I remember sitting in a product launch meeting at a startup I co-founded discussing the launch plan for a product I had worked so hard to create over the previous six months. You see, as the co-founder, CTO and chief coder at this startup (prior to becoming the CEO) I had spent most of my waking hour’s heads down building the product.
We had focused relentlessly on creating the best technical product. My team and I had analyzed the competition and market needs, created innovative approaches and built a product that would crush the competition and deliver significant value to the customer.
I remember the meeting vividly… We were so excited about the launch! This is the moment we had been building towards ever since we conceived of the idea and scratched it out on several sheets of paper many months previously.
I also remember my surprise and disappointment when it became clear at this same meeting we had not figured out how we were going to get the product into the hands of our customers. The marketing team had not finished determining how to market the product; The sales team had not determined yet how to sell the product and the accounting team had not figured out how much to charge for the product.
Still, we (as entrepreneurs tend to be) were optimistic. It was the best product after all, the rest of this stuff will work itself out (we told ourselves)… however, nothing could have been further from the truth!
We struggled for months after this meeting to identify the customers and to find the right way to talk about the product. We struggled with how to reach these customers, how to pitch to them and then how much they would be willing to pay, etc. In the end, we did manage to figure it all out but we wasted lots of time (and money) in the process.
In essence, we had the classic challenge that first time entrepreneurs have… we believed all we had to do was create the best technological solution and the customers would line up to buy it… in essence, we had executed perfectly the “build it and they will come” business plan!
Unfortunately this is an extremely common problem. Having the best technology doesn’t matter at all if no one knows about it, can’t understand what it does or can’t figure out how to use it. Building a great company is more than just building great technology. It is thinking holistically about the opportunities, the customers, the needs and use for the product.
As I meet students who want to create new companies I remind them of this scenario. Yes, build the best technology, strive for the unattainable and do the impossible. Yet, keep in mind that you need to validate what you are doing with the market needs and understand how you are going to reach the customers and convince them this is the right product for them to spend their money on. Validating is critical.
Finally, once you have the technology and the validation you need to go, go, go! You must apply the same relentless energy and creativity you used in building the product and turn it towards pitching the product, getting the word out and be persistent in getting in front of the customer.
Ultimately, the process I see work again and again is simply: “Build It, Validate It and then Go for It!”