in products / boostrapping

You did build a great product? Let the money come in!

So, over the last months, you have been putting lots of effort, money and sweat into your brand new product. You did build every feature that users might want, you have been polishing your layout for weeks, and you tested your application in 14 different browsers. You are ready to go live. You just need to take two final steps: 1/ set up a meeting with PayPal so they can open a special account for you: one that is able to accept lots of incoming money in very short time frame without appearing in the PayPal fraud alert reports and 2/ warn your hosting provider they might have to put several GBs of extra RAM memory into the server soon, since it’s very likely that thousands, if not millions of users will sign up in days.

Or not?

One of the biggest misunderstandings in SaaS/software/mobile apps/product based companies is that the success of a software product stands or falls with the product. Wrong. You need a mix of 3 things. In order of importance:

  1. You need a MARKET. You need people willing to pay for what you do. Typically, if your product is solving a real problem or a pain for a specific group of people, you have a (niche) market. People are willing to pay you a damn lot of money if you solve their pain in the ass.
  2. You need be able to EXECUTE. You need to be able to sell your product, to write good copy, to market it, to present it, to gain trust within your market, to tell a story, to brand it.
  3. You need a simple PRODUCT. You need a “good enough” product, the simpler and the more it solves the user’s pain, the better.

The most common misunderstanding is that a fantastic product full of features and special effects will blow off the market so hard, that customers will queue up to pay you. Lots of features, shiny buttons, AJAX, a fast server, latest fancy Ruby on Rails technology, an iOS version of your app, a great design, fancy typo, a funny logo, CSS3, social media integration, a well thought product name, expensive business cards … the more of these you put into your product / company, the higher the chance of success? Wrong!

The first thing you need is a market.

If you have no market (= a group of people willing to pay you for something), forget it. I can build you a wonderful looking product with billions of features that solves nothing. You can also try to sell this wonderful product, but still: you have no market. Nobody is waiting for your sales pitch or your product. Good luck in selling the sexiest code on earth that nobody is waiting for.

For every new genius idea you have, try to see if there is a market. Call 20 – 50 people, and ask them if they would pay for your product. This takes less than a few days of work, and you potentially save months of work, sweat and tears!

Once you have a market, you need to execute.

If you do have a market, that changes the game a lot. There are people out there willing to pay you for something! Hooray! Now you just need to be able to reach them (execute, sell, pitch, ads, …) and to provide them a solution (=build the product). Believe it or not, but if you are a good marketeer, and you have a market, you can even sell a crappy, ugly, buggy product. People will buy and keep on buying! Since you solve their pain.

So, once you have found interest in any particular market for any particular problem, try to sell it. Build a (fictive) sales website for your production, or make a “coming soon” page, and try to get sign ups. You can use email marketing, google Adwords, you cold calling, LinkedIn Ads, Facebook Ads, … for this. If you are not able to get any sign ups now, how will you be able to get them later? Once you have 50 – 100 sign ups, you can take the next step: build a product.

Once you have a market, you are able to sell, pitch and get sign ups, you can start spending all your sweat, tears and blood into a product.

So, you have people willing to pay you, and you did find a way to reach them? Hurry up and start building your product! You KNOW that your product will be a succes.

But please, don’t start with the product. Lots of people (including me 5 years ago) think that building the product is 99% of the effort, the rest of the effort is counting your money. It’s not. 1/3 is finding a market, 1/3 is execution, and 1/3 is building the product.

Is this bullshit? No, it’s not. Actually, with our Ruby on Rails company Zorros, we are working out a few products in this way. And so far, it seems to work. More news on this soon on this blog, so stay tuned.

What is your experience? I’m looking for guest bloggers that want to share their successes / failures.

Oh, and psssst: it took some time to write this blog post. It would take you only a second to share/like/tweet it. I would be happy if you did so.


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  1. Hey Pieter, great post!
    As I agree with you on the global approach, I cannot hold myself thinking that it is always theoritical. Those three steps might overlap depending on the market you try to reach and your knowledge of it. And I believe those steps must also be re-iterated to reach at the same time, the best product and the right market. This is the whole concept of Lean startups. Build, measure and pivot if necessary. Your first target market/product might not be the right one.