Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What Is The "Purpose"?

I have spent a lot of time working for start-ups in the business software space. In that space, when you are defining a new product, it doesn't take long before the discussion comes around to, "what is the value proposition of the product?". When selling to businesses, the concept of a value proposition makes sense and it is usually related to some sort of financial benefit -- increase revenues, decrease costs, etc.

Now days, start-up companies in the business software space are attempting to penetrate the market using a bottoms-up approach. Rather than selling "high" within an organization using a direct sales force, start-ups are trying to initially market to individuals. The theory goes if you can get a bunch of individuals excited about an offering, then they can act as your evangelists within an organization as you upsell to a broader set of users. The open source business model is all about this. Suppliers of business-oriented RSS readers, like NewsGator, are also taking this approach.

The important notion with this approach is that you are initially marketing to individuals, not organizations. As a result, I would argue that the "value proposition" mentality is not as relevant. When I, as an individual, decide to use a new product or Web-based service, I am not thinking about "value proposition". I am thinking more along the lines of the "purpose" the new product/service is providing me.

If I step back and think of all of the Web-based services I use regularly, each one has a defined "purpose" in my mind. I use LinkedIn when I want to see if somebody in my personal network knows somebody I am interested in talking to. I use MyBlogLog to check on my blog activity. I use Pandora to listen to music online.

I have been putting this mentality into practice recently as I consult with start-ups, especially to those who are initially marketing to individuals. I strongly encourage them to develop a succinct sentence that defines a clear "purpose" they will provide a user. Having such a "purpose" makes the requirements definition process much easier; without such a "purpose", the requirements definition process can easily lack the focus it needs to be successful.

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