Success is not delivering a feature, it is learning how to solve the customer’s problem
– Eric Ries
Yes, you and your team can build a great SaaS app while working from your garage. Such a beautiful expression of design and engineering.
Then reality sets in.
No matter how great the idea or how cool the technology, the product doesn’t result in sales, after 8 months of development.
That’s the story of many technology entrepreneurs. After months of hard work and spending thousands of dollars, the masterpiece doesn’t get a reasonable amount of traction.
Let’s do an autopsy.
For example, you were in charge of design. The co-founder does engineering. You were also looking to hire a great backend engineer.
Ok, wait. You wanted traction, right? Why are all those roles inside the building??
Let’s split work into 2 categories.
Examples of roles inside the building:
- UX Designer
- Web Developer
- iOS App Developer
- Graphics Designer
- Backend Engineer
Examples of roles outside the building:
- Account manager
- Business developer
- Social media manager
- Content manager
Enjoy this deck:
Let’s explore how much you’re fulfilling the entrepreneur’s duty.
What does your team look like? Is it heavier inside or outside the building?
More importantly, what does your calendar look like?
As a founder & entrepreneur, do you spend more time inside or outside the building?
I understand that founders wear many hats. That’s how it’s supposed to be, especially during the early days. You might even be a solopreneur, which is great. But if you’re too busy sweeping the floor or writing the code, who is working on the business rather than in it?
You can’t find traction in the building. You can’t drive new business if you’re inside the business. Customers, prospects, and partners are all outside.
This isn’t at all to say that you or your team should have little to no technical focus. This is all about making it rain. This is about driving usage towards the stuff you build, so the products you craft actually get used.
The term “getting out of the building” was popularized by Steve Blank in his best-selling classic, The Four Steps to the Epiphany.
The idea is simple. It’s all about customer development.
Startups fail not because they lack the technology. They fail because of lack of customers. Many entrepreneurs don’t take time and effort getting to know their customers. It’s due to these reasons:
- You built a business to practice your skills
- You have a specific technology in mind
- You built a business, but you’re not playing the business role
A technology founder should act like a true entrepreneur and go out of the building. Meet with customers, clients and customers of clients. A perfectly responsive website will have no use for you if they don’t attract visitors. More so if they don’t convert to real customers.
By getting out of the building, entrepreneurs focus on customer development. The key is to create the product quickly and then test it out there, to your real customers. No more wasting time creating that bug-free engineering excellence. The only way to make your product work is to get out there.
Let’s have Steve Blank explain better The Customer Development Manifesto:
If you don’t have any idea how to use the “get out of the building” approach, here are some things to consider:
Customer outreach is not an overnight task.
Just like marketing, customer outreach is not something you do just once. It takes time. When they say get out of the building, you don’t just do it once. You have to do it many times over, until you get the data you are looking for.
It might be a certain customer persona. You are targeting a certain group of people that have a specific need for your business. It’s good customer development too. And it should be one of the main parts of your customer outreach. The more targeted, the better.
Marketing is not confined only on your desk.
Your online presence is good but you are a real person, with real customers. One way or another, you have to meet up with those customers. Not only to show that you actually exist, but to tell them face-to-face about your product/service.
Sometimes, words do not translate properly to what you actually mean. You need to get down or up the level of your customers. You dont have to take speaking lessons for this. Just do your stuff. You developed the product, who better can tell people about it. No one can explain it to the customers better than you. Plus you have the passion for it. Passion is highly contagious.
Keeping it simple works all the time.
This is one common mistake among startup business owners. Overdeveloping and overthinking. Its alright to work on something with all that you’ve got. But it’s not alright to use all your time just for that purpose.
Baby steps. Develop a product that works. Don’t obsess too much on that tiny pixel problem. Get the product out there. Have it tested. Develop it more based on the feedback that you acquired. Even large companies have to tweak their products. You can too.
You don’t necessarily have to talk to anyone.
Getting out of the building is a metaphor. You don’t really have to step away from your laptop.
You can perform market research without initiating any conversation! Begin with free, easy online research.
Yes, I highly encourage you to approach people, but there’s a sequence. And geeks don’t always like to walk up to people. Fortunately, the right sequence is listening to readily available information before doing anything else.
Look at success stories.
Refresh your memory on how The Lean Startup movement helped companies grow become from humble beginnings. They got there because the founders spent time outside the building.
Over to you
It is said that 90% of all startups fail. How do you avoid being part of that statistic?
Be a true entrepreneur.
Look at your calendar. Look at your browser history. Do you spend more time crafting your UX? Do you spend too much time writing the code or planning your technology infrastructure?
This is really about your personal responsibilities. Is your job more about steering the business towards a tested product or ensuring that you build bug-free excellence?
Your answer will show if you should stick to employment instead.
Be a real CEO and spend more time out of the building!