PART II: Continuous, Honest Self-Evaluation of the Business
Everyone loved the idea conceptually, but securing client contracts was a whole another matter.
We started selling our social media solution in late October, 2009. This had given us time to set up and train our researchers in Vietnam. When presented with our sample Lift9 reports on social media, people in the industry seemed genuinely impressed. We secured a few quick contracts, making us extremely optimistic about our future.
The market was young and immature, and a lot of bad social media reports were being delivered by agencies, setting the bar low.
Our research center was getting better with each report. These researchers in Vietnam were smart and were able to apply new learning to each and every new report.
Then, we hit a slight wall. We had a stretch where the sales cycle seemed to take longer. We discovered the following problems:
- We secured the “low-lying” fruit opportunities within our personal networks, which explains the initial success
- We had trouble competing against agencies that were burying their social media monitoring cost into their retainers, thus making cost-savings a difficult benefit to sell
- A lot of organizations didn’t appropriately budget for social media intelligence, so internal groups had a hard time securing money for such support
- The insights in our reports were interesting to start, but we even had a difficult time articulating the value of such reports on an on-going month-to-month basis
The last point (#4), in particular, bothered us. My background was in Business Intelligence before Web Analytics. I knew that data could give invaluable insights if one KNEW which business questions to ask. We had been too focused on our cost-effective and speed-to-report competitive advantages. We needed more compelling insights than just the monthly change in the volume of a brand’s mentions on social media.
If we had better applications for social data, the potential truly would be tremendous. Lift9 was already getting a lot of attention just because we were in the hot space of social media. We now were looking for something more disruptive to the market than the general social media monitoring efforts. What would it be?
It was around this time in December that I was introduced to Misia Tramp, President of Intrepid US.
We had gotten to near break-even business relatively quickly because of our low-cost model. It would have been easy to just focus on getting to a good cash flow business, but we wanted to build something bigger than that. Such perspective forced us be extremely honest with ourselves and realistic about our situation. It kept us motivated to find that “disruption” factor, and would not let us be content with our initial progress.
My advice to entrepreneurs (or businessmen) is to be honest with your situation and realistic about what still needs to be done. Acknowledge the challenges ahead so they become less daunting and you and your team can prepare to overcome them. A lot of people at this stage tend to bury their heads in the sand.