This post is inspired by advice to a fellow entrepreneur. Now all I need to do is follow it myself.
While attempting to build a product, one thing that I got wrong was not narrowing my focus down to a particular set of users. Narrowing down is counterintuitive — founders are supposed to think about scale!
But, when I look at a Facebook and marvel at billions of users, I forget that seeds of success were laid while targeting a few thousand.
If you have access to a few hundred of your prospective users, you have a natural advantage. What one or two (not even three!) problems do they have, that you feel compelled to solve? And are those problems among the enterprises’ top five?
For example, I get a ton of unsoliciated emails from recruitment agencies. But my firm hires less than 5 employees a year. A bigger recruitment pipeline is valuable, but not critical; I am a poor target for these agencies. They would be better served by targeting firms that — driven by high growth or high turnover1 — hire every week (or at least every month).
So, which subset of your prospective users share a common, burning need that you can build for? Something that virtually ensures that they will use what you have built every day2? Something as useful to them as the alarm clock app is to me?
And before you build anything, how much can you fake-build? Here is a self-gratifying example.
In the early days of Lattice, someone asked if we could build them a “auto-pharmacy”. The conversation went something like this.
“Can you build us a drug dispensing machine? Something we can place in a high traffic locations like metro stations.”
“Yes, sure! It will take 4 days. How soon can you get a clearance from the Delhi Metro authorities?”
“4 days. But it will only work with cash.”
“I’ll make a box and stand inside it. When someone pushes a button, and inserts cash, I will dispense medicines and return any change.”
The conversation quickly wrapped up after that.
And for doing all this, you do not need to know how to write a single line of code. You need to live and breathe your users.
And there too, focus only on high growth organizations. No one trusts an agency that places them in high-turnover environments. ↩
Frequency is as imporant as criticality of the problem. With new products, we attempt to change our users’ behavior. And behavior change requires routine reinforcement. An infrequent crisis is hard to solve. ↩