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Matt Douglas, Founder and CEO of Punchbowl.com

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Sell Umbrellas, Not Rain

Today I had a meeting about the Punchbowl numbers so far this month. As you would expect, one of the metrics that we keep a close eye on is the number of events planned on the site each month. During the meeting, we were discussing ways we can increase the total number of events planned on the site. After discussing a variety of possibilities, I blurted out something that I think is relevant about a lot of businesses: “Our job is to sell umbrellas on every street corner when it is raining. We can’t make it rain.”

Allow me to explain. A few months ago, I was in New York City when it began to drizzle. Although I was wearing a nice suit,  the drizzle didn’t bother me much. However, by the time I had walked a few more blocks, it was pouring. As I waited on the street corner for the walk sign,  I spotted a man selling umbrellas on the opposite side of the street. I made a beeline across the street to purchase an umbrella. I didn’t care how much the umbrella cost — he had my solution, and I needed it bad.

As I continued my walk now with an umbrella in hand, I noticed that there were umbrella salespeople on almost every corner. And almost every single seller was surrounded by people who were waving their cash around to try to get one of those precious umbrellas. A few blocks later, most of the umbrella sellers were sold out.

Every time I come across a new startup, I ask myself a fundamental question: are there lots of people in the world that are looking for this solution or is the startup trying to create demand? It is very hard for marketing folks to create demand (that’s the job of salespeople) — and it’s almost impossible in consumer markets.

Let’s use Punchbowl as an example: if you were in charge of marketing for Punchbowl, what would you do to cause people to throw a party? In my opinion, people throw parties when they have a need — for example a birthday in the family, a holiday, or a yearly tradition. I believe that our job is to be the solution for people who have the need to plan a party. We want to be the folks that are standing on the street corner when it starts to rain. Is it possible that we can create demand where there was none before? Sure, I suppose it is possible. But there are thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of people everyday who have the need to plan a party. We can’t make it rain. It’s not our job to try to convince someone to throw a party. Our job is to make sure that people know we exist, and to explain why our product is superior to any other product that they might choose.

Is your startup trying to make it rain? That’s a pretty tough uphill battle. Instead of trying to make it rain, sell umbrellas. Be the best solution to a market demand, and you’ll start to see money pouring from the sky.


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©2019 Matt Douglas