What start-ups can learn from Snapchat

With name changes, product launches and user development, Tim Armoo - founder of Fanbytes - says Snapchat's business strategy is one to watch...

From the subtle name change from Snapchat to Snap to the ground-breaking release of Snap Lenses, Snapchat has been taking very bold steps to chart its way to becoming the defining social media platform for Generation Z.

Having studied the business’ most recent ventures as both a marketer and an entrepreneur (I’m co-founder and CEO of influencer platform Fanbytes), I believe there are three key things that start-ups can learn from Snapchat…

1. Zone to win

Snapchat bringing out Lenses was smart. In fact, it was insanely smart – and for a few reasons – but I think the main benefit was that this add-on allowed the company to break into the camera market. This market – in which competitors like Canon and Go Pro (who are also facing issues) are the key competitors – prevents Snapchat from being compared to other social media platforms such as Facebook.

So what can your start-up learn from this? The importance of being a big fish in a small pond as opposed to outright competition.

By positioning itself as a camera company with an extended product, Snapchat has changed its market positioning almost instantly. It sounds exciting to say you’re another app in the social media industry but that’s a fools game; there’s a much more niche audience than just the social media industry and the spoils of any industry go to the leading company in that space.

Therefore, as a start-up, your prerogative should be to to avoid the idea of competition and zone to win.

2. Products and services don’t have to appeal to your entire customer base

While Lenses was smart, I don’t think Snapchat Lenses are going to take off and have a broader use case. They’re just too “out there” with their design and relatively high price point.

It seems highly unlikely that this is going to be a product for the general populace. But this is okay, because not every new feature/product/service from your brand should cater to your general customer base or even to your whole market.

The Lenses’ retro look as well as the sizzle reel, which features some roguish young people, suggests that Snapchat is squarely focusing on the hipsters and teens in their customer base and thus making the app an even stronger part of their lives.

Similarly, as a start-up, it’s important to not think about every product extension that fits with your whole consumer base. Instead, allow for some features/products/services that only cater to a niche part of your audience; your most ardent supporters, to make them love you even more.

There is the old adage among the start-up community that it’s important to make a small section of people love you as opposed to making a large amount of people like you. This is often put into the context of the general market – it’s better to have a corner of the market love you than a large market of people sort of like you – but I think this is even more pertinent when viewed in the context of your actual customers and providing ever increasing value to your brand loyalists.

Build for the future

There was once a time when Snapchat was thought of as a direct competitor to Facebook, Twitter and other major social media networks.

Indeed, the argument that Snapchat is stealing the younger users from Facebook has been one that the media has played out considerably. However, with the introduction of Lenses I believe that Snapchat are gearing up for the future – namely augmented and virtual reality (VR).

Given that the product records circular video with a 115 degree field of view, the circular video could mean that the Spectacles could one day be the preferred way to play back Snapchats. Most tellingly, Snapchat reportedly acquired 3D capture company Seene earlier in the year which speaks to the business’ desire to charge into the VR space.

Snapchat are building for the future and aren’t reacting to what competitors are doing by refusing to battle against Facebook as a social media platform.

As a start-up, it’s so easy to lose sight of your goal and concentrate on what your competitors are doing and react to that. In traditional thinking product decisions are guided by the idea that “Competitor X was brought out last week, strategy is dictated by what Company Y announced in the PR piece yesterday.”

However, the most important thing for start-ups, as Snapchat has shown, is to build for the future market as opposed to being driven by competitive strategy. Build for the market you think will arise and for your future customers and don’t be driven by competitors.

Although Snapchat might no longer be deemed a start-up (it’s hard to be still called a start-up when you’re worth billions and launched over five years ago), there are still various lessons that can be learnt from the busienss through its various changes; the importance of zoning to win, the importance of building specific products to care for your most loyal consumers, and the importance of building for the future.

Timothy Armoo is the cofounder of Fanbytes, the UK’s largest video influencer platform for YouTube and Snapchat. To find out more, click here.

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