Choosing my future customers

When we think about starting a business or moving from a services business to a product business, it’s very common to start with an idea for a product. That’s what I’ve done for years – with a success rate of exactly 0.

Over the years I’ve picked up on ‘the right’ way to do it by reading blog posts and listening to podcasts. When I say ‘the right’ way, it’s actually more of a combination of different ways I’ve seen other successful (or what I consider to be successful) people create a product.

None of them start with the idea. What they start with is identifying pains.

Show me the pain

An idea isn’t worth anything unless someone is prepared to buy the product that the idea becomes. It’s not a good plan to deal in ideas – you should instead deal in pain. Work out what the problems are that your target market have. The problems that really get to them are best because they are the pains that they will do almost anything for a solution to and will certainly pay some money for it. These are the problems they regularly hit against and have the potential to make their days work a misery.

But if you don’t know much about the business that these people are in, how can you possibly identify these pains?

The best place to start is with areas that you know at least fairly well. It’s in these areas that you have the insights and can quickly get up to speed on what people are struggling with and what you may be able to help solve.

So, off you trot and write down all the areas that you know something about. You might surprise yourself here and come up with some that weren’t at the forefront of your mind. When I did this I had a decent sized list but I sat back and looked at it only to think “I really don’t fancy going after any of those!”.

I’m not sure why none of these areas appealed to me. Familiarity breeding contempt perhaps? Bored of the subject areas? Worried that I might get found out as not being the genius people think I am (or that I think people expect me to be)? Or is it that, subconsciously, I’m not really looking to have an income from a product at all and I’m really just looking for the next shiny object to chase?

In truth, it’s probably a bit of each of those things. At this point, you might be screaming at your screen something along the lines of “just suck it up and do the work you waster!”. And I don’t blame you for that.

I always thought I was the sort of person that could work hard at anything and suffer through the less attractive work so long as it was something that I really wanted to achieve. But here I am wondering whether I actually want to achieve this or maybe I need a bit of a shiny new object to carry me through.

Most of the advice I read and listen to suggests that shiny object syndrome should be avoided. Going after markets that you don’t know wastes valuable time getting up to speed. It’s enough of a task to get a product off the ground in an area you know, why take on an area you don’t know?!

Fantastic points, but I’m still struggling to motivate myself to go after something in an area that’s familiar to me.

Here I go again, doing it the wrong way

You may have guessed by now that I’ve decided to bypass the good advice – well, not all the good advice, just the bit about creating a product for an audience I’m already part of.

For the latest project that’s taking up my ‘free’ time, I don’t have an audience but I do know that there is a pain and I know I can solve it. I know a bit about the domain but there will definitely be a learning curve. For this product proposal (notice the absence of the word ‘idea’!) the process has gone a bit like this so far:

  • I experienced part of the problem
  • Suspected that the business behind this would also be experiencing pain around this problem
  • Spoke to several businesses in this area and confirmed that they are experiencing the pain and were interested in a solution. This was confirmed by responses like:
    • Yes, we need something like that, and we would pay
    • We already have something that’s OK but we could do with something better, and we’d pay
    • We have just commissioned a company to build this for us (who we’re paying)

I don’t have the domain knowledge but I have experience developing similar software for other domains and I have a number of companies that would be prepared to help me through it (3 so far).

What I also have is some knowledge about how I can investigate this market further and evaluate whether this is something that could make money. It sounds like a goer to me but my track record of getting it wrong is a concern at the moment.

Even though I have some prospects that say they would buy a solution, there’s also the fact that I need to be able to reach the wider market somehow. If they don’t hang out online, that might make marketing to them difficult. Offline marketing can be expensive and I don’t think this product would sustain a particularly high price tag.

Is that product validation?

There are lot’s of businesses that have started out with less than this to validate the market. What we’re talking about here is giving ourselves the best chance of success by quickly eliminating products that would never sell so that we don’t spend years wandering in the dark with a product that will never go anywhere. We’re rarely going going to get perfect data so I think at some point we need to jump – one way or the other.

My feeling is that I’m going to jump on this one. I’d like to get a few more potential customers give the product proposal their approval and, if I do, I’ll be off and running to the next stage of the process.

Stay tuned and wish me luck!


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