Going to Market
You have found your co-founders and are on your way to writing your problem statement and building your MVP. Your initial tests of the MVP with family and friends have gotten positive responses. You are now ready to go to market with your product. But, how exactly do you do that?
SELL, SELL, SELL
Let’s start with the first idea - be prepared to do a lot of selling.
I graduated from law school in 1993 and I got my license to practice law in 1994.
I thought that all I need to do is to be the best lawyer that I can be and I will be successful. Boy was I wrong! I was very lucky in that I started my legal career at one of the biggest law firms in the world. My law firm not only taught me how to be a good lawyer but more importantly, it taught me how to be a good salesman. Don't get me wrong, we did not have a "Selling 101" course at the firm. But, during our monthly performance review with our supervising partners, us lowly associates were constantly reminded to up our games in not just clocking in more billable hours, we were constantly harangued to go out to market our firm's services and bring in new clients.
“HOW TO BECOME A RAINMAKER”
But, law school really did not teach me anything about the business of law. I was really glad to find this book that totally changed my life - “How to Become a Rainmaker.” A rainmaker is someone who brings rain. I always picture some shamans dancing around a fire and praying to the Gods to ask for rain for the farmers.
In business, a rainmaker is someone who brings a lot of business to the company. This book taught me how to become that person. In short, it taught me how to go to market with my services.
I learnt from the early days of my career that I have to sell my services. Customers do not just drop from the sky. I needed to let people know I was here. I also needed to let them know that I know something about intellectual property laws and I could provide them with my services at a certain price.
In order to sell my services, I wrote and published a lot of legal articles about intellectual property laws. I also went to a lot of legal conferences to speak about intellectual property laws. I gave interviews to newspapers and magazines. I even cold-called potential clients to get a chance to pitch to them my services. And needless to say, I also did a lot of drinks and had a lot of meals with my potential clients to sell them my services.
Fast forward to 2014 when I left eBay to become a public affairs consultant, I had to do the same things that I did back in 1994 when I was a rookie lawyer. Clients do not just walk in through the door by themselves. I needed to go out there to sell my services.
Even when I decided to become a full-time angel investor and startup advisor in 2016, I needed to get the word out that I am looking to invest in tech startups. So, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to be prepared to do a lot of selling.
In my more than 20 years working in different roles, I have never encountered anything which sold by itself. Even when I was working for Louis Vuitton, I went through a 3 months sales training at our stores in Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore to learn how to sell.
In other words, to be successful, you have to sell.
STEVE JOBS SELLING IPAD
I just want to end my first point by once again talking about Apple and Steve Jobs. If you still do not believe that SELLING is an important part of going to market, watch any YouTube videos of Steve Jobs at any Apple launch event. Watch how hard Steve Jobs had to work to sell.
And by the way, to be a good sales person, you need to practice, practice and then practice some more your sales pitch. Just so you know, Steve Jobs typically took 4 - 6 weeks to prepare for 1 product launch event. And during that time, he would practice on stage up to 20 times before he was satisfied. So, practice your sales pitch.
Now, let’s move on to the 2nd point - the power of the Internet.
POWER OF THE INTERNET
Before the Internet, to bring your product to market, you need to get them onto a physical store shelf. The shelf could be in your own shop. Or it could be at a trade fair. Or a departmental store. And to make sure a lot of people know about your product, you need to get on TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. It did not matter whether you were selling a physical product or a service, those were the channels you had to get on to sell whatever you were selling.
With the Internet, things are a lot easier and cheaper these days. You can do both your marketing and sales with the Internet. If you are offering a web-based service, it is as simple as building the website and launching it. Then, it is about using all the social media and digital marketing tools out there to drive traffic to your site, convert those traffic into customers and engage the customers sufficiently that they will become your fans. You will then use some sort of promotion code that your customers can share with their friends to drive more sales to your site.
However, let’s assume you are not offering an online or mobile product. Perhaps you have created something which you think is the coolest-looking thing in the world. How do you go about getting people to buy your creation? The traditional method will be to try to get shelf-space at a departmental store, a shopping mall or even a weekend market.
But, that’s not how the founder of Gymshark went about going to market. Instead, he leaned on the Internet big-time for both his sales and marketing.
Gymshark was founded by Ben Francis and Lewis Morgan in the U.K. in 2012. In less than 10 years, Ben and Lewis have built an apparel company that is now valued at USD1.3 billion. And they did it with their savvy use of the Internet. Gymshark is only sold via their ecommerce website. They have no physical stores at all.
But, the most unique thing about Gymshark was how the founders went about getting their products to the market. You have to remember that back in 2012, when Gymshark started, no one knew anything about influencer marketing. Although YouTube has already been around for a few years, Instagram was barely 2 years old and people were using it primarily to share photographs of their travels and/or their cats.
The Gymshark founders started off by sending their fitness wear to people they followed on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. They did not pay these people any money in the beginning because... well, they were a startup and had no money! But, they gave away their apparels for free to these fitness YouTubers, Instagrammers and Facebookers to wear. The only thing these social media users had to do was to share their opinions about Gymshark apparels on their social media feeds. Gymshark called these early users of their apparels "Gymshark Ambassadors".
GYMSHARK INFLUENCERS POSTS
These Gymshark Ambassadors who received free Gymshark gym wear in the mail then started wearing the products and posting their opinions about Gymshark on their social media accounts. Before long, the followers of these social media users started coming to Gymshark’s website and social media accounts to look around and they started to buy.
Needless to say, there is plenty of hard work that the Gymshark founding team had to put into designing, making and shipping out great products. But, on the marketing front, the Gymshark team also worked hard to educate and engage the people coming to their website and social media accounts. The Gymshark team continues till today with this influencer marketing strategy by working with a select group of influencers they now call Gymshark Athletes.
In the tech industry, we have to do the same thing. Even if we are developing software, going to market requires the founders to go out to sell the software. Take for example a startup I have invested in - it is called TENX. The product they were selling was a crypto-wallet. What it did was that it allowed TENX users to spend whatever cryptocurrencies they might have in the real world with the TENX mobile app (Note: TENX has now pivoted to a new business and no longer offers the crypto-wallet).
So, let’s say you bought some bitcoin from a crypto exchange. You see that the bitcoin prices are going up like crazy and you decide that you will use your bitcoins to buy that dream car. But no car dealers would accept your bitcoins. So, your only choice is to sell the bitcoins on a crypto-exchange, convert it to fiat currency and then use it to go to the car dealer to buy your dream car.
But, if you had a TENX wallet and you loaded your bitcoins into your wallet, you could go down to the car dealer and if they had a credit card reader that accepted VISA card, you could just tap your mobile phone on that reader, TENX would convert the bitcoin to fiat currency at the prevailing rate and you would have paid for your dream car.
Sounds like an awesome product, right? But, when the founders launched TENX in 2016, they had to do a lot of marketing to get people to first understand how cryptocurrency works. Second, how TENX works. So, they did a lot of talks. They did some videos showing how they bought coffee at Starbucks with the TENX wallet. They were also very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook to get people to know about and trust TENX.
You need to learn how to use the Internet to sell and market your product - whether it be a tech product or not. Because your competitors are all on the Internet. If you are not on the Internet, no one can find you.
Right, on to the third and last idea - move fast, break things and learn fast.
MOVE FAST, BREAK THINGS, LEARN FAST
Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook supposedly said this line, “Move fast, break things.” If he did, he is absolutely right.
Launching a product is usually not a straight forward, one-shot deal. It typically involves a lot of mistakes, failures and detours along the way. The key is to get to the market as quickly as you can, track your users’ reactions to your products, figure out the mistakes as quickly as you can and make changes to your products. So, to Mark’s “Move fast, break things.” mantra, I would add that you also need to “Learn fast.”
The great thing about having an active online presence when you are launching your product is that it is a 2-way interaction. Traditional method of marketing is mostly one way. You host a product launch event, release a press kit, invite some journalists to cover the launch event and hopefully generate some positive press coverage. But, if you are online with both a website and a few social media accounts, you will get comments from your followers very quickly. They may or may not be your customers but you will be able to see how people are reacting to your product in real time.
Using the Gymshark example again, they started off just doing menswear. Then, they started seeing women wearing their menswear and commenting how much they liked those menswear and wishing aloud that Gymshark would make something specifically for women. Guess what, Gymshark went into womenswear big time. Today, womenswear is as big a business for Gymshark as their menswear. That is moving fast and learning fast.
MANY VERSIONS OF IPHONES
Again, in the technology world, we see multiple versions of a product, software or service being offered over time to customers. The newer versions would always improve on the earlier ones. Just think about how many iPhones you have bought over the years from Apple.
So, companies do not aim to come up with the perfect product before they introduce it into the market. Instead, they launch what they believe is “good enough”, let real people use it in real world conditions, learn what works and what doesn’t, then come up with a new and improved version and then sell it to the market again in 12 - 18 months’ time. And they continuously do this over many years.
Needless to say, running a successful company takes more than just sales and marketing. There are other equally important things like production, logistics, customer service, finance, human resource, and so on.
In this post, I am only talking about getting the business off the ground. As you grow your business, those other things become more and more important. But before you get to that stage, you need to learn how to sell.