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Mar 25 2013

Build Your Product, Then Your Business

You’ve spent weeks obsessing over it, turning it over in your head and convincing yourself that this thing is going to be so good, so disruptive, that the only thing between you and a Google acquisition is the chore of getting the damn thing off the ground.

How do you go about executing?

If you follow the advice of most “10 Things You Need To Do Before Launching Your Startup” articles, here’s how it goes down:

First, you incorporate your business. Google won’t acquire you unless you’re a real company, right? You need that “Inc.” after your company name.

Next, you file a bunch of patents, and draft up a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Anyone that you agree to mention the idea to had better sign one of these bad boys before you spill the beans. Gotta protect those ideas.

You’ll have to make sure you get a lawyer to help you through this process, by the way. Preferably someone who works for a big firm with big clients (and big billing rates to match). Maybe that way, people will take you more seriously.

Finally, before you set out to build your product, you need to scope it out with a detailed roadmap. You can only fit so many features into the first iteration, so make sure you fill that thing out for the next few years; otherwise, you’re flying blind.

Also, figure out your pricing strategy, map out your user acquisition model, perfect your pitch and compile it all into a comprehensive business plan.

Now you’re ready to get to work…right?

Let’s take a step back: if you followed the advice above (and so many of us have), do you know what you just did? You just spent months of valuable time, thousands of dollars and a boatload of effort making your business “official”, and you might not even have a single line of code to show for it.

What’s the problem?

Too many people with brilliant ideas focus on building organizations, not products. Yes, it’s true that any successful business will be, well, a business. But very few successful businesses start out as a stack of paperwork.

Instead, try this approach:

You’ve got an idea, and you can feel it in your gut; it’s a good one.

The inspiration that comes with getting excited about your idea is a beautiful thing. Don’t waste it on busywork. Channel that energy into rolling up your sleeves and turning your idea into an actual minimum viable product. Yes, it will probably be crude, and unfinished, and it won’t nearly live up to your wildest dreams, but it will be real. And you can take that product and show it to anyone and everyone. Take their feedback with many grains of salt, but listen to how different people react. Figure out who the right market is, and how you can improve and iterate the product to be more valuable for them.

Take things one step at a time, but always be stepping forward with a focus on getting your product in user’s hands to either prove or disprove there is a need for your offering.

The faster you can get that answer, the better your chances are of capturing a market or pivoting and testing new hypotheses.

Resources spent actually building an MVP are an investment in testing the viability of your idea. Resources spent on filing fees, legal advice and other professional services are a cost that, at this early stage, get you no closer to your goal. And even worse, they’re a distraction and an obstacle to achieving what you’re ultimately trying to do: build something.

And therein lies the lesson: if you want your idea to be official, go ahead, do everything that you’re supposed to do. But if you want your idea to be a product, then build it. Simple as that.

—David Berube (@dtb)

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