I speak at conferences around the country, have a hundred meetings a year with clients, teachers, students and investors, so when I say that I’m an introvert, people often look at me skeptically. The fact is that I was always very much of a loner when I was younger. Right out of graduate school, after my first graduate degree, I was an industrial engineer writing software to monitor factory performance.
After, I earned a Ph.D. and became a professor, my plan was to work my way into a research position and spend 90% of my life in my office with my data and my computer. When my husband had his accident, I needed to expand my consulting company because all of a sudden I needed to be making both incomes for our two-income lifestyle that included three children.
When 7 Generation Games started, I was half of the software development team, and I was happy about that. Soon, though, I learned the secret that all start-ups need to find out if they want to stay in business – the biggest threat to a new business is anonymity. No one knows who you are and no one cares about you or your business. It’s nothing personal. For it to be personal, they’d need to know you exist.
Over and over, I see start-ups that spend a lot of time and money making a product that may or may not be brilliant. We’ll never know because it never gets finished.
This is how software gets made …
First, you come up with a prototype that kind of works and has all kinds of bugs. Thank you to Tate Topa, Warwick, Ojibwa Indian School and Turtle Mountain Elementary School because I can never thank you enough for being our very first schools.
Lucky for us, teachers are usually kinder than business people. They don’t exactly say, “Your prototype sucks” (although all prototypes in the history of software have sucked). They politely tell you the 1,784 problems with your prototype.
You NEED those initial users and since most people don’t know or care that you exist, it takes a lot of calls, contacts and begging to get those first few users.
Second, you have an alpha version with 1,600 of the original bugs fixed and 879 new bugs that popped up when you fixed the old ones or foolishly added new features.
There are beta testers, for your first mostly working version and then the early adopters of your commercial product. If you made it to this stage you are now starting to see a very small amount of revenue.
How many times have you heard of a product and immediately bought it?
My guess is zero.
That cliche about build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door? Yeah, I call bullshit. How are people in Santiago or South Dakota going to know I make games (or a mouse trap) ?
You hope that people will tell each other about your amazing product?
I was the world judo champion and my MOM still tells people I do karate. I was the best in the world and my mom loves me. Do you seriously think random strangers are going to tell everybody they know about your video editing app that is 20% faster than Photoshop in converting file types?
You need to talk to people
Whether it is finding out what they really think about your shiny new solution or telling them that there is an app that will help kids learn math and English or protect your website from spam or whatever, you need to get their attention and the best way to do that is to talk to them, preferably in person.
However, if that is all you do, you’ll end up with a product that no one has ever heard of, and, to be honest, probably just as well, because without feedback from other people, it’s just going to suit your needs and ” just you” is a pretty small market.