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Adii Pienaar

Now working on Receiptful. Co-Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

Help First, Sell Second

I hate all the things when they aren't efficient.

Efficiency and scaleability are also intertwined in my world, even though I'm not one for advocating the pursuit of scaleability early on in a startup's life.

I still hate the inefficiency.

We have all bought into the "do things that don't scale"-mantra, because Paul Graham said we should.

I get that, but my tummy churns thinking about the prospect of all that manual work needed. Blergh.

I'm also somewhat of a hypocrite though, because I specifically chose to compromise on both efficiency and scaleability in my early days. In my article about how I managed to craft momentum initially with WooThemes, I say:

"There's nothing elegant, scaleable or even realistic about cold calling. But it works."

That much is true.

Yet whenever I've done anything even remotely new in the last year, I've always tried to streamline things. To find greater efficiency and to minimize the manual work required. Not because I'm inherently lazy, but I had gotten so used to doing things at scale (comfort zone much?).

A couple of months ago, I decided to truly put my feelings and opinions (about manual work, efficiency and scaleability) to the test and I did the unthinkable.

I sent this e-mail to 262 people, asking them just one simple question: How can I help you?

To make matters worse, I posed a bit of a mock-challenge that I'd be willing to help them in any way that I can.

I wanted people to e-mail me with absurd requests, because I wanted to be challenged.

So what happened after I sent the e-mail?

25 people responded and essentially started a conversation with me about whatever challenges they were experiencing. On average, I had to send 3.28 e-mail responses (82 in total) to these 25 people during those conversations.

Because I knew from the beginning that this was never gonna scale, I purposefully tried to keep my responses as short as possible (mostly a paragraph with 3 - 5 sentences) and I attempted to move the conversation along as quickly as possible too. The longest thread required 18 responses (of which some where one-liners), whereas the average thread lasted for between 2 and 4 responses.

At this point, you may be wondering why I did this.

As mentioned earlier, I was curious about what would happen if I did this. I also wanted to run the experiment to challenge my own views (and comfort zone) about manual work. Especially if that manual work involved everyone's favourite hobby: e-mailing.

My aim was also purely altruistic; I didn't have a plan in mind beyond actually just helping other people. For free too.

What happened next surprised me though.

A couple of weeks after this e-mail, I had started working on a slight pivot for PublicBeta changing the focus to Mastermind groups.

After a great response initially when I marketed this pivot to the PublicBeta mailing list, I also followed up with all 25 people that I interacted with as a result of my "How can I help you?" e-mail. This is what that follow-up e-mail looked like:

Hi xxx,

I'm sending you this e-mail as a further extension of my initial offer to help you with anything. :)

I' m currently putting Mastermind Groups for Entrepreneurs together and I thought that you might actually find that very helpful. Here's all of the details:

Let me know if you're interested.

The result? I actually got 7 signups at $50 per month, which represents $350 in MRR.

So looking at some simple maths:

  • 82 e-mail responses;
  • Assuming each response took 2 minutes, that's a total of 164 minutes (or almost 3 hours);
  • That suggests a hourly income of about $100 if I only calculate the first month; and
  • And if all 7 of those people stayed involved for at least 6 months, my hourly income would jump to about $600.

Not bad for 6 hours' work. :)

Here's what I learnt from this experience:

  • Anyone can get ahead by doing even the tiniest things that don't scale.
  • $350 in MRR doesn't make a sustainable business, but considering the time / cost requirement (3 hours of my time), it's a no-brainer.
  • Always help the people (that are within your target audience) first. This creates value before they have to pay for it, which in turn creates trust.
  • Doing this you are creating your own, direct social proof.

What can you do today to do that little bit extra for someone else?

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