Embrace the Soft Launch
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Let's just say it -- when you’re self-funded, you can’t afford a big launch.
Startups have been immersed in this “launch culture” lately, and it seems to be growing. There is a pervasive belief that your business will fail unless it takes off overnight. That’s probably true if you’re VC-backed, but even for successful businesses mediocre launches are pretty much the norm.
Most self-funded entrepreneurs should disregard the idea of a launch. There is rarely a clean line between the product development phase and the selling phase. If you expect that line to be there, it’s going to hurt your business.
If you place too much emphasis on your product, without getting feedback from your audience, your product is likely to fall flat. The more involved your audience is in the product development phase, the more psychological ownership they will take in the company. This will likely turn them into loyal customers and evangelists for your brand.
Embrace the idea that, right now, “ramen profitable” is success. Focus on profit, no matter how meager, before you dedicate your mental faculties to things like scalability. Your business model while you are ramen profitable doesn’t even need to resemble your ultimate business model. Nothing is more important than figuring out how to earn a profit from your business.
Something clicks when you stop thinking about building your empire and start working with actual customers. You begin to see all the little tweaks you need to build a more successful product. You realize this isn’t theoretical anymore. You’re actually in business. You stop trying to think your way to the top because you realize it all comes down to what you do.
There’s some debate which comes first, improving the product or building the audience. The obvious answer in the past was almost always the product but this isn’t necessarily the right answer these days. Both approaches work. The important thing is that you focus on either a minimally viable audience or a minimally viable product. When you have one, focus on the other. You need both for profitability.
Don’t waste time trying to build an elaborate selling framework (unless your product is the e-commerce platform itself). Just get on Shopify and start selling. Don’t start by trying to sell your product to faceless masses using AdWords, or even guest posts. Hustle your product like a door-to-door salesman. I’m not saying you need to literally go door-to-door but, frankly, it’s not a bad idea. Start by selling to individuals, preferably influential ones.
When you do make a sale, become that customer’s best friend. Make the experience personal and genuine. Get to know them, ask what worked for them, and what didn’t. Learn everything you can about the customer's experience and how you can imrove it. It is not time to think about scaling right now.
The “soft launch” or “ramen profitable” phase is when you stop operating a venture and begin learning to operate a business. You refine your product before mass production or big investments and, crucially, fund the growth of your business without taking on debt.
Related: Self-Financing Your Startup
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