This post was written by Anthony Bosschem and we are re-posting it here because it's awesome! Please go and read his blog and follow him on twitter (links at the end of the post) - Ben
People often ask me what they need to do to get funding. I always give the same answer: sell your product, without having the product. It’s the only way to really prove your idea is worth an investment, and it’s a great way for yourself to find out if your idea is worth your investment.
I realize it’s not easy. I’ve done it, and at times it was a frustrating experience. On the other hand, it taught me a lot about my target audience, pricing model and product. For free. That’s why I would like to share how I’ve done it. Not as a “six-step-program-to-get-a-customer”. But to inspire*, and to have you hack your own way towards that first magical customer.
A simple landing page, stating our value proposition and a form to subscribe to our mailinglist.
I was hoping for a 15% conversion ratio to validate the problem I was solving, so the 17,5% was a modest confirmation of my value proposition. 60% of the subscribers were from advertising agencies, 30% were clients and 10% were students or press.
What I did wrong:
The hardest part. I e-mailed the 330 people on the list asking for a meeting to discuss the problem and pitch my idea. After a lot of reminders and follow-up calls, I was able to score 25 meetings.
These are the survey questions I came up with:
These are the slides I used to demonstrate our solution:
The 25 respondents were kind enough to give me honest and sometimes harsh feedback. It turned out I was wrong about many assumptions I made concerning the product. (I was convinced it had to look like a funnel. Everyone disagreed.) I also noticed people didn’t lack data. They just didn’t know what to do with it, or how to get the insights they were looking for from that data. This was an insight we could build on.
The people who signed up as customers were a direct or indirect part of my network. People who had no connection with me whatsoever lacked the trust to sign on in this early stage. I added a task in our CRM to follow-up with them in a few months. Some of them signed on when we had something more than a few wireframes.
What I did wrong:
I hustled my way to four sales. Only one problem: there was no product for the customers to use. Two freelancers were going to build the first version of the product, which would automatically collect data from API’s (Facebook, Google Analytics, Twitter, Adwords, …), process that data, and visualize it on a dashboard. The problem was it would take them 12 weeks to build, and I only had one week.
In what I remember as a creative but sweaty meeting, we decided to scrap everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. The end-result was pretty down-to earth: the front-end worked like it had to, but the entire back-end was replaced by me, the copy paste monkey. I would wake up every morning, log in to every analytics account of our customers, and copy paste their data manually into Darwin Analytics. By the time our customers woke up, they could log into Darwin Analytics, and have all the data they needed.
It’s safe to say this way of working was not scalable. But it’s not like people were banging on our doors screaming for Darwin Analytics.
What I did wrong:
After the first four customers we got a seed investment (200k) and some government funding (50k) for the research we are doing. 3 people are working for Darwin Analytics full-time, and we are looking for two more to join us. At the time of writing, we have 11 clients using the product. Some of them have become true Darwin Analytics fans, which makes working on the product even more fulfilling.
Our test-driven approach remains one of the things that defines us most. Right now we’re testing our marketing with paid advertising and different landing pages, and we’re using usage data from clients to change our product. I’ll write more about this later.
If there are some general rules I would share with you after these first few months, these would be it:
*A lot of people deserve credit for being an inspiration. Check them out at the Darwin Analytics karma page.
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