook is that they don’t have to go on this journey alone. They can brainstorm with other entrepreneurs to see how they’re marketing and branding their businesses. They can meet with business professionals like contract lawyers, employment lawyers, or IP lawyers to help them through their challenges. You may be the only one providing your particular service or product, but you aren’t alone in the world of online entrepreneurs.