In early August I launched my first product, an all-natural, plant-based, probiotic protein powder. But it wasn't easy.
In the 18 months leading up to the launch, I experienced every trial, tribulation and startup cliché/buzzword imaginable (think: “pivoting,” “minimum viable product,” “growth hacking,” etc.).
Here are four of the most important lessons I learned, and how you can use them to turn your idea into a business.
1. Get lots of feedback (from the right people).
How do you know your idea is something people actually want? I found it was equal parts intuition and objective validation. First, your idea should obviously address an unmet need in the market -- what can your proposed product do for the end user that others can’t? If you can’t answer this question, start over.
Once you land on an idea you think might work, run it by other people. Go beyond friends and family -- “I love it!” is not constructive, objective feedback. I talked to the most successful entrepreneurs I knew, cold-called and emailed entrepreneurs in my industry, asked for candid feedback on start-up blogs and forums, conducted surveys on my website and got as much input as possible from a handful of mentors and advisers.
My first idea got picked apart. So did my second. I had to start over, and it was tough. But gaining feedback was also a critical part of the product development process that saved me thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time pursuing an idea that was likely destined to fail.
2. Do the work.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Begin it now.”
-- Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
The next phase is to turn your idea into a product. Rule No. 1: Make your idea so great people can’t ignore it. The key here is to stop thinking and start doing as much as you can, yourself (getting help where you need it, of course). I spent six months coming up with different ingredient-combinations and testing them with healthy people I knew. I built my own website.
Rule No. 2 is to do hands-on work to learn about your product. In my own case, I hand-packaged the first 500 bags of my protein powder, which gave me a huge amount of information about this part of the process I'd had no knowledge of before. Here's another simple strategy I used to get a good amount of work done: I bought a planner and wrote down the top three-to-five things I wanted to accomplish each day. Forget about everything else; cross off each item as you complete it. Do this every day, and in 12 to 18 months, you will have a product ready to launch.
3. Deliver immense value for your first 100 customers.
If you spend the necessary time and effort on numbers 1 and 2, you will have a product to launch. Regardless of your launch strategies and tactics, make a concerted effort to surprise and delight your first 100 customers. This is where you should spend most of your time during the first few weeks.
I wrote a thank-you card and personal email to my first 100 customers, sent them bonus recipes with their shipments and added them to my VIP email list, to whose members I deliver my best content. I asked for feedback, answered their questions in a timely manner and made it my number one priority to make sure my product was making their lives better. I knew that if I could do this for 100 customers, I would have proof that my business was sustainable.
4. Find a healthy balance.
I was juggling the arrival of my first child, working full-time at my “real job” and working on my business. But I still made time to exercise three-to-four days a week, eat healthy and spend time with friends and family on Friday or Saturday nights.
Healthy entrepreneurs are more likely to be successful entrepreneurs. I truly believe that. So, I made it a habit each day to do something physical (exercise/eat healthy), mental (read/write/learn), emotional (spend time with family/friends) and spiritual (reflect/pray/give thanks). I tracked these four things every day in my planner, and they made all the difference (thanks to James Altucher for the inspiration).
If you too follow these four ideas, your odds of turning your product idea into an actual business will increase exponentially. There will be roadblocks aplenty along the way. But you will be well equipped to handle them.
And launching your product will be one of the most fun, challenging, exhilarating times of your life.
Don’t forget to enjoy the ride.