How founders from Central and Eastern Europe can position their tech for early traction in the American market.

It’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people. -Steve Jobs

What business are you really in? You’re not making widgets for the sake of making widgets. And, to make the world a better place is way out in outer space — it lacks clarity. So, again I ask, what is your company’s raison d’être?

I like stories so I’ll tell you one — my own. My tech project grew out of personal tragedy. Early in my marriage, I experienced a series of miscarriages. Desperate to start a family & fearful that it wouldn’t happen, I educated myself about women’s cycles and fertility charting and all the earthy details therein that you don’t want to hear about. There was already a serious player in the market for fertility charting but I had big problems with it — it handled serial miscarriers, like me, badly. Unhappy with that platform, we set out to build a new one that was kinder to users like me.

As I said, ours wasn’t the first to market nor would it be the last (not by a longshot) but because of my personal story (which I never hid — in fact, it was on the homepage), my product strongly resonated with women who had gone through similar experiences. Meaning — women responded as much, if not more, to my story as they did to the tech.

So what was my actual product?

Well, I would argue that my product was hope after devastating pregnancy loss. The vehicle for that hope was fertility charting software which (yes) had a few unique bells and whistles that didn’t exist anywhere else. The tech was fine but it was really my backstory that compelled users to choose my product over another — and choose it, they did.

The truth is…

In the not too distant past, keeping quiet was a matter of survival in the CEE. Revealing too many details about your personal life could’ve put you or your family at risk. People were imprisoned (or worse) for thinking “wrongly”…for speaking out. Stories about you were potentially weapons against you. Communism has fallen but the psyche remains distrusting — a common hangover throughout the region.

“In the CEE, we’re not accustomed to speaking up — even from an early age. We don’t talk about our views in public or provide our perspectives on events. Even our educational system is designed as a one-way street — teacher to student — as if our opinions are irrelevant. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we, as a people, struggle to communicate with the outside world. We have little experience with it.”

-Luka Abrus, CEO of Five, a mobile design and development agency with offices in NYC.

It’s difficult to change mindset but you’re marketing to people who don’t share the same hangups (they have different ones). And like in any context, you meet your customers where they are, psychologically. Your tech’s story, not its features, differentiate you the most in the American market.

Of course you can and should optimize your English-language website for conversions and beyond, as with Dave McClure’s AARRR metrics — but that’s not marketing — that’s you doing your job. Marketing involves engagement…and engagement is a synonym for making a connection.

Americans love heros and villians and redemption stories and people making lemonade from lemons and successes when everyone said failure was imminent — and if, after all of that, you managed to design a cool wearable — WOW!

Consider these other examples:

“I overcame dyslexia to write 3.5 million lines of code that helps kids learn to read.” Holy crap!

“My family was poor growing up so I created something that helps people save money so that they can live better lives” Completely awesome!

You get my point. There’s flesh and blood and guts and problems that were overcome in these storylines. There’s something there for people to latch onto — something for them by which to be inspired.

Reddit was already an established company by time Alexis Ohanian’s interview came out in Inc but that interview, which told of their creation story, was so compelling it humanized their product in an unforgettable way.

Marketing Manager, Luka Smic, chose Dropbox in college because he identified with the story of its founder, a man who was perpetually forgetting where he saved his files. Who among us can’t relate to that, right? Was Dropbox the only solution out there? No. The human element wins over the tech everytime.

People buy from people. And storytelling, particularly in the early days of your business, is an important part of engagement. Keeping quiet in order to avoid alienating potential customers is penny wise; pound foolish because selling to the entire population of this earth shouldn’t be your early focus — and arguably should never be your focus because that’s tantamount to no focus.

There is an old adage, the riches are in the niches. Well, even the most obscure niches in America claim headcounts in the millions so you, dear CEE founder, have nothing to lose by drawing the focus of users with whom you share some common experience. Use those personal stories to your advantage. These people will become your base — your early adopters — who provide you with that all-important social proof needed to kick ass later on.

You have an interesting story to tell, so tell it.


Special thanks to David Trayford of TheHub.hu for his feedback on my draft text.

About the author, Kimberly Ann Račić:
I’m from the American Midwest (Dutch & German background) – have lived in 4 countries (America, France, Croatia & China) – am a Georgetown Alum (have “an MBA for do-gooders”) – am a former Founder and Seedcamp Finalist (….the tech bent….) & I believe that marketing creative is too often the stuff of trendiness instead of tied to measurable business outcomes. I ♥ spreadsheets.

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