Focus on This One Thing Post MVP Or You'll Fail
It’s common for founders to feel lost at the zero to one stage. So they “do stuff” all day, keeping them busy and “accomplishing” things. The problem is they are busy with the wrong things, from the ridiculous – spending forever researching what laptop to buy, office space, choosing your desk – to filing paperwork, signing up for and attending non-stop events.
None of these things will be core drivers of your success, no matter how “productive” they seem. I hope to inspire you to act with intensity on what is core to initial traction:
Spend 70-80% of your time on sales and marketing after launching your MVP.
If you’ve done the hard work of idea and problem validation before building your MVP, go market and sell the heck out of it. Awareness wins. The number one job of an early-stage founder is acquiring customers. Don’t fall into the busyness trap.
The Ultimate Networker Trap
During my Zertis days running a software consultancy, I was very busy but didn’t have significant, sustained momentum. Sure, I had some great projects, but looking back, I was busy with the wrong things. I went to all kinds of events and activities. Most of these people didn’t need my service and weren’t my core customer persona. I was “hoping” they would get to know me and refer me to someone who needed me. Guess what? Other people won’t sell you. That’s your job.
My real job was to find a repeatable, measurable approach to getting in front of my potential clients, and I didn’t have that. Yes, a few contacts repeatedly sent me potential projects, but most of my time wasn’t being spent on a repeatable set of activities to general leads, nurture them through a funnel, and close them. I couldn’t generate continuous, effortless momentum.
With TheraNest, I was obsessed with customer acquisition at scale. I focused on repeatable, scalable customer acquisition strategies and improved on them. Yes, I did some acquisition activities that didn’t scale, but they were to experiment and then scale or drop them.
Founders spend a lot of time doing anything other than the most critical thing post-launch: iterating on sales and marketing. I get it. You’ll encounter failure and direct rejection in marketing and sales – people saying no right to your face, your Facebook Ads not working, your demos not converting. Sales and marketing feel riskier than constantly tweaking your product or, worse, designing your swag.
However, the hard truth is that the longer you avoid sales and marketing activities, the longer it will take to find your growth channel and get great at it through iteration.
Spend most of your time doing demos, launching and tweaking ad experiments and landing pages, recruiting partners, recruiting affiliates, and other demand-generation and sales activities. If not, you may find yourself shuffling the “swag” on the Titanic as it sinks.
Product as a Distraction – The Builder and The Seller
Another distraction for founders is the product. It’s 100% true that product matters, and your journey to success starts with a great product. However, post-launch, you’ve validated the first version, put a price on it, and are sending it into the world. Now it’s time to validate it through paying customers. Now is not the time for non-stop tweaking the product with features no one is paying for. I’m sure you know many startups with great products who have failed. Most mainly fail because they can’t sell or market their product.
Your job is to be both a builder and a seller, and you have to approach both with the same level of enthusiasm. But the level of intensity for both needs to change by stage. Your biggest risk post-launch is an inability to acquire customers. While you cannot neglect product innovation, your time should tilt significantly to seller mode until you have a customer acquisition engine that works. The two are not mutually exclusive, especially if you take a product-led growth approach. Still, you can’t learn the lessons you need to integrate into the product without feedback from paying customers. Pushing people to pay you is a surer path to honest product feedback than just asking for feedback without the pressure of sales motion.
Learning as a Distraction – Learn and Do with Intention
Knowledge acquisition can also become busy work. Learning is essential, but execution is where success comes from. You need to complement learning with doing - in real time. Learning about sales and marketing is a waste if you don’t act on what you’re learning in real time. Turn your learning into doing. As you learn, do what you’re learning with a clear intention of driving customer acquisition.
Finally, maintain intentionality. Evaluate what’s working and what isn’t and adjust. Don’t get stagnant in your efforts. Frequency and volume matter to success. Knowledge lets you know where to apply intensity versus wasted energy.
What do you do with the other 20% of your time post-MVP launch? Product insights and building a team should consume most of it. The team brings back the balance and addresses risks. But first, find your customers, and resist the temptation to make yourself busy with things that feel more comfortable.
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You are inspiring me. I have a fairly simply solution to a somewhat complex problem that will meet demand in a market segment that can best be described as having giant egos. I imagine you encountered some of that in the medical field. I can do this. I am just starting as the concept has just taken root - but your advice on focus and scalability makes so much sense to me. I have seen entrepreneurs - brilliant ideas - not succeed as they should have - and I beleive it was the misguided post launch focus you describe. If I could only turn back time...
You're 100% correct. We met at one of those events that a supposed to build business.