Being a technology marketing guy, I'm constantly updating my business's customer profiles. A customer profile is simply a thumbnail sketch of your target customer(s) - in my case startup entrepreneurs - used to guide your sales and marketing efforts.
I thought it might be fun to share some with you. I meet a lot of startup entrepreneurs, yet find that they can be grouped into one of four profiles:
Ralph - As in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "if a man can...make a better mousetrap...the world will make a beaten path to his door." Ralph's alternate motto is "build it and they will come." Ralph has no use for marketing. Sales people are, at best, a nuisance to be tolerated. Ralph is almost always a first timer. I don't waste a lot of time upfront with Ralph; he already knows everything having confused omniscience with confidence. The funny thing is that if Ralph survives the school of hard knocks, he may end up being one of my most profitable clients. Why? Because cleaning up a mess is lot more work than preventing one in the first place. How likely is Ralph to survive? I won't say it's zero; after all people do win the lottery.
Spock - Again, usually a first timer, mostly technically oriented, highly intelligent, and logical to a fault. They've attended the classes, read the books, and know how a startup is supposed to work...in theory. Unfortunately, Spock lacks the down-in-the-trenches experience to evaluate any advice that runs counter to theory, especially with respect to areas containing large doses of human irrationality, like sales, or management, or fund raising.
While everyone goes through a learning curve when doing something new, Spock's is often a lot slower. Ironically, it's not because of lack of brainpower. Rather it's because you first must unhook him from his cherished beliefs before he can learn anything. How likely is Spock to succeed? It's a race between how fast Spock learns vs. how fast Spock spends.
Rikki Tikki Tavi - Like the hero of the Rudyard Kipling story, Rikki's motto is "run and find out." Rikki may or may not be a first timer. Rikki doesn't know what he doesn't know but is wise enough to recognize this possibility and is eager to learn. Rikki doesn't know something? He'll run and find out or find out who does. Rikki understands that the way things work aren't necessarily the same as the way things should work. He makes mistakes, but above all he learns. He knows the importance of good counsel. I love to work with Rikki (and VCs love him too)! Guess what his chances of success are?
"Ben" Around the Block - Almost always a serial entrepreneur or someone who's spent a lot of time in the trenches building a business. Ben knows what he does well and more importantly, what he doesn't. Ben knows how to leverage connections, cash, and resources. He knows how things really work which means he understands timing. Ben's been hit so many times that his bruises have bruises and through this he's gained perspective. There's a reason VCs line up to get Ben into their portfolios.
So what distinguishes Ralph and Spock from Rikki and Ben? The understanding that maybe, just maybe, they don't know everything.
Why do I say this? Because I've been Ralph and Spock. As a newbie, hot shot, R&D engineer, I was Ralph. Thankfully, I'm a lot dumber today than when I was 25. It took me a couple of years watching amazing technology that I was working on die in marketing reviews to evolve into Spock. A corporate transfer into marketing and the patient tutelage of some tough, no nonsense sales managers(1) and two of my bosses in marketing(2) killed Spock. Today, I'd like to believe I'm Rikki striving towards being Ben (but maybe I'm just deluding myself).
So which one are you?
I'd love to hear from others to round out my field guide to entrepreneurs. Tell me about other types you've run into in your travels.
(1) Thanks to Sal Spano, Lee Herren, John Mestemacher, Dan Frailey, and Brian Moylan. The pains from the beatings have finally subsided to a dull throb.
(2) Thanks to Loren "Catch Flies with Honey" Sutherland and Keith "Don't Confuse Me with the Facts" Scott.