Does it make sense to invest in developing your brand, or are you still trying to establish proof of concept? What channels can help you do this?
They say that the best products are born out of need rather than creating demand that didn’t previously exist. There are exceptions, of course, such as Apple and the iPod, but in general, the best products came from marketplace demand for an item that didn’t yet exist.
The problem with most startups is – while the idea they’re founded on sounds cool to them, their friends, and their co-founders – they really have no idea if the rest of the world wants their product. Proof of concept is necessary, yet the amount of time spent proving that your market actually exists is often wildly inadequate. The startup scene is a jumbled mess featuring companies using all of their initial funding in order to build a product, then seeking additional rounds of capital in order to actually see if the marketplace wants it. It’s ridiculous, and it’s happening every, single, day.
Here’s how to avoid it with your business.
Test the Market
Before you even build a fully-featured release of your product you need to see if demand exists. Too many companies claim that the product is in beta while it functions as a fully polished and ready-to-go release. The term minimum viable product (MVP) exists for a reason, and that’s for testing – often at a cheaper price, or even free – to gauge feedback, implement new features as you go, and fix bugs before releasing to the public. The problem is, startups are using this time to build a fully developed product instead, which is disastorous when they figure out nobody actually wants it.
How to Test
We live in a time where you can set up a landing page and start sending traffic to it near-instantly. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit and others all have ad platforms that allow you to drill down to a specific demographic, and market your product to the people most likely to use it. Offer 100 users free access, gauge their feedback, and then decide whether it’s worth diving in to a fully featured release, or if it’s back to the drawing board. Each time you take your project back to the planning stage, you need to test again before you consider a full launch.
Or, if you want even cheaper results, test it for free with your friends and family members. Have them give freebies away to their friends, place ads in the local paper, or on Craigslist for beta testers.
The way the web works today, there are a million and one ways to get quick feedback on just about anything, and if you’re not using this to your advantage, you’re destined to spend far too much time and money on something without ever really knowing whether it’ll be successful.
What About Branding?
Branding begins from day one, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus. Many successful startups have even switched names, logos and branding collateral before their final product launch, and this just shows that initial branding isn’t as important as the product you’re building.
Would it surprise you if I said Quantum Computer Services, BackRub, and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web are now known as AOL, Google, and Yahoo (respectively)? These are just a few examples of companies that changed names – or changed their branding entirely – before they became the super successful businesses they are today. In fact, most startups go into the branding process knowing that the name isn’t all that important, and that they are free to change it once they have a product people want.
According to Jeff Lawson, co-founder and CEO of Twilio – a company that has raised over 200-million dollars in funding – “In the early days of the company, the name doesn’t really matter for anything. You always assume you’ll change it later.”
He’s right, skip the branding and find a product people want.
So, when do you worry about branding? When there is demand for your product.
How Successful Businesses Happen
Successful entrepreneurs go from idea to MVP, to marketplace testing at breakneck speeds. Only after they’ve proven demand do they decide whether or not a business or a potential business actually exists.
They aren’t buying t-shirts, business cards, office space and looking for the best developers right out of the gate, they’re proving that if they build a fully-featured product, people will want to buy it.
If you’re going about it any other way, you’re taking a risk that is not only unnecessary, but often costs you more than just money. They say it’s better to fail fast, and in this case, that’s certainly true. Fail fast, move on, and build that business that people want.