by Ross Beyeler, founder of Growth Spark
The aha moment hits – an idea, question, problem, a design. Suddenly you see potential in something that didn’t exist moments ago. It’s your eureka moment! You’ve struck entrepreneurial gold and need to share your discovery with the world. You declare your intentions to set out on the entrepreneurial path.
But how do you grow this concept into a ‘real business’? How do you build momentum to achieve your first lead, customer and first dollar in revenue?
Having coached dozens of entrepreneurs alongside my colleague (@topherwilliams), we refer to this point in the entrepreneurial lifecycle as going from Zero to One (not to be confused with Peter Thiel’s similarly titled book). It’s about taking quick, inexpensive and effective steps to prove the concept has the potential to become a ‘real business’. But several roadblocks often prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from moving from Zero to One.
The following five obstacles are the most common roadblocks to building momentum:
1. Spending too much time thinking about the solution/product rather than the problem/audience.
Often the idea itself prevents one from growing a business. Most product/service ideas in their early forms stem from personal inspiration, an idea based on something seen or experienced. It’s often said that the best businesses are started to solve problems that you experience and, while this may be true, it’s too easy to start building a product or solution with only your needs in mind. It’s vital to put yourself in the shoes of potential customers and design for them.
Early on, it’s better to focus your efforts on understanding the problem and audience rather than obsessing over the product/solution. There is a high likelihood that the product/solution will evolve with consumer interaction. Focus on understanding potential customers’ needs rather than hard-selling features/benefit. Spend time with customers; let them tell you what they need – they’re the best source of innovation.
2. Getting too wrapped up in ‘playing business’.
Going from Zero to One is not only about taking the ‘right’ first step to proving a potential business. Incorporating an LLC is not the first step, nor is writing a business plan or putting together a ‘pitch deck’ for investors. Although these activities are necessary down-the-line, you don’t actually have a business yet, only a concept that may have the potential to become a business. You need to obsess around the problem/audience to steer your product/solution’s development in the direction that people will buy.
3. Not asking for the money.
Make interacting with customers the number one priority. Dive deep into understanding their problems and what an ideal solution might look like. Once they’ve articulated those problems, ask for the money. And there are usually many ways to craft a solution. For example, if the idea is a platform that allows people to book plumbers on-demand as they do cars with Uber, you don’t need robust technology early one. Provide a number to call and tell people you’ll find a plumber for $1.00 and dispatch him to their house within 30 minutes. Sure, that’s not a sexy business. Nor would it be an easy to manage once its grown beyond a few dozens customers. However, your first job is to understand your customers’ problem and get them to commit to paying for your solution. If you prove people will pay for a ‘raw’ version of your service, it becomes a more interesting opportunity when you add design and technology. However, if you don’t ask for the money, you won’t know if people will be willing to buy in.
4. Focusing too much on the technology or brand.
At this stage, the goal isn’t to develop ‘sexy technology’. Sure, our Uber for plumbers concept becomes more interesting in the form of a mobile app, but that requires significant resources. Setting up a Google Voice number and an Excel list of plumbers might just take an hour. Once you get to the ‘growing’ your business’ phase, technology and brand become critical components. However, they serve as distractions when you’re asking for that first dollar. We’ve seen too many entrepreneurs throw away thousand of dollars and many weeks developing prototypes or websites prior to having their first conversation with a potential customer.
Most likely your original concept will evolve so the ‘brand’ will no longer be as relevant down-the-line. Rather than thinking of your brand as a logo, name, domain, tagline or other visual identity, think of it as the experience. Show prospects that you really care about solving their problem and that you’re willing to find whatever means necessary (i.e. you’ll change your product/service in whatever means they’ll pay for) to do so. You can easily tell them after a month working together that you’re now going to call yourself 1-800-Plumber as opposed to Plumbers123.com. They won’t care so long as you have solved their problem.
5. Letting ego get in the way.
The toughest roadblock is ego. Ego drives entrepreneurs to obsess over their original idea, to get wrapped up in making things official and to spend all their time creating the *perfect* technology/brand. All entrepreneurs must deal with ego, which serves as a motivator but also a hindrance. Getting from Zero to One is painful and requires putting things out to the world that are not highly polished. Enter this phase embracing these truths – none of it matters if you’re trying to help people solve a vexing problem. Stay focused on solving that problem and let your ego rest assured knowing that you’re doing what that matters most.
Surely there are many other struggles that aspiring (and repeat) entrepreneurs face when trying to develop an idea. The process is certainly difficult and there is a high likelihood of failure. Embracing the above won’t necessarily help lower the chances of failure but will, at least, help downsize the risk of spending too much time and money on the wrong things while trying to go from Zero to One.
Ross Beyeler manages Growth Spark, a Cambridge, MA, based agency that helps E-Commerce companies design interfaces that convert visitors into customers, implement technology to streamline operations and use analytics to guide marketing decisions. Since its founding, Growth Spark has completed over 250 projects that led Ross to a nomination as one of BusinessWeek’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25 in 2010. A graduate of Babson College, Beyeler has been a serial entrepreneur in the technology space with experience ranging from digital marketing, business development and strategic management.