I work with all types of startup founders ranging from local bakers to technologists that are hoping to change the world through their software solutions. More often than not, I find that many entrepreneurs that are just getting started or are launching a new product spend a lot of time worrying about perfecting their product or adding more features, tweaking their logo, or focusing too much on their business plan before they ever get in front of customers. It is nearly impossible to build a business where customers are not at the center of what you do.
In our recent Co.StartersRVA program, there was a specific instance where one of the founders had her breakthrough moment. We were talking about a series of products she was going to launch and she spent a lot of time thoroughly researching product combinations but was getting stuck in the cycle of too much ideation and not enough feedback from customers because everything was still on paper. I challenged her to bring a prototype of her product combinations to class the next week and not worry about it being perfect. The goal was to get it in front of her peers to see what they would buy and to take it from being an idea into a successful sale. Over the course of the next five days, she sourced products and was able to bring a first version of her prototype to class. She immediately was able to get feedback about what people would and would not buy once she got these in front of potential customers. Within a few weeks, she attended a pop up market and launched her website and sold nearly 90 units in her first month. I'm certain that the products she is selling today and the website she just launched will likely look different over the course of the next year or two, but all of her decisions will be based on what her customers are buying from her (or not buying from her) and she can refine her product offerings.
One of my favorite questions to ask in scenarios like this is what does an 8 year selling lemonade know about entrepreneurship that we forget about as adults? The 8 year old is willing to sell lemonade in paper cups with a poster board sign and a folding card table to make money and not overthink their prototype. They are not worried about how many different types of lemonade they could offer or what color glitter glue to use on their poster board sign or if they should have a fancy awning on their lemonade stand. A fancy awning, a variety of lemonade offerings or a sparkly sign doesn't matter if no customers walk by the lemonade stand. The 8 year old can keep moving their card table setup until they find a busy intersection where customers will drive by or walk up to them and buy lemonade. Once they find enough regular customers, they can improve their setup by adding an awning or testing lemonade flavor options or recipe combinations.
My goal is to get every entrepreneur to the point where they can sell like an 8 year old at a lemonade stand and get their first customers to pay for their products or services (while accepting that the first batch of lemonade will not be perfect nor will the location or the setup).