When a company first starts, the instinct is to sell to anyone who will buy: Money is low or tied up in startup investment, founders are eager to make a dent in the (or any!) market, and most patience has been spent just getting a product or service to the public. The "Anyone who buys it is our customer" attitude might work if you have a marginal or  minor product, as either you'll be so fringe that your actual customer won't really be identified or you get just enough money in so that your company can pivot to the next thing. 

But what if you have a hit? It could be one of the worst things that could happen. First, since you're selling to anyone who will buy, you have a ridiculous variety of customers to appease. Second, since you don't know your true consumer, you have no idea what to prioritize in your next product or update. 

Instead, your services should be polarizing. Not everyone has to understand it, but the people who do should recognize if it is for them or not. It should bring a knowing reaction among people who love it or hate it. Like politics, entrepreneurship is not the place for fostering neutral feelings.

I've found two big benefits to creating a polarizing product:

Galvanizing your mission: Things are much easier to plan before your product hits the shelves, which is why it is key to have a plan following through on success rather than failure - you need to have a strategy in place. However, to quote Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched for the first time. Crazy popularity, surprising audience feedback and intense press can easily stray you away from your initial intentions. Me and my co-founders experienced all three with our recently acquired app, Cuddlr, and we're super fortunate that we had a relatively ambitious blueprint in place for the future.

Our app was controversial, too, which can be a big benefit to your company. It is much easier to know what to do next when you know your audience, and it became clear that some people absolutely would not like, get or understand our service. Furthermore, as a small staff, there were no resources to even try to win them over. Instead, we doubled down on the hundreds of thousands of people who used our app and concentrated on new features that would serve them best. To paraphrase Seth Godin, your product shouldn't be for everybody. It should be for people with whom it resonates. Your job is to find those people.

Creates a cult following: My book Porn & Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Other Sexy Games Changed Our Culture created lots of controversy with its risqué cover, intense premise and cultural arguments (It actually got banned from one country, too, which has become a point of pride.). It was my first major book, so I was naive about how to weather the negative press and feedback. The biggest surprise, though, was how many people to this day are super passionate about my work. It was and is a divisive book and, through the book tour and social media, I learned it resonated with a surprising number of people.

In the end, you want people to defend, if not sell your product. I had a fellow journalist arguably plagiarize a chapter of one of my books, without credit, for a feature article. How did I find out? One of my readers called him out on Twitter - and tagged me in the conversation! You want people not only to patronize your product or service, but to become acolytes along with your mission. 

The positive results are two fold. First, you get people excited to share your intentions with others, encouraging sales and support. Second, you get advocates that make your opponents less powerful, allowing you to focus less on the competition and more on serving your user base.

Again, the last thing you want is a neutral product. How is your work creating passion in others?

Published on: Mar 3, 2016