We have two distinct areas in our brain. One is responsible for emotions, and the other for rational reasoning. Whenever you have to make a choice between binge-watching Netflix and working on a presentation that’s due tomorrow, the two parts of your brain compete with each other.
The rational part of the brain tries to reason with you. It tells you that the earlier you start working, the better results you’ll have, and the more time you’ll have to work out any kinks and details. It also reminds you how important your presentation is for your long-term success — if you persuade stakeholders today, you’ll be one step closer to your desire, be it a promotion or signing a new contract for your business.
The emotional part of the brain doesn’t care about the future. It lives for today. Why do something boring to reserve a little happiness for some unknown future, when you can get a quick boost of dopamine right now without doing any work at all? It’s all about the instant gratification. There’s the TV remote on the coffee table — just take it. The closer we are to something we want, the harder it is to resist the urge as the emotional system increases dopamine levels and takes over. Eventually, when that system calms down, we tend to regret our choice.
Short- and Long-Term Wins
Launching a startup is stressful. It takes a lot of thinking, planning and hard work in the beginning. The risks are high. You don’t know if the investment of time and money is worth it, and if the launch will end up being an embarrassment or not. But the hardest part is that you have to undergo high levels of stress over long periods of time. It takes months to refine an idea and come up with an action plan for a SaaS product, and then even more time to build its first version.
Sure, you can grit your teeth and grind through it, but you will put yourself at risk of burnout. I know this because I’ve been there. There were times when I was so exhausted just before a launch that I was ready to quit and go to work for someone else for the rest of my life. At least I wouldn’t have to sleep for four hours a day and deal with an endless amount of day-to-day problem…all for the sake of some bigger goal that I wasn’t sure was realistic at all.
That’s when I started to realize the importance of getting quick, short-term wins to balance out the stress of working for a long-term goal. With quick rewards and visible progress that you make every week, it’s much easier to motivate yourself to move forward — and eventually reach your long-term win.
Quick Wins and Rewards
Ever since I discovered the audience-first approach, taught by Amy Hoy and Seth Godin, my world has turned upside down. I realized that all my marketing efforts were wrong. Instead of building an audience first and then creating a product for it, I was doing things backwards. Like most founders, I was building a product first, because the building part was what I enjoyed the most. And then I was trying to find out if I could sell it.
The audience-first approach is great, but it can be extremely overwhelming for a SaaS founder. Building an audience is as long and risky as building a product itself. Sure, you don’t have to invest that much money into this process as you would in product development, but the outcome is a lot less clearer.
That’s why I think it’s important to balance long-term audience-building efforts like social media and content marketing with quick wins that you can get with direct outreach.
While building an audience might take you anywhere from a few months to few years, you can easily reach out to your first 20 potential customers directly. Not only will this reassure you that your goal is worth pursuing, but they will act as a foundation for your bigger audience.
Why Reaching Out Directly Is Important
When starting a business, we tend to think in big numbers. It’s easy to say that there are millions of dog owners in the world who are a potential audience for your dog training app. It’s much harder to find 20 people who will actually pay you for your app. This is true for any business, not just SaaS.
If there’s only one area you could focus on at the early stages of your startup, it’s figuring out who your audience is. And I don’t mean just naming your demographics, like, “women in their 30s” or “white-collar office workers who commute daily.” People are different. Demographics don’t describe an audience.
How to Define Your Perfect User
Defining your perfect user is extremely important. But unfortunately, there’s no magic formula and no single key to succeeding at this. But there are places you can start.
Here are two major ways of finding your perfect users:
Research online communities. Join forums and Slack groups where your audience hangs out. Try to provide value to them and become a member of their community. Then reach out to people directly and tell them what you’re doing and ask if they’re interested or not. It works especially well if you can help someone who has a related problem and then offer your idea as an alternative solution. Just don’t be too promotional, or people will be turned off.
Use your private network. This is the most common answer I got when I was researching strategies for finding early customers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes you don’t want to risk your relationships or embarrass yourself by sharing a half-baked idea with your network. Sometimes you just don’t know the right people and don’t want to ask for introductions. But otherwise, it’s an easy and the most straightforward way to get early users and help people you know solve their problems.