Finding your first customer is hard! Of course it is – why should someone take a punt on an unknown, untested start-up and risk exposing their precious customers to who knows what?
But once you’ve got your first customer and you’ve shown that your products are successful and that your code isn’t too buggy and your people have a reputation for being ok to work with … well now you have a new problem.
Everyone wants to be your second customer.
But surely that’s a good thing! This is momentum, right?
Of course it is… but a sudden rush of new customers comes with several headaches.
1) Time. Setting up and managing a new customer takes time. You may need to integrate, configure things separately, sign contracts – all sorts of tasks. This means that unless you can expand your team, a lot of other things will go slower – like the feature you promised your first customer, or the technical debt you promised your team you’d start work on, or any number of other things.
2) Costs. New customers are the path to revenue, but often costs arrive first. You may need to spend money on legal fees, upgrade capacity to handle an increase in traffic, pay extra regulation charges or platform fees. You need to be able to cope with these in the short term, before revenue rolls in and that’s often easier said than done.
3) Strain. Your systems – ranging from IT capabilities to people – may struggle to suddenly service 20 customers (with thousands of players) compared to one. But if anything breaks you’ll look incompetent.
4) Complexity. As the team is doing more things for more people, with all the attendant and inevitable tweaks for each customer, it suddenly all becomes a lot more complex. You may be managing different currencies, configurations, sets of rules, images and relationships. It’s easy to get confused. It’s impossible for any one person to know everything that’s going on.
5) Expectations. As more and more people have heard of you, your pitch changes from the endearingly scruffy start-up to a slightly more grown-up company. Suddenly expectations are different. Now companies expect the kind of full monitoring and back-end or service they receive from multi-million suppliers – while you’re still wondering if it matters that you don’t have enough chairs for visitors.
So what do you do?
Take the pain – you can’t afford the time to automate processes or the staff or tools to make life easier. Do it anyway. Build up the debt (technical, sleep and money) and double down on success. If it works, you’ll be sorting out the mess in years to come; if you don’t double-down, you probably won’t succeed anyway.
Select – if you can’t serve everyone then you need to work out who is the most important. Obviously sometimes that’s the biggest/most valuable – but it may not always be. Perhaps there’s a partner who will support and promote you more or who has less content or where you’ll learn faster. Perhaps it’s just who’s the simplest – the customers most like the ones you have already so that you don’t need to manage new languages, regulations and integration challenges.
Prioritise – be brutal about cutting any activities which are not helping the primary goal of getting your new customers up and running. Tax return? You can pay the fine for being late. Strategic plan your investor’s asking for? It’ll be irrelevant in a week anyway. System upgrade? Cross your fingers and pray nothing breaks.
Running a start-up is remarkably like walking in hilly country. You fix your eyes on the horizon and think – phew, I’m nearly there! But when you reach the top, you find another peak stretching away in front. It never stops - there’s always more hill to climb.
We’ll let you know more about Gamevy’s start-up triumphs and tribulations over the coming year.
By Helen Walton
Helen is a writer and marketing manager of Gamevy who enjoys solving problems, trying out ideas and making things happen.