CEO Corner: Whether you’re a first mover or fast follower, customer obsession is key

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In technology, being a pioneer is often regarded as the key to success but is it sometimes better to learn from the mistakes of others?

I recently added to this debate on the benefits and pitfalls for modern tech businesses in breaking first ground or being a fast-follower when I was interviewed by Dan Brotzel, Content Director and Co-Founder of Sticky Content.

By enabling large organisations to digitally transform the way they manage meetings and events, HeadBox Business is at the forefront of revolutionising the B2B event booking space. But with statistics showing almost half of the businesses that benefit from ‘first-mover advantage’ don’t survive, compared to an 8% failure rate for those that follow, it has been imperative for us to learn from any failures, so we can adapt fast and move on.

Making the first move

What always interested and frustrated me about the events industry was that very little technology and very little IP was being used to address the problems corporate event bookers encountered when they needed to book a venue. Before HeadBox, this was such a hassle because you had to do this by phone, emails, spreadsheets and post-it notes often via an intermediary and interspersed with multiple trips to the printer and scanner.

It was at my last company that the frustration with these time consuming and inefficient processes coupled with the lack of imagination around venues that the idea of the HeadBox platform came about. Although the platform-approach already existed in other industries, it did not exist for events in the UK. It may seem simple to take a business model that is successful in one category and then to apply it to your own industry, thinking that it’s going to work in exactly the same way, but it’s just not as simple as that.

We launched HeadBox in 2015 because we believed that the old way of finding and booking a venue was not fit for purpose and it didn’t meet the needs of the millennial customer. This has undoubtedly turned out to be true but did that make HeadBox an innovator? Did it make us a disruptor? In my opinion, yes, it did.

Continuing to innovate

However, even though we had entered the market with an e-commerce model which digitised the booking process for the lower value events, such as meetings and workshops, we quickly realised that this alone was not going to be enough. There was a whole range of needs that existed at a company-wide level that we were not addressing with the marketplace proposition. So we began to explore how our technology could be developed to start solving the problems that large corporates were facing, and this led us to launching HeadBox Business. We recognised that big companies were becoming increasingly frustrated with incumbent suppliers who were using outdated, manual processes to service their meetings and events requirements and that these were not just not good enough, Large corporates were busy digitally transforming other areas of their business while meetings and events had been left untouched. This made it ripe for disruption.

Putting the customer first

The statistic that only 8% of fast followers fail versus 47% of first movers comes as no surprise to me. One of the main reasons for this is because fast followers, by learning from the mistakes of first movers are able to nail the product-customer fit and the product-market fit, more quickly. They listen to their customers, to understand their problems so that they can innovate to solve them.

So how can a first-mover gain the same advantages that fast followers benefit from? My view is if you’re executing a successful business, whether you are a fast follower or first mover, it’s absolutely vital that you listen to your customers. You have to understand what the customer needs are and you have to feed that into your value proposition and to do it in a very iterative way.

I often cite Jeff Bezos’s views about the importance of customer obsession at HeadBox. In one of his annual letters to his shareholders, he wrote about how he tells his employees to “wake up every morning and be afraid. Be terrified. Not of your competitors but of your customers”. And the reason why he reminds his employees of this and why I do the same at HeadBox is because your “customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf”. This is at the heart of our mission to re-invent the global events industry through technology. We want to build beautiful products that solve our customers’ problems and that they love. Our continued success will flow from this and so we must never lose sight of it.

Click here to read Dan Brotzel’s article ‘Is it better to be a first mover or a fast follower?’

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