Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, and there are plenty on both sides, he’s pulled off an historic electoral upset.
What’s interesting to me, is how he’s used cutting edge business strategy taken from the tech industry to do it.
Hillary raised more money than him. Hillary was more qualified than him. Hillary will likely end up with more of the popular vote than him. By all of the accepted metrics of modern political campaigns he shouldn’t have won. And yet he did. The big question now, is how?
As someone in the start-up world, I think there are interesting parallels between the lean start-up movement and his campaign. In fact it would seem to be a classic disruptive strategy.
Start by appealing a lot to a limited fan base.
The first thing that he did was to start small. He didn’t try and appeal to a broad base of voters. Instead he took a group who felt that they have been neglected, and concentrated on appealing to them. At the start he didn’t want to be an “ok” candidate for most of the republican base, he wanted to be the ideal candidate for some of them.
Do whatever it takes to get traction.
Next he focussed on getting “traction.” He did this in exactly the same way that Nigel Farage did it in the UK. Instead of being bland and inoffensive, he was colourful and polarising. Where other candidates might use dog-whistling, he was explicit. And the next minute, even sometimes with his very next breath he’d deny it. All of this got him tons of free publicity. Where Hillary, Ted Cruz and others were having to expend energy and money in getting into news cycles, he was doing it effortlessly through twitter and the like.
Both Trump and Farage understand that, whilst we’re laughing at them on the telly, other people are watching with sympathy. And for people who sympathise with their message, to see them laughed at like that energises them even more.
Spend as much time with your “customers” as possible to develop your product.
Next, where Hilary and his Republican rivals focussed on getting a traditional presidential campaign apparatus in place, Trump focussed on his rallies.
These had 4 benefits
- It allowed him to meet the people who would be voting for him and to hone his message
- It got his supporter base fired up to spontaneously get others to vote for him
- It played to his natural strengths as a showman and entertainer
- It allowed him to get direct feedback as he experimented with different messages
These rallies were different to other political rallies. They were exciting. You never knew what he might do or say. Even when staying on message, he was taking the piss out of “staying on message”.
Find a new area to compete in with your product. At the same time stop trying to compete in areas that you don’t need to.
Other political rallies are many things. Polished, uplifting, even fulfilling. But they’re rarely exciting. Trump was different. More than one commentator remarked that it was more like watching a stand-up comedian’s routine than a politician.
This is a classic blue ocean strategy. Find a value curve where your rivals aren’t competing and concentrate on that. At the same time jettison anything that is not vital to your core customers.
This means that he didn’t worry about offending people or crossing lines. He knew that his voter base didn’t care about political correctness. In fact to a certain extent the more that he rejected it, the more that they liked him.
He was entertaining and a bit dangerous, and his supporters loved him for it.
Once you reach product-market fit, very little else matters.
Product market fit is where you use all your data to build something that people love so much that they cannot live without it. Smartphones, tablets, cars, all of these are products with product market fit.
Start-ups who reach product market fit report that their main problem is fulfilling orders fast enough. Make a great product for people who want it, and they’ll become ambassadors for you. These are the apple fanbois, the Tifosi of this world. Not only will they buy what you’re selling, they’ll tell everyone else to buy it too.
This is the final lesson about what, in this writer’s view, Trump did. He found out what a neglected group of voters wanted, and gave it to them.
And what they wanted, I think, is change.
And the rest as they say is history…