1) Customers don't care about the technologies you're using, the elegance of your XYZ algorithm, or the novelty of feature ABC. What they care about is solving some problem they have, making their day easier, becoming more productive, etc. When you're pitching your product, talk about how it helps the customer, not about how it's built. A great 5-minute video on this is "Understanding the Job" by Clayton Christensen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f84LymEs67Y
2) Think about monetization early on. Like most engineers, I had dozens of side project and business ideas. For each idea, I had thought about the features I'd build and how I'd build them, but not the business viability: who would I sell to? What would the pricing model be? How much money would that translate to for a typical user? Would users have the work/personal budgets to pay what I wanted to charge? Was the price enough to cover marketing and user acquisition costs? I haven't read it, but have heard that a great book on this topic is Monetizing Innovation (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01F4DYY1I). Another good book to think about business models is The Art of Profitability (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FA5TTM, brief notes: https://codingvc.com/the-art-of-profitability)
3) Finally, think about marketing and customer acquisition in parallel with product. After almost 5 years as a VC, I can readily confirm that most products don't sell themselves. Even the really good products need sales, marketing, etc. A great book to get started on marketing is Traction by Gabriel Weinberg (of DuckDuckGo) and Justin Mares (https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00TY3ZOMS/)
Revenue Management http://www.amazon.com/Revenue-Management-Robert-G-Cross/dp/0...
Management consulting probably has more opportunities for gaming the system than startups do, and I concur. However, my friends who work at management consultants, from what I can tell based on anecdotal evidence, mostly perform value adding work for their clients, including performing managerial duties in for fast grown firms that do not have the talent at hand, performing macroeconomic research and factory floor optimization. My friends are mostly of engineering background, though, so that probably affects the sampling quite a bit.
I would rephrase the dichotomy of not being about adding value vs. gaming the system but about creating something new versus optimizing and tinkering with an established system.
As an example all the protagonists in "The art of profitability" (http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Profitability-Adrian-Slywotzky...), for instance, deal mostly in a similar problem space as described by my friends' professional war stories.
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