One of the big challenges with any business is what needs to be done before you can tell if you have a successful business or not. It’s so easy to get distracted in building the business that you lose sight of the key thing:
Are there people around that actually want to buy what you’re trying to sell them?
By the time you do finally realise that no one wants to buy your product, it’s too late – you’ve already sunk in thousands of pounds and hours of your life.
As an example, for a relatively simple online app you need to:
- Buy a domain
- Design the logo
- Design the website
- Design the flow and actions that your website would take
- Figure out a pricing model
- Figure out the marketing
You would also need to hire a web developer to do all the work for you, as well as a designer to put the flows together.
Once you have done all this, you feel like you have accomplished something – you feel like an entrepreneur. But hold on a second. Something’s wrong.
The only people that have used your website are your mum and your best friend.
That’s ok, you think. People will find it
“I’ll post it on facebook and it will go viral.”
“I’ll post a few links on twitter and everyone will think its amazing.”
But this never happens …you might get one visitor.
The next step is to look at the offering on the website. So you read loads of marketing blogs and decide you need a landing page with loads of key offerings. Or you might even conclude that the product is immature or buggy, so you go back and waste another month building even more features, making the list of things you offer even longer.
Eventually, you somehow manage to get three or four people using it; or you get feedback from some ‘expert’, leading you to fall into another loop of coding and tweaking. Convincing yourself that your gut is telling you that you need to make even more changes to the product.
Six months go by. You’ve built more, but now you’re losing your enthusiasm for the product. Finally, it seems you’re getting a clearer idea from people about it. The feedback is that it’s a cool feature but no one actually wants to pay a lot of money to use.
You tell yourself that it’s bad luck or its someone else’s fault, but deep down you realise, what you thought your customer wanted and what they actually wanted were two different things. Maybe if you had found this out earlier you wouldn’t have spent so long building it and spent the time doing another project instead.
So, how do you avoid this situation?
I don’t have the definitive answers but I believe that you should focus ruthlessly on what the customer wants and what they are actually willing to spend money on! There can actually be quite a big gap between these two things.
When people see an excited, enthusiastic person asking leading questions, they subconsciously want to make you happy. They don’t want to disappoint you, so they end up tell you what you want to hear – in the end, no one is happy.
Where possible, use more anonymous surveys where the people have no vested interest in helping you. Do your research by checking out social media, forums and Google trends to see if people are searching/asking questions about your solution.
In an ideal world, people are already looking to pay for your imaginary product before you’ve written too many lines of code.
Keep asking your audience and iterating to suit until you find something that you can sell.
That’s when the next set of challenges begin. Your value proposition and how you sell your item is almost as tricky as figuring out the application in the first place.
Nowadays there are a lot of engineers who just start building stuff because of a hunch, but I think if engineers learned more about how business works instead of spending all their time on development, they would have a better chance at succeeding.