Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #5

The biggest myth in entrepreneurship, the electrician who perfected email marketing, and why you shouldn't be worrying about your product

Entrepreneurship never stops. Not even for presidential elections. And that means entrepreneurship advice shouldn’t stop either.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my question about whether or not to split my weekly issue into two. The vast majority of you seem to think that would be better, so I’ll probably switch to that. I just need to summon the motivation to do so. It’ll probably happen after the crazy Fall 2020 semester ends (next week!).

In the meantime, everything I’ve published this week is condensed into this one newsletter, including — again! — an extra article. Plus, my office hours Q&A at the end.

More great startup questions came in this week. And if you’ve got questions, just reply to this email, contact me on Twitter, or find me on LinkedIn.

Also, if you’re feeling generous, please forward this email to a friend. Thanks!


Is This the Biggest Myth in Entrepreneurship?

The world is filled with misleading myths about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and how best to build startups. But, if the dozens of children’s birthday parties I attend every year are any indication, one myth is more common than all the rest.

Scott Maslowe: The Electrician Who Perfected Email Marketing

These days, email marketing is one the most mainstream forms of advertising imaginable. But that wasn't always the case. On this episode of Web Masters, I spoke with electrician-turned-marketing-master Scott Maslowe, one of the people who -- for better or for worse -- showed the world the value of filling people's inboxes with marketing messages. Just like the one you’re reading now! Yay!

Find the newest episode of Web Masters on:

…or just search “Web Masters” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Why “Never Do Live Demos” Is Bad Advice for Fundraising Pitches

For years, startup mentors have been telling young entrepreneurs "Never do live demos!" But that's actually terrible advice, and here's why.

Office Hours Q&A



In your article about why nobody is buying your product, you argue that entrepreneurs need to have an audience in order to successfully sell something, but most startups don’t come with an audience. So how can a new company have an audience before launch? How would one know what audience to go after if they haven't yet conceived of the product/service?

- March


ANSWER: The basic issue here is that most entrepreneurs start with an idea for a product or service. And it makes sense they’d begin with an idea because, from the entrepreneur’s perspective, that’s the thing we have to build. I’ve written about this issue a few times in other places -- even going so far as to describe it as the one mistake every entrepreneur makes and the most difficult concept in entrepreneurship.

The gist of those articles is that, when you put yourself in the shoes of your target users, they don’t care about your ideas. From their perspective, they want solutions to their problems. And since they care about their problems, that means you, as the entrepreneur, should be focused on their problems, too.

This is an important distinction because any problem can technically be addressed/solved in an infinite number of ways. And note that, by “infinite number of ways,” I don’t necessarily mean there are a gagillion possible solutions. I just mean for every X solution you could create, I could come up with an iterative X+1 solution.

Because so many possible solutions to a given problem exist, as the entrepreneur you shouldn’t lock yourself into one solution by claiming “this is my idea.” What’s the point? What if you don’t have the right solution for the problem yet? Does that mean the problem isn’t worth solving?

Instead, it’s better to decouple problems from solutions. This gives you the flexibility to research, understand, and prove that a problem exists. Next, once you fully understand the problem, you can explore any number of potential solutions until you find the right one.

This also brings us to my answer for your question. Once you understand the problem, even if you don’t have a solution, you do know who has the problem. That means you can start building your audience for a potential solution before having any clue what your potential solution might look like.

To make this concept more concrete -- and to hopefully explain a bit more about why it’s valuable -- let me give you a hypothetical example. Imagine you start with a product/idea for a phone app to help diabetics track their daily exercise. You spend countless hours and thousands of dollars developing it, QA-ing it, etcetera, launch it, and then… nothing. Only a handful of people download it. Failure, right? But the bigger issue is: Why did it fail? Was it because the app was bad? The marketing was bad? No demand? The wrong planetary alignment between Venus and Jupiter? Who knows? And what do you do next?

In contrast, imagine starting with a problem: diabetics who don’t exercise have more difficulty  managing their disease. At that point, you know your potential target market: diabetics. So create a YouTube channel, Instagram account, TikTok feed, blog, or whatever else filled with tips, tricks, advice, and resources for helping diabetics with their exercise routines.

If your resource for diabetics doesn’t grow, maybe you haven’t identified a real market need. Time to head back to the drawing board, which means you’re no worse off than you’d have been after spending all that time/effort/money building an app.

In contrast, if the audience for your diabetics resource does grow, not only have you validated the problem, you’ve got direct access to a perfectly-targeted group of people who already trust you, which makes them a great market for something like your app idea. As a result, when you do launch your app, it’s much more likely to be successful.

Plus, here’s the best part: when you build an audience before you build a product, you’ll still have that audience even if your product fails. That means if nobody in your audience likes your app, you can try selling something else -- maybe an exercise journal, personal training sessions, a book, or any number of other potential solutions.

The point is, building an audience before building a product is like an entrepreneur’s secret weapon. Once you have an audience, it’s much harder to fail because even if a product fails, you still have direct access to the audience with the problem, and you can keep trying to solve that audience’s problem in different ways until you hit on a solution that works.

Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!