This is a guest post by Noah Kagan. Noah is the founder of AppSumo and built two multi-million dollar online businesses before turning 28.
When most people think about starting an ecommerce business, they have a vision of selling some amazing product that will enable them the freedom to work on something they truly enjoy. But despite early enthusiasm, sometimes they end up not taking action.
So what happens to these people?
- They don’t have any idea of what to sell
- Worrying about failing prevents them from starting
- They have an idea but are not sure what to do next
Does that sound like you? Don’t worry. We’re going to show you some meaty and actionable stories of how two people were able to start their own ecommerce businesses without spending any money.
What problem were you facing?
I injured my back and realized the importance of having good posture during rehab. Since I sat in an office chair all day for engineering work, I decided to make a product for myself. When I realized it was helping me, I wanted to help others too.
Brian’s product helps you have better posture and ultimately a happier back while you’re sitting at your desk all day.
How did you determine people wanted to buy your product?
Simple. I validated the idea by asking people to buy before I started making them. Pre-sales is a powerful strategy that helps you ensure there's real demand for your product and minimizes financial risk. Also, I had faith in my product's ability to help people with their posture because I was the first client (which sounds very Hair Club for Men, but it's true).
Too many people spend too many hours scouring Alibaba, doing market research and wondering if people will buy the product they want to sell. Pre-sales helps reduce those assumptions and gets you moving forward faster with your business.
How did you create the first version of your product?
My product is about posture, and my PT and chiropractor suggested a foam roll laid along my spine. I did some measurements on how much my shoulders relaxed when using a foam roll, picked up a hacksaw, and started experimenting. In short, I failed a bunch with the first prototype. In fact, it gave one of my early customers a migraine (not the intended effect, oops!) It would have been easy to give up right there, but I knew that success was through a forest of failures, and got to iterating.
The early versions of the Backplane
What were the core takeaways you had from this process?
- Pre-sales (see above).
- Get over your fear of failure (yes, it is stopping you from success).
- Focus on fundamentals: Ask people what their problems are, identify a solution, pre-sell it, over-deliver with execution, go where the customers are, and show them how it solves their problem.
Most people focus on the solutions instead of identifying the problems people want solved. Make sure to work backwards from the needs of your potential customers (including yourself).
What were the biggest roadblocks you faced starting your business?
Convincing people it will work before they buy was solved with video and testimonials. Some folks also have an issue with my product not being made of fancy materials. I'm more of a guy that cares if something works. To keep my costs down, I keep things simple.
Your product will NEVER be perfect. Focus on finding people who want it and then you can evolve your product to be better over time. Think about the first generation iPod vs the current iPhone 5s!