It’s a common saying that in order to run a startup project efficiently you need to be spending 50% of your time selling and the other 50% – building. This advice is usually given because most startup founders are intuitively spending too much time building and too little selling.
The reason for this is that doing sales usually feels extremely uncomfortable to people that don’t have any experience in it. This effect is doubled when you need to sell a product in its very early stages of development when it’s far from presentable. After all, if you are putting your name and reputation behind a product and you are trying to get people to give you money for it, you want it to be as close to perfect as possible.
To inexperienced startup founders, this seems like a perfectly reasonable excuse to delay the sales process and instead to focus on building their product until it is polished and presentable. However, doing this is a trap – it becomes too easy to close yourself from real market feedback and to build something nobody needs, which is the most common reason for the failure of startup projects.
Raid Hoffman famously said, “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”. Although this quote is about launching a new product, it is fully applicable to sales – if you’re not embarrassed to sell your startup’s product, then you’ve likely started the sales process too late.
This might seem a bit counter-intuitive – don’t you want to put forward the best possible version of your product?
If you are thinking about your reputation and how easy it would be to close a sale – then yes. However, the sales process for early-stage startups has another more important purpose – to validate that there is a need in the market for what you are offering. And unfortunately, the only way to do this with a sufficient level of certainty is to try to sell it.
Taking this line of thinking to its logical conclusion would suggest that as an early-stage startup founder you should spend as much time as possible selling rather than building. Then why not spend 100% of your time selling?
The obvious answer to this is that you need to build something in order to have something to sell. However, this is where presales come in to save the day. You can define your offering, build a simple landing page (possibly with a wireframe prototype or explainer video of your product idea), and you can start selling right away.
If you are preselling your product, then at the very beginning of your project you can realistically spend 100% of your time selling without actually building anything.
Of course, you should be open about the fact that you are selling something that isn’t developed yet. This usually means you should offer a money-back guarantee, an incentive, early access, and other perks to justify a financial commitment.
While this can make the sales process more difficult, it has a huge advantage – it allows you to validate your idea and even to receive market feedback before you spend time and resources building, which is the costly part.
Frontloading some discomfort is a very small price to pay if it can save you from the heartbreak and lost time and money of a failed startup project.