Starting a business is True Grit, not The X Factor!

Successful businesses evolve from the same place as unsuccessful businesses, but something happens along the way that makes them pop. On rare occasions, a phenomenal idea will emerge that’s backed by a suitably phenomenal management team then the magic happens, but that’s the stuff of legend. For the rest of us, separating wheat from chaff is a grind.

But the grind is the last thing on the mind of many an entrepreneur. Overnight success stories litter our TV screens, conditioning those who know no better to think that being discovered is more important than working hard. And like pitchy hopefuls on unreality TV, many entrepreneurs mistakenly assume the slippery slope to success is greased by exposure alone. It isn’t. Time spent looking for limelight could be better spent knocking on the doors of potential customers, hunting for feedback and trying to secure distribution for their shiny idea.

Walking the streets and talking to potential customers is busking for entrepreneurs, it probably won’t lead to overnight success, but you get to perfect your pitch and make some money along the way, increasing staying power and the likelihood you will nail an audition if the time is right. Better still, generate enough income to avoid external funding and you negate the allure of instant fame altogether.

Big companies can’t win, time to get down and dirty!

Reinvention is bloody hard, rarely has a big business managed to pivot wholesale to a new them without causing a catastrophic collapse of their core along the way. History is littered by once great corporations hollowed by their failure to recognise the need for reinvention.

But this isn’t a cautionary tale featuring Kodak and their resistance to the Digital age, although that is a good story! This cautionary tale concerns those businesses that recognise the need for change but fail, fail because their big company DNA rejects the wide eyed organism growing within.

Clayton Christiansen describes the issue as the Innovators Dilemma. The central theme of his argument is that big businesses innovate within the constraints of their own expectations. Big business’ expectations demand an aggressive and predictable return on capital as well as a degree of polish that small businesses and startup entrepreneurs happily live without.

Those expectations limit their ability to innovate to the Sustaining kind only, meaning incremental improvements that result in incremental bottom line impacts. The new breed of competitor, i.e. startups, don’t live with those constraints and can therefore galvanise their new business around an untested way forward.

Innovation favours the brave and startups are certainly brave. Entrepreneurs often leave themselves with little to lose and can afford to turn existing models on their head in a effort to break through. And breakthrough they do.

In the past big corporate goliaths still won though, regardless how stilted their innovation; barriers to entry and scale benefits afforded them a dependable lead against newer foes. But today’s David is better equipped. They have the triple whammy benefits of low cost of capital, cheap scalable technology and affordable access to a large audience; also, this new wave of Disruptive Innovation is easily embraced by customers so should be feared by slow to move businesses and their shareholders alike. Boardrooms have too much as stake to stay ignorant to the Breakthrough Innovation occuring around them, so breaking through the innovators dilemma will have to happen eventually. But there is a great risk of too little too late.

Corporate leaders have to do more to embrace breakthrough thinking and create structures to do so. Establishing a mini startup fund and incubator for internal entrepreneurs and staff incentives to encourage broader thinking are essential steps. Communicating to the broader business the importance of supporting those innovations by accepting the quick and dirty necessity of breakthrough thinking is also essential if rejection of the new organism is to be avoided.

Is your business suffering a Group Buying Hangover?

Group Buying helped good businesses access revenues that had previously eluded them, improving utilisation, buoying their P&L and promising a sustainable new revenue stream from this exciting new consumer channel.

But now that the sector has waned and desperate Group Buying businesses have become fixated on stack ‘em high sell ‘em low product chuff – those once buoyed businesses are left feeling a little queasy.

Just one of the problems they face stems from prepayment, one of the headline benefits touted by most group buying companies (including me).

Although quick access to cash is manna from heaven for most business owners, prepayment has left behind a tequila-like side effect.

The problem is this. A top priority for all online businesses should be around Funnel Conversion, i.e. the ability for the business to convert leads into dollars, however in a world of prepayment, conversion becomes somewhat unimportant. In fact, if breakage (unused vouchers) is a profitable exercise for the merchant, higher conversion may actually mean lower short term profits.

Now that Group Buying is providing an ever declining proportion of revenues, many online businesses that signed up to breakeven or lossmaking campaigns in order to grow their subscriber base, now find they are unable to monetize that base due to poor site performance, especially in the area of conversion.

Faced with lower than expected revenues, these companies often head back to Group Buying to find that like-for-like offers work only half as well as they did before. Now the business is in a pickle, the drug is half as effective, risk its brand by doing twice as much? Surely you know your drug dealer is never your friend?

The key is to get the fundamentals of your businesses working right before looking to Group Buying or any type of Marketing for that matter. Ensure that the purchase funnel is converting 60% or more of the people who hit “Buy Now”, that your Subscription Channel is effective, and your email strategy is delivering appropriate Open, Click and Purchase rates.

When cloaked by the shiny veneer of Group Buying dollars your site performance will look a whole lot better than it really is. Time to sober up, shake off that hangover and see if your bedfellow looks as good as you remember.

Breakage is the enemy of Group Buying

Group Buying is all about hard bargains on great experiences, the web sites (and there are a few) trade exposure to a large audience for a discounted offer and a share of the revenue gathered. Check out most of these sites and you’ll see they are typically focused on the discounts they can negotiate on behalf of their members, crowd-power put to work! These same companies often regale in the millions of dollars they have “saved” on their Members’ behalf, reflecting the margin businesses have given up in an effort to attract a new audience.

But businesses tell us at Cudo that they are being pushed too far by aggressive Group Buying reps, and that they are disappointed by the quality of customers they attract, often finding they are seasoned voucher buyers rather than reflecting their typical audience.

And regardless of their intentions prior to running an offer, a business that has been pushed to its limits will have no choice but to minimise its losses during the process, especially when faced with a lower value customer who is less likely to come back once the vouchers is spent.

Minimising losses means one of two things to these businesses, delivering the service more cheaply to preserve some margin, or hoping the Voucher buyer never shows at all, also known as Breakage!

In fact, some Competitors’ commercial agreements even include a clause intended to maximise the value of Breakage, where a higher percentage of unredeemed vouchers is good for the Group Buying business.

But this is hurting the industry as a whole.

The Group Buying company typically controls contact with the end user, meaning they alone can communicate with the purchasers and encourage them to redeem their unused vouchers, however they are not incentivised to do so, the featured business should be focused on maximising the number of new customers they touch but may be hurting so badly after loosing the battle to preserve some margin that they hope no one ever shows! That said, they are not in a position to talk to voucher buyers even if they wanted to!

Group Buying cannot be about discounts alone, it has to be about incentivising customers to try new things. This is a sampling exercise, not a fire sale. Screwing a business in the name of growing your Member base is counter intuitive, because over time the best of the businesses we want to work with will want nothing to do with the Group Buying category as a whole, hurting the more reputable business out there.

And Consumers know that owning unredeemed vouchers is a lot like having a wardrobe full of clothes with Sale tags on, at some point someone will say “enough” and the buying will grind to a halt no matter how good the discounts are. We are focused on Experiences at Cudo, offered at a no-brainer discount, and we get that the future of the industry is hinged on our customers actually participating in those experiences, not just for the growth of the businesses we feature, but for the future of Cudo  and for the industry as a whole. We will continue to focus on redemption at Cudo, and never encourage Breakage.