What Do You Do When Google Competes With You For FREE!

May Event Review: “What do you do when Google competes with you for FREE!” with Mike Trigg, COO Hightail

By Pushpa Chandrashekaraiah

May 2016 Event

Mike Trigg, COO of Hightail, took the SVPMA audience through Hightail’s journey in their ever-changing market landscape.  He highlighted several lessons learned and how the company worked together to find unique positioning and business success.

The wish to emulate Silicon Valley companies that have huge valuations and fairy-tale stories can sometimes mislead younger businesses.  These young businesses tend to drift away from product-market fit, and start following popular companies in their industries.  In this process, they may lose their innovative edge and even end up losing the game altogether.

In general, software products have very low barriers to entry.  There were 50 million registered users for YouSendIt (as Hightail was previously called).  The product sent emails with large files that couldn’t be handled by regular email services.  There was a great need to send large files in the early to late 2000’s.  But with the entry of several businesses like Dropbox, Box, Soho, DropSend, and Syncplicity, the market became very crowded and landscape changed completely. Several big players entered the market.

No small company can really compete with big companies like Google by lowering or matching price.

So YouSendIt sent out a very detailed customer survey asking about their problems, not about how they used the current product.  That led to finding a deeper project management problem in advertising agencies that they could solve.  A new unicorn – Hightail – was founded.  The company’s vision changed to “Free the Word’s Creativity,” and their mission changed “To be the leader in the creative collaboration market by customers and revenue.

With the new market opportunity, YouSendIt had to

  • Rebrand – naming, logos etc.
  • Rebuild technology – UI, performance, build process etc
  • Relaunch the company in phases.

Mike shared his learnings throughout this journey.  Overall, he urged the audience to “Get out of the trees” – think big picture, talk to customers, and recognize large trends!  Some other advice:

  1. Focus on the problem: It sounds very simple, but it’s very rare to recognize and completely understand the problem we are trying to solve.  If the problem is not clear, we end up building features what our competitors have.
  2. Listen Carefully: Most of the customers tell what we should do but not what their problem is.  Though constantly getting customer feedback is time consuming, it adds a lot of value to the product.
  3. Align product and positioning: Sometimes Product Management is part of the marketing team, and sometimes it’s part of engineering.  Organizational fit should not affect how well the product and marketing positioning are aligned.  One of the advantages of smaller brands is that they can laser-focus on addressing niches.  Bigger brands have brand dilution problems – Google can never be just a Project Management software company.
  4. Remove Blockers: Any blockers to any teams should be identified and removed.
  5. Trust your instincts: It’s difficult to come up with vision based on statistical results.  It will be easier to make quick calls if you understand the market and can have a vision for the company.

In summary, keeping an eye on the ever-changing market and quickly adjusting strategies to find new opportunities is key to becoming successful.

Pushpa Chandrashekaraiah
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