We've been thinking a lot about this lately.
There are a couple different types of products you can build: vertical, and horizontal.
Vertical products apply to a single industry, role, or, well...vertical. They are speciality, niche products, designed very specifically for a specific purpose. Sales products, HR products, and most enterprise products fit into this bucket.
Horizontal products apply to a specific problem, across many industries or verticals. Airtable, Trello, Wufoo and other tend to fall into this category.
With CrowdSync, we're in the latter camp. And there are advantages and disadvantages.
On one side, horizontal products have the benefit of a much, much larger addressable market. Because you're not saturating a vertical (and competition against other vertical products vying for that slice of land), you have a much wider set of potential customers. Scale can be orders of magnitude larger.
On the other hand, marketing and market penetration is much harder. Channels into the market are more expensive and less apparent, since it's not as simple as attaching yourself to prominent vertical channels, like publications, blogs, conference and other avenues.
With that, horizontal products tend to require more capital, because of the more intense work it takes to market across a wide set of customers.
Being a horizontal product, we're acutely aware of these challenges, but also committed to the vision of staying horizontal. While it's tempting to turn 90 degrees and go vertical, it doesn't really mesh well with our overall vision. Good or bad, that's where we are.
Over the past year, we've been working to build CrowdSync, having launched the MVP about 7 months ago (late 2017). We've had some usage here and there, including some paid customers, but not the kind of rapid growth and adoption that we'd hoped to see.
So, late last month, we changed strategies a bit. Instead of continuing to build more and more, we're shifting to selling and marketing more, talking to more customers, and trying to A) understand the needs better, and B) onboard new customers at a faster clip.
Some strategies we're using this month:
We've just gone through the book Traction, and we're using some of those ideas to create some tests and measure the efficacy.
Justin (co-founder) used to work as a user researcher, hired by other companies to talk to their potential users, and understand better what they need, and how to target them.
So, we're bringing that skill to bear now (finally, should have done this a year ago).
It's become apparent that one of our weaknesses is that we don't understand our markets as well as we need to, in order to effectively serve them. CrowdSync is the type of product that doesn't really have a specific vertical, but we know that in order to be effective at growing the early user base, we need to find some beachhead to target and grow from.
So, we've decided to start a research project focused on HR and HR managers, to better understand how they handle processes with people, and where there might be gaps that aren't filled by other solutions. Additionally, we want to learn how they find out about software, the purchasing and fulfillment process, and other factors that will affect how we communicate with them.
We have three sessions today, and another booked later in the week, trying to target 10 people in this segment.
Here's hoping we find the insights we're looking for!
Today starts the first day of a new sales strategy we're trying: physical, mailed letters with a phone call followup.
We've been targeting HR positions in companies whose products we already use, guided by the idea that we want companies that we love as our customers as well.
We sent out physical letters, mailed to targets inside these companies, and this week, we start calling to follow up on those letters, trying to see if we can get a demo set up.
Among one of the big questions: can we get through the gatekeeper? Without an extension for the person, we have to go through the front desk, so it'll be interesting to see if we're able to get through and to the person we're looking to contact. Should we fail there, we'll follow up with an email (easier to find than a phone extension).
We'll update soon with results!
CrowdSync exists to help organizations spend less time on the manual work it takes to get people through various processes, and help them get time back to spend on more important things.