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You seem to have been terribly misled. Only very rarely do products sell themselves. 99% of the time, the product is largely incidental to the sales process. Your idea doesn't matter one jot, what matters is how well you can connect to customers and really sell to them.

Let me tell you about a fine English gentleman by the name of Joe Ades, now sadly no longer with us. Joe wore Savile Row suits and lived in a three-bedroomed apartment on Park Avenue. He spent most nights at the Café Pierre with his wife, sharing a bottle of his usual - Veuve Clicquot champagne. You might assume that Joe was a banker or an executive, but in fact Joe sold potato peelers on the street for $5 each, four for $20.

I urge you, I implore you, I beg you, stop what you're doing and watch Joe in action - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCUct4NlxE0

That is what business looks like. Sometimes, once in a million, you luck upon a product so amazing the world beats a path to your door. For most of us, the best we can hope for is to be some chump with a thousand boxes of vegetable peelers. Anybody can sit out on the street with a box of peelers, but Joe sold them. Joe made his peelers sing, he made them seem like magic. He took a humble piece of stamped metal and created theatre. He did something so simple and strange and wonderful that people would buy a fistful of his peelers, just so they could tell their friends about this little Englishman they saw in Union Square.

Look at the Fortune 500, tell me what you see. I see grocery stores, drugstores, oil companies, banks, a funny little concern that sells sugar water. I see a whole lot of hard work and very few great ideas.

Forget about striking it big with a great idea, it's just as childish and naïve as imagining that the tape you're recording in your garage is going to make you a rockstar. Get out there and talk to customers. Find out what they need, what annoys them, what excites them. Build the roughest, ugliest piece of crap that you can possibly call a product. If you're not ashamed of it, you've spent too long on it. Try and sell it. Some people will say "I'm not buying that piece of crap, it doesn't even do X". If X isn't stupid, implement X. Some people, bizarrely, will say "yes, I will buy your piece of crap". It is then and only then that you are actually developing a product. Until you've got a customer, it's just an expensive hobby. Paying customer number one is what makes it a product.




I don't want to get all wishy-washy philosophical on you here but in Joe's case I would argue that he IS the product.

To wit, regarding the OP's main point:

- selling potato peelers is not a "fucking great idea" by any means.

- selling potato peelers in a $1000 suit, in manhattan, as a chirpy english gentlemen IS a fucking great idea.

it's an idea that sells itself, you basically touched on the same point as the OP. He did something so simple and strange and wonderful that people would buy a fistful of his peelers, just so they could tell their friends about this little Englishman they saw in Union Square. You have to be a little crazy, be a little disruptive, and that's going to get you your audience.


If he did it poorly, no one would care. It's not a great fucking idea. He just did it so well - and he did it so well because he had practiced it for so long.


Up until recently, I lived a few blocks from Union Square (I've since moved to San Francisco). I used to see Joe out there all the time, especially when the farmer's market was there. He was always bright, chipper, theatrical...he had a sales pitch that was half song, half story, and made you want to step up even if you had not the slightest need for a potato peeler. No matter what, he always made you smile. His daughter has taken over the business now that's he's gone.

Thank you so much for reminding me of him.


Good Lord - I want one of those potato peelers.

That guy's a better salesman dead than most people on Earth.


Your idea doesn't matter one jot. What matters is how well you can connect to customers and really sell to them.

I think you could put it better: Your idea has to be something people feel they want and will use. People don't want a drill; they want a hole in the wood. Joe Ades didn't sell a potato peeler; he sold a way to get your kids to eat their veggies, a way to make great french fries.

Have a fucking great idea

Nonsense. How the fuck do you know it's a great idea? Your ego. I'm sorry but you won't know (can't know) if it is what people want or need. No one does. Trust me, the music industry and film industry would love to know when they will have a hit.

But unlike film and music we can iterate. Take your ego out and let people tell you what they want. Try to understand their core desire and work with that. Ignore funding. You're begging for TechCrunch coverage? Unless your market is "people who read TC", you're wasting you're time. Apply any way you can to those people directly in your market. And if you don't know who they are or how to do that, stop and go back to your day job. Because the software business is not about the software; it's about the business.


Somewhat off topic (though slightly relevant): do you read Magic articles? That exact drill/hole metaphor was used in Mike Flores' yesterday article (which is a good piece of writing, and HN people might be interested even if they don't play Magic): http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/dai...


This is good advice, but Joe didn't get his three-bedroom apartment from selling potato peelers. He got it from his fourth wife (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/nyregion/03ades.html).

Hard work is important, knowing the right people helps.


Wow, thank you, it was worth every second of watching Joe in action.


AMEN! Why do you think infomercials continue to run...THEY SELL A SHITLOAD OF PRODUCT! Think about the Magic Bullet...biggest peice of shit ever....EVER...a 4-year old with a spoon can do a better job BUT they connect with you on a very specific level. they make a connection, they show YOU how YOU can do exactly what YOU always wanted to do with their product. Did you see how many different things Joe showed you how to do with just a peeler? Even if 10 of the 11 things he showed you dont apply to you, you are willing to pay $5 for a $0.10 peeler to save you a minute of your time once every 4 weeks.

That is why customer development is so important. You need to understand what your customer does and show them that you can make that part of their life easier. For enterprise software its the same, prove to a company that you can actually reduce or eliminate a pain point and BOOYA you have a sale and once you have sales, you get press when you get press you get more sales and the cycle continues until you exit gracefully.


This is terrible advice. Spending your life learning how to sell people crap that they don't need is wasting your life.

You should work hard to make a great product. If you don't know how to make a great product and don't have to patience to learn, go work for someone that does.


You don't buy them because they're cheap, you buy them because they're good and they work. The potato peeler IS a great product, and who doesn't need one?!?


I don't need one... I eat all my vegetables with the skin on. call me lazy but it's healthier that way too


Unless the skin is packed full of pesticides.


I sometimes eat potatoes with the skin on, too, but carrots?

And at some point in the video he mentions pineapples... surely you don't eat the skin of pineapples?


The ability to sell is getting the customer to choose YOUR product over alternatives.

There are very few products out there that we need and cannot be substituted.

I've got a perfectly sharp knife in my kitchen, but after watching the sales genius in the above video, I feel like I NEED to get one of his carrot peelers.


If your product is easily substituted then you should be spending time differentiating through value, not perception of value.


Tell that to the multi-billion dollar advertising industry.

Having the perception of value is THE necessary condition to selling your product.

Having actual value may create this perception of value, but this is not necessarily so. I've seen several products including a few startups here on this site that I KNOW have great value, due to my own close observation. But there are many potentials customers who don't immediately see this value after casual review, or don't know about it.

Reality is perception.


I'm not saying that it doesn't work. I'm saying that its one of the things about the human condition that needs to be fixed.


Case in point: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_44/b42010963... "Being Steve Jobs' boss": Jobs from the perspective of John Sculley


Being able to produce a product is nice but it won't sell itself by merely existing. "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" If you release a product and no one knows will anyone buy it?


Or hire someone who does. Hiring salespeople or advertisement writers may be very necessary.


No, it might be wasting their life, but it's solid advice for the OP. It's been proven to work.

I'm terribly sorry, but not everyone's purpose is to make great products that help mankind. Some people just wanna get rich.


People that "just wanna get rich" are predators and parasites. They don't deserve any respect.


What about people who want to get rich so they can work on things that help mankind but can't easily (if at all) be monetized?


Now that's an over generalisation, just because your not concerned whether people actually need the product doesn't mean that you aren't doing your best to ensure your product is the best it can possibly be.


> Look at the Fortune 500, tell me what you see. I see grocery stores, drugstores, oil companies, banks, a funny little concern that sells sugar water. I see a whole lot of hard work and very few great ideas.

Perhaps this is a bit of an oversimplification? The reason those particular concerns are still on top is that they had plenty of great ideas in addition to execution. You don't stay a top oil company without kickass geophysicists, for example.


Thanks for sharing the clip of Joe Ades. I've seen a lot of street performers and people selling odds and ends here and there but few people have made me stop on my tracks, in the middle of the day, and made me an instant customer by buying a product that I didn't even have in mind when I set out. That is powerful.

exhaustedhacker, I feel for you, but since when is TechCrunch to bouncer or doorman to your success? No ones fortunes should be dependent on Michael Arrington. Instead of taking time to craft emails for him and his staff him, spend sometime crafting emails to targeted users. You said that you have had some success from meetups, do more of that, fight for every user. Give out a few free trial accounts to influencers, such as to folks here on YC. Reach out to other disrupters, Mashable, This Week in Startups, etc. If you don't have time to blog about your, you can contract folks for $10-20 a post.

Good luck, and thanks for sharing!


That's a great video, and I've seen similar performances by other street vendors. I suppose it's a case of "don't sell the bacon, sell the sizzle". He's delivering an enticing spectacle, of which the actual sale is just a small component and even the product itself is relatively incidental.


some people, bizarrely, wil say "yes, I will buy your piece of crap."

This needs restating, as it is THE moment when you have validated your business. Everything you do at first should be focused on selling your first piece of crap.


I notice that Joe isn't what we Brits would refer to as an English Gent in the UK. In England many, many market traders sound just like him.

He has a noticeable working class accent. The term "English Gent" usually assumes what the English call "upper middle class" or Americans call "upper class". Joe schtick worked because of Americans lack of familiarity with English culture.

Nevertheless moving his sales pitch to New York was master stroke. Like selling ice cream in the desert,


Where do I find the 'Joe Ades' of web apps?


http://www.basecamphq.com

37Signals have an ok product. What makes it truly successful is their incredible marketing machine. From highly popular blogs to podcasts, videocasts to books, super-optimised A/B tested websites to entire, hugely popular web development frameworks associated with them... they've got their marketing to a level that takes a decade of intelligence, opportunities and hard work to achieve.


On their front page:

"Basecamp is the top choice for entrepreneurs, freelancers, small businesses, and groups inside big organizations."

Total marketing. Says nothing about the product... but it connects if you're one of these types of people, making you feel like they must know something regardless of what the product even is.


Markus Frind


This is the heart of why every startup founder should learn Steve Blank's customer development.


Everyone should watch that video! Just submitted it: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1818819


Paying customer number one is what makes it a product.

True. But on this net....

"as long as you can't put the relevant link into the place where people go -- then you can't even begin to compete."




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