The other day I was having a Clarity call with an entrepreneur about generating initial traction for his startup idea. The entrepreneur wanted me to share some of the strategies that we had implemented (with success) at WooThemes over the years. But he had a proviso:
"I know quite a bit about many inbound and outbound marketing strategies and activities, but most of them only work when you already have visitors on your website. I would for example love to use a messaging schedule to increase my conversions, but how do I go about getting those initial visitors on my website?"
He had a point here. Starting up is hard and all of the interwebs has become congested. It definitely is difficult to get noticed.
My suggestion to the entrepreneur was to use some form of cold-calling. His product lent itself to target specific individuals on LinkedIn with an "I've built this thing and think you may like it. Can I tell you a little more?"-type e-mail.
Not the most scaleable or efficient way to get the initial traction, but it's direct and unless you have a really bad product, it's likely to get you that initial traction (worst case scenario, you get some good feedback about your product).
This got me thinking about scaleability and why we've developed such an inherent desire to scale everything we do from Day 1.
In the above example, cold-calling will never scale; it's simply not possible for one entrepreneur to contact thousands of people every day. But initially if it allows you to reach 50 people per day, that's a great start.
I love how 42Floors explains this:
"In fact, when you look at each aspect of our operations, you will find a fairly sophisticated manual operations process predating every piece of technology that we’ve built."
Similarly MyClean manually matched customers and cleaners, because they simply didn't have the technology (or the technical know-how) to do it in an automated and scaleable way. They're doing $4m annually today.
For the first nine months of its operations, CD Baby was 100% hand-coded HTML and every e-mail interaction required manual input.
The Buffer founding team proved that they could launch a business without 5 seemingly essential ingredients; one of which was the very obvious functionality to upgrade from a free to paid account. Instead, the founding team manually upgraded a Buffer user's account when they requested this.
With a similar mindset, Yipit was initially built in only 3 days.
When I asked around in my network, Nathan Kontny told me that before he built Draft, he put up a sales page for a new idea and started taking actual orders (with actual money) before he had a working prototype. Instead he provided the value proposition via a consulting agreement instead, which meant he could manually validate the idea before building the product.
Aardvark took this a step further and literally faked everything until they eventually made it:
"But Aardvark didn’t actually build products right away. The service connects people with questions to those in their broader social network with corresponding answers, but for nine months, a human being was involved in every single interaction — a kind of “Wizard of Oz” that classified the query and otherwise managed the conversation from behind the scenes."
All of the above examples share a few recurring themes:
You'll get to doing the cool stuff eventually; initially though it doesn't have to be pretty and it can be mostly manual. Scale only becomes important a long time after gaining that initial traction.
It's not important to have all the technology to automate things and it is actually possible to adopt a "service-first" approach. In a recent e-mail, Alex Godin summed this up so well: "Some businesses aren't really technology businesses. They're businesses that are enabled by technology, but the core product isn't digital; it's physical."
Outsource the stuff that you don't necessarily need to do yourself or even do at all. Keep your team lean and rather use skills marketplaces such as oDesk, get a virtual assistant on Zirtual or make more time in your life by getting TaskRabbit to take care of your chores. Do whatever you need to do, to get ahead.
Build your business at all costs. Be smart, don't sweat the small stuff and don't try to have all of the best and coolest tech on Day 1.
Be scrappy. Think outside the box. Get help. Don't give up. Be passionate. Let the adrenaline fuel you. Do your best.
And most importantly: swing for the fences.