Three years before Skype, one of the fastest-growing Internet communities of the new millennium was born, I launched my own (lesser-known) startup called VideoMosaic. It was a multi-person video conferencing solution that, in my early entrepreneurial assessment, far exceeded the capabilities of Microsoft’s now-defunct NetMeeting, which was the only viable alternative at the time.
After being turned down by nearly a dozen VCs, I succumbed to the reality that perhaps with only 15 percent of the global population having access to high-speed internet at the time, my dream of connecting colleagues and peers through video was not likely going to happen.
It’s not that the idea or technology behind it wasn’t viable—Skype proved that a mere five years later when it amassed 115 million users and sold for $2.5 billion—simply put, we were too early.
There’s a reason it’s said that every entrepreneur fails three times before they succeed—or 36 in the case of the ever-resilient Arianna Huffington. Most entrepreneurs don’t fail because their idea isn’t good, they fail because their timing is off. For anyone considering their first venture, or their third, here are three go-to-market tips that I learned the hard way.
Test Before You Impress
One of the best ways to determine if the timing is right for your product is to test your intended market. No focus group or volume of market research can replicate the valuable feedback you will receive from a real community with a genuine interest in the problem you are trying to solve.
Many entrepreneurs, myself included, have made the mistake of waiting until a product is designed, branded, and neatly packaged before they put it out to market. The problem is, the further along you are in the development, the harder it becomes to incorporate feedback from your intended users.
Don’t miss your window to test. Go out with an alpha as soon as you have a minimum viable product (MVP). Even better, open-source a version of your MVP, and take the time to improve your product based on user feedback. Not only will you gain valuable insights but you’ll seed the beginning of a community that’s invested in the journey.
Less Talking, More Doing
These days everyone has a personal platform to broadcast from and there is no shortage of thought leaders, growth hackers, or activist leaders. The problem is when you’re talking, you’re not doing and in the startup world, this is a deadly sin.
Too often, we reward our employees who are the first to pipe in with intelligent debate around company vision, product direction, or competitive analysis when instead we should be rewarding the employees who are quietly putting ideas into action.
Yes, it’s important to theorize and engage your team in dialogue about strategy and due diligence, but there is no substitute for heads-down work. Unfortunately in the early stages of a novel business, too many hours are spent in dialogue, rather than building. Your product is never going to be perfect, so you might as well get started.
Be Prepared to Start All Over Again
Before it was the most popular video sharing site on the Internet, YouTube launched its product as a dating site with the unofficial slogan “Tune In, Hook Up.”
It wasn’t until its founders came to the profound realization that their users had better ideas for how to use their platform than they did, that they made the pivot to allow them to upload their own content. Only then, was the TV equivalent of the social media world, born.
Some of the greatest business successes derive from pivoting in the direction of user feedback. If you’re nimble and flexible around your ideas from the start, you’ll be better primed to tap into what your market is telling you and evolve with the changing landscape.
If you’re operating from a “failure is not an option” mentality, you may be limiting your success. Yes, we all want to succeed, but sometimes the lessons learned in rebuilding are the quickest pathway there. It’s true Mosaic never became the Skype or Zoom of its time, but without it, these hard and true lessons would have never been learned.