Successful startups will emerge from this recession by focusing on real needs, says Startmate chief Michael Batko

Michael-Batko-Startmate

Michael Batko is the CEO of Startmate. Source: supplied.

Rationally, we understand that necessity is the mother of invention — or at least, we are familiar with the notion. But rarely are we given a front-row seat to see that proverb play out in real-time.

In just five months, we’ve collectively navigated huge cultural, social and economic changes with speed, imagination and surprising adaptability. 

And virtually all of these changes have been borne out of human needs. The need to control the health risk, the need to mitigate the economic damage, the need to protect the vulnerable, the need for self-preservation. And, at least in Australia, we’ve seen this need plus action equal impact. 

People get the most creative with their backs against the wall when there are no other options available.

In the context of startups, this can be useful, because it forces founders to focus on the atomic unit they can do 10 times better than anyone else. But only the most stubborn founders — who can’t envision a world where the problem they are solving still prevails — will ultimately succeed. 

In my years at Startmate, I’ve seen hundreds of founders walk through the door with fire in their bellies and excellent ideas, strategies and vision. The best founders have a real problem to solve, a gap to fill and a clear vision of the future they want to build.

Now is the time for founders to prioritise solving a real pain point for customers. To address needs over wants. To spot real opportunities from fleeting mirages.

If founders can do that, they will be part of a massive boom in innovation waiting in the wings.

Below are two ways this can be achieved. 

Dial up your focus

Start by asking yourself what the real problem you’re solving is.

What will you obsess over? Narrow it down to an atomic unit and solve that tiny element 10 times better than anyone else.

This is where the magic is. Because rather than focusing on products, great founders focus on customers.

The goal is to stay focused on one problem and solve that exceptionally well. 

Startmate alumni Propeller Aero exemplifies the tangible outcomes of a more customer-centric approach to growth, development and problem-solving. It is the ultimate example of founders who started off with a love for drones pursuing every opportunity under the sun. Eventually, they discovered mine, quarry and construction companies, which had a real burning problem Propeller could solve and honed in.

This month, they announced the close of a $26 million round to make 3D maps in real-time, pushing their remit of drone-based mapping to incorporate sensor-based tech that will have enormous impacts for their customers.

When founders focus on solving customer problems rather than blindly selling their solution, the products and services they create are inevitably more useful and viable. And venture investment quickly follows.

Now more than ever, it’s vital to focus on necessity.

Increase your surface area, don’t just count on luck

For founders, luck can take many forms: an idea, an introduction, an investment opportunity that comes just at the right time. But you can’t hide under a rock and expect luck to strike.

Luck starts with you getting out from under your rock. Surface areas grow with increased networks, communities and communication grow your surface area.

One benefit of the current climate is that geographical limitations are becoming less and less of an issue. Remote work has levelled the playing field. It doesn’t matter if the person you want to speak to is your neighbour in Silicon Valley or you’re enjoying the sun in rural Victoria.

Flattened variables lead to better conditions for luck to strike in a more democratic way. With courses, conferences, talks and meetups all taking place virtually, the barrier for engagement and communication is significantly reduced for everyone. 

At Startmate, we overshare. We over-communicate. Most of the time it’s superfluous, sometimes it’s game-changing. You never know who can help you or make your life easier.

Luck is everywhere. You can only get help if you are honest about the ugly parts of life and running your business.

Counterintuitively, bad news builds trust.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t tell people you need help, they can’t help you. 

Climb the highest hills and thunder against the rolling hills what you’re about. Tell anyone who will listen: family, friends and the universe.

In doing this, remember that when you shout to the world, sometimes you’ll find you fall on deaf ears and closed minds.

Bypass their minds and resonate with their hearts. Get everyone emotionally invested in your journey, standing shoulder to shoulder believing in your vision. 

NOW READ: The economic outlook may look bleak, but for startups “there’s certainty in the uncertainty”

NOW READ: As Afterpay shares go gangbusters, why is COVID-19 driving a buy-now-pay-later boom?

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