July 8, 2013

Marketing Secrets for Tech Entrepreneurs

saigon barcamp july 2013

Yesterday I presented at Barcamp Saigon, the technology “unconference.”  There were over 1,500 attendees.  It was an honor that my presentation “Marketing Secrets for Tech Entrepreneurs” was selected “Best of the Day” by popular vote.

Several people asked for it, so here it is:

Here’s the text of the talk:

Hi everyone.  Wow, it’s great to be here surrounded by so many people who are passionate about technology.

I’m Chris Harvey.  I’ve been in the Internet business since 1999 — working at Yahoo, AOL and then running VietnamWorks for 6 years, from 2006 to 2012.

My guess is there are a lot of people in this room who have started — or who want to start — technology companies in Vietnam.  Creating a great technology product, website or mobile app is tough, sure.  I used to think that creating a great product was enough.  But I’ve found over my career that creating a great product is just the beginning.  The really hard part is convincing hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands, of people to buy your product — that is the most challenging thing.  And being able to do THAT is what separates successful tech companies from the tech companies that no one remembers.  After all, companies only fail for one reason and one reason only — does anyone know?  That’s right — they don’t have enough sales.

Today, you all get to benefit from my “kinh nghiem xuong mau” — you get the “kinh nghiem” without the “xuong mau.”  I’m going to share with you the top 4 lessons I’ve learned about how to market a technology product.  These are proven and practical tips that you can use to make sure that your great product becomes a HIGHLY SOLD product and your business becomes highly profitable.

Number One – Solve a Problem

I have news for you.  People don’t buy your product because they think you’re a nice guy (well, maybe your mother does).  The only way people will give you their hard-earned money is if you add value to them by solving a problem they have.

Think about it — every buying decision you make is to solve a problem.  Buy clothes? Because going outside without clothes is a problem, for most people.  A computer?  You need a way to get on Facebook or send email.  Everything you buy solves a problem for you.

A lot of technology people love technology.  They love it so much that they forget that their purpose is to solve problems.  Nobody will buy your product because it’s cool.  They will only buy it because it solves a problem for them.

Your job is to be SUPER CLEAR on what problem you are solving BEFORE YOU EVEN BEGIN TO DEVELOP YOUR TECHNOLOGY.

Not only be clear on the problem, but make sure it’s a problem that that is painful if it left unsolved or not solved well.   But solving a painful problem is not enough — you must make sure your way of solving the problem is best.

If I created a technology for making puddles of dirty rainwater on the street drinkable, does that solve a painful problem?  Yes, people will die if they don’t drink water.  But it’s a problem that is already solved quite well because we have other, simpler ways to get water.

I love rolling luggage.  It solves a painful problem for me.  [see pic]

Anyone have a business here?  What problem are you solving?

If you can’t explain in one or two sentences what problem you’re solving, then you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t have a business.

Number Two – Focus on the Problem First, then the Product

Have you ever heard the idiom, “Don’t put the cart before the horse?”  It means that the horse must be in front because the horse pulls the cart.  The cart doesn’t pull the horse.

It’s the same with the problem and the product.  The problem pulls and defines the product.  It doesn’t make sense to develop a product before you have a clear idea of the problem you’re solving.

When you have a clear idea about your problem, you can begin designing your product.

I think Keewi is a great example of this.  Anyone here from Keewi?  Keewi began by solving a problem that, really, didn’t need to be solved.  It provided a presence detection and communication app to find and chat with other people at a conference.  Hashtags on Twitter solve that problem pretty well already, and it’s free to organizers with no setup cost.  The business didn’t go anywhere.

Then Keewi pivoted to ticketing for events.  Now, there is a painful problem for event organizers!

Last year I was doing some consulting for a property listings website.  I asked the director what they sold.  He began listing all their products — banners, special listings etc.  He was wrong — that wasn’t what they sold AT ALL.  They sold “help me to sell my property” — that’s what their customers really cared about.

Number Three – Compete on Value, Not on Price

If you followed my two first points — solve a painful problem and design the product to solve the problem — then you’re creating REAL VALUE for the customer.  Value doesn’t come for free.  If you’re creating value, charge for that value!  Solving painful problems and creating high amounts of value is the only sustainable way to grow your business and make profit.

[Pull out iphone] Is this the cheapest phone?  No.  Is RMIT the cheapest university?  No.  But people still buy both.  Why?  Because they are VALUABLE!!  I know Apple is profitable, and I bet RMIT is too.

If a lower price is the #1 reason to buy your product, guess what?  Sooner or later, and probably sooner, someone else will come along with a lower price and cut your profit.  It’s a battle you can’t win — because if you lose you’re out of business and if you win you are working hard to have no profit.

You are much better off focusing on creating high value for the customer and charging a high price for that value.


Competing based on price is DEATH.

Number Four — Have a clear plan on how you’ll sell

If you’ve followed the first 3 points — solve a painful problem, design the product to serve the problem and charge a healthy price for the value you create — then you must have a plan on how to sell.  A great product that solves a painful problem is not enough.  This is where most businesses fail.

As it turns out, your potential customers will not come to your door with money and say “Hey, I heard you have a great product.  Where do I buy?”

Without your help, most customers won’t understand how your product can add value to them and how it will help them to improve their business.  It’s a sales person’s job to ask questions about the customer’s business and explain how your product helps the customer.

In Keewi’s case, they have a product that helps event organizers sell more tickets with less hassle.  That is valuable.  But an event organizer’s first reaction usually is “I don’t want to pay” — they must be made to understand that their business will grow many times more than the price they will pay to Keewi.  Doing that is the role of a sales team.

Spend some time learning about sales and marketing and how you’ll reach customers to bring them to the buying decision.  Remember the ONLY reason that companies fail?  Yep, lack of sales.

Last – I want to share with you how my new company, ITviec, is applying the lessons of 1) Solve a problem, 2) Focus on Problem, then Product, 3) Compete on value and not on price, and 4) Have a sales plan.

#1. The problem we’re solving is super clear — IT companies need experienced and talented IT people, and IT people want challenging and interesting jobs with high salaries.  If a company cannot find a developer for a key project or cannot find one fast enough, maybe the product is late or maybe it doesn’t get built at all.  And then the company loses revenue.  So we solve a problem that — if it is not solved or not solved well — will cost the company a lot of money.

#2.  The problem is driving our product.  We are focused only on IT, and only on skilled IT people.  Our website has special search features and categories just for IT people.

#3.  Because we are solving such a painful problem and solving it better than anyone else, we will charge a higher price than the general job websites.  We don’t compete on price at all.

#4.  We are spending a lot of time on sales training — helping our sales people identify the right prospects, understand their problems, and show customers how we not only can solve their problem, but we can solve it better than anyone else.

If you follow these same lessons — if you choose a painful problem to solve, if you design your product to solve that problem, if you compete on value and not on price, and if you invest time and energy on a sales strategy and great sales team — I guarantee you will have an incredibly successful business.

Thank you.

Filed under