Start-up Advice from Jerry Maguire

“Help me help you,” cries out sports agent Jerry Maguire!

helpmeRemember?  Thrown out of his job, Jerry founded his own agency, based on the epiphany that his mission should focus only on the success of his clients and that means not more clients but fewer clients.

Ultimately Jerry learns that having a highly qualified and loyal customer produces mutual and long-term benefits.   He also learns that acquiring that first customer is unique and is disproportionately more work, and like Jerry’s own first client, Rod Tidwell, “Show me the money” is always on the buyer’s mind.

Maguire knows that winning requires mutual effort and trust in a functional relationship, but too often early-stage B2B technology companies ─ especially the venture-backed ─ forget this critical (and memorable) adage.   When you have one client, and the whole world rests on that client, searching for more and forgetting how you got started might not be the right move.

This is not the 1980’s as clients patiently wait for the completed, whole product.  Now you promise incremental benefits and immediate results are expected ─ no buts, no problems, no failures.  It’s necessary to satisfy your first customer exceptionally well throughout the process of starting a new company. Jerry Maguire’s original thesis is right. Those first customers are helping you get off the ground.  You must do whatever it takes to make those first customers successful – those first customer relationships are deep and personal.

Through this last economic upswing – I’ve noticed a resurgence of the traditional software mantra from the 80’s and 90’s – “sell, design, build” and I don’t believe it works anymore – iterative design and development, agile methods and the incredible feature velocity and scale of web development – especially with SaaS products and business models have blown up the old methods.  Building a great new software business depends on thoughtful design, collaborative implementation and product planning WITH your early customers and  iterative implementation in rapid releases that your customers validate and use very quickly.

Like Jerry Maguire, people working at great software start-ups should always be asking of their customers, “Help me, help you,” a plea that demands mutual trust and a strong partnership. images

Remember this remarkable gift offered by your customers.  They accept your pitch, and believe in you, your colleagues, your product, your service. Don’t throw it all away for the sake of unbridled growth.

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