The majority of start ups are not competing against other start ups.  They are competing against the indifference of consumers, many of which couldn’t care less about their innovation. And this is true even when you, the founder, thinks that what you have come up is something totally revolutionary that will greatly help people.  Look at our case at Fon.  Fon is a huge success in countries like the UK, Belgium, Japan and others and with 7.5 million hotspots we are now the largest WiFi network in the world.  Now what is the paradox of our technology that turns everyone’s WiFi into public WiFi?  Fon happens to be an innovation that almost everyone wants if given to them but very few will do anything to get it. So at the beginning Fon was a consumer company who gave away or sold WiFi routers that shared WiFI and we almost failed as a consumer company.  When we asked consumers to share a little WiFi at home and roam the world for free connecting to other Foneros or WiFI sharing members we only got 300K people around the world to do this.  But when we pivoted and we started working together with telecom companies like BT, Belgacom, SFR, Zon and others, these companies made Fon a standard feature of their DSL/Cable WiFi services (meaning that people became Foneros by default) and if they did not want to be they could opt, out almost nobody opted out!  And the telcos started working with us because they saw that we lowered their capex, their churn, their customer acquisition costs and increased their ARPU. So the partnerships keep growing around the world. Consumers benefit, we benefit, the telcos benefit.

So the paradox of WiFi everywhere is that if people are asked to do something to have a big benefit, to roam the world for free, they don’t.  But if it’s given to them without asking and then asked the opposite, if they don’t want to be part of a WiFi everywhere community that gives them free global roaming, almost everyone wants to stay in.  This “opt in vs opt out” paradox (a phenomenon proven highly relevant in the market for organ donations) symbolizes the struggle of start ups, even those who have truly innovative and beneficial products such as Fon.

As innovative as people think they are, there is only a small group of us geeks who enjoy testing and using whatever is new.  For massive success indifference is the biggest enemy of start ups, and your role as CEO is to fight this indifference, to evangelize, to reach people in the best possible ways so they finally find themselves using your innovation and liking it.  Your most important role is to fight indifference through whatever channel works best to promote your innovation.

This article was also published in LinkedIn. You can follow Martin by clicking below

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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