It’s been a very busy several months. I have a ton of updates to write about, including my month long reboot trip to South Africa, my brief holiday foray creating a brick and mortar retail business, and my upcoming software platform, ReplyWire. These will come, but now, I want to touch upon the responsibilities of business developers in early stage start ups.
During my lunch walk today, I began pondering about what the next steps are for my new platform, ReplyWire. Beyond the enormous number of technical items left on my punch list, there is something else which takes precedence. Business Development. The questions concerning who is going to buy my product, and how much they are willing to spend on it, is far too important to put off, and not having the answers to these questions makes me really (and rightfully) uncomfortable.
Spending some time reflecting on it, I started to think about the various conversations I’ve had over the years with business founders, mentors, developers, etc. Somethings I hear repeatedly, and I too am guilty of the philosophy as well:
“Business development starts when the beta is ready for use.” ~ Technical side
“I don’t have anything to focus on until the [software] developers come back with something” ~ BizDev side
“We don’t have anything to sell yet, so we are holding of on approaching potential customers” ~ Probably me
Looking from the outside, it’s pretty obvious what’s wrong with these statements, and why I’m feeling uncomfortable. Truth is, business development starts before the first line of code is even written! Before I started ReplyWire, I had two users lined up for the platform. Now unless they are each paying a million dollars a year, two users really isn’t sustainable. But I pushed ahead, creating a mostly functional MVP, pushing of BizDev until I had something I can show.
Alright, that’s fine and dandy, but realistically, someone should have been on the phone, making calls, and lining up meetings, during the whole time. (This is where having a team is important, and wearing all the hats makes progress tedious and exhausting)
So I did a little bit of research and came across an article in the Harvard Business Review, Why Most Product Launches Fail. During the interview, Joan and Julie discuss the failings of products when adequate research has not been done prior to product launch. The product either doesn’t meet the needs of the customers, or there is no demand for the product.
In an effort to give my product some validation, I’m switching more to a BizDev role, and contacting other platform providers which I theorize could make use of ReplyWire, finding out what their needs are, and seeing if my platform would be a good, and sensible, fit.
I’m always getting hung up on the “What is your target market” question. The reality is (I’m guessing), the answer to this question is your best guess until you either prove it, or disprove it, then you make another guess!
In short, the next time you come up with an idea, or come on to an early stage start up, make sure that there is no procrastination on the business development end. There are absolutely important things which need to be done, and that revolves around identifying and reaching out to potential customers, and obtaining early stage feedback. If you wait until launch, there may not be enough resources left for the push, or worse, you may find some of your assumptions are wrong, and now you need to re-tool, adding time and expense to your project.
“When you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain” ~ Unkown