Companies don't set out to become mediocre, they get there by prioritizing the wrong actions.
How do you start a new business? Do you start with an idea? Do you start with people? What's the steps?
Unfortunately, there's not a step-by-step guide to starting a software business. I wish there was.
In school, they'll tell you to write a detailed business plan, hire an attorney, tax advisor, et cetera. That's a crock of shit. Especially if you don't have any money when you're starting. Lawyers and accountants are expensive... the good ones anyway.
No, the most important part of starting a business is getting product market fit.
Product market fit is just a fancy way of saying: "Build a product people want."
The most common way for a business to fail is by building something the market doesn’t want.
Achieving Product Market Fit
Getting to product market fit is hard. There's a lot of dead SaaS companies in the graveyard because they could find it. I think this part is the hardest.
The good news is, if you can get 10 people to use your product... you can get 100... then 1,000... and so on. Getting those 1st ten is very difficult.
The first step to product market fit is to validate your idea by talking to potential customers.
Now, for some people, this step might be easy. For me, it's hard. Cold calling prospective customers is not something I look forward to doing. But, it has to be done. Otherwise, your little startup will end-up in the graveyard.
In this stage, you must spend as much time as you possibly can talking with prospective customers. Just pick up the phone and call. Send emails and texts requesting some time. Show up at their office. The point is, do whatever it takes to speak with people about your business idea.
Writing code, designing, marketing, selling... none of this will matter if you're building a product people don't want.
Make Fear Push You From Behind
Jimmy Iovine is one of the most successful business people of all time. For those that don't know him, he's the guy (along with Dr. Dre) that sold Beats to Apple for a total of $3 billion.
Not bad. But, if you read about Iovine, or watch the documentary, it's easy to see why he was successful. He never quits. He's relentless. Determined.
"Fear, fear’s a powerful thing. I mean it’s got a lot of firepower. If you can figure out a way to wrestle that fear to push you from behind rather than to stand in front of you, that’s very powerful. I always felt that I had to work harder than the next guy, just to do as well as the next guy. And to do better than the next guy, I had to just kill. And you know, to a certain extent, that’s still with me in how I work, you know, I just… go in." – Jimmy Iovine
If you want to be successful with your startup, follow Jimmy's lead. Be relentless, determined. Never quit. And that means doing the hard things. Doing the things you don't want to do.
If you're reading this, your comfort zone is probably behind a keyboard. Mine is. But, if you want to be a business owner, a startup founder... whatever you want to call yourself, you have to do the hard things. This isn't something you can hire out either.
What To Talk About?
When you finally get that meeting with a prospect, what do you talk about?
My advise is to talk about their business problems. You are there to listen and interpret what they're saying. If your prospect says they run their business with Excel sheets, email and Google calendar... then, awesome! This is exactly what you want to hear.
Ask probing questions. Here's some examples:
- How much time per day do you spend doing x?
- What specific item do you hate most about your job?
- What do you like most about your workflow?
- Who else at your company has this problem?
- If you had this (your idea), how would it make your life easier?
- If you had this (your idea), could you save money in payroll? Would this help you become more productive?
The point is, get them talking about their headaches. The question below is exactly how I started my last SaaS company:
If you could change anything in your business that would save time and manpower, what would it be?
The answer to that one question was all I needed to get going. Of course, I asked more questions, but with that one answer, I knew I had a business.
When Can I Start Doing Real Work?
Got it. I know. If you're anything like me, you want to furiously write code. Design. Market. Create.
Unfortunately, this is the real work. And, it never ends. You will have to talk with your customers ALL THE TIME. (I mean, you don't have to. But, you'll end up in the SaaS graveyard with the rest of em.)
So get to it. Let your fear push you from behind. Become your own version of Jimmy Iovine. Do the hard things.