What if you put in time, money and effort to create a product, to see that no one buys it?
You’ve put your hopes and dreams into a product, and are left with nothing to show for it.
You launch, and sit there waiting to see results. But imagine, nothing happens.
It happens to most founders, myself included once.
So you start questioning yourself. Did I mess up the product? Did I target the wrong people?
You feel lost because you don’t know where things went wrong, why they went wrong, or how to fix them.
So what if there was a way to give you clear directions to:
- Know what to do
- When to do it
- Why you should do it
- How to do it?
The thing that’s amazed me after interviewing 100s of entrepreneurs, is the difference between experienced and inexperienced ones.
The experienced ones all seem to have mastered the one growth hack to rule them all.
They use a growth hack that is the essence of building a company.
It’s what separates startup ideas from startup companies.
This one is the toughest, but it will beat all the other strategies.
Want to know what it is?
Five words that encapsulate the whole purpose of your startup.
While most entrepreneurs think they’re building something that people will love, they actually don’t. As much as 42% of startups fail because they built something without a market for it.
They’d built something people didn’t love.
But how do you do this?
To start, let me quickly sum up the major reasons why entrepreneurs worldwide fail moving forward:
- Preparation syndrome. We’re obsessed with getting it perfect the first time. Therefore, we get stuck because we’re worried about picking the wrong market and wasting all our time and effort down the road.
- Innovation bias. We come up with problems around our ideas, and reasons why customers would want to buy our solution. We fail moving forward because we’re trying to find just enough evidence for our ideas. We fail moving forward because we fail to acknowledge our solution is aboutother people.
- Overconfidence bias. Optimism is what separates entrepreneurs. It’s seeing possibilities where others see problems. It’s great, up until the point where you start ignoring the data that you might be going in the wrong direction.
The level of success of your startup is more in your control than you think. But you can’t wish for it to happen. You must put in the work to keep these reasons from affecting your business.
Shift 1: There are no facts inside the building.
So what should be the first step when you’re starting your startup?
Figuring out whether you’ve got a good product in a good market.
This is because when starting out, everything is an assumption. Who your customer is, what problem they need you to solve for them, whether your solution is the right one, how you’re going to market it to them… All assumptions, and assumptions are risks.
In a startup, no facts exist inside the building, only opinions. — Steve Blank
So how do you deal with this risk with the least amount of money needed? You start talking to your potential customers! You start validating.
You need to adopt a data-seeking mindset. You’re looking for input on what you’re going to build before you’re going to build it.
And this data is not anywhere in your office. There are no facts inside the building. You have to talk to your customers to move forward.
You need to fall in love with the process of spending time with your potential customers.
Ask about pains. Listen. Validate your idea. Customer feedback is your magic potion to becoming the best you can be. Don’t make the mistake of not drinking it.
You’ll be amazed at how much people are willing to open themselves up and connect with you.
Take away: the real success in your early days isn’t the amount of cash you raise, it’s you proving there’s a market demand for your product using the only research method that counts: the market itself.
Shift 2: Make it about other people.
I once followed a course on storytelling by Pixar. In it, they describe how they try to develop the characters for their stories. They basically come up with two parts:
- What is it this character wants/needs?
- What stands in the way of achieving this want/need?
That’s business for you right there, summed up in two elements.
Many entrepreneurs fail to realise this. For many people, it’s taking a technology and turning it into a business with the underlying dream of selling it to Microsoft, Google, Facebook or any large company.
If that’s your strategy, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Steve Blank has framed it in a more professional way. He worked on and with multiple successful companies. According to him, the one thing that separates successful businesses from unsuccessful ones is their focus on understanding the customer.
You stop making it about product development, but focus on customer development. This means you:
- Find your target customer: who are they, what do they do, how would they describe themselves?
- Understand what success is for them: what is it they want and need?
- Determine what stands in their way of achieving that success: what is their biggest challenge? What keeps them awake at night?
Once you start focusing on real-world problems and start helping others become better, everything gets a lot easier. People are willing to pay if you help them achieve success. Attracting the top minds will be far easier it you follow a noble cause.
Life’s too short to build something nobody wants. — Ash Maurya
Take away: stop building a business with the idea of selling to a huge business, and start making it about other people. Who are you doing this for, and what will you have changed FOR THEM in the coming five years if you’re successful?
Shift 3: When starting out, do things that don’t scale.
Paul Graham described it best:
A good metaphor would be the cranks that car engines had before they got electric starters. Once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going.
A mistake I’ve seen many founders make, is to focus on optimisation vs learning.
We only think about the point of having million users.
While many success stories might look like this, they didn’t start like this.
Airbnb founders went door to door to take pictures.
Stripe founders took people’s computer to install their software.
All successful startups once had a number of users they could count on two hands. Through repeatedly doing things that didn’t scale, they nailed the perfect product.
When you’re starting out, you want to learn as much as you can from your customers. It will tell you:
- What the real benefits are to your customer
- How to connect with your customers
- How long it will take to close a deal
- How easy it is to use the product
- How to fine-tune your product
- What people are willing to pay
The greatest technology in the world hasn’t replaced the ultimate relationship building tool between a customer and a business; the human touch. — Shep Hyken
- Put your product in front of people. And I don’t mean virtually. Sit them down next to you, and have them use your product.
- When starting out, be a human. Not a business. Not a machine. Be their best friend before servicing them. Send them handwritten cards, ask them questions about their lives, provide “insanely great” service.
- Provide value besides from your product. Give more than what people expect. Do more to show you love your customers more than your competitors.
Take-away: In your early days, focus on learning instead of optimising. Nothing can replace the power of being genuine and developing a trusted partnership with your first customer. So, focus on nurturing relationships with potential early adopters. They’re crucial to your success, and keen on your success.
New product’s success or failure is always a gamble, and strategy isn’t about perfection. It’s about increasing the odds of winning. Until we figure out how to guarantee success, speaking to other your customers looks like an effective way to stack the deck with minimum losses and maximise possible gains.
Two last things…
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