Business

A lesson for startup CEOs: Don’t get tempted by the easy kill

Dear entrepreneurs and CEOs (and their sales teams):

Some interesting news came across my Twitter feed a few weeks ago. A competitor decided to discontinue one of their services, essentially opening the door for my company (and other companies like mine) to poach their customers.

As soon as I heard the news, I went from my normal day-to-day activities (coffee, RedBull, coding, coffee) into to full-on salesguy mode. This was a huge opportunity because suddenly there were thousands of potential users looking for a new home.

So what is a CEO to do?

My first instinct was to target the users with some in-your-face marketing. We’d brag about our services and talk about how we’d gladly take them in from the cold. “We’d never abandon you!” “We’ve been here all along, and we’re better anyway!” But before I could move on this (horrible) idea, I watched as many of my other competitors and industry colleagues started to do the same exact thing. On one blog that offered reviews of several businesses in my category, I noticed that the head of one company voted down everyone but himself. Did he think no one would notice?

Once I saw the vultures swoop in, I was thankful I hadn’t yet gone in for the kill. I thought to myself, is this really what the industry has come to? Misleading campaigns, throwing each other under the bus, wild discounts, coupons and plain ol’ begging? I think it made the whole industry look bad, and our combined credibility went down a notch or two.

The next time something like this happens, I know what I’ll do: Nothing. Well, not really nothing, but I’ll just keep doing what I’ve always done.

It’s more important for a startup like ours to have the right customers than it is to have a lot of customers. We always want to make sure we’re attracting users who will be a good fit so that we meet their expectations. We know our users are intelligent people who make informed buying decisions and do lots of research before they make a purchase. They aren’t the type to be swayed by temporary discounts or clever ads.

At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is the product. We know it’s good, and if it fits their needs, we’ll get new users. Our product might not be right for some businesses, and we’re okay with that. It’s better to help someone find the right fit than to have them suffer and complain when they are stuck with something that isn’t working for them. It’s really tough to be “all things to all people,” so we’re not going to try.

The reality is, this wasn’t an isolated chance for us to acquire new clients. We’re always competing for customers, and you’ll find yourself doing the same at some point. Do you really want their first impression of you to be a desperate plea based on discounts or over-inflated promises? Anyone who isn’t innovating (or at least listening to their users) and gets new clients by offering the lowest price isn’t building loyalty. When the next guy with a lower price comes around, guess where those customers are going to go?

My suggestion to any entrepreneur who is facing a similar challenge: Keep doing what you’ve always done. Offer a good product with a sustainable price. Build loyalty so when the next guy comes along and says “Use my service!” your customers won’t switch — they will stay with your company because they like you and your product.

</rant>

Sincerely,

Jim Belosic, the “learning as I go” CEO.

Jim Belosic is the CEO of ShortStack, a self-service custom app design tool used to create apps for Facebook Pages, websites and mobile web browsing. ShortStack provides the tools for small businesses, graphic designers, agencies and corporations to create apps with contests and forms, fan gates, product lines and more.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

Image via ► kevin dooley via Compfight cc


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