When Neil Patel, one of the best if not the best online marketing tactician of our time, was asked about the tactics, tools and processes he uses to drive traction and exponential growth he answered: creativity. With creativity, he says, we open up a whole new world of possible solutions that take us beyond the existing pool of options and allow us to think for solutions that don’t have to necessarily be in use today. This mind set allows us to create a solution rather than search for one. I decided to start the article with Neil’s logic because it is with this attitude that we will make the right decisions as to how we can reach initial validity under nonscalability before we build for scalability. One may argue, what am I going to be creative about? How can I be creative if I don’t know what to think about? You’re right, the awareness and knowledge stages cannot be burned. But unlike many other stages in the life of a venture and the career of an entrepreneur, these two stages are continuous. It is true that we can’t start without a foundation but we can certainly advance without expertise. Today, I will make sure you have the foundation and mindset that will enable you to see existing resources as possible solutions for problems you are looking to solve.
One of Stanley’s good friends, Chloe, owned a restaurant. Stanley wanted to learn more about the restaurant business so he sat with Chloe to discuss the needs that she has and others like her have. According to Stanley, Chloe’s biggest problem at that time was limited delivery capacity. She said that she had tons of orders that she wasn’t able to fulfill because of many reasons with lack of time and human resources being the biggest. Hiring delivery men did not make financial sense so she was doing her best with her current employees to satisfy the largest number of customers she possibly can. Stanley saw an opportunity but didn’t stop there. He spoke with over 150 restaurant owners and, he said, the language and tone the owners used to describe this pain was consistent. Stanley qualitatively validated the need. What did Stanley and his cofounders do next? This is what intrigued me about the story of Stanley. In an afternoon, Stanley created a simple landing page that included his personal phone number, a title “Your Favorite Palo Alto Restaurants Delivered to You”, and menus of restaurants they got from these restaurants’ websites. The last thing Stanley did that same day was sending a message to his email list about the service. The next day Stanley receives a call for an order. The following day he receives 5, the following 7 and the demand grew exponentially. The more interesting part of the story doesn’t end there. Stanley and his cofounders used Apple’s Find My Friend app to track and dispatch each other, they used Google Docs to track and record orders, they used personal emails to send personalized messages to callers, they used Square to receive payment, they used their cars to move from one place to the other, and they used school library to create and print flyers. How much more nonscalable can it be? Stanley and his team built a profitable company with nonscalable tools and ended up receiving a $15 million investment from Sequoia Capital with no product but qualitative and quantitative validation. The venture they initiated is one of the most successful on demand food delivery startups. It is Doordash.
In The Story, I shared the story of one of the entrepreneurs I interviewed who used a smart approach to test the need for his solution. After quickly creating a landing page describing the value proposition with snapshots of user dashboard and features that didn’t exist at the time, him and his team members attended meetups and conferences and interacted with people they believed can benefit from their solution. In their conversations with those individuals, they learned about their needs and existing solutions they use then in a spontaneous way ask, ‘Oh have you used XYZ? I heard they’re the best at…’ The founders did not identify themselves simply to see if those potential users would be truly interested in checking the solution. With just a landing page and this tactic, they attracted a large number of users who joined deliberately and showed interest in using the product by taking the time to fill out a survey and take other actions. With this, the founder who is a lawyer, was able to get in touch with a number of users to whom he can sell his legal services directly while the platform is being developed. Another example of nonscalability that led to profitability and validation without a major investment.
In Risk and Uncertainty, I pretended to be a cook wanting to leverage my passion for cooking to build a profitable restaurant while doing what I enjoy the most. I proposed how I would approach the project using nonscalable tools for validation before investing for confirmation and growth. I suggested that I would use my own kitchen, knock on doors (households and businesses), offer a taste of my food, share my menu and pricing, do the same for a couple of weeks or months and if my phone doesn’t stop ringing, I wouldn’t even bother shopping the next day. I validate the need for my service by leveraging my home and experience in cooking before committing any investment. In fact, this is exactly what one of my relative’s close friends did. They are sisters with passion for baking cakes. They started by using their own apartment to bake the cakes and deliver them to families and friends. They started receiving orders from neighbors, then other households, then event organizers. Care to know what they did with their return? They bought a bigger home. They not only expanded their services by making sure this home has a side room that they turned into a kitchen but also own a beautiful big home that they never imaged owning within this relatively short period of time. Notice here, the sisters don’t even have a landing page. Stanley and his team members could have done the same. They could have knocked on 200 doors a day, shared their contact information and similarly evaluated the need for their solution qualitatively.
By now, you should know that starting a business (technology or non-technology based) isn’t too bad, doesn’t require significant investment, or a PhD or years of experience. I hope that by now you understand that you have no excuse not to get started. Out of all the things that can be paid for or learned, passion is within, either you have it or you don’t. If you do, it takes few hours or a couple of days at most before you can officially start testing the need for your solution and its potential. If you pass that stage, Yes, you will need more resources but let’s take it one step at a time.
In conclusion, it is one quick question that you have to answer: with my proposed solution in mind, what else can I do with the tools and people I use and interact with every day to get my potential buyers to use and feel the solution? What else can I do with my phone, social media accounts, apps, website, car, pen, paper, grocery stores, email, computer, connections, home, school labs, engineering students looking for a projects, etc. to create an environment for intangible products (services) or a prototype for tangible ones that will allow me to live the dream, sometimes within hours, get customer feedback, customer validation, make proper iteration if needed, and others like Doordash’s example where they learned how their dispatch algorithm should look like only because of their hands on experience receiving calls and assigning orders to each other?
The objective of every one of the articles is to help you connect the dots. Most of the arguments and examples I make and use are linked to previous contributions and will be linked to future ones. Knowing what I shared with you so far should have given you a clear framework and educational foundation about the path to leveraging experience to turn ideas into scalable and profitable (technical and non-technical) solutions.
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