What startups can learn from airports
Be careful with outsourcing tasks to your customer
A fast-moving startup? Learn from a slowly innovating airport? What the hell, Jeroen, what is going on? Are you going crazy? Yes, but I’m seeing a therapist for that, thanks for asking.
Raise your hand if you hate the airport. The waiting, the buffers you need to build in, the hoops you need to jump through. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out airports are necessary evils.
You (often) need to book quite far in advance. That helps the airline organisation with planning.
They tell you exactly where you need to be at what time. They let you figure out how to get there. They don’t wait for you.
You need to walk for 30 minutes to that one gate. Airports are designed for the aeroplanes, not the consumer.
They will let you pack your bag, but they want ownership for checking for illegal stuff.
They don’t let you put your checked bag in the airplane. You need to arrive even earlier so they can sort it out.
No mass airline that would say: show up whenever, we will figure out your luggage at the gate, fingers crossed nobody brought explosives.
They make you jump through hoops. Not because they are a manic puppeteer that wants to push your boundaries.
Airlines do so to ensure a better performance on the customers job to be done: get from A to B with as few delays as possible.
Because of this, airports are very peculiar about which tasks they outsource to you and which tasks they wish to own themselves. This type of thinking is very relevant for startups.
How airport thinking can increase traction
Meet Orderli, a startup that makes QR menus for easy ordering at restaurants and cafes. They got in YCombinator and raised €875k last year.
Their SaaS comes with physical QR-code blocks runs. The consumer scans QR, orders their favourite drink, and the restaurant brings it to the table. The restaurant owners can build their menus via their browser.
You probably have seen companies like this, especially during the pandemic. Execution is key for this concept. I’ve used many competitors of Orderli, for me the UX of this one is one of the best out there.
Self-serve onboarding sounds great
This sounds like a very scalable business. Just ships some blocks to the restaurant, let them set up their menu and go. Easy, right? Not for everyone.
At some point, Orderli found that some restaurants outperformed the rest. What was the difference? The best-performing restaurants had a physical visit of an Orderli account manager who entered the menu into the system.
It turned out, restaurant owners don’t want to enter a menu, even though they were already on a trial or even paid subscription.
Is this unique? I briefly mentored a startup with a similar service in Nigeria, with exactly the same problem: only restaurants with physical visits became successful.
Sure, your restaurants signing up and self-serving sounds like a very scalable dream. But it turned out, it is indeed a dream.
Take control over what affects your customers experience
Orderli launched a new company policy: new menus are inserted by Orderli. This increases the quality of the menus and the speed of adoption.
Orderli build a new admin interface for the restaurant owners. The difference: it was a simplified UI where a restaurant owner can make simple changes in the menu. Small tasks only.
Furthermore, this new UI limited the damage a restaurant owner could do, as sometimes restaurant owners would mess up the entire menu.
This limitation helps the restaurant owner. Adoption is higher because the system is easier to use. This reduces churn for Orderli, as customers get value from the system.
This the airport mindset: take control over the things that affect your customers experience.
It’s not rocket science, but I see so many startups making this mistake. Avoid it for yourself:
What tasks does my customer need to achieve to be successful?
For each task: can I outsource this task fully to the customer?
What are risky tasks to outsource to my customer?
Which tasks should my startup do?
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