Businesses and start-ups sometimes face a common challenge when launching a new product or service: how to sell a solution to a problem people don’t realise exists. This is one business owner’s experience.
In 2012, Colin Anson and his partner Tammy founded their business pixevety, a photo management system designed to provide families and schools with a secure but accessible means of sharing photos and videos, in a way that protects children’s right to privacy.
It was born from witnessing first-hand some of the risks that mismanagement of images can have on children in the digital age, and a desire to do something about it.
“The unmet need I decided to address was personal. I loved photography and was known for taking photos of my daughter at her school,” Mr Anson told My Business.
“But there was a strong desire to gain greater control over my own child’s images taken by others (including her school), who also seemed happy to post her image online without my consent.
“We had already had a few meetings with the school about photo incidents that should not have happened, and our friends were bored with us talking about it, so my wife and I decided to either shut up or commit to doing something about it. We chose to try and solve a problem we strongly believed in: how to make it easier for schools and parents to manage and keep control of a child’s digital image footprint.”
Yet a major challenge they had, particularly in the early days, was convincing their potential customers not that their solution worked, but that it was even needed it in the first place.
So, how do you sell a solution to a problem that people don’t even know exists?
“Selling people something that they don’t realise they need is the toughest thing anyone could ever ask you to do,” Mr Anson explained.
From his own experience, the first step to do exactly that is to determine the exact scale of the problem — arm yourself with information.
“A lot of upfront research is needed to confirm, quantify and find alternatives to plan a path forward, because you have to get people to believe there is a problem.
“With my background in media and consulting, I started to research why this was happening. What were the underlying trends? What were the existing laws and potential new regulations that could be coming into force? What were schools and other tech companies doing to fix this problem?”
Mr Anson said this research helped to identify the gap in the marketplace, which was particularly prevalent around consent management.
“We focused on a single cause and designed a product to improve the lives of others, especially children,” he said.
The next step came to educating the customer that there was in fact a problem, using their own personal experience, and those of others, as examples. This authenticity helps people to realise your product or service is problem-driven, rather than simply money-driven.
“You need someone driving the solution who is a problem-solver, not someone driven to get the sale without true commitment. They also have to have a passion for the problem they are trying to solve, so it is not about trying to pressure or convince them to buy, but about showing you have a tailored solution to a problem they are just beginning to realise they have,” Mr Anson said.
Another point he makes is about ensuring your product or service taps into issues that are timely, to help emphasise the problem, giving you in-roads to then pitch your product or service as a solution.
“Until Cambridge Analytica, the majority of people were unaware of the extensive misuse of data by big tech companies. Then suddenly, midway through the launch of our second-generation product, it became a ‘mainstream’ problem,” he said.
“Once regulations started to get tougher, the media saw the problem as more of a news story, and organisations understood there was a problem, they realised our platform would help solve it and make compliance easier.”
Be approachable and real
Even once awareness of the problem of photo security and consent increased, Mr Anston said that his next challenge was convincing customers — particularly government and not-for-profits — that their solution was a legitimate one.
“Being a commercial business, we were initially ostracised by government entities and NGOs. As a small and relatively new business, we also suffered when many assumed we were doing this just to make a quick buck in the edutech digital boom,” he said.
“We had to physically sit down and spend time with non-profit partners to help educate them about why we were doing this and offer support to help get their image privacy ducks in a row.”
Mr Anson admitted that it is a process they are still undertaking today. But the efforts put into securing those early sales have helped to establish their case and serve as an ongoing education tool about the problem at hand.
“We then started this same journey with schools, which were — and are still — blindsided by the use of social media, basically knocking on each school’s door across Australia, a journey we’re still on,” he said.
“Many didn’t want to talk to us in the early days, believing we were kicking an ants nest of issues, but as media attention increased around image privacy, the conversations became easier once they realised they had a serious problem and that we could solve it.
“There are still many schools that do not understand that they have big gaps to fill in their privacy policies, photo management and student image protection. But the growing number of case studies that demonstrate the impact of our solution, and our ability to show how things can easily go wrong without a solution, changes those conversations.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.