Back to square one

Back to square one?

It’s been a while since I have last published an article on this blog.

This post might be the most personal one I have written so far. Many things happened in the past few weeks.

After having validated my business idea, I decided to move on to my next challenge: validating the product.

This means, building a product valuable enough for my prospects to pay for. To achieve this objective, I had to work simultaneously on four different topics:

  • figuring out the MVP requirements,
  • finding developers able to build this MVP,
  • finding people to join Slices,
  • and prospecting to generate more leads.

Figuring out the MVP requirements

In the last few weeks, I spent the majority of my time working on the MVP. I knew that I had to simplify the product, keeping one or two features. And I also knew that I had to keep the essence of the product intact: the MVP would still have to solve a painful problem for eCommerce retailers (struggling to engage with their customers at scale).

I started to brainstorm about how users would use Slices to solve their problem.

######### Extract from MVP Specs ##########

Slices.io empowers eCommerce retailers who want to increase their profitable revenue by sending automated & relevant emails to their customers (just like Amazon).

Slices.io helps:
– convert more visitors into buyers,
– make customers buy more, more often, for longer,
– retain lapsing customers.

Slices.io is a SaaS platform using a new technology that replaces solutions like Abandoned Cart Recovery, Online Loyalty Programs or Marketing CRMs. Slices.io makes it easy to understand customers, engage with them and check the results, in one single platform.

#######################################

In total, I wrote more than 40 detailed pages about the MVP, its features, its technical requirements and its benefits. I also included detailed wireframes of Slices (using Balsamic).

Going through this level of details took me a long time (about three to four weeks in total).

The objective of this document was to give a clear picture of Slices for any outside party, particularly developers.

Finding developers

My second objective was to find developers who would be able to extract to build a first version of Slices using the MVP specifications.

There were different options available to me:

  • Option 1: finding developer(s) based in Dublin, who believed enough in the idea to start working with me.
  • Option 2: finding companies to outsource the development to.
  • Option 3: learning to program myself.

I started to focus on the first option. I actively shared the fact that I was looking for passionate developers who wanted to solve an eCommerce challenge.

I created a landing page using Bootstrap and shared the following update to my network and got in touch with a few developers:

Screenshot of a twitter post.
Screenshot of a twitter post.

 

I also got excellent traction from the Irish Tech Community Slack channel after I shared the update.

Finally, I attended two to three technical events a week to meet developers and like-minded individuals.

I also looked at Option 2 and got in touch with software development companies in Ireland and abroad (particularly in Eastern Europe).

I sent my MVP specs to get a better idea of what was involved in building the first version of Slices.

Finally, learning to code myself was never really an option.

Finding people to join Slices

I was lucky enough to meet some very smart and interesting people by going to events and networking in the last few weeks.

I mainly used Meetup.com as a way to find like-minded people. I also took part in a Startup Weekend in Dublin.

I met a few people who were willing to help me, most of them involved in marketing and business, like myself.

Prospecting to generate more leads

This is clearly the tactic that I had to put on hold to focus on building a team and building a product.

While I stayed in touch with the prospects I knew, I didn’t spend much time trying to generate new leads.

What happened and what I learned

I underestimated the amount of resources needed to build a first MVP

I knew that building a B2B product would be expensive, but I didn’t how much until I received quotes back from companies and developers.

I had some savings and I would have been able to raise money from friends and family to pay for developing the MVP. But it didn’t feel right.

My guts were telling me that I was taking too big of a risk with no proper team.

Finding a team is not something that can be forced

As I previously mentioned, I met a lot of great people by networking and I also made a few friends. I also got the chance to meet startup teams who already had traction.

The vast majority of the teams I met knew each other long before they started to work together. I thought that I could meet some people along the way who shared the same vision, who had complementary skills and who would be willing to join in.

But getting to know people takes time and finding people who are available right now is nearly impossible.

I now believe that building a startup sort of happens when a group of people know each other well enough, want to solve the same problem and are in the same stage in their life.

Working on your own is tougher than I thought

I’ve set up a pretty cool office in my apartment when I started to work on Slices. It is great to avoid the daily commute and to be able to work from a relaxed environment.

After a few weeks, however, the initial excitement is being replaced by a daily routine.

Not being able to bounce things off with somebody else or ask for somebody else’s opinion can quickly become tiring. Also, not being surrounded by people, even people you don’t know, could affect your moral.

Launching a startup is not only about filling a business model canvas and craft 10 beautiful slides for investors. It is a momentum game. A marathon and not a sprint. And it is tough to keep the momentum going when you are on your own.

I read about those three issues many times before and I thought I could overcome them. It is not until I experienced them myself that it all started to make sense.

I learned a lot

By talking to many business owners and marketers work in the retail sector, I learned a lot about the problems they struggle with on a day-to-day basis and the way they operate. I know a lot more than I used to.

I also learned a lot by researching the market. I probably tried well over 100 marketing products in the last few weeks and I really enjoyed using a few of them.

I went out of my comfort zone more times in the past few weeks than I ever did in my entire life.

To summarise

My passion for marketing and customer experience is intact. My work in the past few weeks confirmed that businesses are struggling to retain customers and engage with them in a meaningful way.

A lot of emphasis is made on customer acquisition and lead generation, yet only a handful of businesses have a solid customer experience strategy in place to build loyalty.

I also learned a few things about myself:

  • I have a short attention span and like to juggle between different projects.
  • I love teaching. I lectured at CMI in marketing recently and this was a great experience. I love to learn but I also love to share my knowledge to help others.
  • I have imposter syndrome. This might sound over-the-top but I feel less competent that I really am and I feel like others might know more than they actually do.
  • I want to bootstrap my business. I don’t feel comfortable with outside investment as off yet. I want to build the foundation of a solid business first.

Time to evolve

My gut feelings were right at the start of this adventure: consulting was the best route to take based on my personality and my personal situation.

In my previous article, I explained the reason why I ditched the consultancy MVP to focus on a product-based solution.

I said that:

– I didn’t have any experience as a consultant,
– I would have validated the problem but not the solution,
– And, in fact, consultancy as a solution would have been a weaker solution than what my prospective customers are using at the moment.

From what I learned recently, I think I was wrong.

  1. It’s true, I don’t have any experience as a consultant BUT I have provided huge value to the companies I worked for in the past. I can employ the same tactics to deliver some big results.
  2. I fell in love with a product-based solution. I liked the idea of building a scalable product. I forgot that a product is not always the answer and that it very much depends on the context.
  3. There again, I was wrong. My prospects are using some decent marketing tools, but helping them improving their processes, and implementing some smart data-driven marketing strategies are where the value lies.

Building a consulting business

You might have already noticed a change in the URL of the blog, from blog.slices.io to blog.slicesconsulting.com. I have change the URL and more importantly the brand to make it more relevant for a consulting business.

More changes are coming in the next few days. I’m currently working on my services offering and on my strategy in general.

The business is evolving into a customer experience and marketing consulting services, helping B2C businesses to build loyalty and increase profits by creating a consistent customer experience that stands out from the competition.

This is a very exciting time.

Have you been though a similar path? What did you learn?

  • Stanley Wong

    Interesting to read your blog. I believed your Saas product will help a lot of marketers and business. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you Stanley! A lot has changed since then. We’ll keep you updated!