When speaking with colleague programmers, it seems the majority of them either have concrete plans to start a (side) business of some sort or the ambition to do so someday. When they finally start working on their big idea, marketing/sales in particular, and overall growth in general, are areas they often struggle with. I know I did, and still do. What gives?
Developers are often product people and tend to over-focus on the product itself and its contribution to growth
I have been a software developer myself for more than a decade and I am a product person at my very core. Therefore, I know how hard it is to come to terms with the fact that your actual product has a rather limited contribution to the success of your business. This subject has been talked about in great length in recent years, however many entrepreneurs still make this mistake. The same goes for me. Even though these days I am fully aware of the fact the actual product is just a small part of the overall business and I need to put just as much, if not more, focus on things like customer development, marketing and sales, I find it’s still very easy to go back to putting too much focus on the product instead.
When working on other things, say marketing for example, and I find myself stuck, or things just don’t seem to move in the right direction, I find I still tend to navigate back to working on the product rather than doubling down on the matter at hand and figuring out how to deal with what’s preventing me from moving forward. It makes sense to some extent, coding up new features is familiar territory and especially when you’re feeling like you are not making sufficient progress in other areas, it’s easy to compensate by diving back into the code.
Growing your business means getting out of your comfort zone
I guess wanting to stay in our comfort zones is just human nature. This “get out of your comfort zone” principle would apply to a marketing expert launching a software business and doing the programming work himself, just as well as it does to developers turned entrepreneurs. Being a single founder forces us to wear many hats and we have no choice but to expand our knowledge and skills beyond what we’re already familiar with. For developers turned business owners, this means you will have to be willing to speak to customers, work out marketing strategies, work on your sales funnel, do A/B split testing, learn copywriting, etc. What works well for me personally is to try, as much as possible, to measure the results of your efforts (modern-day technology is awesome), and to aim for, and really and truly enjoy, small wins. Having trouble speaking to customers? Start with talking to just one or two this week. After doing so, take a moment and allow yourself to be proud of the fact you overcame your fears and moved forward. Enjoy that feeling and plan to talk to four customers next week. Rinse and repeat.
Information overload: not knowing where to start
Things don’t often get easier once you learn to be “ok” with being out of your comfort zone. When you make the decision it is time to get serious about marketing and you are ok with the fact you are starting at zero … where do you start? Ever tried typing “online marketing” or “marketing for startups” into Google? It’s a sure fire way to burn out before even getting started! There’s so much information out there these days, it is insane! Don’t get me wrong, it is great that we can find good quality information on pretty much any subject. Especially when you know exactly what you’re looking for, the huge amounts of information are awesome. But when diving into a complex subject for the first time, being bombarded with information does not help, in fact it has made me feel overwhelmed so many times, I have pretty much lost track.
Generally speaking, there is no quick or easy fix to this problem. We somehow have to figure out what information is useful for us right now. Fortunately, when it comes to growing a business, I have recently discovered a growth framework which is simple and elegant and at the same time highly effective. I will be discussing this framework in detail in upcoming posts.
Not enough focus on early customers
Another mistake I myself have made numerous times. In fact, I still feel I am spending too little time talking to customers. Although not a day goes by I don’t interact with customers, I still feel I should be doing it more. I know, I know … talking to customers, or people in general, is not something we programmers typically enjoy. Give us a dark basement and a banged-up Macbook Pro and we’re happy. Tell us to go talk to customers to find out why they purchased our product or service, what problems they are most interested in solving, how they move through the buying cycle, etc., and we quickly lose interest.
There is no denying customers in general, and early customers in particular, hold a wealth of useful information which could unlock your next growth curve. This can be a game changer for any startup, especially those with a single technical founder!
No interest in actually running a business
Last but not least, a large number of programmers starting their own business simply have no interest in running an actual business. Sounds kind of funny, right? But take a second to let that sentence sink in and truly ask yourself if you are doing this because you enjoy running a business or for different reasons (tired of working for your drag of a boss, wanting to be a millionaire, increase your sex appeal, etc.). If you are starting a business selling software or services, simply enjoying building the software or providing the service will not be enough to make you succeed in most cases. Sure, you could get lucky, but chances are you won’t.
To make your business a success, you will need to … well, build and run your business by doing things other than building software or providing a service. There are always going to be certain aspects of running a business that will appeal more to you than other aspects. However, if none of the aspects typically involved with building and running a business appeal to you, you might want to rethink going into business for yourself.