Don’t Sell Technology, Sell Magic


Tech startups aren’t in the technology business. They’re in the magic business. I’m not talking about sleight of hand tricks, fooling people with funky props, or pretending to saw off someone’s head. I’m talking about providing magical experiences to customers. Startups need to sell magic.

Most customers don’t understand the technology that exists behind the products they use. Most don’t care. They don’t need to. The products they use just need to work. That’s it. In the course of working – and working incredibly well – those products delight and astound. They’re magical. If your product isn’t magical in how it works, how it makes people feel, it’s design, and the results it creates (the ROI to your customers!) … you have a problem. If you’re trying to sell technology for technology’s sake, you may impress a few people, but you’ll confuse and irritate more than you impress.

Customers want results. They’re attracted to products that delight them. They’re impressed by startups that communicate and respond quickly to their issues. They want value, and they want you to fit seamlessly into their lives. They want a lot. Really: they want magic. Sell magic, not technology.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Being Responsive is Critical for Successful Customer Development

Most customers tolerate bugs. Most customers tolerate products with missing features that they need (or think they need!) Most customers tolerate the quirks and hiccups that come with new technology and software. This is true of early adopters, but it’s even true to some degree, of late adopters. Customers can be quite forgiving. But what they won’t tolerate is being ignored. Even the feeling or inkling of being ignored can set customers into a rage; and worse, have them looking for alternative solutions to yours.

The way to avoid this is simple: Be Responsive.

Set an early precedent with your startup – that becomes part of your company’s culture – around the importance of responsiveness. And use those customer interactions to learn from them. Your goal is to keep customers happy, but early on it’s so much more than that. You have to learn and understand if that happiness will translate into ongoing product use. You have to learn about customers’ usage, and whether it’s inline with assumptions you’ve made. You have to collect feature feedback and assess the relative importance of those requests. You have to understand the perceived value (or lack thereof) that they’re getting, and analyze any quantitative data you may have.

Being responsive also means being proactive. Don’t wait for customers to reach out with complaints. Don’t expect happy customers to contact you constantly with glowing testimonials. Reach out on a regular basis, create those ongoing touch points and keep customers happy, all the while gathering the intel you need to improve their lives even further going forward.

Responsiveness can mask all sorts of product issues. You’ll be amazed at how forgiving customers will be simply because you responded quickly (almost always more quickly than they expect too!) Responsiveness eases tension, impresses people (because they’re not used to it), and changes how people perceive the product they’re struggling with and the entire company that makes the product. This doesn’t mean you can build crappy products and get away with it just by being responsive. But at the early stages of product development, when you’re putting rough versions into customers’ hands, being responsive is your best tool for keeping people happy and learning how to improve the product itself.

Defining Success

The Lean Startup model is all about running experiments, learning and making informed decisions on what to do next. I’m clearly a believer in the model, but there are some parts of it that are quite nuanced and challenging to figure out. One of those is with respect to experimental design.

A good experiment needs a few things including a hypothesis (that’s testable) and a sizeable enough group of testers. It also needs a definition of success. A good experiment either fails or succeeds. In order to know if an experiment has failed or succeeded, you have to have a measurement for success (anything else is failure). Without a clearly defined target / definition of success, you’ll likely end up in a wishy washy middle ground. You may be running an experiment and collecting metrics, but you can’t really interpret the results without something to compare them to. The missing definition of success leads too easily to a positive justification of the results, after the fact.

So what can you do?

Before starting an experiment, define success. Put a line in the sand. If you cross it, you’ve succeeded. If not, you’ve failed. Remember: Success in this case doesn’t mean you stop learning and iterating, it just means you move to the next experiment and the next phase of your startup.

Defining success is very hard.

There may be market or competitive comparables that you can use. There are a fair number of published numbers for certain things that lots of startups deal with: engagement, conversion rates, etc. But it’s definitely hard to put a stake in the ground and know that if you get there, you’ve succeeded (at least in the experiment you’re running.)

From what I’ve seen, most startups don’t do this very well. They’re not sure how to define or measure success, they base a great deal on gut and intuition. I’m all for gut and intuition – you need both in droves to be a successful entrepreneur – but they’re also great liars. Entrepreneurs are great at fooling themselves (and sometimes we have to in order to keep going!) A pre-defined measure of success can’t lie. It might be wrong, but it turns very gray issues into more black-and-white ones.

There’s very little in a startup that’s black-and-white, but you owe it to yourself before you start anything (whether it’s early validation of your idea, testing the value of a specific feature, implementing a business model, etc.) to come up with a definition of success.

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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