One of the key factors in owning and growing a successful business is the importance of identifying a market for your product simply, is there someone willing to put down their hard-earned money for what you are offering?
Having been in the trenches of the start-up world for the last year has given me great insight into the importance of the product-market fit. As the former VP, Operations at The Rounds, (an online platform for healthcare providers) I learned that it is vital to listen to your users/customers to ensure that what you are offering is addressing a real need.
Mark Andreessen, Co-Founder of Netscape and seed investor in companies like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Airbnb, summarizes this beautifully, “in a great market — a market with lots of real potential customers — the market pulls product out of the start-up.” Think of all the YouTube stars, social marketers, Uber drivers/users and AirBnB hosts to name a few examples. Many venture-backed start-ups begin with an innovative or disruptive idea and iron out the business model later. Through my experience working in the start-up scene, I would argue that the opposite approach could yield more long term success. Identifying & partnering with your customers early on can both shape your offering to cater to real need while also solidifying your product-market fit to ensure you grow quickly and profitably. The lack of the latter will ruin any startup.
After learning how to work with a start-up, I decided I wanted to start my own. I’ve recently started working with Halifax Paper Hearts, a greeting card company focused on creating fairy tales for everyone through their diverse and inclusive designs, to nurture and grow retail partnerships in Canada and the US. Using my business development skills and unwavering confidence that people want to buy what I am selling, I am helping the team grow the company by increasing our presence in the market.
While I am very much part of the Paper Hearts team, behind the scenes Paper Hearts is actually the first client of my wholesale-retail distribution company.
Though I am still in the very early stages, I can foresee that launching with a partner will positivity contribute to the growth of my company.
I believe there are three major benefits to launching your business with your first client secured:
Launching your business with your first client confirms that there is a need for what you are offering. While the founder of Halifax Paper Hearts is perfectly capable of doing business development (and has done a wonderful job to date), hiring me to do this for her has allowed her to focus on strategy and creativity. Not only will this allow Paper Hearts to grow more quickly and sustainably, but it also provides a model that I can then scale – and offer to other similar companies. I am confident that there are other makers who would prefer to focus on their skill (i.e. making candles) or service rather than reaching out to retail boutiques to carry their product which is a necessary step but can be a time-suck for creatives who would rather focus on products and development.
Learn. Do. Iterate.
If you pick the right partner, one who believes that your involvement will help their clients (and ultimately their business), they will give you the latitude to use them as a ‘guinea pig’ to learn, grow and innovate. This partner will understand that you are on this journey together. Naturally, you will be hungry to deliver exceptional results, but your partner will understand that a great deal of learning will happen along the way. The popular lean start-up method of ‘measure-learn-build’ is an effective strategy to quickly address the need, test your solution, learn, adjust and improve. Going through this process with your first client will ultimately improve your ability to deliver top-notch results to them and your future clients (whether you’re in tech or not).
Referrals for a job well done can be your most powerful growth tactic. According to the New York Times, 65 % of new business comes from referrals. Additionally, business that results from referrals have a higher conversion rate, close faster and have a higher lifetime value.
A happy customer/client is vital to the success of your business. A client who is willing to provide a testimonial or share their positive experience with their network is far more valuable than any marketing campaign.
Launching with a partner, specifically, the right partner can slingshot you to success; but it is a delicate relationship that must be nurtured and appreciated. While it may validate the need for your business in the market, the effort certainly does not stop there. It is vital to listen to your client to ensure you are constantly meeting their needs, not just achieving your personal/corporate objectives. They are your client, after all. By focusing on learning, growing and delivering top notch results to your first client, you are setting the stage for the future success of your company.