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Why You Should Sell First, Build Later

The Grind

Editor's Note: The Grind is a weekly column that asks a revolving cast of young founders to take us through the daily rigors of running a business, as well as offer up advice on how they achieved milestones or overcame challenges. Follow The Grind on Twitter with the hashtag #ENTGrind.

Why You Should Sell First, Build Later
Image credit: theminimalists.com

While many startups are focused on being the fastest to launch their product and get it to market, I have taken a different approach - one focused on the sale, not development.

For my startup Alumnify, a platform focused on alumni engagement, we are still a month or so away from launching at our first university. But instead of focusing on the actual development, we are spending our time cold calling and pitching clients. 

For those in the midst of getting their startup off the ground, here is why I believe you should spend less time on pushing out a product and more on selling the concept.

Customers take meetings without a product. I know this sounds crazy, but you'll be amazed at what deals you can make just by picking up the phone and asking your customers what problems they have and demonstrating how your product can offer a solution. For Alumnify, we've been able to setup 11 university meetings and already have our first pilot client set for our initial release. This was all done before the demo of our product was even completed. 

Related: Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes: User Feedback Is Everything

When you're a startup, many times you're competing with companies that have a more sophisticated product than you. When you're pitching a not fully developed product, focus on your vision and how you're going to be able to make their lives easier. If you can sell them on the vision, you can establish an early relationship to capitalize on when your product is ready.

Clients can help in the development process. For our first client, we didn't build a demo with a bunch of features they may not need. Instead, we asked them what their main pain points were and took their feedback into consideration when designing.  

Now, none of us make edits to our platform unless we have data to back it up. We rack up over 120 cold calls a day, and whether we're able to set a meeting with a university or not, we ask each school a series of questions to try and spot patterns in responses.  We don't ask our customers what we should build, instead we clearly identify the problem they are having and use our innovation to find solutions to only those problems.

Related: The Golden Rule of Starting Up: Product-Market Fit

There is a quicker feedback loop. A lot of startups look to classify people as "tech" or "business." We don't work that way - everyone is selling. The development team needs to take the time to find out what customers want before they start building. The best way for them to do this is to speak directly to potential customers.

By putting so much focus on understanding your customer and getting initial clients, you'll be able to break into your market and build early case studies of how your product is performing. This will allow you to go through the customer feedback loop that much quicker and keep your startup engine moving!

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

AJ Agrawal is the CEO and co-founder of Alumnify. an alumni-engagement platform.

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