My honest response to a startup founder…

I’ve been posting some awesome stuff over on the Sixteen Ventures blog, including a two-part series called 100 Places to Promote Your SaaS App and videos from a class I did in 2011 called Beta Testing & Pricing: How to avoid the pitfalls of publishing prices during Beta Testing.

Because those posts appeal to early-stage startups – especially the Beta Testing & Pricing videos – I’ve been getting some emails from SaaS entrepreneurs looking for guidance.

Here’s one email I got; my response is below it… I thought everyone should hear this, not just Jeremy:

Lincoln, last year I built my product and opened it for sales after being in beta for 2 months. After getting about 5 customers and feedback started to come in, the old system wasn’t sufficient enough to continue its development and to market it further. So that said, I’m working on the new system and coming close to releasing it sometime in January or February next year. I’m pretty confident that it will hold up to what it needs to do and will be perfectly fine to continue development and launch a company with.

Any tips, help or anything you think you could be assistance to would be heard!

Jeremy… thanks for reaching out.

Honestly, I don’t like the part where you said “I’m pretty confident that it will hold up to what it needs to do”… that sounds a little less sure than it should. Put another way, I wouldn’t invest any time or resources in a venture where the founder said that to me.

Don’t wait for feedback to come in… go get it now. Be proactive. Read this book if you haven’t:

Oh, if you haven’t read Lean Startup I suggest you do that first:

Most people I tell to read Lean Startup say “I have”… and yet they continue to do everything wrong… so I say to read it 3 times… seriously. So if you’ve read it… read it again, twice.

Don’t put off hearing from the customer until it’s ready to launch – again – in February. Get some people involved now, get them to tell you what they need it to do (not what features need to be there; but what problem it needs to solve, opportunity it needs to allow them to take advantage of, etc.)

Make sure that “not sufficient” wasn’t hopefully-potential customers saying “if it just had x feature I’d buy it” as a polite way of saying “I don’t think your product is valuable enough to pay for it but I’m unwilling to tell you that lest I crush your spirit.”

Remember, your product doesn’t matter… your features don’t matter…. how good your tech is, your coding skills, your API… nothing matters to the customer except results.

But they won’t know if they’ll get results until they use your product, right? That’s where marketing comes in… you have to convince them – up front – that to get the results they seek they should try your product. This is called Perception of Value.

If all you’re talking about in your marketing is your product, features, etc. and not about WIIFT – What’s In It For Them – then you’re only going to get a few hardcore customers that figure out the WIIFT in spite of your efforts…. with the bonus that those people won’t tell their colleagues; so your viral coefficient sucks.

So make sure you spend a lot of time understanding your customers… which is why you should be talking to them a lot between now and Feb when you launch, again.

That said, once you know your customer and understand WHY you’re building the product you’re building, I suggest you spend as much time, money, resources, and effort on your Customer Acquisition, Customer Retention, and Viral Expansion Loops as you do on the core functionality of your product… few do that, but then again there are only a few *really* successful SaaS apps out there… and a ton of little startups that stagnate quickly, failing to move beyond super-early adopters and friends and family.

I don’t want you to be one of the latter!

And remember to make sure you’re solving a problem people want to pay to solve and not trying to solve a problem only you see or trying to force some technology into a market that doesn’t want it, need it, or care about it.

Good luck out there, Jeremy!

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About Lincoln Murphy

I am a Customer Success Consultant focused on Customer Success-driven Growth. I wrote the Customer Success book which you can buy at Amazon. If you need help applying Customer Success-driven Growth principles in your company or would like me to speak at your event, please contact me. Also, connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.