You have an idea you can’t shake. Now it’s time to take action – you need the product that you can actually get started with.
This is one of the hardest parts of the startup journey – moving from something that is so perfect in your mind to something tangible in the real world.
The key, that I got wrong with my first startup and I see so many still getting wrong today, is this:
The product, in the earliest days, is not the actual physical product you’re going to sell, or the website or the app. It’s the end-to-end experience that is solving the problem you set off to solve.
What does that mean?
Well. It means don’t obsess about the words on your site or the colors of your logo or the exact specifications of your first item you’ll be selling. Get all of those things to “good enough”.
It means slap all of the pieces together as quickly as possible that covers the following flow:
1) consumer/user learns about your product
2) consumer comes to your site to see what you’re about
3) consumer decides to talk to you and ask questions
4) consumer decides to buy/download your product
5) you deliver said product (downloads – simple, shipping – not so much)
6) consumer uses product and is happy
7) consumer repurchases your product
If you walk through this flow, can a consumer seamlessly get from #1 to #7 simply and seamlessly?
And don’t get me wrong, even though it seems like 7 simple steps, trying to do this is extraordinarily hard. #1 entails understanding how and where you’re going to reach these potential customers – the fundamental “marketing” problem that kills many a brilliant startup. #5, if you’re a physical product company can be a nightmare between shipping logistics and costs. #6 has all of the actual user experience embedded within it.
It is too easy to get consumed with the website/app part or the product part (which are really only #2 and #6) when it’s often all the other ones that will kill the earliest stage companies.
Ok. So how to actually do this?
Step one: Simple solution.
Let’s get the traditional concept of product out of the way first.
Take what you want to build and boil it down to it’s most basic parts. With Poppy, what I was testing was mainly: 1) could I find great, qualified caregivers interested in getting bookings via an app 2) would parents trust a caregiver that was vetted by a 3rd party and 3) could the matching and scheduling mechanism work in a credible, repeatable way?
It’s easy to say that I needed an app right off the bat. But because I couldn’t build an app, I decided to test each piece out manually and separately. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was able to try things out quickly and at a fraction of the cost of building an app and committing to unproven paths. My early product entailed all of a simple day planner, a basic website, and easy sign-up forms.
Let’s say you’re building a company that does children’s clothing rentals. If you’re a developer, perhaps you spend a couple of days putting together a basic site and flows while also getting some inventory to test with. But what if you’re not? How do you build a technical product without being technical? That’s enough fodder for its own post, but for now, you fill in the gaps of the tech, because the tech is not really what you’re testing here. You’re testing everything else.
You can build a basic site at something like Squarespace or Wix. Or, even scrappier, you could even do it via a newsletter through Mailchimp, where you send some list of people a newsletter filled with the inventory you’re trying to get them to rent and see which ones get clicks. (Frankly, it’s the getting “the list of people” that will prove to be really hard).
Now, you have something that consumers can come to learn about your company, as well as a mechanism for them to purchase.
Step two: Simple logistics.
Think through all of the logistical pieces of your company. How will customers sign up for a newsletter or give you their shipping address or pay you for the purchase? How will you store all of this information accurately and securely, how will you “ship” the product and communicate with the consumer?
Lucky for you, there are SO MANY companies that make this easy. Again something like Squarespace has the e-commerce, payment and communication parts built in. Stripe makes payments super simple.
Just google your way to a company that helps with each part of the chain.
In this children’s clothing rental example, I’d probably put up a site on Squarespace, take photos of my inventory, the boxes, and the different steps, and make sure payments and shipping was all set up.
So now, people can come to a site, see what it’s about and how it works, ask me questions, and even purchase.
Now we’re ready to get out there.
Step three: Simple test group
In the earliest days, your goal is learning, not scale. So target the small pockets of people who you have easy access to and that you can learn from.
These might be church groups or Facebook communities or your buddies from college. Whoever they are, make sure they’re a small concrete group of people that you can see personally pitching your product to.
This way, you can literally see on their faces what’s resonating and what’s not. You can tweak messaging on the fly you can adjust your product on the go.
Resist the urge to start spending money on Facebook ads or Google Adwords. That should only come once you know what’s working and you’re trying to accelerate that by efficiently using targeting and messaging you already know work on a small-scale.
Phew. You’re all ready to get this idea into the world. You have a simple solution, simple logistics and a simple group to test it on.
Don’t get caught up obsessing about product when that’s not what will kill you in the early days. Get obsessing about smooth, seamless mechanics and get learning how to make them even more frictionless.
Next up – launching and measuring your way to growth.