Entrepreneurs are encouraged to start their businesses as early as possible. One of the key reasons behind this is that as an Entrepreneur you learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t work in business. There’s no bigger teacher in the world of business than practical experience, whether that’s negative or positive, business results are unbiased and numbers don’t lie. No matter how many books you’ve read, you cannot become good at business if you never apply what you learn to the ever changing real world.
When I first started my app company, I was surrounded by internet gurus telling me to just start and I’m glad I did. I didn’t know much about apps, so I started by taking some time off and reading 20-30 of the biggest books available at the time on mobile applications. In hindsight, they were completely rubbish and out of date. However even with the smallest amount of knowledge I felt like I was ready to “make the leap”, not because of how much I knew (even though at the time I felt like I knew a lot), but more so because I believed I could do it:
The biggest motivation for me when starting out was Dropbox. Dropbox started because the CEO wanted to solve a “personal problem” he felt by doing so, if anybody benefitted in the process that would be great. I took this same approach to create my business. It’s incredible how much the internet doesn’t tell you about starting a business, I almost wish I documented every step to help others who are going to struggle knowing where to start.
Product vs. Marketing
When starting out any business there are two arms you need to take care of: Product and Marketing. Doing one without the other will cause your business to not go anywhere. It’s like rowing a boat with one arm, you’re only going to go around in circles. Mastery comes when you learn how to sync both Product and Marketing to work together, they are both tools that have to be delivered at the right time.
Most people get so caught up with the “build it and they will come” mentally that they focus on just creating an amazing product. This approach is at the very least naive, but funnily enough it’s the approach that most have become victim to. A product is never amazing until it’s refined and to refine a product you need to produce a concept, get feedback, iterate and reproduce in order to mature it. You need to do multiple cycles of this before your product is even released. To put it simply: Build, Measure, Learn.
You’re excited, you finish your product, you launch and….no demand.
If you’re one of the entrepreneurs who created a business that never lifted off, even though you put your blood, sweat and tears into the product or service, welcome to the team! You are part of the millions of Entrepreneurs who have also been through this step. This right here is one of the most brutal lessons of business, but it’s good to get it out of way early. Ironically, this something to be very proud of:
“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
– Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn
What does no demand mean?
Does it mean your product sucks? No. Does it mean you don’t know how to run a business? No. Does it mean you should quit? HELL NO. It just means the demand isn’t there yet because you failed to understand your niche market well enough to involve them in the process of product creation for them to appreciate your product.
Linear vs Exponential.
Anybody who has invested so much time and effort into something feels precious about the product. They get defensive at the idea of the product not working, as a result they get emotional and as we all know business is no place for emotions. They go to every event to “form connections” with people, pitch their ideas to those who are probably just exchanging business cards to be polite and go crazy on social media trying to pitch their product and shove it down people’s throats. They start investing time and money in advertising and sell, sell, sell – only to realise even more that the product is just not shifting as they’d hoped. At this point, most people feel defeated and they feel like they gave it a go. Avoid this process, never get precious and understand that the product will rise again in good time. On the contrary, depending on budget, investment and strategy, for some the “sell, sell, sell” methodology works only at best in a linear form. Sometimes companies with investment and capital can afford to have business development executives pitch to clients. Any company trying to scale a product that is not mature and refined will always fight an uphill battle, that’s not to say they won’t be successful the over the course of 10-15 years with enough money supporting them until then, but does anybody really want linear progress compared to exponential?
My 5 step process for exponential growth
If you’ve been victim to one of the above situations then as an Entrepreneur you shouldn’t be afraid to reboot your strategy and startup the correct way. In doing things right, you’ll be where you want to be much more quicker although it may not seem like it at the moment. As a result, any startup should be completely agile in it’s very early stages. Leaders and CEO’s should never sign long term contracts and make commitments with business uncertainty. You should be able to change the directions of your sails within 1 conversation with your business partner.
Being an Entrepreneur means that it has to become second nature to take sensible and measured risks, being risk adverse will not get you far and sometimes you need to reuse the very leap of faith when you first started your business to relaunch again in the right direction.
From this point:
Let me explain
Think about it like this, how many companies have you heard of that have lifted off because of Instagram or Facebook. If you’re socially aware you can bet you’ve heard of many people who have launched a lucrative business from a popular social media platform. Read this if you want just one example. The moment you start talking about your business on social media, anyone who goes on your website or social media channel is window shopping, but if they like what they see – they are likely to become genuine customers. Therefore your company becomes less so about your product, but become more so about how you portray your product. Having perceived success generates more followers because they believe you are a well established company with a robust following, and potential customers believe that if your social media channel is high quality, then so will your product be.
Let’s get started….
Step 1) Establish your goal and strive to find the pain
Before doing anything you must understand why you are doing what you are doing. You must understand your purpose, and you must have a clear vision. If you are struggling to understand why you do what you do, other people will also struggle to gel with your product. To help with this, I would recommend reading this book. Once you have established “Why” you do what you do, it’s important to identify “What” you’re going to do, but that’s simple: you’re going to alleviate a pain. Each member of your target niche has a pain point. It’s up to you as an Entrepreneur to understand that pain and alleviate it. In doing so, this will bring you closer to your purpose which is why you started in the first place. Furthermore, understanding the pain your customers experience better than they do automatically makes them feel like you have the solution.
Step 2) Lay the foundations
Create accounts for Reddit, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Periscope, Youtube, forums in your niche, IFTTT and any other rising platform. You need one centralised platform where all your content goes. I personally use Facebook Groups and Pages. Facebook Groups is a perfect way for me to engage with my future community in a secure and protected environment, and Facebook pages is where I can go and make all the noise for the public to see.
IFTTT Stands for “IF This, Then That”. Which basically means, if you create an Instagram picture, you can set a rule to post it as a native picture on Twitter. However if you’re expecting to cheat the system and post the same content everywhere i.e. you repost exactly what you post on Instagram including what you wrote in the caption to Twitter, it’s not going to work. Each media channel is like a different TV Channel. People expect different things from each platform, therefore a viral tweet on Twitter will never really flourish if pasted exactly as it is on Facebook. As Gary Vaynerchuk said, people have different mindsets when they’re on different social media channels and therefore it is imperative to understand how users react and engage with each social media channel.
Step 2) Connect and Acquire
There’s two ways to acquire people a) In Person and b) Through Social Media.
In Person: This requires you attending meetups, going to places like Google Campus, Rainmaking Loft, We Work and forming connections with those who may benefit from you alleviating a pain point. Some of the people you speak to may not even be your target customers, however they could be other entrepreneurs who are keen to help you out and therefore be part of your journey. In person is one of the most powerful methods to connect with people and form real connections where you can make an impact with the attention you are holding of the user. On social media there is too much noise, you can barely hold the attention of someone for a second before it gets diverted. In person, you can make a strong impact through body language, voice tonality, etc. This is a lot more powerful than social media. I would recommend this approach for the acquisition of at least the first 50 people in your group/community. Further more, this serves as a better short term strategy. Closing the deal with someone you meet in person by adding them to your Facebook Group there and then is a lot more better and quicker than trying to acquire users online.
Social Media: Social Media is noisy, it won’t pay off instantly and you’re going to have to be trusted and be known as a subject matter expert before people see you are a market expert in your field. This is a long term strategy compared to the prior one which is a short term strategy to get immediate users. However if you deliver good quality you will soon notice a snowball like effect where users will start to gather and join your groups.
Step 3) Inform and Build
The next step of the process once you have a growing community is to keep them informed about your product while you begin to build an initial prototype. Remember at this point a prototype needs to be the idea in it’s simplest form. I’m not talking about writing any code here or making any investment, I’m talking about creating your product in it’s rawest form to gauge an initial reaction. If you’re using an app you can use tools like Invision to create mockups. As you continue to push out more content through online forums you will gain more users in your community/group. It’s very important to keep your community updated with all progress about product creation and how you aim to better alleviate their pains. The purpose of this group will be to get feedback, revise and update them of newer versions. Keep doing this and ensure your groups are full of people who are genuinely interested in your product. This will help you create a better product to serve your niche.
Step 4) Engage and Grow
Engagement is key. Since you’re now a media company the type of content you produce is key to your following. Firstly, you must be producing good quality content daily on as many social media channels as possible. Without this you will not create a sustainable following. Good quality content can be in the form of blogs, posts, videos, pictures etc. Content is key and all of your content must be created with the anticipation of going viral. As you continue to deliver good quality content your community will grow and respect you, as a result, you will attract more of those people who have a genuine interest in your product/service. Let me be honest, good quality content does not come over night or in days. Everything you push out will be an initial experiment and test. It’s important to pay close attention and observe the data on how your content is performing. This will allow you to continually iterate and improve your content. Before you know it, you will be saying the right things to your audience and they are doing to start to pay closer attention to you.
Step 5a) Ask for Money
Think about it like this: You formed a group, you connected with all of these people, they know you’re creating a product, you’ve listened to them, you’ve tried to solve their problem and now it’s time to see if it will pay off. The irony about this method is that you do not even need money to get started, because if you’re solving a pain which is great enough your target customers will pay you to solve the problem before your product is even released!
If you’re lacking funds, (or even if you have funds) I would try this method. It tests commitment, and direction. The method is to launch a kickstarter campaign about your product or service. If you’ve done all of the above perfectly and now have a prototype that your entire community has helped create and have approved as something they want, they will also be happy to help fund it too! In return I would usually offer the product or service significantly reduced. If you find that you got funded very quickly by your community this is great! It means they are committed to your product and depending on how large you’ve grown your community at this stage you can expect a massive leap off the launch pad. I have known people that have grown their communities to over 30,000 and when they launched the product went absolutely viral. If they fund your product or service also means that you’re in the right direction to creating a product which is best suited to your target niche, so well done!
Step 5b) Retry and Release
If you find that your product or service did not get funded, don’t worry! All is not lost. It just means that somewhere along the lines you lost touch with what your community truly wanted. There can be many reasons for this, so let’s not worry about that. To solve this problem is pretty easy. Go back and address your community through a video or a post. Talk about what you created based on the feedback and ask if there was some point down the line where you went wrong and how you would like their help to get back on the right track in order to create a product that truly benefits them. Being open and honest is the single best way to developing trust with your community. You might find that they wanted maybe 1-2 more iteration cycles before it would be something they would pay for. If this is the case then great! At least now you’re aware of exactly what needs to be done. Carry out the changes required and try and relaunch the product on kickstarter, now that you know you’ve done what they’ve asked for there should be no reason why your product is not successful! Well done in propelling the growth of your first product or service and getting it to leap off the launch pad!