I love the energy that comes from a new business idea
. Before you’ve started selling your product.
There’s a lot of fast-talking.
Scribbling down notes on any and every surface.
“We should do it like this.”
“Yeah, that will be easy.”
In the beginning, that optimism is good. You’ll need it to carry you through towards launch.
In the long run, though, it won’t be enough.
Here’s the rub:
Someone has already built your idea.
They have a massive head start.
They are better at it than you are (at least for right now).
In the beginning, we love to love the idea, the product, that we are going to build. Knowing that we can build it is where much of our optimism comes from. But, for all of the reasons above, the product simply isn’t going to be enough.
Building The Mouse Trap v.s. Selling Your Product
Call it founder optimism but we usually disregard our competitors too easily.
We see their flaws and brush them off, believing that we can simply do it better than them.
I ask founders about competitors all the time. Frequently the answer sounds a lot like:
“There are people doing this, but the vision I have in my mind is way better than them.”
Easy for you to say.
It is easy for me to believe that you can imagine something better than what they offer, but that is a whole lot different than building it.
The problem is that you will probably spend most of your time just catching up. How will you have time to do it better than them when you are already behind and low on cash?
This is where optimism can bite you.
One Time I Built A Really Nice Mouse Trap
TodayLaunch was, more or less, a rip off of HootSuite. It was my first major SaaS application and it failed.
I didn’t think it was a HootSuite ripoff at the time. I thought it was better. I thought we could win with better user experience, and in many ways, we were ahead of the curve, but “better” isn’t enough when you’re chasing giant.
A few years ago I did a deep dive retro on TodayLaunch
that I have moved over to this blog. There were many reasons is failed, but the reality is that too much of our idea was build around doing HootSuite better.
The problem was that our mousetrap wasn’t always better. Sure the interface and user experience were a lot nicer, but there were oodles of features missing. We were hopelessly behind. We failed.
We also misunderstood some of HootSuite’s best features: mind/market-share, an active inbound funnel, and flat out momentum
Everyone knows what HootSuite is.
In order to beat them, or even just compete, we not only need to beat their product, but we also needed to beat their marketing machine. Like many founders, we were pretty flat our feet in this regard. We had the product, but we didn’t have the go-to-market strategy.
We were too busy building the product to know we needed one.
Side note: I am not saying that it was a mistake to go up against HootSuite. It wasn’t. Our problem was that we didn’t differentiate ourselves effectively. When you go up against a giant you need to be extremely focused on leveraging a segment of unhappy customers. These opportunities existed then and still do today. We just didn’t latch onto them.
Sure, You Can Build It, But Can You Sell It?
Yes, your idea matters.
Yes, your product is really important.
But, selling your product is even more important.
And, explaining why it matters it is a requirement for selling.
I am not is saying that your product can’t be great. I am saying that a great product is assumed. Your sales and marketing strategy will make or break you.
Unless you can answer these four questions you aren’t ready to build anything yet.
How will we AQUIRE users?
Why will they STAY?
What is the OPPORTUNITY that everyone else is missing?
Why are WE the only ones that can fix it.
Seasoned entrepreneurs know that having good answers to these questions is a requirement to getting started. They are vital ingredients to the recipe.
Young entrepreneurs will plow ahead and try to figure them out as they go. It’s not impossible to get there, but you’ll burn a lot of cash and time early on.
In the beginning, you will need to release yourself from the product for a while in order to answer these questions. You may not have good answers for them, and that will be frustrating.
Just be glad your asking them now and not on launch day.