Individuals have two distinct areas in their brains. One is responsible for emotions, and the other for rational reasoning. Whenever one has to make a choice between binge-watching Netflix and working on a presentation that’s due tomorrow, the two parts of the brain compete with each other.
The rational part of the brain attempts to reason. It informs that starting work earlier will yield better results and provide more time to work out any kinks and details. It also highlights the importance of the presentation for long-term success — persuading stakeholders today brings one step closer to a desire, such as a promotion or signing a new contract for their business.
The emotional part of the brain disregards the future. It lives for today. Why do something mundane to reserve a little happiness for an unknown future when instant gratification is available without any work? The closer one is to something they 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, individuals tend to regret their choice.
Short- and Long-Term Wins
Launching a startup is stressful. It requires extensive thinking, planning, and hard work initially. The risks are high, and one does not know if the investment of time and money is worthwhile or if the launch will end up being an embarrassment. The hardest part is enduring high levels of stress over long periods. It takes months to refine an idea and create an action plan for a SaaS product, followed by even more time to build its first version.
Certainly, one can grit their teeth and grind through it, but they will put themselves at risk of burnout. There were times when they were so exhausted just before a launch that they were ready to quit and work for someone else for the rest of their life. At least they wouldn’t have to sleep for four hours a day and handle an endless amount of day-to-day problems… all for the sake of some bigger goal that they weren’t sure was realistic at all.
That’s when one begins to recognize the importance of achieving quick, short-term wins to balance out the stress of working for a long-term goal. With quick rewards and visible progress made every week, it’s much easier to motivate oneself to move forward — and eventually reach the long-term win.
Quick Wins and Rewards
Instead of building an audience first and then creating a product for it, lots of founders are doing things backwards. Like most founders, they were building a product first, because the building part was what they enjoyed the most. And then they were trying to find out if they could sell it.
The audience-first approach is excellent, but it can be extremely overwhelming for a SaaS founder. Building an audience is as long and risky as building a product itself. Sure, one doesn’t have to invest as much money into this process as they would in product development, but the outcome is a lot less clear.
That’s why I believe it’s important to balance long-term audience-building efforts like social media and content marketing with quick wins that can be achieved through direct outreach.
While building an audience might take anywhere from a few months to a few years, one can easily reach out to their first 20 potential customers directly. Not only will this reassure them that their goal is worth pursuing, but those initial customers will act as a foundation for a bigger audience.
Why Reaching Out Directly Is Important
When starting a business, people tend to think in big numbers. It’s easy to say that there are millions of dog owners worldwide who are a potential audience for a dog training app. It’s much harder to find 20 people who will actually pay for the app. This is true for any business, not just SaaS.
If there's only one area to focus on at the early stages of a startup, it's figuring out who the audience is. And this doesn't mean just naming 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 the perfect user is extremely important. But unfortunately, there’s no magic formula and no single key to succeeding at this. However, there are places to start.
Here are two major ways of finding perfect users:
Research online communities. Join forums, Discord channels and Slack groups where the target audience hangs out. Provide value to them and become a member of their community. Then reach out to people directly and tell them what is being offered and ask if they're interested or not. It works especially well if one can help someone with a related problem and then offer their idea as an alternative solution. Just avoid being overly promotional, or people will be turned off.
Use private networks. This is the most common answer I received when researching strategies for finding early customers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes one doesn't want to risk relationships or embarrass themselves by sharing a half-baked idea with their network. Sometimes they 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 one knows to solve their problems.