Shotgun versus Sniper Solutions

I talked with an early-stage investor today about a recent investment his firm made. He listed lots of great reasons for doing the deal: strong team, great traction, big market, great customer feedback, etc. But one point stood out to me. Competitors—other well-funded large players—have platforms that solve the same problem as this new portfolio company as well as a variety of other problems. They do an okay job of solving most of them. The new portfolio company, on the other hand, solves one problem extremely well. The hyper focus on a single problem helped this investor have conviction for the deal.

I think of this new portfolio company as taking the sniper approach to solving a problem, which its new investor loves. It’s laser focused on a single problem that its leaders have taken the time to understand well. Their solution is designed to eliminate a pain point so customers don’t have to worry about it anymore.

The larger competitors are taking a shotgun approach. They’re aiming in the general vicinity of this problem and many others. They understand the problem from a high level but haven’t gone super deep. Their solution is designed to mitigate the pain of this problem, not erase it.

Both strategies have pros and cons, and large companies can be built using either. My personality leaned toward the sniper approach when I was a founder, but I’ve shotgunned too. From my experience, the decision of which to embrace depends mainly on what customers want. Who are you targeting and what do they want? A one-stop shop that does a decent job at solving many problems but doesn’t shoot for perfection? Or an expert that’s trying to eliminate a problem altogether?

Listen to what your customers want to give you a clear idea of what you need to build.