As the new age unfolds, achieving consistent wins in ever-changing business landscapes can be challenging for up-and-coming start-up and scale-up founders without the right insights and tools.
To help in this pursuit of bridging market gaps and forging iconic brands, we sat down with Scott McKeon, Co-founder of espresso Displays (espresso) — one of our most exciting clients.
In this two-part series (you can also check out Part 2 here), we explored all the learnings from their early challenges and successes, and how these fast-tracked the Australian maverick’s rise to greatness, among a sea of established brands.
Since day 1, espresso had to endure a lot. Yet, they persisted and ultimately won in a crowded market.
The idea for their award-winning portable monitor was hatched after Scott McKeon and co-founder Will Scuderi, then university students, struggled with finding a second screen they could take with them that delivered. Options were either bulky or did not perform, limiting their “work anywhere” dream.
Fast-forward a year, Scott and Will launched a global Kickstarter campaign that changed the course of their lives and how people can work flexibly forever.
Here we share key insights from the espresso founders’ early challenges that have shaped what the company is today, including:
- How they prioritised what they needed to do to maintain momentum and create enduring value
- How they leveraged customer feedback to gain product-market fit and cross the chasm from early-adopters to early majority
- How vision and product roadmap alignment helped them navigate the crowded and volatile business landscape
- How BeingIconic showed the path toward positioning business strategy with short- and long-term targets
Ready to hit your stride? Let’s begin.
"We were doing so many random things at that early stage, same like any early-stage incubator,” Scott starts. Having no start-up background, espresso’s high-energy founders struggled to prioritise what was important.
Luckily, they had three very clear goals: 1) Create a prototype for their product, 2) launch on Kickstarter, 3) and let the Kickstarter people tell them what to do next.
For espresso, staying focused on their goals allowed them to stay in the game efficiently and effectively in terms of answering 1) what it is they want to achieve and 2) how they can bypass the barriers and make it a reality.
“When I’m not too sure about what to do, I scour for other people’s opinions. Will, on the other hand, is more focused — he gets the job done and moves on to the next step.”
“When you are in that really early stage, there are so many shiny objects fighting for your attention, especially when you don’t entirely know what you should be doing. It’s important to learn to come back to your own intuition, remove the rest of the world, and just do the next thing. And from that next thing, to just keep on moving things forward.”
Building on their three goals meant working with both their intuition and the relevant data in front of them to craft a solid product roadmap.
User experience (UX), in its purest form, is getting an outside perspective from a range of sources. It can spell the difference between customers loving your product and cringing at the prospect of encountering it again.
Building a powerfully effective UX means throwing out all personal biases, putting yourself in the shoes of the user, and letting all the pertinent research dictate your strategy.
However, espresso was a special case in that they were able to successfully deviate from the traditional UX processes. They interacted with a truly great product from the ground up, shared it with the Kickstarter community, and asked for their feedback.
Their hard work and the data gleaned from this process informed their next leaps toward building a seamless user experience for their portable monitor, as well as a proper product-market fit.
By balancing their goals with targeted information, espresso found a better way to build a prototype and successfully launch v1 of their product.
After the adrenaline rush of fundraising, momentum is easy to lose for any emerging business. “The inventor’s dilemma is that we just throw in one feature after another. We believe that dilutes the experience for everyone.”
What Scott talks about is what high-growth companies do exponentially well, which is to shorten the feedback loop — a simple, well-trodden process:
Customer asks for a feature > Company builds said feature > Customer uses feature > Company gets feedback > Repeat
The faster a company does this, the less likely their momentum slows down.
However, while shortening the feedback loop is great most of the time, espresso was selective about what they should focus on. For Scott, keeping the motors running in the right direction after their Kickstarter campaign meant focusing on the core of what people were asking for.
“The truly great products are the ones that seem simple. They prioritise doing one thing well and then maybe a second feature. At the end of the day, it was a matter of learning what that is and repeating that story over and over in different ways.”
And we agree.
Often, start-up and scale-up founders mistake motion with progress. Motion is simply the act of doing something for the sake of doing it, while progress is all about taking steps that help companies scale faster toward crucial milestones. Focusing on motion can slow down your entire progress as a company.
espresso knows this. The only way they were able to build on their momentum is by:
1) keeping their sights on their vision and going back to their goals as they did with their first challenge, and
2) forged a partnership with the BeingIconic team to align robust business strategies with cost-efficient commercial and marketing objectives.
“That helped us stay on the right path during the early stages, where you can lose momentum very quickly and you can go off into different directions and end up in obscurity."
We could see quickly that, to truly scale, what got us to a successful launch would not be enough. We stayed focused on what we did best and partnered with others.
To learn more about how espresso leveraged a strong company vision to guide their product roadmap and future plans, and how BeingIconic helped them use consistent storytelling and messaging to cross the chasm from early adopters to mass market at every touchpoint, check out Part 2.
espresso first experimented with a laptop sliding mechanism that attaches to a laptop. “The first prototype testing almost broke the shell off my computer. We saw the flaws in that very quickly,” Scott laughs.
Early on, as good as an idea sounds in theory, espresso’s founders learned that their initial concept would not work. Had they stuck to it, they would have been on a different path entirely.
Launching companies, as we all know by now, can be hit-or-miss without the proper foundations. Research done by Harvard Business School senior lecturer Shikhar Ghosh shows that 75% of all start-ups fail.
This paved the way to a crucial process that offsets the odds stacked against founders called “lean start-up”, where “prototyping”, “minimum viable product”, and “pivoting” are prevailing concepts.
By adopting their version of the lean methodology, espresso was able to ask the right questions and quickly shift to Plan B.
Once they realised that their initial product was not going to meet their vision, they pivoted and asked, “What if we made just a screen? What if we launched just the accessories? Where else can it go?”
Making sure you validate your hypotheses through cost-effective testing — like what espresso did, as often as needed — can help uncover the deeper issues that need to be addressed.
Your discoveries will then allow you to answer the sharper, more targeted questions, such as “Does this bridge a gap in the mass market?” and “Is there a way for us to make it better?” This clears up your product roadmap, allowing you to keep your momentum, take great leaps, and guide you toward the solution.
To learn about how espresso found their target audience and solved their problems, check out Part2 of this series.
As far as long-term planning goes, Scott shares, “Since we’re a product company, all of that comes down to the roadmap, which is influenced by a number of factors like new ideas and opportunities, feasibility, supply chains, etc.”
“Once you have that roadmap, you start extrapolating the factors and say ‘Here’s the direction we came to within a couple of years’ time, here are where things will be, here’s what we can bring out.’ Then bring it back down to the present.”
They still put a heavy focus on their product roadmap. But since they have hyperclarity around where they want to go and have taken the necessary steps to ensure they are ahead of their competitors in areas that matter, it has given them the opportunity to investigate other product ideas that excite them — those that do not even exist yet.
“The bigger you grow, the further into the future you have to look. It’s like a speedboat versus the Titanic. You’re in an agile speed boat, moving around and gearing toward wherever you want to go. As opposed to a big corporate incumbent, a Titanic, where you can’t change direction very easily because you just launched momentum in a particular direction. So, you head in that direction and you put the wheels in motion.”
“Strong plans, loosely held — we’re still in this agile stage. The focus is what we’ve got so far in terms of distribution since market opportunity is massive and we’re barely scratching the surface of our potential.”
As a start-up or scale-up founder, you must ask yourself “Does my company have clear-cut overarching vision and goals?”, “Are these aligned with a well-structured, hyperclear product roadmap that allows room for us to investigate things that will potentially enter our competitive set in the future?”, and “Will these efforts help us scale faster than the speed of our own experience?”
Making sure there is a strong connection between what your company does day-to-day and what you want to become is a move that espresso has perfected. “At the end of the day, we define our success when our products continually surprise people, especially when they see how small an organisation we are. We want to keep creating products that people would expect from multi-billion dollar companies.”
“We want to create great products that solve genuine problems. That’s why all the awards that our first product got from the market are the recognition we needed that we really are creating credible products. That’s the whole point of all this.”
“Whatever market we go into, we want to show that we’re serious about what we do. We want to make something incredible. That’s what feeds our roadmap and our excitement into the future.”
BeingIconic’s partnership with espresso helped us create enduring value for the world at large by becoming a crucial part of a dynamic team that puts vision, goals, and roadmap at the forefront. We are excited to take this collaboration into the future as espresso deliver more agile, adventure-ready, high-quality products that consistently delight.
When espresso approached BeingIconic, we set the wheels in motion by appointing a senior marketing partner to guide their business planning, branding, sales channels, and partnerships in order to match their global business plan.
In the beginning, espresso was going down the route of expensive agencies and media houses. We saw that what they needed was experienced marketing support that will empower them to move with magnitude without having to spend tens of thousands on a creative idea.
By looking at their overall business objectives, BeingIconic was able to develop a marketing budget focused on ROI, help with significant cost-savings across the business, and increase sales by 1000% in just ten months.