To the college freshman I met on the Subway.
You’ve got an idea? Good. Here are a few things I’d say about that.
Alright, so I ran into you the other day on the D train headed to the Bronx after leaving Columbus circle. I was happy to see you, and you looked much older.But the interesting part of that was this: You’ve got an idea. Good, very good to hear that. Okay, I had also just printed my first set of business cards that day for our startup, Kilimanjaro. Thinking back on it, it’s somehow funny we ran into each other that day.
I liked the conversation — the catching up and all — and I liked your thought process on how you came up with your idea. I like the idea itself because the market for it is huge. Millions could use it. Why? Like I told you, about 4 weeks ago, after parking for a few minutes in a restaurant’s parking lot to make a delivery, my car was booted and I got a ticket for it. The cost of the ticket? $150.00. I don’t want to ever have that trouble again, and I’m not alone — it happens to millions everyday. So if your idea can save me that much, I’d gladly pay something to have it, when you are done.
Alright, having said all that, here are a few things I’d say as you go forward with your dream. And again, keep in mind, I’m not an expert by any means, but in a lot of ways — from publishing my first book, a free book, and starting Kilimanjaro — here are few things I’d say.
First things first: Make a free prototype
Okay, on this point, you know we all have that friend who has an idea and talks about it, but never does anything about it, right? Don’t be that guy. You’ve got this idea. Great. Now, start working on it. And since yours is a mobile app, start creating a prototype. You can start with a simple drawing on paper. Here’s how I drew my first one.
And then after that, through a friend, I found proto.io and created this:
And then a welcome screen, password, and retrieve password screens:
So quickly visit their site and start creating your first few screens. It’s not free, but they give you the first 15 days to use for free. Sure, you may not have money now, but take the next 2 weeks (14 days) and build your first prototype. It’s Summertime, and you’re on vacation, and even though you may have other things going on, find 1.5 hours a day for 4 days a week, in 2 weeks and you have 12 hours to build something before your trial runs out. I took 2 hours a day before work at the public library to get my first screens done, and this made it straightforward for my developer to understand what I was trying to build.
Do this, and do it now ( if you are serious about this idea). You cannot put a price on seeing your idea coming to life right before your eyes.
Learn to present and pitch
Yeah, do this in person, but never discount the power of pitching online, with written words on a page. First step to that? Learn to write a sales page. A few years ago, before I wrote my first one, you’d think you only have to tell people what the product is and how it could help them — like some people do on Facebook when presenting something to their friends — and then hope and pray people take action. Wrong.
When I started paying attention, I realized there’s a whole anatomy — the product introduction, photos, video (if you can afford it), the 30/60 -Day money-back guarantee backed by your personal word, ease of payment, and others — to it all, and there’s a reason why that is. Like the elevator pitch, you have limited time to make your point, and your reader is also under a time crunch, so either you delight him/her with copy that adds value to him or make it unmistakably clear that it’s for him, and then ask for the buy.
This is one of my recent ones but like we all, I can always get better. And again, in person presentation is good and all — don’t take it lightly — but under current circumstances now, when you learn how to express yourself in written words, you can talk to people online through your product pages even when you are asleep, and that’s when the internet takes over the work for you. Don’t underestimate that.
Okay, when I started using proto.io, I found the screens I created good enough, but I wanted more free use time to continue creating more screens, and at this point my 15 days of free time was over, so I sent this email to Proto.io, asking for more time.
They replied with this, and I took it.
Plus I used the refer friends option, too, to further extend my time a few more weeks.
This gave me enough time to get a decent and full prototype done. ( Note: Key business skill: Never buy with money what you can get for free. Why? The whole game is Revenue minus Expenses = Profit, and if expenses are not kept in check, you are out of business. Plus it doesn’t hurt to get frugality into your startup’s culture by way of leading by example.)
Plus I recently emailed a website hosting company about needing some time off from my monthly payments for about a month or two. What did I get? 6 months of free hosting!
Build a project around your idea
Finding myself out of work a few years ago, I decided to make the most of my time by combining the things l loved — learning about business, an active lifestyle, conversations, writing — with the things I knew how to do — blogging, helping people find their by-products, and documenting my findings…and putting it all into a 21-Day project of interviewing small business owners in my local communities about their journeys as businessmen. In the end, I came away a far better person than when I started, with many lessons in the power of taking initiative, people skills, packaging value, and a lot more.
This is what I teach in my book here — how folks should start small right where they are with a mini-project. The same principles could apply to your idea now. This could be a 10, 14, or 21-day project on talking to users about what you are building. This will force you to face some of your fears, and will give you a chance to document the pains, concerns, and desires of your potentials users.
Also, the fact that you will have to make a list of people to talk to, and to physically put in the time to set appointments and schedule them, and do interviews, this will give you a chance to formulate your mental flow on exactly what you are building, and you will also know if it’s any good. If anything else, you will also be stepping outside your comfort zone and talking to ‘strangers’ — who you should know are just friends you haven’t yet met— on what you are doing. Don’t shy away from this because that’s where true growth happens, knowing that your business is not truly a business until a complete stranger buys from you. Talk to them.
Even God did. Genesis 1: 1–2 — In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of it..
Think about that carefully. The Almighty God Himself had to start with something that was without form ( something that was out of shape; had no form) and was void, as in empty. So is your product. Right now, it’s empty because you don’t have users with accounts. And it’s without form, because you don’t know what it will look like in the end. That’s a great start. Start there.
What’s more, have you seen the first pages of some of the applications that most people love these days? Here’s Facebook’s first website:
Far different from what we know now, right? So don’t get caught in the trap of perfection, but build something that makes sense enough to a few users and then improve upon it bit by bit.
Look at how Twitter, the app that presidents, celebrities, many people now use, started:
Unrecognizable from the current one, right? Okay, that should prove the scripture that says: Who has despised the day of small beginnings?
That should be enough, bro. Go on and build your thing, and if you run into problems, find a way to scale them, ask for advice, and trust in God as you go. Prayer makes a difference. Peace, my man.