Originally published at renanmf.com
"Build it and they will come".
A common phrase in the start-up world.
Well, if you have been in this industry long enough, you know that is not quite the case.
I prefer to go with the opposite: find the market and the product will come.
Ask any developer, be it a web developer, app developer, frontend, backend, anyone really, why did they learn programming in the first place?
The answers will be in the lines of:
- I love to build things
- I like to solve puzzles
- I want to be a maker
- I'd like to own my business around a product that I created
These answers are nice and legitimate.
It takes years of study, hard work, experience, debugging and occasional happiness when that piece of software just runs the way you want it to run.
But that's only the tip of the iceberg when solving real-world problems.
Another common characteristic among us: we are constantly looking for problems.
Why? Because we love to come up with clever solutions for those problems and see people getting benefits out of our solutions.
That's fun and all, but if you want to build real businesses around your expertise, but that is not enough, not even close.
How many times have you created an app to solve some problem, then you put it out there, in the wild, and no one gives damn.
Is your app not good enough?
Is the problem not big enough?
Maybe if you change the colors or the logo, or, or...
You waste your time, resources, money, and get nothing in return.
I'm not a marketer, not by miles and miles, but I came into contact with marketing for real a few years ago and it helped me look at things differently.
Marketing is not just about running commercials during the Super Bowl or the World Cup or making things look prettier and shinier to make you more compelled to buy them.
The most important discipline in marketing is: understanding your audience.
When you build something, you build it to someone, that imaginary person often called customer.
The customer or client is the one who pays for your service, buys your app, signs up for your SaaS.
You shouldn't type a single line of code if you don't have a clear understanding of who your customer is and to which audience he belongs to.
The Lean Startup book, a classic in the software industry, talks about getting in front of your customer, talking to them, asking what are their pains.
The keyword here is pain.
People pay to solve something that hurts, just take a look at the services you usually pay for, maybe you could live without them, but life is so much easier and it only costs $9.99 monthly =D.
There is but one flaw is Eric Ries' book, it's just not actionable enough.
What questions should I ask?
How should I approach people?
What if my bias drives the conversation?
To respond to that we have The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you.
I can't recommend this book enough.
It gives you a framework on how to talk with potential customers.
The general idea in the book is to take the facts, not opinions (except if they are REAL opinions).
Never let your customers know about your solution, don't pitch, their responses have to be genuine and you can't influence them with your ideas.
Data beats anything.
Ask about your potential customer's lives, discomforts, and workarounds for those discomforts.
You might even find out your idea sucks and get another perspective to work on, which is also great!
Imagine work for months on something nobody wants.
I would also like to add Zero To Sold, a free online compendium on how to approach businesses, bootstrap style, an excellent complement with lots of good information on every phase of the process of creating your own business.
Say you are very introspective, you hate the idea of talking to this many people.
Well, you are a developer, so I assume the Internet is a comfortable place for you.
You can try these places: forums, blogs, Quora, Linkedin groups, Facebook groups, etc.
Look for the places on the internet where your audience lives and interact with them in these places.
You can also use internet research combined with the face to face to gather even more valuable information.
Live or online, there is always someone to meet and validate your shiny new idea.
The process is hard, somewhat boring and long, but it is better than spending years building something that won't sell.
Instead of building the product and going after the market, do the opposite, find the market and then build the product.