The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s something you wish you knew before starting your business?” is written by Michael Maven, founder of Carter & Kingsley.
Every day, my team and I come across new companies that allow revenue to leak away. We’re usually called in to diagnose and fix these basic errors, but how can startups overcome them when mature enterprises are still making them, too?
If your startup is trying to get up and running in a new market, you need to know whether or not there’s enough demand for your product. As entrepreneurs, ideas are a dime a dozen, and just because you (or a small group of people) think you have a good one doesn’t mean your idea will be popular.
It might be easy for your vision, passion, and belief in your idea to drive you forward until you’re ready to unleash your finished product, but this visionary passion often unwittingly kills companies since many founders end up building products people don’t want or need.
You need a proof of concept first. You need early adopters in the real world to tinker with it and give you feedback. This will then help you mold your product as you move forward. The idea here is that your end product tightly represents consumer demand. Don’t just listen to what early adopters say, but watch how they interact with your concept, too. Why? Sometimes people will say they would pay for a feature (in theory), but later on aren’t so keen. Observing behavior and even getting early commitment is key here.
When our company adds new services, for example, we start by running a few panels on a proposed product, past good prospects. At this point, zero lines of code have been written. Next, we accept payment from early adopters in return for preferred pricing during product development. We also add in a money-back guarantee if the early adopter is unhappy at any time.
This way, ideas are validated early and we often get part of our costs paid up front. The key is to build a relationship with the prospects and show them you understand their problem and have a proposed viable solution.
To take it a step further, direct marketers have long been using “dry testing” to see if a product will sell before it’s even created. They simply run an ad for the proposed product and include a line stating that the offer is dependant on a satisfactory number of orders being received. When you test your ads with different features and get a warm response, it’s a good sign people are interested (disclaimer: your local laws will vary and may not allow publicly advertising an uncreated product).
Your sole job as an entrepreneur is to focus on response-based (metric/data-driven) marketing in order to stimulate sales/signups. By marketing, I mean user acquisition, selling to customers, retention of both, and growing the number of people who use your product. This would ideally be done on automation, using proven systems to add a viral component.
These are all functions of advertising, marketing, and sales, as users are the lifeblood of every company. You can find other people to do your accounting or programming, but strategic, long-term marketing is the most important task you can be focused on.
One effective method of strategic marketing is to position your product as something new that will elevate a user’s social status. Apple (AAPL), for example, markets its products with clean, stylish designs, and is generally more expensive. If you own Apple products, it raises your status.
Owning a Prius might appeal to those who want to show people they are more thoughtful than others and care about the environment.
Marketing means knowing how to purposely take an action, for which the reaction is to make people come to you and buy, join, or sign up. If you can do that on demand, then you can apply that knowledge to any business and be successful.
Michael Maven is the founder of Carter & Kingsley, the market leader in developing bespoke profit growth strategies for investor portfolios and existing businesses, and also the founder and developer of the ECARR System used to power CatchAndRetain.com, an automated ‘hands off’ system which measurably turns more website visitors into customers.