September 20, 2013 @ 9:38am
It's crazy. I've told people this for years:
If you build something for everyone, it works for no one.
Fully aware of my own good advice, I still dreamed up something that was too broad. Crowd Fusion was an unproductized platform that could do anything the web could do, while Ceros is a laser-focused SaaS design platform.
I remember completely losing some of my favorite VCs in a meeting once. I was showing how we'd gone from 5 to 35 people and tripled our revenue from the year before. They asked who was doing sales. I was proud that so far it had been just me using my reputation in publishing technology to land famous media customers. They saw that I was planning to spend the money we would raise on developers and a support team, not on salespeople. They were done listening to me. They were looking for a Salesforce pipeline filled with deals, not a lunatic who tracked potential customers in Excel or task management software.
One big difference between Crowd Fusion and Ceros is that we could never build a proper product sales team for Crowd Fusion. Crowd Fusion could have had a solutions sales team, like an agency, but I resisted building one because I didn't want us to be an agency.
Because Ceros is a pure SaaS platform, we've now got product sales teams in London and NYC and an impressive pipeline full of deals.
Another thing we changed when we turned into Ceros is that we created a product that lines up with a very specific set of customers: retail brands and marketing teams who want to rapidly produce shoppable interactive content that works everywhere.
Again, I'm the first person to advise a startup CEO to figure out who you are selling to before you decide what you are selling. Start with why, not a set of features.
When Crowd Fusion started, we did have a very specific way we expected our software to be used. We needed money though, so as we took on customers we let each one pull us a little more off course. TMZ used us like a blog platform and skipped the SEO-rich landing pages and our aggregation tools. MySpace used us to robotically fill thousands of landing pages and created no original content. Best Buy's Tecca used us to run mobile apps on top of the complex database of a million products we helped them assemble and manage. The Daily used us to publish a tablet magazine once a day while feeding that same content into their Facebook app all day long.
None of those customers were far away from the path we wanted to travel and everything they wanted to do was possible in Crowd Fusion, but trying to follow all of their roadmaps at the same time felt like riding a Plinko chip.
Be a product company, not an agency. Start with customers and a mission, not features.
Those lessons are top of mind for me this time around.
Newer: The uncanny Lefsetz