How to build a business: Do things that don’t scale

Once people have launched the product, many of them avoid getting their hands dirty. They launch the product, do a little bit of first day launch press and expect that the users will automatically find out about the product, that there would be a good product market fit and soon everyone will start using their product.

The truth is, this almost never happens. You launch your product and then you wait for users. You get a bit of uptick after the initial publicity but the growth tapers off soon afterwards. Then, you feel that you product is broken and either start working on pivoting it or adding a lot more features.

However in many cases, it’s possible that the core foundation of your product is right, but it wasn’t presented in a good manner. Or it is also possible that they core foundation is wrong, but you kept on adding features without realizing this shortcoming because you aren’t talking to your users.

It is important to go out and talk to your users. You will learn quite a bit about their needs, how they are using the product, what is working for you and what is not. No one expects you to get millions of users manually. Unfortunately, most products are stuck at a point where they do not have even hundred users. So go out and learn from your users.

Airbnb is an example of one of the recent and biggest success which started by doing things that didn’t scale. They started with building a shared Bed and Breakfast. When they launched initially they didn’t get any users. After some time they went door-to-door in New York trying to sign up people to host their homes on their service. During this phase they learned a lot of about their product.

When you create products that don’t scale, benefits are not limited to learnings about your product. You can benefit from quite a few more dimensions.

This can help bootstrap your product. When you start your company you have zero users. Bootstrapping a few initial users can really accelerate your growth. Now when you are launching things, you can get quicker feedback. This helps you know what works and what doesn’t. When other people join your product, it gives them confidence that other users are also using their product.

One other issue is that usually people are used to very shitty customer service. Most of the companies they are used to dealing with do not have personalized service and aren’t customer-centric.

When you are interacting with your customers directly, you are offering a direct connection with them. They are also getting an experience that they haven’t gotten before. This will make it easier for you to acquire more customers. You could also use this process to identify and groom champions for your product, who would then go ahead and help get more people signed up on the platform.

Airbnb was able to execute this really well, where they signed up some of their earliest users to start running meetups for them, which would answer questions from potential users and help set them up.

One of the best articles about this is written by Paul Graham, hosted at http://paulgraham.com/ds.html. Paul’s article talks about some of these factors in further detail.

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