Focus on the “Why” and Not the “How”

As I talk to entrepreneurs, I find there is almost always a focus on the “How”.
By “How” I mean that entrepreneurs are very feature driven. The notion that the entrepreneur can build a better product or service is a primary driver for wanting to enter into a market. Whenever I talk to them, the conversation is always down the path of “users can do this and that on my site and they can also do this and that, and oh by the way they can also do this” with the underlying reason being that I should be totally impressed, think this is totally the greatest thing in the world, and thus it can succeed wildly in the marketplace.
In some cases that would be true. These cases would be in:
1. Current competitors have not innovated for years, and that the marketplace has become totally stagnant OR commoditized, where the competition is on things like price and not features.
2. Current competitors are non-existent or very few in number.
3. Current products/services do not exist that enable the task to be done in other ways, sometimes totally awkward or cobbled together ways.
In today’s world, with Web 2.0 companies sprouting like weeds, it is hard to find an area where those 3 cases exist with the exception of Case number 1. The unfortunate thing about Case number 1 is that many others have also seen opportunities there and are working, many times in stealth, on projects in the area of Case number 1.
When I talk to an entrepreneur, often the conversation goes like this. They tell me what a great idea they have. But then, I think a bit, and reply that here are X companies which are touching on or allowing people to do what you are providing. They then reply that these guys are totally not competitors.
In every case, this is strictly true. It is not the company’s mission to compete directly against what the entrepreneur has come up with. The aggravating factor is that consumers don’t care necessarily care about what the company wants them to do; they are creative enough to use the company’s tools in ways which cause an unintentional competitor to emerge to the entrepreneur’s product or service.
This leads up to the “Why” aspect.
I tell entrepreneurs that “How” is not the problem. They have thought up great features, coded up great technology. They are smart, resourceful, and can build the best of the best of the best. But in a world where there are companies out there muddying the marketplace with actual competitive, near-competitive or unintentionally competitive products to the entrepreneur’s product, it can’t be about the “How”; it’s not enough. They need to focus on building a strong “Why”, which is the answer to the question “Why yours versus someone elses?” in the mind of the consumer.
Why is a consumer going to use my product instead of someone elses?
It’s the essential question that must be answered and then hammered into a consumer’s mind so that they will steer in your direction when trying to get something done. Because if there is not a good “Why”, consumers will always go back to the other ways of doing things, even if they are harder.
This is because it is more familiar, it is safe, and they don’t need to learn something new. Something works, so why change? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They’ve already invested tons of time and effort in the old thing so why bother with something new.
It is why I push on the “Why” aspect with entrepreneurs so much. I don’t need to be impressed by the technology; I get it. I can see why it is (or isn’t) better than other things out there. Others will see it too. But they need to know why they should come over to your product and leave all that familiar, safe, conservative legacy behind. They need reasons to use your service.
Anybody can build great stuff – the “How” is taken care of. My argument is to build a phenomenal “Why” and you may yet compete sucessfully in a place as crowded as today’s Web 2.0 world.