Back in college I attended a conference, in which the Founder of Reddit spoke about their story.
At the end of the presentation, a man in the back raised his hand and asked the question "What do non technical founders do pre launch?"
The founder jokingly answered that he drew a bunch of images of their mascot, seen here:
Then he more seriously answered that he spent the bulk of his time catering to his developer and making sure that his needs were met to expedite the process.
That speech was around 5 years ago, four years after Reddit was founded in 2005.
Non technical founders, if there is one thing you work on pre launch, make it customer development.Click to Tweet
In the 10 years since then, it seems the startup environment has become even more aggressive (or perhaps just more is known on how to succeed).
Either way, the expectations, even requirements, of "non technical" founders is more and more starting to balance out that, which their technical counterparts are doing during the development stage.
Here are some of the main areas I have been spending my time in, while our developer cranks away at the code:
Developed by Steve Blank, Customer Development is the practice of gaining customer insights to generate, test, and optimize ideas for products and services through interviews and structured experiments.
It is seen as an ongoing, iterative process where you continue to interact with your target market to shape the direction of the product, so that when it finally launches, it is as desired.
In reality, this should be done even before any code is written.
Otherwise, how do you know what your customer even wants?
This is most often done through phone calls and face to face meetings.
At NinjaOutreach, I have personally had phone calls with probably two dozen or so people in the target market, to get a better understanding of the particular features they are looking for, and how they would use the product.
To be honest, I would happily do more, if I could get more people on the phone (easier said than done).
And of course, there are other channels like email from which you can gain valuable customer insight, though when possible, I always try to get a customer on the phone.
I just think it adds a layer of personality you cannot get from solely email.
How have I been getting these phone calls?
Originally, it was a lot of cold emailing and Linkedin marketing (basically cold messaging through LinkedIn).
Nowadays, I leverage membership communities like the Dynamite Circle, The Fastlane Forum, and platforms like SoHelpful to speak with as many marketers and entrepreneurs as I can.
Because our software is for marketing and therefore pretty widely applicable to a large range of businesses, I see every interaction as an opportunity to learn more customer insights, and perhaps make a connection that can help me personally and professionally.
If there is one think you work on pre launch, make it customer development.
Creating A Strategy
If your product were to be finished today - what would you do?
The developer is not likely thinking about what you are going to do once he finishes. He is focused purely on the product and the associated code.
It's up to the non technical founders to build out the strategy for finding and acquiring customers.
- Where can we find them?
- What channels are we going to market in?
- Who are we going to reach out to, to help us promote the product?
- What additional features will we want down the line?
And a hundred other questions that you need to be asking yourself, today.
When I first started building out the road map for our product launch, I built 200+ step marketing strategy.
It isn't as complicated or intense as it might sound. In short, it was"
Everything I wanted to do (think of a massive to do list), grouped by relevancy (customer service, marketing, product features), and then organized chronologically into when I think they should be tackled.
It is a very flexible framework that I move around from time to time, but it helps me keep a handle on the million things I know I need to be thinking about.
As a side note, it's very widely applicable, and I think if/when I do another business, I can apply it to that with a few tweaks.
There is absolutely no excuse not to have a written document that serves as your company's road map, good for at least 6 months following launch.
How many people are anticipating your launch?
The more, the better.
In order to get people to anticipate your launch, you need to start introducing them to the concept of your business, slowly, but surely.
This involves taking whatever bit of noteworthy news you can muster up, and showing it off to the world to get them excited.
For example, when we were ready to show off some of our early designs, I created this post.
Later on, I started talking about our story, to give everyone the full picture of where we were coming from and where we were trying to go.
I joined groups on LinkedIn and Triberr. I made announcements on my business blog. I created social media profiles and started following influencers in my niche.
I took action to get ourselves out there.
Writing, Writing, and more Writing
I try to write as much as possible, as long as I can maintain the same level of quality.
These words may not be as valuable as code, but they do drive interest, and eventually, will drive sales.
And it's not just blogging.
That's really only a small part of it.
I often write as much stuff in advance as I can.
I wrote out emails I'm going to send to people a month from now.
I wrote out auto responders series for when people will sign up.
I wrote out event based triggers. For example, we already know what we are going to say, when a customer has an upcoming expiring credit card registered with us. Despite the fact that we don't have ay customers.
I wrote out all of this in advance, for the sole purpose of having it done now, so I have time later to do the single most important thing post launch; Make Sales.
It's been very tempting to sit back and simply wait for the product to be developed to start hustling.
Let's face it, it's a heck of a lot more fun, and easier, to move a product that is launched.
But if you aren't doing at least the four things mentioned in this article, you're truly missing out on an opportunity to give your product a boost before it's even seen the light of day.