I was fortunate to be invited to mentor a group of startups at the 88mph work space. I sat with each startup for 20 minutes (timed) and asked them about their businesses, the problems they were encountering and the help they thought I could provide.
Here are some of the main issues that came up.
Almost every startup I spoke to out of the nine were battling with one common issue – sales. It seems as though we’re hellbent on building tech and improving it forever without focusing on either the business model or the selling of the business model. I was no different in many of my first startups but eventually you realise that your product is good enough to sell (not perfect) and that you need to go out and do this.
Selling is scary for a few reasons:
Once you understand the issues they are easy to overcome because they are simply not issues. If you don’t know how to sell, learn. How do you learn? By selling. If you are fearful of failure you get over it by trying and failing or succeeding and vice versa for success. You wont be afraid of success once you are succeeding.
Being afraid to hard sell your product means one of two things: You don’t know how to do it or you don’t think your product is good enough to sell. The best founders sell their products in their sleep, they just don’t know it’s called sales. If you love your product, if it’s solving a problem and if it actually works, it’s an easy sell for anyone.
The myth of the MVP is one that I am seeing pop up all over the place. Many entrepreneurs believe that an MVP is the worst possible acceptable version of your final product. This is sort of true but ultimately incorrect in my view. An MVP is the minimum viable product that you can put into a specific (and forgiving) market like early adopters that will allow you to gather valuable data and insight into the next iteration of your product.
In short an MVP needs to help you deploy, learn, analyse and iterate. It’s not a shittier version of your final product. It’s a learning tool helping you move towards your final product.
So what you need to do is plan and launch.
There is a buzz-phrase floating about the infamous tech blogs abroad and that buzz-phrase is “growth hacking”. This is a painful phrase for me to hear. This phrase and concept is misleading and over simplistic leading founders and entrepreneurs to believe that growing a customer base is simply a matter of hacking, spending, developing and repeating.
This might be true when you’ve got 10 developers, R1m to spend on marketing and A/B testing set up already but getting those things going takes time and effort (let alone money).
Growth can occur in many ways with many different affects on your business.
I am a firm believer in organic growth especially if you are looking for those users to pay you for a service. It’s tough to advertise blindly and expect a customer to pay you for something they’ve only seen through marketing. Organic word of mouth and peer-endorsement is often the best way to create viral growth. Although this type of growth requires a fantastic product and time to evolve.
I met with nine startups who all believed they were fundamentally different to one another when in truth their problems were almost all the same. Business is business and problems persist no matter what business you’re in. Learn to share your weaknesses and strengths and learn from the businesses around you. The best way to learn is to observe those around you.