It’s quite common for early startups to lack clarity around their core value proposition and target market(s). There’s a temptation to go wide on both – offer lots of different value to lots of different people. But generally that doesn’t work. A focus on a specific, differentiated and compelling value proposition targeting a specific, well-defined market is a much easier way of getting out of the gate and building initial traction. It also gives you a better framework for testing your assumptions (is this the right value to the right market?), and can lead to more calculated and focused pivots, if need be.
Lean Canvas is one tool you can use to help define your value proposition and target market. It’s quite restrictive, which is good, forcing you to be precise. But I also like to tackle this in other ways too.
When an entrepreneur is pitching me or asking for advice, I often ask, “Imagine the website. What does it say?” I find this really gets to a number of key and challenging issues for startups, specifically around value proposition and target market. It also helps position the company more clearly against competitors and define key differentiators.
“We’re the best X for Y.”
Imagine after all your hard work and effort, you’re ready to unveil your new baby and pull back the curtains on your shiny website. What’s the first message people will see? Let’s not obsess over a catchy tagline, instead let’s be literal and precise. How will a person visiting the website identify that (a) you’re speaking to them, and (b) it should matter to them?
Hopefully you’ve gone through enough customer interviews and early validation before “launching” to give you an idea of your value proposition and target market. Launching blindly will most likely kill you. But visualizing your future website and what it will say (value proposition), how (the tone), to who (market), the why (differentiators), etc. is a good way of forcing you to be precise and admit to potential issues or unknowns. I’ve found during meetings with entrepreneurs that asking them to visualize their website and tell me what it will say is a great conversation starter (except in cases when the entrepreneur really doesn’t know … which is a good indication that it’s time for more thinking, planning, customer development and iterating.) Try it as an exercise and see if it helps.