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We May Have Been Closer Than We Realized: A Lesson in KE

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Read Unscripted!
Dec 19, 2020
Skip to bottom for TLDR + Lesson bullets.

I recently finished Unscripted , and it made me stop reflect again on my first swing at a business.

I started it in 2015 with a good friend.

We were in the service industry at the time. We had no idea how to start a business. We had never heard of MJ, TMF , or Unscripted , but we had read 4HWW so we ripped that book apart and followed its methods to a T. It's wild to look back after having read TMF , Unscripted , plenty of economics, history, and philosophy. Seems like we were really just taking a shot in the dark (of course I'm so glad we did).

We were incredibly determined. We brainstormed niches we knew, conducted "market research", tried to qualify interest, etc. We kept the momentum by having weekly check-ins where we planned and reviewed work. After a few months of research + planning we finally decided that we had enough evidence of interest to build an online course in music production (a skill we both had already). The course was targeted at beginner music producers who had maybe some music background but not much for production experience. The goal was to take them from zero to being able to finish a track, while teaching them production software along the way. If I were to do it differently today, I would probably spend way more time looking for people's problems in that niche. I would pour through the biggest blogs, influencers, and websites on the topic and read every comment I could find. I'd look for trends and distortions, and I would do my best to narrow down on the biggest pain people were having and make sure my offer/course was aimed at solving that from the get-go.

Our next mistake was probably going straight into building a full fledged course. It took about 6 months to develop. During that time my friend took on more of a sales / marketing role and I focused on building the website. Neither of has had any prior exposure to these things, so we had to learn them as we went. After about 9 months we finally released the course... to basically nobody. We had run targeted Adwords campaigns, but we had no real customer acquisition strategy. Looking back on this, I think we made a huge mistake by not building more of an audience and providing value to people for free before we even offered the course. If I was to redo it today, I would might consider starting with informative videos on channels like youtube and instagram where our target audience spent time. I would also definitely start collecting emails on a landing page from day 1. Something I think we did do well at this stage was trying to build a really valuable course. We weren't thinking about the term "provide value" per se, but we did try really hard to make something that was going to help the target audience. The majority of our work was probably spent building the product.

We were also pretty loose with our Ad campaigns. We didn't even consider things like statistical significance when testing ads, and we didn't make any serious attempts to quantify how much it might cost to acquire a customer. Our website may have been "good" relative to our experience level but in reality it was a convoluted mess. The problem we were solving and our offer on the website were both equally unclear. If I were to do this again, I would run a much simpler/more direct landing page that probably leads to a longer form sales page. We asked for help on r/entrepreneur once and the major piece of feedback we got was that our website was unclear/muddy.

Needless to say, we did manage to get a few users to our website and we made a few sales (at $200 per course). At this point, we were kind of at a loss for what to do. We ran a few more Ad campaigns and started thinking about more creative ways to drive qualified traffic to our site, but we really didn't have a lot of money for Ads and weren't being smart about how we spent that money. We could have learned more with the money we spent. At this point, I moved across the world and my friend was feeling unmotivated. He called it quits and I intended to try to turn it into something but had to switch gears to getting a job/setting up life in another country. Next lesson was in consequential thinking: maybe don't completely start your life over in a new country with no savings when you're in the middle of bootstrapping your business. Anyways.

This line in the KE chapter of Unscripted is what made me pause and reflect on all of this:

"... hard proof is your first goal worthy of celebration."

The mindset we were missing here was the Kinetic Execution. We had hard proof (real sales) and we stopped shortly after that. What I didn't realize then was that we had basically just reached basecamp. We still had the entire mountain to climb. We were operating under the delusion that once we launched the traffic would just come (?!). So what I'll do different next time is think different: execution > idea.

On the upside, I picked up enough programming skills that led me out of the service industry and into an entirely new world of tech, science, and literature. In the time since then I've been working at a job that had taught me loads about developing enterprise grade software, how to run experiments and make "data driven decisions", and pays enough to fund more ventures. This winter I decided I had to take a crack at a business again and that's when I picked up TMF and Unscripted .

TLDR + Lessons

TLDR: we worked hard, got a few sales, may have given up early

Did well:
  • Strived to create a valuable product that helped people
  • Learned new skills needed to make it work
  • Not focused enough on the pain/problem we were trying to solve
  • Provided no upfront value to potential customers (tried to sell based on just our sales page)
  • No real customer acquisition strategy
  • Website/offer was unclear
  • Research was not rigorous enough
  • Lack of consequential thinking (improved at this greatly since then)
Next time:
  • Heavy focus on pain/problem
  • Find ways to saturate potential users with free value instead of focusing on the sale directly
  • Proper rigour in research + website/ad performance testing
  • Focus more on customer acquisition strategy
  • Only spend money on ads with a system in place to analyze and understand their metrics
  • Do create an actual MVP
  • Follow TMF / Unscripted lessons

Hopefully this recount was interesting/helpful for someone!
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