Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Don't Look in a Cookbook to Launch a Start-Up

A friend asked me recently to help him think through the positioning and launch of his alternative energy-related company. He specifically asked how such a launch would be different from a launch of a company in the "IT" space.

I had an immediate reaction to this question: the launch of every company must be based on the specific assets of the company -- not the rules in a cookbook for launches. What does this mean for such a company in the alternative energy space? Like any other significant start up, the ultimate questions that need to be answered for the launch are:

  • What are the key sustaining (unique) assets of the company?
  • What is the long term communications goal of the company?
  • What is the right communications architecture for the company to achieve this goal?
  • How should the company be positioned?
  • What is the right starting point, based on today's perceptual environment?
There is an inherent perspective that underlies this view of communications: think about communications as a long-term tool.

What might this mean for my friend's company?
  • There's a lot of hype around alternative energy today. While this could be a near-term tactical asset, being engulfed by this hype is not the end in itself (as a matter of fact, we would contend that it's critical not to be too tightly coupled to it: "what goes up must come down").
  • A lot of companies in this sector are based on significant scientific breakthroughs. Most likely, a long-term sustainable position will be based on fundamental acceptance by the scientists who may often be called upon (at least in the early days) to vet the breakthrough.
  • As in any new market, the odds are good that the company's business model will evolve over time. This means that the long-term communications architecture should be based on a foundation which will survive changes in the business model. That is, why is this company significant, regardless of its current revenue sources.
  • We believe that communications is best used to create leadership in the market. What are the activities that will enable this company to lead and define its market -- rather than to follow it?
  • All of the tactics of communications should be used to reinforce this leadership. If any "events" go by and they are not leveraged, that's ashame.
  • This way of looking at communications can sometimes demand forward-thinking on the part of the management of the company. For example, eschewing short-term hype in favor of long-term leadership can be a hard choice to make.
  • The company management needs to commit to helping the entire company and its stakeholders to understand the communications goals and how to support them best.
We are sure there will be lots of customized activities for the launch my friend's alternative energy company; its success will be based on clearly understanding its uniqueness and importance and launching a program that helps the market understand this over time.

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