• Causal Engines

Out of the box thinking for software distribution, why there are no playbooks

One of my favorite passages from Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One is:

“Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina by observing: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Business is the opposite. All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.”

Founders often don’t see distribution as an enabler. They often view it as an after-thought as: let’s hire a sales leader or GTM rep- but that’s often the wrong way to think about what makes a product sell

If your product is largely undifferentiated and has competitors, a tried-and-true sales enabler won’t work. And if your product is truly different and a market leader, where it is crushing all the Gartner Magic Quadrant charts, then perhaps this technique works.

Most of the time, however, it helps to be truly creative with your distribution strategy and doing something differentiated as well. It’s hard to stand out as different, and chances are you will probably have a competitor or two.

The question becomes, how do you do something that makes people view your product in a different light. Marc Benioff famously staged a protest that called for “the end of software” at the 2000 Siebel User Conference in San Francisco. No, the Salesforce founder wasn’t anti-tech-- he was anti-complacency.

Upset by the long-standing industry norm that software could only be installed on-site, Benioff fought to change how software was delivered to customers. Instead of expensive software suites which had to be installed and updated by technicians, Salesforce envisioned a digital means of distribution that was more affordable. Benioff took a more non-conventional approach to marketing. He knew that a great business is able to attract lots of attention, usually by doing things the competition won’t. Stripe also did things that are famously unscalable but helped them gain momentum early on, primarily through hands-on customer service and implementations. Even Superhuman’s strategy of being invite-only with a concierge customer service representative stands out. Although the company’s email client is not a novel idea, its true growth relies on compounding social capital through referrals. Leads are generally easy to convert because they have already been primed through social networks.

Regardless of the business, the key to successful software distribution is reasoning backward from the outcome you want toward an initial point. Instead of contemplating whether PPC is better than direct outreach, think about what result you hope to achieve. The answer will depend on your organization, and there’s no one size fits all playbook.

Be radically different. Think like a Marc Benioff. Build your distribution strategy with the end goal in mind and never forget who your customers are.

We would like to thank Bobby Aube, Zachary Minott at Entrepreneur’s Handbook, Startup Engine, kwonchain.com for their inspiration.

This article is a collaboration between Archit Bhise and Grant Sobczak.