A tip to self-funded entrepreneurs by a developer that keeps getting asked to work prematurely
So, you had an idea, you spoke to some friends about it, and now you want to implement it. You’ve written down a list of requirements, and you’ve done some sketches and/or hired a designer to get your product looking nice. Now you plan on hiring a developer to build your product.
Is this story familiar? Read on to save a lot of money and time on your new endeavour.
The issue here is that:
“We all often think about what’s easy to think about, rather than what’s right to think about.”
― David Rock
Most projects fail because people tend to fall into the trap of building things nobody wants, and, in the meantime, pay a lot of money for developers to build these things.
This happens because, well, it’s easy to hire a developer and give them instructions. It’s much harder to vet an idea and build an audience.
I will show you how you can:
- Not hire a developer just yet
- Make your idea 10x better before hiring a developer
“But all the entrepreneur gurus tell me to delegate!”
You can delegate when you know what needs to be done, the fact is that right now you have no clue what your potential customers actually need, you can either be 100% right, or 50% right, or 0% right, are you willing to make that bet? If you’d rather build a product with tried and tested methods instead of gambling, read on.
So, what can you do right now?
Don’t let the hubris take over, your idea is exactly that, yours, don’t fall in love with it. Fall in love with the problem you’re solving and the people you’re helping, the solution may not be exactly what you thought of. That’s fine.You’re still driving the car, but it’s not the car you imagined(it’s better).
“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
There’s a lot of work to be done before any lines of code are written, and this work will likely change the initial idea, so unless you want to keep rewriting forever, do this now.
Get an extremely detailed profile of your target customer. Do they need your product enough to pay for it? Why are they using your product? How do they find it? How old are they? What’s their job? What do they want? What does your product help them with? How does your product integrate into their current workflow? How will they use your product?
This will sound dumb to everyone who hasn’t done it, but it’s an extremely important step if you want to make something worthwhile. And without knowing this it will be hard to do the next step, which will give you invaluable data.
I’ve worked with people with established products, and when I ask them who they target on Facebook ads, they tell me “everyone” and cannot get more specific. This never works(but it can be fixed). If you know who you’re targeting before you build it, you can get to them and make sure they need what you’re selling.
Gather hundreds of customer interviews, this process will make you learn more about your future product than you thought possible. If you fall in love with your idea you become unable to handle valuable feedback from the people that might pay for the service. It’s obviously a bad move if you want to be profitable.
Individual customers aren’t always right, but the market is.
Coming up with excuses after launch such as “maybe we are too early for the market” is 100% bullshit and you know it. It’s your job as an entrepreneur to find this out before you launch, and pivot as necessary.
If your ears and eyes are open, you may find a new and better problem to solve during this phase, ask the right questions, don’t lead your interviewee, and let them talk 90% of the time. Ask for permission to record the meeting on your phone for future reference.
Clients generally don’t know what they need(because they too are blinded by what they want, sounds familiar?), so don’t take any feedback at face value, but take it seriously.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company fail because they focused all their energy on a single feature, however, the opposite is very common. If you think you need 3 or 4 features, well, you could be looking at 3 or 4 separate products. The deus ex machina app that “solves everything” doesn’t exist. Don’t try to build it.
Choose 1 feature, it will be easier to sell, explain, develop, and iterate, the other features may come in the future(or they may be separate products that cater to a slightly different audience, you just don’t know yet).
An idea is worth nothing unless people pay, give your early adopters a good discount and let them validate your idea with their money.
This also helps you fine-tune your sales pitch and see the importance of the words you choose.
Gather as many emails and user data as you can, this in itself is worth money, and I’ve seen companies buy other companies with the only reason being good assets they can use for marketing.
Plans & milestones
You need to be able to predict or at least have a semi-clear view of where you need to be and when. Is your competition planning something and you need to be first? Are there a seasonal change in behaviour that you’d like to capitalize on?
Things that don’t scale
Code is usually a way to automate something, automation usually comes when you need to scale, but you can provide a lot of value with something that doesn’t scale(yet), and use this experience to scale something useful instead of garbage.
If, for example, your idea is about connecting artists with galleries. Don’t make an app yet. Instead you should be calling galleries and artists, putting it all into a low-tech spreadsheet, and sending out a newsletter based on location/art type/etc. After a certain critical mass this is worth automating, but you probably don’t need automation yet.
What does success look like? When is your product successful?
When you make 10 sales? 10,000?
When you reach $10,000 MRR? $100,000?
When you IPO?
When you acquire the competition? When the competition acquires you?
When you’re driving that Porsche you’ve always wanted?
Each and every one of those outcomes requires different optimizations in different places. To go in without knowing what you want is a way to not get anything.
“Vague plans will lead to trouble, so plan all the way to the end.” - Robert Greene, 48 Laws Of Power
Don’t be afraid to be a bit egotistical here, I’ve often seen the “I just want to help people” as a success measurement, it‘s not specific enough, you can help people by volunteering at the local homeless shelter. Be honest with yourself, if you want to work for that Porsche, you’ll need to help a lot of people to afford it, but you have a measurable goal.(in my opinion, it’s not a good goal, but it’s up to you, don’t pretend to do it for something other than your true goal).
Don’t let the sunk cost fallacy get in your head.
When can your project be marked as a failure and you cut your losses? When you fail to hit critical mass within 3 months? 4 years? 10 years? When you lose $50,000? $1,000,000?
After doing all of the above, your idea will likely change, if that’s the case, I’ve literally saved you tens of thousands of dollars and months of headaches by making sure those changes came before a single line of code was written and avoiding expensive software rewrites.
To avoid wasting a lot of money, consider me as your fractional CTO. Read more here: Fractional CTO