Nov 11

Discovering the One Sentence Behind Your Company

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. — Galileo Galilei

An IM popped up on my screen. “Hey Michelle, want to see Heroku?”

“What’s that?”

“Watch this,” messaged my friend.

I sat at my desk at Rackspace in anticipation of…anything. A few minutes later, he sent me a URL. On the page was the following message:

“Hey Michelle. I just deployed this Sinatra app for you on Heroku. Isn’t it cool?”

My head exploded. This wasn’t just “the cloud” — this was the cloud made simple. Here Amazon made the cloud scalable, and some group of guys in a YC startup made it so easy to manage for developers, it seemed like magic voodoo or something. Scary for us in 2009, but so awesome.

I instantly went to my boss and said “We should buy this company” and received a response that will remain confidential. Heroku impressed me so much, I moved to the Bay Area to work there.

Basically, they were scary as hell…

Why was I willing to stake my reputation with my boss who bought almost all of our acquisitions to show him Heroku? It wasn’t because they worked hard. I literally had no idea what technology was under the hood at that time. It was because I saw a product that solved something no one else was solving. Heroku made it simple for developers to deploy, manage, and scale apps. Combine this billion dollar problem with a starting price of free, and Heroku was scary as hell to me.

Product messaging strategy: cracking your purpose in one sentence

Sure enough, Heroku solved this pain point after dealing with it with dozens of high profile clients. Paul Graham invested in them after seeing the same issue of Rails deployment with countless startups.

Creating a pitch deck? Working on website copy? Drafting up a blog post about a feature release? Ensure you’re doing the proper discovery work with this checklist:

  • Check your ego.
  • Talk to your paying customers. Understand their needs. Study the market of what’s out there by reading analyst reports and talking to experts. Know your customer and be honest about the size of the market you can reasonably serve*.
  • Ask yourself, “What is the problem my product/feature solves for people? How does it solve it in a way the market currently does not solve?”

  • No one, not bloggers, customers, investors, not even good employees, care what your product is. Nobody cares about your fluffy buzzwords or simply the size of the industry you are going after. Your team only matters when it comes to one thing — what problem can they solve better than anyone else for the market they serve? Why does it exist, and for whom? Understanding your company’s “reason for being” in one sentence will save you and your employees a lot of grief not only in marketing — it simplifies product, hiring, and other decisions within your company as you scale.

    *hint: this *is* scary. It means you have to say no to a lot of people and money. By defining your market clearly, you will in better position to find more people who will easily say “yes”. Hey, even Amazon started off as a bookseller…

    Resist the urge to unleash the “Ship it Squirrel”

    Sometimes, you just gotta give this little guy a break.

    So go get a haircut and grab your business cards. Go straight to people in your target market, and listen…a lot. Take time and ask questions to define their pain points. THEN practice your pitch. Practice it hundreds of times, or at least dozens of times for feature releases. Look people straight in the eyes, listen to the tone of their voice, and track if they follow up to receive your product. You can’t really serve people if you aren’t even willing to have a conversation with them. The marketing part is much simpler once you get the people part — it’s just putting the message out there at a broader scale.