I launched few projects, but every time I felt like I’m not able to do it and probably never finish it. I learnt a lot from books or from online articles, but all the time the phrases were repeted over and over with the same content.
As all my blog posts, I’ll be straight to the point, because this article is not only for you, but i§s for me too. Is a way of taking notes while I’m learning and in the moment I write these lines the learning process is still active.
So how to launch a startup, line by line?!
Table of Content
- Find your idea
- Validate idea
- Build the product or service
- Analyze the competition
- MVP (Most Viable Product)
- Pricing model
Find your idea
The cliche “find problems around you and solve them” is somehow true, but not all the times problems suround you. What helps me is to watch problems of my clients (I run a software agency).
But REMEMBER, your idea don’t have to be unique. Competition is good and it helps you to grow. I made this mistake with many ideas, thinking that I don’t have any chance if my product is not unique. The product is not you, is not your software, it’s about the team and the know how, more than everything.
By time to time I am curious what others wants to build and some of the websites that I check are these:
- Ideas and Validation Group from IH
- Founder Pal AI business idea generstor
Startup graveyard is a series of killed projects that made millions in revenue per year.
Just watch their graveyard and do it your own. What better validation do you expect.
I was reading a post on IH about this subject and it looks so inspirational to me. That’s why I decided to go deeper and share this.
Isn’t insane that they kill a valuable project? I mean producing millions is something. That is true, they pump some money to arrive at that stage, but still.
You’re not Google, building a pre-validated product, which already had customers can be something and can change your life for sure. I must admit, I want such a product and such a market and such a revenue.
Is anyone already did this? Who tried to replicate the buried project of Google and work on it.
Where you can find these projects?
Did you find something relevant? Tell me via twitter
Your idea may suffer many changes over time. Don’t worry, that’s normal, you need to adapt and switch fast in order to stay upfront.
There are certains places where people can buy & sell businesses. If none of the previous ideas doesn’t work for you, maybe you can try to buy one and improve it. But where you can find these products?
The validation of idea is very important because we are subjective with our creations. Not all the time your idea is good. So a cold shower is benefic, and the startup idea validation is exactly that.
Talking with potential customers can be benefic from many perspectives: understand your product/service, understand if your idea is not good enough yet, the customer’s needs, what they miss in the current solution.
Here’s a story how I’ve built Manager flota.
Where to find prospects
Everywhere can be a customer! What a generic response, right?! It is true, let’s dive more in.
Watch your competition audience
Basically if you don’t know exactly where your customer can be found, start watching your competition, later we talk how to analyze competition. Your competition is already in front of customers with a product or a service. But don’t worry, you don’t need to steal the competition’s strategy, actually is not quite correct to do that, better analyze them and improve their strategy or product.
Start looking at their website, social media, do they manage other channels like Facebook groups, discord servers, newsletter, Telegram groups, Twitter communities, etc? Because yes investigate how people interact with them.
Maybe your niche is not well defined, you don’t have competition yet or you don’t know where to start from. I suggest to start talking with people that you think might be your customer. It can be chaotic in the beginning but at least you talk with people.
Use social media
You know that social media can be a very powerful strategy? I like to talk with potential customers via Twitter, LinkedIn, even Facebook or Instagram. Is simpler because you’re one step ahead against email. It’s easier for them to reply there and the discussion can be more informal, doesn’t have to stay in the same way as on email.
As mentioned before, personally I find it harder to talk with prospects via email. You’re a stranger in their inbox and they know it.
In order to capture their atention try to go straight to the point and keep the email very short. Present yourself or your business (depends who’s more relevant) as an introduction and talk what you put on the table, what’s their benefit from that discussion and why should reply. Don’t talk about you, the introduction was enough, talk about the benefits of your product for their business and how it can be integrated. Try to close the email by having a strong call to action, inviting them on a meeting, a demo or what you need more.
As a recommendation I have few books on the cold call email subject:
- The follow-up formula by Steli Efti
- Cold Email Hacks - How to bet more customers with winning sales emails by Steli Efti
Who should you talk with
This is a heavy question, because usually we tend to talk with the closest people. In almost every article or book I read it was mentioned to not even thinking to talk with your family or friends. Because they can be subjective and reply based on emotional background. And somehow this is true, unless you build a product or service which targets family or friends, in that case they are your target.
Your target audience is important in the beginning and even later. But try to focus for the first time indentifying the most important customers. The one who is ready to buy imediately. Later, when the startup is well defined, you’ll have marketing campaigns, sales people which will find new ways of finding new proespects and customers. Until that time you need to start from somewhere, so keep it low, keep it fast. Remember, your startup values nothing at this moment, you don’t have money to spend.
So I write two paragraphs and I say nothing right to the point.
In the beginning talk with people who needs your product or service. Go there, find a way to talk with them and simply ask, they can reject you, push a bit, if they’re not interested move forward. From each talk you can discover something, even the fact that they are not interested can be something to learn from: even the product is not for them, they are not the most important customer or you did something wrong, don’t worry you’ll learn. But start talking with them, is just that simple, just breath and send an email or DM via social media. What costs you? A rejection?! Are you going to launch a startup or you’re too scared of rejection?!
If you choose an audience and discover they are not interested, maybe you did the wrong pick. Redefine the audience and go over again until you find someone interested. If no one is interested probably the idea is not good or you did something wrong.
How many people should you talk with
3 people, because 3 is a magic number, at least in a fairy tale. How to launch a startup when you talked with 3 users? That’s not exactly a validation, is more a self validation or fear of failure.
Talk with many, a lot, 3 - 5 - 10 are not enough. Talk with 100 or 1000 because you need to learn from them what are their problems. Guaranteed talking with 1000 people you can find some patterns that repeats, they have some similar issues and probably they need something specific that cannot be found at competition. Except that you break the fear and improve your communication skills.
What to talk about with prospects
Go there, make an intro and offer some context, be honest and tell them the truth. Don’t offer all the details from the beginning, just keep the intro short. If they are interested will reply.
Start the discussion by telling them who you are and what you need, in a manner that you try to offer them something, try to help them. People tend to discuss more about them, so using this in your favor can make a big difference. Tell them what you want to build and how you can help them. Then ask if they have a moment for a chat/discussion.
Tell them about what you already know as being their biggest pain and how your solution solves that. After you gain the trust, ask them what other problems they face and how they currently handle. Take notes, these can be your next features. Pay attention at the solution they use currently and ask why they choose it, if they tried something else or not.
Did they searched for a similar solution with yours or not? Try to find the impostor pretending to have an issue. We as persons tend to complain, some of us more than others, so take care when a customer lies about his issues. You can identify if the biggest pain is as big by asking how he solve it right now, how hard is to solve it and what he did to find a better solution. You know that people say:
if I would have an app that do this for me, that would be great, now I only use Excel”
then you ask
did you searched for any tool that may help you, any app?
Take in consideration their response, because this is a red flag. If they never tried to find an alternative for Excel, that means they don’t need it, the issue is not so big for them.
I’ll give you a story. Once I tried to build a management app for freelancer personal trainers who helps them to manage bookings of the clients, the progress of client and many more. I talked with personal trainers on Linkedin and ask them about this issue and the most of them answered either the gym offer them this tool or they use the classic agenda taking notes on paper.Some of them answered before that a mobile app would be very helpful, but when I asked about the current solution and if they searched an alternative the answer was exactly this
no, I did not. I take notes in my agenda, I’m used to.
See now?! If they did not the minimum effort of searching for an alternative, would they pay for yours? I agree that maybe your solution is unique, but did they at least search for, a simple search o Google can be a good sign.
Pitch the product before is built
Previoulsy we talked about telling on short their biggest pain, in order to establish your authority and win their trust. But after they talk about their problems and you find that their issues are solvable with your solution -> go in action. Is the moment when you tell them about your solution by centring the features on their issues, don’t talk about 1000 features that you have, because they don’t understand them and get bored. Explain how your solution will solved their problem A, B, C. Probably they have some questions and that is good, answer to that, but don’t lie, tell the truth always, even if your solution doesn’t fit 100% to their problem. Later your lie makes more problems than the income you gain from the sale.
Is your product or MVP ready yet? Hope not, because in this phase you should focus on discovering their problem and after these discussions you can switch and adapt the initial idea. But if you already have something built, that’s it, is fine.
Tell the customer if your solution is not built yet and when you estimate to be launched. They shouldn’t care, stay chill, they need the solution, remember?! Is not a problem to tell them that you’re currently working on it and soon will be ready.
You shouldn’t sell from the first meeting, make sure that they feel comfortable, because is important to establish some trust between client and you. Later you have time to sell, now just validate. Now is the time to ask them about pricing, based on their pain level how much would they pay for your solution. Here you can offer them some context and guide them if you for example plan to use a specific pricing model.
Questions as the following may help them to reply with your expected answer:
How much would you pay per day/month/year/user?
If they don’t like the direction of your question for sure will reply
I would like to pay 10$ every time when I use the service, but not ready for a subscription.
And this is an option too, because they can offer you a different vision. If many people goes the discussion in that direction, probably you need to switch the pricing model.
Don’t force to get an answer from them with any price. If they stay closed to “I don’t know”, try to offer them some ranges that you already have in mind based on your product or that you saw at competition.
Is the moment to tell them what is your opinion regarding the price.
If you don’t know who’s your client, it may help to create an user persona. I found an User Persona Generator with AI that may help.
Sell right now
Sure is too soon and we have a dedicated chapter for this, but I’m not kidding. Is the right moment to test your salesman skills and ask the client if he is ready to buy it right now. And how much he can pay for it. See his reaction and be careful what’s the reply. They may not agree, even if they saw nothing only stories from someone who interview him, but try to discover if he’s available to pay something for the solution. Is a good exercise for your, but more than that you can see how critical is their problem. If many prospects are ready to pay you upfront, that is for sure a very solid project to build.
How to deal with the situation if they reject?
They may not be ready to buy it, but at least try to offer them a discount and see if this work. You can promise them a 10% discount for X months if they give you some money upfront. Or you can offer them something related to the product for life. Be ingenious and discover what works best for you and your product. Be generous, because it may help you on the long run.
If they still reject your offer, take your las shoot. Ask them what they need to sign right away? Here’s the moment where you get him, it’s the show time. If he is afraid of something, it must say it. Is the moment when he should talk about what is afraid and when you need to understand what are you deal with. This moment can be an important lesson for you because what your prospects are telling you right now, may be the headers for your website.
Is the client asking about the guarantee for the upfront payment? Don’t panic, you can tell them is like a risk for a future investment, but offer them full refund if they’re not satisfied with the product after release. In this way they can feel safe. If they don’t need the product, for sure doesn’t bother to give you money, just to get it back later.
Where to start from
You can simply start with a landing page, and there are a lot of free resources that may help you to create one. Place a fake pay now button and see how many people are ready to buy your product. Ok after the people click on that button you can open a popup or redirect to another page where you tell them that the product is not ready and you may ask their email to put it on a waiting list.
Build the product or service
You’re good now and probably know how to launch a startup. You have the idea, is validated and need to define the product or service, but still don’t know what to build or what the product should contain initially or later.
Don’y worry, go after competition and see what they offer.
Analyze the competition
How to launch a startup when you don’t know what’s the startup, right?! Check what others do and try to do best. But remember, some of their features are already validated by you or by them with a real audience, so you have to build them.
In order to analyze competition you can do it manually using search engines and type down advantages and disadvantages, but except this old fashion way, you should check their online presence and how to do this if now using Tools for Analyzing Your Competition. In this article you can find a list of articles about tools and how to use them.
But you know what, is there a simpler solution?! Maybe yes for some of you, you can search on platforms or websites where people talk and share their startups. Some of your competitors can be already there, some of them build in public and you can take advantage of to learn about their main problems and improve your product.
Check reviews of competition
Checking reviews of your competition can be a very good selling pitch for further customers. When they complains about some issues about a product, you take notes and do it in your product. Be cautious, not every feedback have to be implemented, but if many people complains about the same subject and you solve it, then you may get some new clients.
In the same time take in considereation the strong points, what the customers of your competitor mention as very good? You should have it at least at the same quality. As a customer you need to offer me more, because for me is an extra effort to change my current provider, so you need to offer me more value.
I don’t have competition
There are some new fields where your startup can be unique and there’s no competition. But for the most of you the competition is there, just try to strive more finding them. Don’t stop after the first search on google, try more keywords, use the tools below to generate keyword suggestion and try with many variations. I saw people who say how they build the mvp in 24h, maybe is possible but is not mandatory. Try to learn about the new business you start.
Enough for those who are lazy and just read this material to check it as done, but don’t take action. Let’s talk about those cases when you don’t have competition for real. It can be harder, but not impossible. In this case you need to look around, find similarities with other startups or domains and make analogies with them. Is not 100% accurate, but it may drive you on the right road.
Talk directly with competition
As you saw, there are indirect methods to check competition using online tools or offline tools, but sometimes you can go directly to the competition and ask. I know what you’re thinking, why now and why would they answer? They don’t! But you don’t go to them and talk as you do it with your friends, find a context and pretend to be one of their client, maybe you already are and it can be better.
Talk with them about your main questions, but try to find the best way of asking this. I have to tell you a story about how I failed once by checking the pricing of my competitors.
How I’ve been caught by competition trying to find their pricing
Recently I started to document myself for the next project that I would like to build. Is a SaaS solution for farming leases management. And I started to find competition. The first step was accomplished easier, by searching them online. I found a list with 4-5 competitors and I decided to go deeper. Some details are already presented on their website, but for some reason, not everything is online (I suspect they think that they can hide, Mr. Sherlock is in action.. no way for you to escape).
What would you do in this situation? Go further and find their clients to talk about them or go directly to them and talk. I decided to go after them and ask for pricing. Check the website, find the email: “that’s it, just an email away from the pricing”.
And I started
Hi, I’m a client who wants to try your services. I want to ask how much you charge for your software. At your disposal…
The reply came:
Sure sir, can we have a phone call to talk more about our offer.
I send them an email because my discussion had to be written because in that way I can search about their question and simulate the best client, but on the phone call, I may fake it wrong.
I had the phone call and they asked me for details about my farm, the area, the company name, and what field size I lease. And 0 responses for any of these, but I cannot look stupid, right?! So I had to invent something and I told to the lady that I’m the nephew and my uncle has the farm and I need to find all the details and come back.
After this discussion, I understood a valuable lesson. Be prepared all the time, try to be one step ahead of your competition.
Inspect freelancing platforms
If you don’t have time, don’t worry, there’s always a plan B. You can ask someone to do it for you, for free or paid. You can search for a Virtual Assistant on freelancing websites like Fiverr or Upwork. You can establish all the details and they will do exactly the task you asked for.
Analyze the competition - Resources
- A Product Designer’s Guide to Competitive Analysis
- How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis for Your Business (Plus a Free Template)
MVP (Most Viable Product)
The MVP must be only VIABLE. No, you don’t need 100 features, no payments, no auto-emails & stuff. Keep it simple!
If you build something without marketing in ahead, you’ll most probably encounter difficulties selling that.
Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
CAC is the cost of convincing a potential customer to buy a product or service, offering clear understanding on how much costs to acquire a new customer. This index can help businesses determine the effectiveness of their sales and marketing efforts.
By comparing CAC to the average lifetime value of a customer, companies can also determine if their customer acquisition efforts are profitable.
The cost per customer acquisition (CAC) metric is important for both businesses and investors. For early-stage people in business, helps to evaluate the scalability of a new businesses operating in the internet space. By comparing the aquisition cost and the revenue generated, investors can make a clue about the company’s profitability.
Build your website
You need an website for your business. so better start building it right now.
Don’t build something very complex, because at this stage you don’t need to. Just present the business and ship it.
Don’t have the skills to create your website? Because I may help you, my agency is building startups and can help you to create your website, app or the whole idea.
SEO is a pretty hard aquisition channel, and it usually takes months to start seeing decent traffic on Google.
Product Launch Platforms
These platforms has a lot of traffic per months, so they can be a great place to start with. It may give you good exposure in the beginning.
Check this article Where to launch your startup
Many platforms like Shopify, Slack and Salesforce have their own app stores. A surprising amount of founders had success being listed on them.
There are 100k+ active communities on Reddit. One or not more than one is related to your niche.
Cold Email Outreach
This is simply reaching out to people you don’t know yet via email and making them aware of your product or service.
Cold email is a channel which is easy to get started with, but hard to master.
A good number of founders who were interviewed in Indie Hackers targeted other technical people on Hacker News.
These sites are like traffic brokers. They buy traffic from Google AdWords, drive it to their pages, and then charge you per click/impression/lead.
If you’re a founder in a B2B niche, this is a channel worth considering.
UpWork, Freelancers, Fiverr. You might think these are marketplaces that only serve service providers. But you may think at them as aquisition channels.
Pricing is a very important part of your project. Is more important than it looks like, because with a wrong pricing, your product can go wrong. Even if the price is low or high. If you don’t have competition to compare your product with, then try to experiment, check how many money do your solution save or make to the client and try to find the value. If you have competition you can start from there. The price can be adjusted over time, and I really recommend to do it.
Below I would like to share with you some informations about pricing models and how you can achieve a recurring revenue model.
A freemium plan is not required, but it may helps. Users can test your product and find it valuable. If they’re small it can use it for some time, and aquire it when they grow.
Remember you offer it for free to promote the product, don’t offer too less, but try to keep the best shoot for the paid plans. If you offer too much, there may not be enough interest in paying. But if you offer too less, the free plan can become useless and no one wants to try it.
Is a type of subscription pricing where the customer pays a price per month/year for access to the software. The main advantage is that it is predictable and easy to budget for. The main disadvantage is that it does not account for usage, so customers who use the software lite may feel like they are overpaying.
Are those in which the price of the software is based on the level of service or features that the customer requires. This can be a per-user, per-month price, or a price based on the features that the customer requires.
The SaaS user-based pricing model is a pricing model in which the price of a software application is based on the number of users that will be using the application.
The main advantage of the SaaS user-based pricing model is that it allows software companies to price their applications based on the value that they provide to their users.
You charge your customers based on how much they use your product.
The customer pays a one-time fee for access to the software for an unlimited period.
What not to do when decide pricing
Don’t make the pricing hard to understand. When you start the pricing list, you tend to please every people, add a lot of features in the list. That’s definitely wrong! Put in the feature list only the most valuable features, that really solve a pain. And the price, keep it simple, don’t try to satisfy every person and have too many plans. Keep the pricing plans as simple as you can.
The low price with high value is a red flag and people will stay away. Once I tried to help the restaurants, in the Covid pandemic period, I choose a very low price, and the people were not interested. Until one moment when I client told me that something is strange, and double check if there are no extra taxes because the price is too low. At that point I understood if the price is too low, clients will see it as a warning.
The product must makes money for the client. Even if you save money, time or produce money, it have to bring value on the table.
Use the right price, don’t keep the price low just because you’re not enterprise.
- Alex Berman recommended tools, the author of The cold Email Manifesto book
The best way to grow your product is to help others to connect with. So if your product is a software solution, be sure to expose some APIs and let others to build other featureas for their software by connecting with yours.
Let people export the data, either by APIs or at least some CSV.
You cannot imagine how smart people can be and how that can help you to grow.
If grow enough, sell your business using Acquire.com
Customer retention is a strategy to keep your customers loyal to your brand over time.
Customer Loyalty Program Software
A customer loyalty program is one of the best user engagement tools to encourage customers to continue with yourcompany by offering them incentives for their loyalty. These incentives can be in the form of points, rewards, or exclusive benefits only available to program members.
By offering these rewards, companies can create a sense of appreciation and recognition for their customers, making them feel valued and important. This can lead to increased customer satisfaction and a greater likelihood of repeat business.
In addition to rewarding loyalty, companies can use their loyalty programs to encourage other profitable actions, such as leaving reviews, referring friends, and sharing on social media. Companies can increase customer engagement and brand loyalty by incentivizing these behaviors.
Gamification is using game-like elements such as points or competition to encourage customers to take specific actions. This technique can improve the customer experience and the overall buying process.
Gamification software, known as the best customer engagement tool for building strategies, often includes leaderboards, quizzes, badges, and rewards. Customers can see how they rank compared to others and benefit from loyalty programs that award points or other incentives.
Examples of gamification include earning points for certain purchases, creating store credits or currencies, awarding badges to top users or brand advocates, offering giveaways for completing referral actions and featuring countdowns for sales or giveaways.
Personalization is a customer engagement tool to build a strategy that involves tailoring experiences to the individual customer, using data to create customized recommendations and promotions. This approach can increase customer retention by making customers feel valued and understood.
Personalization can be applied at various customer journey stages and used by both small and large businesses. One of the most common and effective ways to personalize customer interactions is through email marketing.
I like to read, even if I discovered that books are not always about beletristic and fary tales (as I learned in school). After this discovery I started to read a lot of technical books, because this is what I like more.
Complete list with reading resources and free books is a list with websites where you can find books and articles for free.
Some times ago I tried to launch a project, a digital menu for restaurants and I wrote about The story of Customenu, is a good story about failing with a startup.