The #1 way to add value

There is a massive amount of chatter about the idea of adding value to your customers.

Most of it seems to come from MarTech startups churning out content to try and rope in buyers in Sales, Business Development, and Marketing.

Tons of people saying, “make a better product”, “improve your customer service”, “go faster”, “give discounts”, “engage more”, “package your product better”, “try new things”, “understand your competition”.

Almost none of them actually putting down anything tangible on paper.

So much for adding value.

Here’s something tangible: You want to add value?

Ask questions.

That’s it.

Sounds easy, right?

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t because the questions could make you or your audience make uneasy. Further, what you’re trying to get at with the questions is what matters, because the questions themselves don’t add value, the responses do. The questions just help open the audience up to feeling free and confident enough to respond.

Below is a series of questions I asked the founder of a failed startup. Failed in the revenue sense – it suffered financial collapse.

Before you dig in, some key things to consider:

  1. Context matters. Here’s the link to the blog post the founder wrote about the failure. https://medium.com/@nbashaw/a-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-hardbound-update-eacaf767db6a
  2. If you truly want to add value, don’t hold back in your questioning. You need to get to the heart of the matter and you don’t get there by being gentle around the edges. You get there by being the tip of the spear.

Questions to the founder of Hardbound:

#1 The copy on hardbound.co tells me what you do, but not why you do it. What is the power of why? For your consideration see, “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek.

#2 hardbound.co lets me sign up to, “Get free books in my inbox every week”. Is this a compelling call-to-action for a large audience? For a narrowly-defined persona? Or is it “just another” form field and Join button?

#3 On first visiting hardbound.co, I had a glimpse of a beautiful journey starting with the clean site and sample book and had just started down the path to a wonderful customer experience. Then I attempted to learn more About Hardbound and The Team, and instead of a beautiful experience I was catapulted away. To a website “hackernoon”. What was behind this decision?

#4 What was the decision criteria leading to not providing a link on the website to the Hardbound app on the iTunes Store? I can sign up to get books, but how do I get to the App? How do I even know it’s an App in the first place?

#5 Similar to #4, what was the decision criteria leading to not providing a link on the iTunes Store to the Hardbound.co main page? I see a Privacy and TOC link far down the page, and surely I can figure out the URL, but I’m a power user. How do I even know there is a website in the first place?

#6 What’s the Hardbound mission and vision?

  • “To make visual, interactive books that are designed for mobile”
  • “Create a totally new way to read”
  • “Connect with readers’ brains in a deeper way than ever before”
  • “Turn bestselling nonfiction books into fun, illustrated stories
    that you can finish in 5 minutes.”
  • “We think it should be easier to be smarter.”

I can’t put my finger on the singular mission statement. There are various statements that might be it, but without you and others copy/pasting the one bold statement on everything you touch, I’m left to guesswork.

#7 Did you make targeted plans for each investor you spoke with, or did you have more or less the same pitch for all 72 investors?

#8 Similar to #7, was it a quality decision and all 72 investors were good possible fits after paring down from a list of more (100+?), or was it a quantity decision? Why did you choose the path you did?

#9 Of your 1,200 paying customers, how many have you yourself spoken with to gather their direct feedback on:

  • Why they purchased / subscribed
  • What keeps them using the app
  • What keeps them paying their subscription
  • What they like
  • What they dislike
  • What they would specifically pay more for

#10 Is there a community for your paying customers? Why or why not?

#11 From #10 OR.. have your customers self-organized? Why or why not?

#12 How can you monetize your 250,000 readers?

#13 Is monetizing all users even appealing, or is the free model more appealing?

#14 What does the free model get you?

#15 What does the free model get the user?

#16 Why would someone pay at all?

#17 Do you have any customer champions?

#18 I see only a half-dozen reviews on the iTunes Store. How can you drive more reviews? Why aren’t there naturally more reviews when, “almost every day people send us notes telling us how much they love our product”?

#19 What made up your $13,000/mo costs?

#20 Was every cost absolutely necessary die-without-it? Or if you didn’t follow a lean model — why didn’t you?

#21 With 7,000 readers (uniques I’m guessing? Kudos!) a week, how can you convert them and why do they convert? (see #16).

#22 From #21, perhaps more importantly, why do they not convert?

#23 Is it easier to grow the 7k/mo number, or the conversion rate? Why or why not? (Knowing you can only approach these questions if you understand #16 and #21)

#24 What quantifiable data led you to your theory that by “creating a lot more content (…) then the numbers would improve”?

#25 From #24 was this theory evaluated and found true at any time? Why or why not?

#26 “many investors saw that as too risky” did you ask them why? What were the answers? If you did not, when are you reaching back out to each of them to do so and then organizing the feedback?

#27-a “It takes a lot of time and money to make a Hardbound story.”

Why? How can you get time down? How can you get cost down?

#27-b “Each one (each Hardbound story) needs to be researched, written, edited, and illustrated.”

Why? Can you stick with MVPs or does each one have to be perfect on day 1? Why one over the other? Is early-access a possible subscriber benefit where they get book MVPs at one point and then receive early access to each final release as well?

#28 “With a team of 3 part-time freelancers” — what part of their costs make up the $10,500/mo burn rate?

#29 “We’d rather die than turn into yet another shitty content farm” — are content farms successful financially, and what can you take away from them that is useful while ignoring the rest?

#30 “The content we’re creating (book summaries) is evergreen” — is it? I punched it into Google and got over 400,000 results. I understand this isn’t necessarily an actual sample size as this search result could contain thousands of backlinks, sub-links, and so on — but are book summaries truly always fresh?

#31 What does a successful book summary company look like? What do they do that you do? What do they do that you don’t?

#32 “With venture capitalists, you never really know what they’re thinking.” — assuming you did capture what they were thinking after the fact, did you catalog it for reference and reflection?

#33 “I have no significant new data that changes my mind about Hardbound’s potential” — what data do you have? What does it tell you? If you hand it to another person not in your space, do they come up with the same thoughts or other takeaways?