The Bottom Line for Startups: Delight or Die

ImagesI spend a lot of time working with start-ups, particularly helping them with content, communications and, increasingly, their Web site usability needs. It involves a lot of focus on making sure they are telling the right stories to the right audiences, their messaging is clearly articulated and users quick “get” what they do, and their Web sites are accessible and easy to navigate.

But, in many ways, this work is irrelevant if the underlying service doesn’t delight the user. I like the word “delight” because it succinctly captures the essence of whether a start-up will “do or die”. We live in a multi-tasking, attention-deficit world so if a service fails to quickly strike someone as useful, valuable or compelling, it’s game over.

This may seem overly dramatic but, frankly, this is the challenging landscape in which start-ups operate. Most people don’t give themselves enough time to truly evaluate whether a service has merit or not. They want immediate gratification so it’s crucial for a start-up to provide users with a service that is easy to understand and does the job well.

If a start-up doesn’t delight, they’re dead in the water because a user will dismiss them in a heartbeat, and move on to the next service.

Now, delight consists of different components.

There’s the messaging that surrounds a service, providing users with information about the features and benefits, and answering the crucial question: what’s in it for me? There’s good design and a navigation structure that needs to be intuitive and dead simple to use – everything from the home page messaging and the FAQ to the About Us page and the registration process.

And then there’s the service itself, which has to meet a need or a perceived need the user may not think they have until someone points it out to them. The service doesn’t have to be complicated or particularly feature-rich, it just has to delight. A good example is Dropbox, which makes it easy to share files online. Dropbox isn’t oozing with features but it is useful and easy to use.

One of the biggest mistakes made by start-ups – aside from unclear messaging, bad story telling and incomplete business models – is the belief that more (features) is better. Rather than making their service useful, they make it so complicated that users don’t know where to start or they get so frustrated trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do, they walk away.

A key part of the problem is when a start-up has developers, creating more new features is seen as the obvious way to keep them busy. As a result, the feature line-up continues expand rather than ensuring that users enjoy, leverage and make better use of the existing features.

In other words, the service becomes un-delightful.

It means the focus must be on meeting the needs of the user in a way that’s accessible, easy to understand and a breeze to use. In other words, you need to delight them.

Of course, it’s easier said than done but if a start-up can crack this nut, their chances of success are greatly enhanced and you might even convince them to pay for the service, which is another tale for another day.

About Mark Evans

I'm the principle with ME Consulting, which provides strategic and marketing services to startups and entrepreneurs. This includes strategic and tactics plans, core messaging, brand positioning and content planning and creation.
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  • Stephane Guerin

    What a great post! Having launched a startup myself few weeks ago, I recognize the challenges I’m face with.

    Regarding the biggest mistake, I’d say that the reading of the book Rework from the 37 Signals guys is really helpful. One of the key idea in this book is “Underdo the competition”. That means to do less but to be really good at it.