I ran in to Doug, a fellow entrepreneur in the 1776 startup co-working space, today at the coffee/water/pb&j oasis. After exchanging a few words, we somehow found our way into a conversation about being in a small company and the battle between focusing on sales and focusing on product.
What we agreed on was that being out in the wild, pounding pavement, selling your product is exactly what every single startup founder and/or entrepreneur should be doing. Doug told me that he likes my company, RidePost, because we are not hiding in our code, adding this and that feature, saying, "If we just add/change/remove this one feature, people will start to buy our product!"
I know this has been written about 1 x 10^255 times, but he said something in this conversation which really hit home:
"Your product doesn’t judge you; people do."
Fact: It is easier to hide in your product than take the beating that is the outside world.
Selling sucks. You know that terrible feeling in middle school where you ask the girl of your dreams if you can walk her home and she says no? Yeah, that. Every day. Forever. Most developers would rather deal with failing unit tests than deal with the anxiety and inevitable depression that is sales. However, when you don’t have your very own sales team, you have got to learn to take this. If you do not, then you should stop what you’re working on, return your friends/family funding and go home.
“But how will sales build the product I’m selling if I’m not focusing on product?” First of all, sales will not only allow you to continue building your product, but it will also drive what your product becomes. It is pointless to build a product that people do not need and are not willing to buy. For example: I can build a 100% gas-free, solar-powered lawn mower that leaves zero carbon footprint and is super duper in every respect. But nobody is going to buy this when gas-powered ones are cheaper and have worked fine for >50 years. Regardless of how amazing your product is, if people don’t need it right now, they are not going to buy it. Instead, let potential customers beat your idea in to the ground. Take their blows, but also take notes. You will likely see a pattern evolve after your dreams have been crushed in to the ground for the thousandth time. Let these sales experiences drive (and fund) what your product becomes.
TL;DR => Stop hiding in a fantasy world of product and go out and sell something first. When you’ve got customers beating down your door, then you can go heads down.