Last week, in this space, I explained two things: 1) I’m launching a new startup; and 2) I’m launching it with the specific intention of being radically transparent in order to teach valuable lessons about entrepreneurship. I also mentioned I wanted help testing it, and I asked all of you to sign up for a (free) account.
Only two of you did. Even worse, of the two people who registered, neither of them actually used the product.
To be clear, I had no illusions my request last week was going to magically get me hundreds of users, and that’s why I “launched” the way I did. I’ve seen hundreds of entrepreneurs proudly announce their startups on social media while expecting a torrent of new signups, but it doesn’t happen. Instead, they get nothing, and they can’t understand what happened.
But I can tell you what happened. Let’s call this Lesson #1 of Building Startups:
The hard part about building startups isn’t creating products; the hard part is getting people to actually use your products.
Think about it like this… I’m someone who has “reach.” Sure, I don’t have an enormous audience, but can reach close to 100k people across my social media platforms, I’ve got thousands or readers in the entrepreneurship niche, and I built a killer product every entrepreneur should be clamoring for.
Despite my existing audience, and despite building a product specifically designed to help that audience, I launched my new startup, and the silence was deafening. So what makes you think getting customers is going to be easy for your startup?
How I Convinced Myself to Stop Worrying About ChatGPT and Embrace Our New A.I. Overlords
While playing with ChatGPT to build my above-mentioned startup, I began having an existential crisis about artificial intelligence. Figuring other people were having a similar existential crisis, I’m sharing the one thought that’s keeping me calm.
Tired of sending emails to investors and customers who don’t respond?
I Launched a New Startup, and the Initial Response Was Embarrassing
FYI — My second article this week echoes a lot of what I wrote in this issue’s intro, so maybe it’s not worth reading. I do, however, share a bit more detail about Autopest’s intentionally failed launch… and a graph!
Office Hours Q&A
A few weeks ago, you shared an article where you said 90% of entrepreneurs pitch you their startups incorrectly because they spend the entire time telling you about their products.
I wanna know the approach of the rest of the 10%. How were they different? Can you explain a bit more on that?
For the sake of adding proper context, I should point out that the part of the article you’re referencing is where I’m explaining a symptom of the core problem. That core problem, as opposed to the act of pitching, is the article's primary focus and my reason for writing it. Specifically, my main point in the article is that most entrepreneurs spend the majority of their time focusing on their products, but they should be thinking much more about their customer acquisition strategies.
With that context aside, and to answer your question, the 10% of entrepreneurs pitching the right thing are focused on their customer acquisition. In other words, instead of asking me what I think about the product they’re building, they mostly want my advice/help/input/etcetera on how to market and sell it.
I’ll also add that I’m describing a problem I encounter when startups pitch me, and I’m (usually) not being pitched as an investor. I’m being pitched as someone who gives advice. My advice about a startup’s product isn’t valuable because I’m just one person with little or no knowledge about the startup’s market, meaning my product advice is statistically insignificant and not useful. In contrast, I have lots of generalized knowledge I can share about sales, marketing, and customer acquisition (i.e. the important parts about building startups), and all that advice is much more broadly applicable.
In case you’re wondering, when founders are pitching investors, they tend to make the same mistake of focusing on their products. In contrast, savvy entrepreneurs spend the majority of their investor pitches explaining their customer acquisition processes (and how they can be improved with the help of additional funding). That’s because investors don’t invest in products; they invest in businesses.
In either scenario – pitching for advice or pitching for money – focus on customer acquisition, not product.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!
Bad idea - part of gmail and many others or can be done with a simple automation script.
Aaron, I think context matters when promoting a new product. Specifically, your newsletters are about the issues and challenges of being an entrepreneur and startup founder. It is not about reviewing new and innovative products.
Hence your response rate for the product announcement was out-of-context for the audience you have created.
For example, I created an SEO product 12 years ago and had low/no traction as I tried to promote it online. However, when I partnered with one of the leading SEO blogs to promote it, sales went through the roof ($50K in just one week).
One of the key tenets I learned was that online audience building is a powerful way to launch a product IF that audience aligns perfectly with the product.
I agree with you that for most startups, creating the product is the easy part (unless it is deep tech, bio, pharma, etc).
Market focus is more challenging, especially if you do not have an existing online audience that is perfectly aligned with the needs your product meets.