With so many tech startups crowding the market today, it takes something special to stand out. That’s why companies trying to take a new approach to developing and marketing their tech businesses look far and wide for the most creative ideas – but in fact, the strategies that could benefit them may already exist in a different corner of the market: artisanal food. The artisanal food movement has a corner on a remarkable combination of attention to detail, the value of the unusual, and inter-business cooperation that make them highly successful.
Worried that tech startups and artisanal food companies are too different to skill share? Think again. Here are 3 of the best lessons the artisanal food movement can lend to the tech world. Give them a try – you may just find that they taste like success.
One of the most irksome things about tech startups is that they tend to emphasize a high level of automation, simplification, and solutions that cut out the human element. And while there’s a certain appeal to automating something like office scheduling or order processing, a lot of today’s customers have gotten tired of interacting solely with computers. They want a human touch.
This is what the artisanal food movement has mastered. Many of these companies function out of neighborhood shops with online extensions and they know their neighbors and regular customers on a personal level. They know their suppliers and work with them to adapt market models and production scale. When artisanal food companies ship their products, they come lovingly wrapped, often with a handwritten note. The difference is palpable.
While it may not be possible or even desirable to send handwritten notes to the people who buy your CRM software or other tech products, building a business that recognizes there are real people on both ends of the exchange matters to clients today. Add a personal touch to your blog posts, talk about what inspires you from your personal life and why that encourages you to do your job in better or more innovative ways. These little details will help propel you to popularity as the tech company that has people at the heart of it.
Everyone wants to be the best at what they do, but sometimes a drive to be better than everyone else can work to your disadvantage. The artisanal food movement is so narrowly focused on doing one or two things well that they often don’t even consider trying to edge in on another corner of the market. The hot sauce expert doesn’t also need to make craft pickles – but they might work together in a kind of foodie alliance.
Inter-company cooperation is a specialty of the artisanal food movement because working together is a great way to promote your own products, share ideas, and create innovative pairings. Hatchery – a food startup that offers samples of craft products on a subscription basis – offers a great example of this. The company serves as a central point for many individual artisans, helping to promote and drive sales in a challenging market, but also inspiring new collaborations between companies.
In many ways, this is the opposite of tech brands that see a gap in their service and immediately pour crowd-funded or investor-backed millions into solving that problem themselves – even if there’s already another company filling that gap with a smart, well-designed product. Trying to create an ultra-complete package gets in the way of building cooperative alliances that could be lucrative for everyone involved.
If you’ve ever perused the shelves at an artisanal food shop, you probably know that many of these companies offer unique and even bizarre combinations. Jamaican jerk bitters for your beverage or a beet and chocolate frozen dessert? They’ve got you covered.
Call it weird or identity-driven or a twist on the philosophy of extreme authenticity – whatever you call it, these brands know who they are and they aren’t afraid of making a product that very few people will buy. If it pleases even a few, that may count as success, or at least as a joyful experiment.
While it may not be financially feasible for tech startups to design programs that virtually no one wants to use – the Jamaican jerk bitters of business tech – it’s worth it to push beyond the limits of traditional startup culture. Startups already have a certain reputation for being silly in terms of tabletop games in the lounge and nap pods down the hall kind of way, but even that’s become cliché at this point. It’s time to be you, and not every other tech startup. Be your own weird, because some corner of the market will embrace it.
Taking a step back from the traditional tech startup model and looking to artisanal foods – a completely other world – offer the opportunity to reflect on what it means to be true to your brand. Are you doing something new and innovative that’s driven by real passion, or are you jumping into an already rushing stream of products because it seems lucrative? Doing what you love eschews that rushing stream and focuses on people, products, and process. Those three factors can power your startup, too, if you let them.
Image Credit: CC by Miguel Discart