3 Mistakes (Nearly) Every Tech Startup Makes -- and How to Avoid Them
by Geoff Cunningham

You just spent five years developing the world’s first robotic drone cooler. It keeps your beverages frosty and follows you anywhere so you can get a cold one wherever and whenever you need one. It’s a monumental invention . . . but this cool little product isn’t going to fly without a strong brand.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time working on brand development with some amazing minds in the consumer electronics world. These innovators come from pedigree schools and have ideas that rival the big-boy electronics brands. Here’s the problem: The mindset that makes them capable of building ridiculous technologies is usually what makes them struggle when it’s time to build the brand that launches their innovation with consumers who don’t have advanced degrees in thermal dynamics.

Bottom line: When your tech startup is up against billion-dollar giants with corresponding marketing teams, even the most innovative products will fail if they don’t get packaged right. Here are three tips to ensure you launch a technology brand that can beat these odds.

1. Never lead with features and functionality.

We see it all the time. Tech startups want to lead with claims that their product is the fastest, lightest or smallest [fill in blank] ever to be introduced to the market. This approach makes sense because innovators are proud of what they have built. But, here’s the problem: Your product may not be the fastest, smallest or lightest for long, and hanging your brand on a feature makes you vulnerable to fast-followers looking to marginalize your brand.

Your product features should tee up the differentiating benefit you deliver to consumers. Tech startups dramatically increase their chances of winning when they lead with the benefit the product promises. The drone cooler may have seven times the thrust and cooling power of the competition, but what consumers care about is that it puts a cold one at their fingertips. It’s like having a friend who always brings you a beer. Features and functionality are not the headline to the story — they are the supporting messaging that makes it believable.

2. Know that manufacturing timing can make or break your launch.

The product concept is finished, the prototypes have been made and you are ready to crowdfund or secure distribution and retail partners. But you haven’t started the manufacturing process — a process rife with obstacles, unforeseen situations and minor product issues that turn into months (or years) of delays.

Ensure your product is ready to go before you make promises that it will be delivered to your retailers or consumers. You only have one chance to launch, and your brand will be damaged if you can’t deliver on consumer expectations. We’ve seen countless brands make promises on various crowdfunding sites, only to spend months doing damage control with disappointed supporters. The crowd will turn against you if they trust you with their $59 and are left wondering if or when this drone cooler is ever going to arrive.

3. Focus your brand to align with a specific audience.

Tech startups begin by creating products that solve specific problems for specific types of end users, but often dilute their focus to appeal to the widest audience possible. This is a huge mistake. Brand traction requires you to focus your brand promise to a specific audience that is most likely to buy and evangelize your offering. Consumer electronics brands must tailor messaging and visuals to a specific audience so that they align to that culture.

Adopting a product requires an audience to see it and instantly understand “this is for people exactly like me.” Watering down your messaging and visuals puts you at risk for resonating with nobody. Moms and dads use coolers, but the robot drone cooler is probably built for an on-the-go party animal. That guy or gal isn’t looking for a cooler package with “Mom” on it. Don’t try to appeal to Mom and the guy you’d never introduce her to. It will be uncomfortable for everyone.

Don’t get in the way of your great idea. By following these three tips, you’ll not only have an amazing product in market, but a strong brand that will actually get it sold.