Apr 27, 2011
If you are serious about starting your own company, you would know that writing full-blown, 5 year business plans is a waste of time. Many smart folks have argued that working on a prototype and getting early user feedback is the right way to start a company. The next logical step is to actually start! This post is an attempt to equip a non-technical person (some of my fellow MBA students) with some of the tools and techniques that can be used to gauge early interest among your target audience and launch the first prototype of your product. Some of the ideas are taken from the awesome speakers who came to our class and some from my own experience.
Find early users
Create a landing page that describes the benefits of using the product. The page serves not only as your 30 second elevator pitch that generates interest but also as a way to do a quick survey with the audience. The survey is used to find behavior of your target audience. Get inspiration from the landing page of Daily.io that clearly describes the benefit and also ask questions that help understand behavior of the target users.
There are many tools that are available to design simple yet powerful landing pages. You can use a combination of products such as Launchrock, Wufoo, and Survey.io. I would recommend using Unbounce.com that does all the work without requiring any technical skills. Of course, don’t forget to register your domain name and get a working email.
After having designed the landing page, its time to test it with real users. Create a campaign on Google Adwords or Facebook Ads (PPC campaign) and get targeted users to visit your site. Its quite easy to create campaigns and does not require any technical knowledge. As users visit your site, track the performance of the campaign and tweak as necessary.
It’s a good idea to ask for email address and/or phone number from your visitors for follow-up.
While visitors visit your site and provide feedback (based on your survey), you can now start creating initial mockups of your product. Depending on your comfort with technology, you can design basic web pages using HTML and CSS or use one of the awesome tools such as Balsamiq to create mockups without coding. Balsamiq is great but it’s always a good idea to know basic HTML and CSS. By now, you will have some users who have shown interest in your product. You should now contact these users and show your mockups to get feedback.
Code and release
You should now have enough information on creating the actual prototype of the product. The prototype should be functional, i.e., can be used by customers and should solve a real problem. Don’t worry about width of 450 px vs 454 px or making the font color blue or black. Instead focus on creating a product that users are willing to adopt or better pay (if you do have a monetization model from day one). I would also recommend to learn to code. There are many resources available online that can help you learn at least the basics in few days. If you don’t want to code, then you should have a good friend (me?) who is willing to code for you. But for many, its hard to find. I am not saying code to perfection but learn to code to create basic functional product. If are motivated enough, do read the book Getting Real by 37Signals that describes the best way to create a web-based application (most of it can be applied to other areas as well).
Write a Blog
I can’t stress more enough on the importance of domain knowledge. Create a blog (e.g. blog.mycompany.com) and start writing on the issues that your product solves. For example, if your product aims to simplify enterprise IT products, you can write about a variety of topics such as the current state of enterprise IT, compare enterprise and consumer applications, and reasons behind slow adoption in enterprise IT. The higher the quality of your blog, the higher the chances of product adoption. Your objective is to be razor focus on the problem you are trying to solve and perhaps be the top five blogs on the topic.
Are you still reading this? Ok, time to create a landing page!