Untangling root causes of start-up customer acquisition issues

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In the last 24 business hours, I’ve met with eight different early stage companies. I was privileged to get a deep dive from each one of their founding teams.

Stream of consciousness here, most of them have some challenges with the customer acquisition process. That comes with the territory–if sales were easy, we’d all be rich. Some of their challenges correlated, no matter which industry their startup claimed as home ground.

Here’s what I learned from start-up founders about what is challenging in early stage customer acquisition:

  • Position is problematic. Start up founders struggle with coming up with a meaningful position in their marketplace. They know what they do–that’s what. They know their features and benefits–that’s how. The “why it matters” is very slippery–and shouldn’t be.
  • Credibility is also a problem. With little to no track record, it’s understandably hard to invent real credibility from scratch. Plus, the market is increasingly noisy. The noise factor alone is a bigger and bigger wall to scale, so credibility “out of the gate” is becoming more important.
  • Pipeline pushes are problematic. Many of the startups I sat down with had trouble deciding which market, which pain, and which “promotion” to go to market with right now. They were almost “deer in the headlights” over the sheer number of asks they wanted to make to the market. Both focus, and execution, suffer.

These are all problems with real solutions—almost programmatic solutions. I’m looking forward to exploring each of those topics in future posts.


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