I think of all the questions you have when you’re starting out, the biggest question (and worry) you have is are you on the right track? Unless you get instant success, and instant traction and instant growth, your faith is shaken more by are you on the right track than anything else.
It’s especially true if your point of reference is working for a larger company. And I had worked at larger companies for years.
You almost take your market traction for granted:
A. You had an audience.
The hard work had been done already building the audience. But you forget how hard it was. And…
B. You had customers.
When you announced a product, you knew there was a ready audience for your products. But you forget that you are just starting out.
You don’t have any customers, yet. You’ve got to build your audience AND build your customer base at the same time. And…
C. When you’re starting out, there’s this belief that your market traction (from the old company) is going to transfer to the new company.
And the reality is no matter how good you are, no matter how knowledgeable you are.
No matter the pedigree and the background of you and your cofounders. Nobody knows you. Worse yet, nobody cares about you.
I think that’s really hard to digest how different (and difficult) it is to start a company because you are starting over from the bottom again. Your audience is small or nonexistent by definition.
You announce your first product and you think you’re going to get millions of customers. You know you need to market. You know you need to sell.
And you just know that your product is going sell really, really well.
The reality is your product probably will not sell that well. And the reality is, whatever your projections are, you’re going to miss them.
I remember when we announced our first product. I remember when we got our first customer. We were so excited because we got a sale of all of $12!
It was a cool thing to have happen. It was great. I’ll never forget our VP of Sales running around the office because he was so excited that we actually had a customer.
But it also put in perspective the journey we were going to be on. And it put in perspective the grind we were going to be on.
That first sale made me realize we were fighting a two front war.
What I mean by fighting a two front war is you’re fighting the war of growing the number of people that know you exist. And you’re fighting the war of growing your revenue.
You need incremental goals while you’re striving to hit your long-term goals.
Let’s say your long-term goal is to get to $1M in yearly revenue (this is probably an intermediate goal in reality). Your longer-term goal is whatever that first big chunk of revenue is for your company.
You need that longer-term goal. But you also need to think about what are the incremental goals you need to hit along the way?
- Is it number of subscribers to your email list?
Whatever it is, you need to set those incremental goals every month and start measuring yourself towards these incremental goals. Then you can keep motivating your team around these goals.
The first million dollars is going to feel like you’re climbing Mt. Everest. And I know this from personal experience.
It was so damn hard to get that first million. It was harder then I ever imagined it would be.
The difficulty of scaling is part of the deal when you are just starting out.
You just need to grind away. That’s what I did, and that’s what you need to do. Grind away.
You want to have a longer-term goal. Your longer-term goal functions as the beacon on top of the mountain.
Your short-term incremental goals function as rungs on the ladder as you climb the mountain. You know where you need to step next to keep getting closer to the top.
Make sure you are hitting these incremental goals.
Then you adjust along the way because there are always going to be pivots.
But the pivots can be really small.
So, in other words, you are pivoting, but you’re pivoting in small little increments. You’re not making massive changes to the company.
You’re making these small adjustments in what you are doing. And hopefully, you are reasonably on course.
But what if you're not getting any traction?
Now, if it turns out you’re getting no traction. Nothing is going right, and you’re spending a bunch of money. Well, that’s likely the time to think about a major pivot.
Before you make your major pivot ask yourself “what changed?”
In other words, you had a set of assumptions when you decided upon the product and the market.
- Did the market change? Or…
- Did a competitor come out with a product that makes your product obsolete? Or…
- Did the features you thought were going to sell not resonate with customers? Or…
- Does your product really do what you thought it would do? But…
Whatever you do, don’t panic.
I remember, early on in our company’s history, revenue was growing and the number of customers was growing. But we were not on the pace we expected to be on.
One of the members of the executive team put together a very compelling presentation on why we should completely change course. In his view, we needed to make a large pivot and go head-to-head with our largest competitors.
The challenge, early on, is you don’t have a lot of data.
And a lack of data leads to panic. And panic leads to making bad decisions.
In our case, we had enough data to show that we were hitting our goals. It was just taking longer then we initially expected. We decided to stay on our original plan, but make the necessary financial adjustments because things were taking longer than we initially expected.
But, hopefully you are reasonably on course making these small course adjustments along the way.
Nobody’s plan is perfect at the beginning. And hopefully you are doing enough of the right things.
So set these small incremental goals. Measure towards meeting these goals. Then adjust along the way.
You’ll be far ahead of the competition if you take these steps. More importantly, you’ll know you’re on track. And you’ll have a better chance of succeeding with your original plan.
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