Skip the “getting rich” step, 2 stories

Many people want to be rich, in order to do things they dream of. Once they will be rich, they will have time for what they really want: playing music, diving, sailing, riding horses, running marathons. But first they want to be rich.

Here below 2 wonderful stories teaching the same lesson in life: don’t waste your time “getting rich”. Skip the “getting rich” step. You can do many (if not all) things without a stack of money on your bank account. Be creative. You want to ride horses all day? Open a horse riding school. You want to sail around the world? Sell your house and sail. Want to learn Chinese? Go live in China for a few years.

Will it be easy? Maybe not, maybe yes.

Is it possible with enough motivation and passion. ABSOLUTELY YES!

But, please, skip the “getting rich” step first. Real happiness is not in getting rich, but is in doing what you love to do.

1 – The rich man and the fisherman

There was once a rich man, very wealthy, loads of money, loads of ‘bling’. Drove a big car, had a big company, a loud voice and……. he loved to fish.

One time he went to this beautiful little island where the weather was always beautiful, the sand soft and the water crystal clear. The palm trees swayed in the wind, and he wanted to go fishing.

There was no-one to take him fishing but he spotted a lonely figure lying in a row boat, stretched out, half asleep, straw hat on his head and one fishing line in the water.

He spoke to him and offered to pay him ‘big bucks’ to take him out fishing.

When they were out on the water he asked Joe, “What do you do every day?” Joe said in a relaxed voice, “I love to fish”.

After a whole day of fishing, they caught so many fish, the rich man was excited. He said “Joe, you’re sitting on a goldmine here. You should get another boat, then catch more fish. When you get more fish, you can buy more boats, and hire staff. When more staff come in and you catch more fish, you can move up to a large fishing boat and nets and really pull in the fish and the money. Then right over there, take those trees down and build a cannery, and can the fish right here on the island and export them and make tons of cash.”

Puffing on his cigar vigorously now he continued. “You can then open several other factories on the other islands and build the company. When you’re ready, you can float the company on the stock exchange and make millions…. Then, you can just lie in a little row boat and fish all day long”.

Joe was mystified. “But I do that now!”.

The rich man had no answer.

2 – What if money was no object?

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.

Thanks!

Are You A Born Entrepreneur? Davy Kestens Is.

Recently I had a dinner with Davy Kestens in the center of Brussels, close to the Betagroup Coworking space. In case you don’t know Davy Kestens, he is the founder of Twitspark, a promising startup. He raised 1,1 million dollars recently in order to accelerate growth. Some people might think that Davy woke up on a beautiful day, had a great idea (Twitspark), contacted some investors, got funded, and is now having parties all day in his office in San Francisco, watching his bank account in the morning with more money than the evening before. This might be the case for some, but as with 99% of all true entrepreneurs, there is no such thing as an overnight success and no such thing as “being lucky” or “having THE idea”.

This blog is not about the (to be) success of Twitspark, but about how Davy got where he is now, age of 24, CEO of a promising startup in San Francisco.

Just like most true entrepreneurs, Davy was born with entrepreneurial genes. Those people are constantly thinking: “how can I create real value, not fake value”. He never got super high scores at school. Why should he? At the end of the day, whether you have top scores or average scores, the output is the same: you graduate. Aiming for the “good enough” is OK, perfectionism is an illusion that keeps you from achieving results and go forward. Davy preferred to spend his time selling sweets in school during lunch break instead of aiming for high grades. At the end of his school career, he graduated, made money and learned how to sell things, while most people just graduated and studied hard.

Like a typical young entrepreneur, Davy always had some side businesses, after school or after his work as an employee. Entrepreneurs will recognize this in their own behavior. Out of passion and from deep desire, you can’t resist to build a business. You start building websites at young age, you organize events, you buy and sell cars or do something else in your free time. For Davy, this first entrepreneurial experiments came in many forms. He launched runaddicts.net, a community site for runners. He launched “Slicejobs”, a HTML slicing market place [Read here about why it failed]. Then came Ghostbloggers, a platform to buy and sell blogposts. Editors can sell their writing skills and time, business owners gain time by buying unique content. Here is the thing: time after time, idea after idea, business after business, Davy learned. Just as you can only learn how to ride a bike by driving it (not by reading books or studying), so you can ONLY learn entrepreneurship by acting. Doing. Making mistakes. NOT by thinking or brainstorming. Not by getting a high school degree. Get your hands dirty, and you’ll learn from your mistakes.

Over time, Davy realized more and more that solving problems was the key. Solve someone’s problem, and they’ll be happy to pay you. Don’t invent a solution for an imaginary problem. Solve real, day to day, pain in the ass problems. Davy solved his own problems, and realized that other people must have the same problems. When growing runaddicts.net, a content driven website for runners, Davy needed fresh and good content regularly. But he didn’t always have the time to write. It took time, effort and inspiration to come up with fresh and unique content every week. More time than Davy had. He had a problem, a pain. It frustrated him. So he created a marketplace to buy and sell unique blog content. Ghostbloggers was born. It started growing, since he was not the only one with this problem. People started using it, had questions, and used Twitter to ask questions. Davy started to answer his users via Twitter. But as Ghostbloggers took off, supporting those users and answering questions via Twitter became a ANOTHER PAIN in the ass. Davy looked for a good tool that could solve this…and didn’t find anything. BAM. That smells like another pain that others must experience too. That smells like an opportunity to create value. And to charge money.

BIG SMILE :-)

Like every entrepreneur should do, Davy didn’t start coding. [Remember?] The very first thing he did was setting up a “one pager”, a “coming soon page”, explaining in a few words and screenshots what Twitspark does, and giving people the option to sign in for a newsletter when the app would be launched. He collected …trrrr…. over 2000 email addresses! I will write this again. It’s very important. Davy collected over 2000 potential users, before he wrote any single line of code, before he had a logo, before he had written terms of service, or before he went to see investors. [Remember?]

Given the 2000 email sign ups, Davy knew that this time it might be a bit bigger than usual. Given the attention and traction he had, given the many businesses and attempts he had made in the past, he felt a difference this time. He also realized that his idea was not super unique, in the way that there are many “social media monitoring” services, and the number of startups in this field is growing every day. Twitspark not a niche product, it’s a mainstream product where one could expect quite some competition. Becoming a reference on the market is key here. The first takes it all. Like Google is for search engines. Like Facebook for social networks.

[Note: myself, I’d prefer to go for much smaller niche markets without funding. It’s a different approach, none is better none is worse. You just have to keep in mind that if you want to be the next “big thing” in a big market, funding is needed. If you are OK to keep it small in a niche market, funding is a bad idea.]

Having an idea is one thing, taking action is another. So he went coding like crazy (after the collected 2000 email addresses). His plan was to have at least one customer, and then raise some capital. Funding was needed to become the first. To become a reference. And so Davy did. With his first client(s), he went searching for capital, and that went amazingly easy for Davy. Not because he woke up one day with a genius idea that was so amazing that angel investors from all over the world went crazy begging to fund him. But because of this whole background story that you just did read.  Because Davy could show 2000 potential customers, a few real customers. Because Twitspark is solving real problems for real people, and creating real value.

Nothing to lose

An extremist, willing to die for his religion, is scaring all of us. Why? They have nothing to lose. The less you have to lose, the more risk you want to take. That is why a younger and more naïve entrepreneur is more likely to start and grow a business than a high level manager (=employee).

The high level manager learned over the past 20 years how to make a career. This means: he has learned how to please the shareholders of his company, trading his time for money. He’ll have a company car, a high salary and insurance for his family. If he now wants to learn how to make or grow money instead of earn money, he has something to loose. Especially if he has lived according to his high standard. A high mortgage, expensive hobbies, and lots of restaurants. The more your standard of living (cost) approaches your salary (income), the more you have to lose. And the less likely you’ll dive into the making of money, instead of the earning of money.

The young naïve entrepreneur does not have anything to lose. He is broke. He can only win. He could go for the “quick win” (salary), or to go for the “long term win” (growing a company). The more easy and secure is the quick win. Find a job. The more funny and profitable is surely the long term win. You live only once, no? Then give it a shot!  Try it. Try how to make money, in stead of how to earn money.

The process of learning how to make money is slow. Super super slow. It’s not rewarding in the short term. It asks time, effort, sweat, stamina, hard work. You’ll make mistakes while finding out how to make money. If you decided that you want to learn how to make money, you’ll have hard times seeing your friends earning much more money than you do. They’ll have a company car.  They just find a job and HOP, every month they get a paycheck. While you don’t. You see time ticking away. For months. For years. While everyone earns money (trading their time for it), you are still in the process learning how to make money.

But little by little, over the years, you’ll learn how to make money. And you can repeat your small successes into bigger ones. You don’t make the same mistakes as in the early days. You are learning how to make money. They don’t teach you at school how to make money. They prepare you for earning money. So you’ll have to figure out yourself. But once you get the basics, you can repeat that process. Into bigger and bigger successes. You only get better and better at making money. You can scale it. After 10 years of focussing on the question “how can I make money” (in stead of trading 10 years your time for a paycheck), you will have learned so much that it feels as if you have your own money printing machine.

It’s never too late to learn how to make money (= become an entrepreneur)! 3 years ago, I was earning money. More than enough for a twenty ager. I had a company car, a nice salary, other advantages, I had a nice expat position in the south of Spain. But still. I felt like I was not part of a dynamic, young growing machine. I was working in a big company, trading my hours for money. I didn’t learn how to make money. I was a piece of a money generating machine, but that was it. I didn’t control that money making machine. I didn’t grow anything. I decided to give it a shot, and start learning how to make money in stead of how to earn money.

Most people think they risk big things when taking the leap. It’s not true. What will happen when someone that can not swim falls into the water? Will they sink? For sure not. They will survive, since there is no other way. They MUST swim, or they die. You risk much less than you think you do. What is the worst that could happen when you give up your job and try it yourself? Well, the worst is that you have to take another job in a few years since it didn’t work out (= the same situation as you are into right now).

If you want to learn how to make money, my biggest advice is to put yourself in a “nothing to lose” position, the sooner the better. If you have nothing to lose, you are prepared to take bigger risks. Much bigger risks. You have more energy. Do you have to speak in front of a 2000 people audience in order to succeed? OK, so it be. You have to work every day of the week, 10 hours per day, in order to launch and get your first 100 customers? OK, let’s go! I did tell my former boss I won’t come back. BAM, I was in a nothing to lose position. I HAD to find a way out, there was no other way. It’s all in your mindset. If you are fired, if you have no job, if you hate your job, you have nothing to lose. For some people, there is no other way than to succeed. Those are going to get there. It’s that simple.

Are you happy with your job? Then by all means stay there! Are you NOT happy with your job, you don’t have a job? Hooray! Good news. You are in the best position to start up something. You have nothing to lose.

The importance of niche markets

Don’t try to solve all the problems in the world for everyone. SAP does it. Microsoft does it. They are elephants. And you, tiny little startup mouse, you shouldn’t. Don’t compete with elephants. You should lazer focus. Focus on a little group of targeted people, willing to pay a lot of money for your targeted solution. That’s what we call a niche market. You should lazer focus on a niche market.

Why? Why fish in a little lake? Why not fish in the big ocean where the big money is?

Niche markets have less competition

All the big strong fishermen go fish in the ocean, where the big fishes are. You are a startup. Go fish in your little lake. There is much less competition in niche markets. You can be easily number 1 in a small market. Especially, you want to avoid going in direct competition with the elephants that have tons of money for marketing, an army of developers and the best designers in the world. They make generic products that target everything and everyone. Like MS Office, or like generic ERP systems. And there is your chance to stand out from the crowd. You are focussing on one particular group of people. You can leave out the general product features (they make the generic software messy in any way), and you can add specific features that your niche market is screaming for. Within a niche market, you can become the #1, the reference. Don’t worry, elephants will not start competing with you in your niche. Those markets are too small for them. They are too greedy to go in a low revenue niche market.

Niche markets are much more easy and cheaper to market

Did you already think about the following: if you build a product that solves every problem in this world for everyone, then how will you pitch your product? How will you sell it? How will you market it? How will you bring on new customers? Quite difficult.

Within a niche, things get more easy. You can find and target your audience. You know where they are, what they do, and how to reach them. Targeting dentists? Try to go do conferences for dentists. Targeting lawyers? Try to get a list of all email addresses / telephone numbers of all lawyers in your town/state/region. That’s achievable.

Moreover, you can’t only reach them more easy, you can also pitch more easy. Your messages, your communication, your blog and your company name can be oriented towards them. While people out of your target market will not care about anything you do, people within your niche market will care a lot! They realize that you are there to solve their specific problems. You are not building just any CRM, you are building a CRM for dentists. You are not building a project management tool, but you are building a PM tool only for construction companies. With their specific wish-list of features. And without the generic things that make the software more difficult to use. It will not be difficult to convince them that your product is better for them then the generic tools out there. You have a pitch, a sales argument, an advantage over the generic products out there.

Niche markets are willing to pay you a lot of money

So, you have been building something exclusively for the 5000 people of type ABC in this world, that is solving a burning pain that only they have in their specific type of business? Congrats, you now have 5000 people that are willing to pay you a lot of money. Why? Because there is just one solution in this world that does exactly what they need! There are lots of other so-so-generic solutions, but only one that really does what they need. With their features, their vocabulary, supporting their kind of business. You are an expert in solving their pain. And they are willing to pay you for that, much more then for a generic so-so solution.

Word of mouth can go fast within niche markets

Last year, a big Belgian Renault car dealer contacted our web and mobile software agency to solve one of their biggest administration pains. They grew a lot over the last 10 years, and wanted to automate a big part of their administration. There was no software on the market for this, since the specific administration problems they have, are only for bigger Renault car dealers. Microsoft, Dell, Oracle or SAP are not interested in this market, it’s way too small for them.

So, we carefully listened to their needs, and wrote a very specific piece of online software, automating lots of their administration. This software saves them 2 weeks of work per month.

Today, one year later, 3 other dealers are using the same software. They contacted us. Word did spread. One month from now, we are asked to come presenting our “Renault Car Dealer Niche Software” (we don’t have a name for it yet!), to a Renault Car Dealer meeting with the 25 biggest dealers in Belgium. They all know and talk about this software, even before we did any single marketing or sales.

Why did that happen? Since we solved a very specific problem, for a very specific market, that is too small for the SAP’s, Oracles and Googles of this world. We don’t have to pitch our software or explain what it does. In 2 words, dealers know what the software is about, and realize that our software can win them 2 weeks of work per month. Some dealers really wanted to kiss us, “finally, a solution for this pain in the ass administration” you almost hear them say.

Since we solve a burning pain in a niche market, we don’t have any troubles finding clients. They find us.

What is your niche? Can you describe your market? Can you identify your clients? If the answer is “everyone”, then please go back to the drawing board. You really really need a niche.

Think big

What is the difference between top entrepreneurs, CEO’s, government leaders, artists … and the “ordinary man”? Why is it that some people have lots of self confidence, are attracting success and money as a magnet, without any fears or obstacles, win respect everywhere, are very popular, while others live like a gray mouse?

Is there IQ several time higher?
No.

Did they study 5 times more than other people?
Nope. “Being successful” is not taught at school.

Are they physically stronger then average people?
Hmmnope… not really.

Do they work 20 hours per day?
Eeeeh-nope!

They eat Kellogg’s special K more than other people?
Please, no!

They are not smarter, bigger, stronger, higher educated or what else, they dare to think bigger. Where the average person would start panicking when they face a huge problem, they look the problem straight in the face and go for it. If they can’t handle it, they at least tried. Failing is better then not trying at all for them. Where Mr. Average’s knees start shaking when he has to speak in public, Mr. Think Big keeps in the back of his head that this audience of thousands of people are all just human beings that put on their underwear in the morning, just like everybody does. Why would he be afraid? While “normal” people try to grow their revenue by 5% next year, big thinkers try to get 200 times more revenue. Maybe they’ll never reach × 200, but for sure they’ll have more than the one who aims 5%.

Sure, it is more easy to think small. You feel more comfortable doing the typical things, no? Why would you, you of all people, have the right to have such a success? Why would you be the elected one that would get famous and rich? You don’t deserve it, right? You are just one of those 7 billion people on this earth, so why oh why would you have the right to be a top sporter, a rich entrepreneur, a famous artist or be able to speak 20 languages? Most people believe they have the duty to settle for mediocre. They take it for granted.

The thing is that most people think small. Believe it or not, there is more competition for a “low level” job offer then there is for a CEO position. Why? Since most people believe they are not worth more than the average things. Very few people think big enough to hunt big results. So everyone is going for the typical jobs, the typical house, the typical career path, the typical number of children.

If you have big dreams, then think big and go for it! Successful people don’t think big because they are successful. They are successful because they dare to think big. That’s a huge difference! People with lots of motivation and persistence, a hands on mentality, and do-ers, that dare to think big, will get there eventually. The ones that aim for the typical and wait for success to come their way, will be waiting forever.

Think about which big dreams you have and pursue them. Climbing a mountain, start up a company, run a marathon, double your salary, quit smoking, sail around the world, learn 10 languages, or become a good jazz musician. Anything. If you are already convinced upfront you can’t make it, then you will certainly not make it. If you don’t allow your mind to think big, then how would your body come to big actions? In fact, it’s all in the mind. If you allow your mind to think big, and really believe in it, you can move mountains.

If you’re going to be thinking, you may as well think big.” – Donald Trump

Some random entrepreneur lessons learned over the past 2 years

Some random lessons learned over the past 2 years since I told my boss I would not work for him any longer and start up my own company. Random order, random subjects:

  • Don’t try to make things perfect. Ship the “good enough” and move to the next thing.
  • Don’t do everything yourself. Outsource, you only have 24 hours a day.
  • Ask for your money when you worked hard for it.
  • Don’t try to be the cheapest in the market, you attract toxic clients and you are worth more then being the cheapest.
  • Blog, produce content. Some of my blog articles I wrote years ago still bring in clients TODAY.
  • Build in recurring revenue. Small bits of recurring revenue, like annual licences, hosting, support, … You are building up an empire of money.
  • Patience. You can’t start your business now, and be a millionaire and employ 2000 people tomorrow.
  • Keep it simple. All things that you own, need your attention later on. The less you have, the less you have to manage and spend time on.
  • Decide and move on, don’t over-discuss topics.
  • Market first. Sell, then build.
  • You can not plan how things go. We started by making online event registration software, and ended up making niche web software for Renault car dealers (which is selling quite well these days) and some other niche products and software development services
  • Focus on the next small thing you have to do. Don’t focus on what might be needed to be done in 2 years from now.
  • Business plans are bullshit.
  • Time is your most valuable asset. Don’t sell your time for money. Invest your time in scalable things.
  • Lazer focus on very small niches. Don’t try to solve all things for everyone.
  • Put your signature (telephone, twitter account, website and blog) under every email you send out.
  • Pivot your business every week or few weeks. You learn something new every few days.
  • Don’t work too much. You have a family and your health to take care of. It’s not worth it to loose one of them.
  • Do some sport and have some hobbies.
  • Go out speak on conferences. I did it a few times, and every time (!) I had a new client within 24 hours after my talk. For some reason people see you as an guru when you are on stage and they want to sign a deal with you.
  • You don’t have to be the best in what you do, you have to show others that you are the best. That is called marketing. Technical people forget to market themselves.
  • A project is never finished. Live with it.
  • Hire great people. Be super strict on that, it’s super important for your company. You don’t have time to deal with a demotivated, lazy person.
  • Avoid as much as possible recurring costs. Keep control over your costs and watch cash flow closely.
  • Evaluate from time to time seriously what you are doing. Think deep. Is it what you really want? If no, then quit. If yes, you’ll be even more motivated.
  • Building something is not difficult. Selling it, is more difficult.
  • Don’t count on “luck” as a strategy.
  • Don’t hope for “getting viral”.
  • Use open source software, and contribute to it.
  • Say NO. If you don’t say NO to things, then clients will keep on negotiating for a lower price, people will keep on calling you for silly support, and that one person will keep on asking you to translate your software in his dialect.
  • You own the company, the company should not own you. There is ALWAYS something to do, but prioritize and organise.
  • Think big. Nothing ever great was achieved without thinking big.
  • Get enough sleep. Aim for 8 hours or more. I’m convinced that people that sleep a lot, are waaay more productive and creative.
  • Act, don’t think. Having an idea is great, but you won’t be paid for that.
  • Subscribe to this RSS feed.

How do you know an idea is worth implementing?

Ideas are just that. Ideas. They live in your brain. I can easily come up with a thousand ideas. I guess thousands of people claim that they “had exactly the same idea as Mark Zuckerberg“.

But an idea is nothing more then a thought. Who does pay you for having an idea? No one. Nobody will ever pay you for your thoughts. Coming up with a new idea takes 10 minutes. Implementing that idea, the execution (development, marketing, making it real, hiring staff, bootstrapping it or get funded, …), takes weeks, months, or years.

Graphically speaking…

So, from that endless pile of ideas you have, given there is a huge cost/time needed to execute them well, how do you pick the ideas worth implementing?

The golden rule

Basically, it all comes down to this golden rule that every entrepreneur should carve into his heart.

SELL YOUR IDEA BEFORE BUILDING YOUR IDEA

Which ideas are worth implementing? The ones that people are willing to pay money for. The ones that you can sell.

What’s the risk if you first implement and then try to sell your idea? Guess? Yep. You will be building something for months, in order to realize that no one is going to buy it from you. Damn. You just lost half a year of your life!

The worst ideas we see at Y Combinator are from young founders making things they think other people will want.” – http://www.paulgraham.com/organic.html

SO, HOW DO YOU SELL AN IDEA THAT IS NOT YET IMPLEMENTED?

Go hunt customers, and sell your “product” (even if there is no product yet to sell!). There are several ways to do this. This is my top 3 (no order).

1 – Cold calling.

Call up 50 potential customers, explain your (fictive) product, the (fictive) price of it, and ask them if they are interested. Explain them what pain you solve for them, and how much you would charge them. Try to fix a meeting with them to sell them your product, or try to sell it over the phone. Ideally, go as far as the moment just before they would hand you over the money by bluffing. People can pretend that your idea is genius, but when they have to pull out their wallet, they often change their mind. Don’t ask if they would pay you, make them pay you (but stop the process right before). They will not be angry if they learn that your solution is not yet in place. If they have a pain, they will be happy to wait for a few months more. The pain will still be there, and their wallet also.

2 – A product sales website.

Whether you want sell apples, cars, software or tea cups, first sell it, then execute it. Set up a product sales website, include good copy and pictures, and let people “buy” your product on that site. In reality, they won’t be able to buy anything of course. You are right now just figuring out if there is any demand for your product. When they click the “buy” button on your site, you tell them you are out of stock / almost live / working hard on your future product / … and you provide them a field where they can leave their email address in order to be kept informed about your progress. This has 2 advantages. You can (1) see how many people click the “buy now” button (this gives you an indication if there is any demand for your product) and (2) you collect email adresses for the day when you launch (I heard that Dropbox has 250K email adresses of interested users before they launched!). This list of email adresses is worth pure gold the day you launch.

3 – “Naked” Google Ads

You just buy some Google Ads (you know, those things that appear on the right when you search on Google) for one of the ideas you have. You even don’t have to build a website or what so ever. Just set up ads. This will measure demand, since you’ll quickly see how many times people are searching for your idea, and how many people click on the ad. You can point the ad to a blank page. It doesn’t really matter. Your goal is still to measure demand. And this is a very easy way to do so. It will cost you some money, but building something for months without knowing if there is any demand for it, could cost you much more (money, or your health!).

Is this blah blah blah?” No.

Is it easy to measure demand in this way?” Super easy.

Is it a cheap way to see if there is any potential in your product?” Super cheap. A few phone calls or a WordPress site and lots patience and stamina.

Is it motivating if you see that your idea is selling?” Very motivating! Knowing that you have already clients while building your product gives some adrenaline shots.

Do other entrepreneurs do this also?” Yep, sure.

How you know this works?” Since I’m using the same technique.

Currently, I’m marketing/selling a few ideas I have in this way. It’s too soon to tell something on what the ideas are about, but I’ll keep you posted during the coming months on how things go. In detail (dollars made, clients convinced, hours spent.). Scout promise! Subscribe to the RSS in order to stay tuned.

I’m not the only one telling this. Recently, I joined a mixergy.com program, which is about cold calling in order to sell your idea (before implementing it!). Mixergy is founded by Andrew Warner, who used some of his own money in his 20s to bootstrap a $30mil / year (in sales) internet business.

Rob Walling is another successful software bootstrapper that is promoting the “market first” approach a lot in his startup book. I certainly advice any (software) bootstrapper to read it. It pays itself back right away since it will save you lots of hours/days/weeks of worthless development.

What is your experience? Did you ever build something in order to realize no one was waiting for your software? Are you currently bootstrapping something? (I’m looking for guest posts about other startups, successful yet or not, so don’t hesitate to get in touch!)

make ONE sale, just ONE

How do you know you are going to make a lot of money with your idea?

Simple. By making a little money first. By making one sale. 1 single sale.

If you can’t make one single sale of your product, then tell me how you are going to make thousands of sales? If you can not find one single person on this earth that agrees that your idea is worth it’s 20$, then how will you find those other thousands of customers?

Don’t ask your mother if she would buy your product. Of course she thinks it’s a genius idea. Don’t ask your best friend neither. Don’t even ask anyone “if they would buy” your product. Sell it, for real! Even if you don’t have any product yet, pretend that you have it, and sell it.

Go as far as the moment when they pull their credit card out of their pocket. THAT’S A SIGN. Words are just words. Everyone will like your idea. They say they do. But how many people would buy for real? How many? How many? You don’t know it, do you? Did you try to make a sale?

If you didn’t, you might very likely be loosing months of your life on something that nobody would ever pay for. You assume that they would pay, but you don’t know it since you didn’t figure it out.

First sell it, then build it.

I hear you. “But how can I sell something that I don’t have yet?” Well, we’ll come to that in the next post. Meanwhile, I would be happy if you could share this blogpost (sharing buttons here just below!) or leave a comment. Until then.

Work ON your business, not IN your business

There is always something to do in your day to day business. Your mobile rings, an urgent email comes in, your computer proposes some updates, you have to hunt a non paying customer, the printer refuses to work, you have to answer an urgent RFP, your accountant needs some information from you, you urgently need to clean up your desk and there are some unopened letters waiting for you.

It’s tempting to be absorbed in the day to day rush. Especially if it’s your company. Even with an army of employees that know their job really good, it’s still very very tempting to dive into your business. At the end, you know best, don’t you? You founded this company, so you are a pro in every aspect of your company. You know best how to bake the bread, serve the meal, write the code or repair the engine.

Eh eh. You shouldn’t.

If you did start up a company in order to work into it, then why the hell did you start up a company? You are much better off as an employee in that case. No risk, no worries at night, no cash flow to monitor, no upset customers and no payroll. Just bake the bread, serve the meal, write the code or repair the engine. And that’s perfectly fine if that is what drives you. If you want to work in a company, never start up one, go work into an existing one.

If you start up a company, you should work on it. Not in it. Working on your business like: growing your business. Marketing. Monitoring cash flow. Bookkeeping. Differentiation. Taking a step backwards and rethinking your business. Blogging. Trying out new ideas. Calling customers for feedback. Hiring top talent. Updating your website. Improving on a day to day basis. Changing your products in this changing world. Taking risks. Setting up procedures. Speaking on conferences. Cold calling. Traveling. Analyzing new opportunities. All of that. But please, don’t bake bread whole day!

HOW TO PREVENT YOU, FOUNDER, FROM WORKING IN YOUR BUSINESS, IN STEAD OF ON YOUR BUSINESS?

Simple. Act as if you are a 100 times bigger. Are you a startup with 2 people +  yourself? Then act as if you are 200. It’s very very very tempting to bake bread all day with those 2 people. But if you do so, you’ll remain exactly that: a company of 2 + 1. If the 3 of you bake break, nobody is growing your business. If you act as if you are 200 people, eventually, you’ll grow to 200 people. You can help 2 people, but you can’t help 200 people on a day to day basis. They will have to bake the bread on their own, while you grow the business! By acting 100 times bigger, you can become 100 times bigger. Think big. Your company is now scalable. As long as you are absorbed by the day to day business of your company, you will never grow.

Do you want to found a company? Then realize that you won’t bake a lot of bread yourself anymore (if you want your company to grow). Do you like baking break so much? Then unsubscribe from this blog, and read a blog on how to bake bread.