Means vs. Ends

A typical problem I see with first time entrepreneurs is confusing means and ends.

Your company (or product) should start with the “ends”. Seems counter intuitive to start at the end, rather than the beginning, but it works. The “ends” are the benefits delivered to your target customer. Either the problem or problems you solve for your customers or the new opportunity you create for them.

Then you need to work backwards to figure out the “means” the “how” of reaching the desired ends. See my post on the The journalist story telling framework, for more of the what, how, why, etc. of your company.

The problem with this method is obvious – virtually no entrepreneur starts with the customer, with the exception of the entrepreneur who invents something to solve his own problem, as Dan Bricklin, then a student at HBS did. He was frustrated by having to recalculate the financial models created in his classes every time a single variable changes, so he invented the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc, which automatically recalculated the entire model when any variable changed. Dan was his own first customer.

Typical entrepreneurs start with an idea or business concept, not with a customer who has a problem they want to solve. If they stay in this mode we often see their product as  “a solution in search of a problem.”

So you need to move quickly from the idea the “ends” – what is the benefit your product or new business is going to deliver and what are the steps, measurable milestones to get there?

This is the power of the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) as it gets you to market faster and enables you to see if you are really delivering the ends you think you are.

But be careful as a typical technologist not to get lost in the trees of product development and miss the forest of the market you are going after.

A simple technique is to continually ask yourself while in product development, is this feature or optimization or add-in or whatever helping get you to the “ends” – delivering customer benefits? Or is it just cool, new, “innovative” and fun to code?


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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