Typing away on my MacBook late into the night on September 2017 I knew I was in over my head. Overworked and overwhelmed, I bravely kept pushing through sometimes operating on hunger and perseverance.
Win or lose, I was going to work on my first official business idea even if it meant adding countless hours on top of my already demanding corporate job. Damn it, I was going to do this, and there was nothing that could have stood in my way.
I thought to myself “This is the way of The Entrepreneur, and I must go through with this.” The words of Gary V. about the next six years of your life sucking were echoing in my brain as I was coding my app.
Little did I know that I was committing every single mistake in the real world business playbook. Allow me to share the lessons that I learned from my bitter experience with you, as well as what you can do to stop yourself from making the same big mistakes.
Onward to The Mistakes.
WARNING SIGN Number 7:
You Are Not Where Your Customers Are
In my first business I spent the bulk of my time typing away on the keyboard in my living room. Big mistake. Doing this caused me to miss out on discovering opportunities, and prevented customers from revealing their deep rooted problems to me. A business without problems to solve is a time consuming hobby.
How much of your time are spending with your customers? I am talking about getting up close and personal. Meeting your customers for a cup of coffee, buying them lunch, going to the same events that they are going to.
If you are serious about the success of your project you need to be in the same physical space as your prospects.
Warning Sign Number 6:
You Spend Too Much Time Working On Your Product
As a solo-entrepreneur your time is the asset you need to protect with everything you have. Further cutting into your time is the fact that you probably work full time to pay the bills. Because of that, it’s doubly important to use your time on the absolutely essential thing.
And shocking as it may be, dedicating significant portions of your time to your product development is not the right thing to do. You might want to consider is changing the strategic priority of your business from Building to Selling.
The optimal course of action to take is one that allows you to take the temperature of the marketplace. How hungry are the people for what you are selling? Moving into a Selling mindset will allow you to find just the right pivot to make your product more desirable, or abandon it before taking a significant hit.
Warning Sign Number 5:
You Organize Too Early
Because time is the asset that you are shortest on, you might want to consider the idea of learning to work sloppy. I realize that this goes against every good management practice, but with building a new business events have to happen in sequence. The only the vitally important things must be done, the rest should be postponed or deferred.
Get comfortable with being sloppy and get in the habit of taking action now. It’s better to forget some things that you were going to say to clients and to make more contacts than it is to have a neatly organized CRM.
Neat record keeping comes at a cost of eating your valuable Selling and Building time. There is a time and place for it, but it should generally be deferred until you have traction and are starting to scale.
Warning Sign Number 4:
Nobody Knows About You
An aspiring young politician decided to run for local office. He partnered up with a seasoned campaign manager. The campaign manager sat him down and explained the rules of the game for him.
“Listen” he said. “Our plan for the next 90 days will be to go out there and plaster the picture of your grinning face and your name everywhere that voters are. We will place yard signs, put up billboards, give out flyers, and go out there shake hands and kiss babies. ”
He paused for a second, looked at the young man sternly and said “They won’t vote for you if they don’t know you.”
Promoting a product or a service in many ways is no different from politics. You need a large group of people who can be subjected to your message.
If you’ve been putting off getting the word out about who you are and what you do, you may find yourself in a situation where you have a completed product and no one to tell about it.
Go out there and put in the work creating your tribe.
Warning Sign Number 3:
Your Product is What you Wanted To Make, Not What The Market Wanted To Buy
I happen to think that entrepreneurs are often headstrong and ego-driven people. It’s what gives us the juice to strike out on our own, go off the beaten track into the unexplored territory and to separate ourselves from the relative safety of a “job”.
We want to do something special, and we want the recognition from our friends, family (and sometimes) the adoring public. There is a flip-side to this coin, a weakness, a vulnerability that is wise to acknowledge and contain. That weakness is our desire to do our own thing, and sometimes to discount the wants of others.
The desire to forge ahead rather must be balanced with acute listening skills and being able to dig below surface level response to arrive at the true wants of our audience. I saw a very clever marketer post respond to a Facebook post.
I am paraphrasing but it went something like this “When are we going to realize that we have to give people the content that they want in the format that they want it??”
And I thought to myself “Man, this is profound. This guy just encapsulated the entire theory of good product design in one sentence.”
The message here is this. Figure out what people want and give it to them.
Do not be tempted to force upon people a product that they have no interest in.
Warning Sign Number 2:
Your Product Idea Was Created In A Vacuum
One day on my way home from a very frustrating day at work I decided that I had enough. I was going to come up with an idea for a business that was so innovative and fresh that in several months I could just retire and milk the cash out of my money-making Internet machine.
I sat in my living room, typing away on my computer, scheming, making calculations and revenue projections. Soon I started meeting other people who were doing something similar. So we schemed to rule the world together. And nothing happened.
No early retirement, no Internet cash machine. So what was the problem?
You see, like many other Internet entrepreneurs I built my business around a faulty key premise. I wanted to shortcut the process via bypassing all the “annoying” customer interactions. Good business ideas are not born in your head.
They are forged by bouncing the ideas that you have against the marketplace, asking for some kind of action, receiving live feedback and adjusting to it. Ideas must be tested and refined against the marketplace. Building a business in a vacuum is a guarantees failure.
Warning Sign Number 1:
You Think You Need To Finish Building Before You Can Start Selling
We have finally made it to The Big One. Entire books have been written about this.
Why do we think that we have to have our product 100% completed before we can commit ourselves to selling it?
Allow me to be a little bit harsh. Because making products is fun, and getting sales is hard work. No one has ever gotten rejected creating a product. No one has ever had a door slammed in their face, or been outright dismissed when creating a product.
I am very tempted to say that creating a product is almost an excuse to not sell. I mean how else would you be able to say “Hey, I can’t go sell and promote my product right now, it’s not ready. Gotta work on it some more!”
So I think it’s part excuse and part ignorance. We haven’t discussed the ignorance part, and we’ll get to that now.
The ignorance part is about not being exposed to the right ideas and concepts. For example, you may not know about creating Kickstarter campaigns or collecting Advance Sale money. In that case, the previously considered unbreakable sequence of natural events (Create followed by Sell) may appear unbreakable to you. So in this case education really helps.
Allow me to start with a question.
What is the first thing that prospective customers, contributors or investors of your product will encounter, and what is that one thing that they will keep using to identify your product?
That thing is invariably the product name, and it is one of the easiest and inexpensive ways to control the perception of your product.
Because the product name serves as the first touch point, as well as a the mental pointer to the product, deciding on a great product name is one of best investments of your time.
Try to count the number of times throughout the day that you speak or think about Excel spreadsheets, or GitHub repos, or RedHat instances. My guess is that you gave up on this exercise after just a few seconds, but I think you get the point. We use product names ALL THE TIME.
A name connects the idea of The product to its’ physical form.
I don’t know how attached you are to the current name of the product. If you are very attached, or have some concrete reasons for sticking with the current name, please ignore everything I have to say here.
However, if you are not 100% certain if the current name is the right name to go forward with, you might want to consider the following bits of information.
An incorrectly chosen product name can be a long-term (self created) obstacle preventing you from hitting the growth curve that you had in mind. This doesn’t just apply to startups and new products.
YouTube Red has recently changed its’ name to YouTube Premium. This meant walking away from an investment of millions of advertising and brand building dollars.
According to AdWeek they just couldn’t overcome the negative associations of the name. YouTube Red simply sounded too much like a porn site.
YouTube Red simply sounded too much like a porn site.
So what is a better way forward? How can we create a template for producing clear, convincing, and memorable product names?
Direct marketing expert Eben Pagan has created and sold tens of millions worth of information product in mid 2000’s. He has coined the following formula for creating strong product names.
Eben suggests that product names should:
1. Be Hard To Forget
2. Use Repetitive Sounds
3. Use Rhythm
Let’s see how this formula applies to some current examples, and examine the use of repeating sounds, and rhythm structures.
“Mon Goh Dee Bee”
“Mur sey deez benz”
One Two Three Four
Now you may be saying to yourself “But what about the other mainstay products and brand names such as iPhone, Oracle, BMW, Beats by Dr.Dre, as well as countless others that don’t fit that formula?”
And you would be 100% correct. Those names do not fit our template. However, armed with this template you now have a repeatable process for coming up with brand names that at the very least will not be a roadblock to your marketing efforts.
Give this formula a try, and let me know about how you like the results. Chances are it will improve how you think about product (or even project) naming at a fundamental level.
All The Best,