Brian Solis | BCBusiness

Brian Solis | BCBusiness

A Q&A with the Silicon Valley thought leader

"Everybody’s talking about disruption and innovation, but no one’s really disrupting or innovating," says Brian Solis, who opened GROW Conference 2014 with a rising call for real innovation. "Everyone seems to be copying a lot."

If you want your startup idea to succeed, put your customer's expectations before your entrepreneurial ambitions, he argues—or your pitch could fall on deaf ears.

BCBusiness spoke to Solis, a well-known Silicon Valley speaker and the principal at Altimeter Group, about disruption, customer engagement and the importance of being an undercover boss.

You advise businesses to think like a consumer, not a marketer. Care to elaborate?

GROW 2014:
For more stories from the tech conference in Whistler, GO HERE >>

Every company should live a day in the life of their customers. I call it the undercover boss moment. It’s just a gift of empathy. Too many people, especially startups, think about the world from their perspective, selfishly, about this next big idea, and are missing the reason they started in the first place. 

And if they can’t hold on to that, then they can’t expect anyone else to share in it, inside and outside of the company. 

How should businesses engage with their customers or users?
The great irony of startups today is that while many of them are paving the way forward to change things for the better, most of them have some of the most horrendous customer and user engagement infrastructures in place today. Even Airbnb and Uber, who are quite famous for how far they’ve come, are notorious for having horrendous user engagement. 

How important is a consumer's first impression of a startup?
There’s a saying that the second mouse gets the cheese and that means that if you don’t nail it the first time, someone’s going to nail it. It shouldn’t be at the cost of your opportunity, so sometimes a lot of startups embrace this ship-fast, fail-fast culture, which means get it out as quickly as you can and then iterate. And I get that, but at the same time if that engagement isn’t magical or experiential in some way shape or form, then chances are someone’s going to be open to the next thing and why risk that? 

What advice do you have for companies trying to hone their communications strategy?
Start by having one! It’s incredibly arrogant, ignorant, flagrant or just, I’m not sure what it is—but the communication that comes out of a lot of these startups is inward and not outward thinking.  

And this is why I really encourage startups to live their business the way they want their customers to live their business. Airbnb did a really good job with the release of their logo and the story behind the logo and the focus on community. It’s not my favourite logo, but I appreciate what they’re trying to do.