You Should be Plotting Distribution Tactics While Developing Your Product

This is the age of excellence. Thanks to the science of product design, countless iterations of exceptionally well-thought-out products and services for consumers are available every day. In fact, product has surpassed distribution in terms of importance, as founders are eager to witness their creations top the lists of Hacker News and Product Hunt.

Hitting the peak of the charts is arguably one of the most thrilling sensations one can experience, but it often leads to an equally intense -- but unpleasant -- feeling of despair: After a few weeks, the pole-position of the App Store is conquered by competitive products.

Develop your own distribution hack

So what's today's winning ingredient? Sustainable distribution put together by teams who offer exceptional products and stay focused on growth. Airbnb built a killer tool for Craigslist. Uber became the masters of the "over-the-shoulder virality" and the referral system, while Wealthfront took the referral system and content marketing strategies created by others to a whole new level. WhatsApp nailed it by promoting the “phonebook social network” along with intensive localization.

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After browsing 400-plus campaigns published on Kickstarter this year alone, I’m amazed by the sheer number of amazingly well-made products that also completely neglect distribution. They're good products, but they lack marketing budget, titles, taglines, or a target audience.

Don't bring a knife to a gunfight.

To attract investors today, you need excellent products, but even that can take you only so far. If you want to make a true difference, you must demonstrate the breathtaking distribution tactic you developed. First-hand experience is non-negotiable.

I've engaged in 20-minute discussions with certain startups about their smart utilization of street teams and barely touched on the products themselves. With other companies, I focus on an awesome tool they've given their customers for free—while they’re populating their email database.

In the traditional way of doing things, all you needed to get the attention of consumers was a great product. Unless we experience a big bang that eliminates 80 percent of current startups, it's highly doubtful the market will return to that state.

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Things are getting harder and harder in the field, and showing up without an MVP this year will only make you look like a fool. I predict that in 2017, anyone without an equally competitive distribution strategy will look a lot like the guy who brought a knife to a gunfight.

How do I know? More first-hand experience, this time from the customer perspective.

I’m considering a new car, and one startup caught my eye by demonstrating its competitive advantage. Car Buyer’s Edge infiltrates the auto industry by revealing the absolute true cost you should pay for your new car (lease or finance). The team behind this startup has the automotive industry experience to demystify the dreaded car-buying process. It's often confusing, and the dealerships always seem to have the upper hand. Car Buyer's Edge produces a personalized report that details every element of the deal, including rebates, incentives, holdbacks, and disclosed fees. Car dealers are highly trained to try to squeeze every penny from you. The Edge Report equips users with the knowledge and confidence they need to negotiate a fair deal. How will it fare in the long term? Will it grow? Nobody can know for certain, but Car Buyer's Edge is making an almost universally difficult process more convenient and transparent. That's an enviable pool of potential customers.

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Another recent startup intended to create events for its vertical and use the opportunity to register guests for product reviews and trials. While that’s not unheard of, this startup did it differently by really connecting the marketing process to its sales development representatives, trials, and subscriptions.

Instead of showing me more product features, these companies opted to focus on how they were going to sell. I'm glad they did, because “ sales solves everything.”

Here's the takeaway message: Meeting your prospective investors with a carefully planned distribution strategy will make you stand out from the start. It also will help you grow your business—possibly rendering that whole investor meeting thing obsolete.