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Can I ask an honest question respectfully? I don’t have a company or a startup. But I’ve always wanted to start one. So I’m always curious when I see a response like yours.

How do you sell first? There isn’t a product to show. How do you find Customers? Is it the philosophy that the customer doesn’t know better and you have to tell them what they need, all the while understanding what your capabilities are. Like undersell and overdeliver? I’m genuinely curious how you go about selling first.




I'm creating an open source todo list + calendar webapp (https://getartemis.app, source at https://github.com/satvikpendem/artemis) made by just me, and I can tell you how I approached the problem.

The video you see on the front page does not exist in code, it is simply a prototype designed with Figma (https://figma.com) and animated with Principle (https://principleformac.com). I created the landing page and video, added a Mailchimp form, and I posted on Twitter, Reddit, and here on Hacker News, the communities in which it made sense. For me, it's a productivity / task management tool, so I would post on reddit.com/r/getdisciplined or reddit.com/r/productivity.

It's all about creating a minimum viable product, as you might well be aware, but what you may not know is that an MVP need not have code. Indeed, it could be a video as I did, and I think for software, a video works best as people can actually see what it looks and feels like, without you necessarily creating the product architecture (full frontend and backend plus devops etc). Now I have over 150 subscribers in only a month due to rapid creation of this type of MVP, and based on this feedback, I changed my designs, and only now I am beginning to really create the heart of the product.

Using non-code MVPs is the best way in my opinion to sell quickly before building.


Really good advice about non-code MVP. It reminded me of this seminal post: https://blog.bufferapp.com/idea-to-paying-customers-in-7-wee.... The heart of the idea is that an MVP isn't really a Product; it's something to validate against.

How specificlaly did you go about promoting your landing page? Just 'hey check this out posts', or did you focus on comments/answers to questions? And how much time do you have invested in this so far?

If you get some free time, you might want to also post this on indiehackers.com. Could help a lot of people out there.


I'm a somewhat frequent contributor on IndieHackers actually. To promote the page, I basically posted it everywhere I could (without getting banned) and started asking my friends to critique the site. When applicable, I would also answer questions on fora as I am now. In terms of time, I'm not really sure, it's an on and off commitment as I also have a job.

Anything other questions or anything you're working on as well?


I'd like to know more about the "not getting banned" part. Reddit communities are notorious for not wanting to be sold to. what's your approach? how do you articulate the post? maybe you could share a link to an actual post as an example?

thanks for the insight!


Many subreddits have rules on when you can do self promotion, such as a separate thread or a specific day for posting. That's when I do it. [See this post for example](https://old.reddit.com/r/getdisciplined/comments/a3oz48/meth...). As well, you can see in that post that I don't directly promote my app but instead I ask questions regarding the process by which people schedule their day.

Provide value without expecting value in return. If you look on [/r/entrepreneur](www.reddit.com/r/entrepreneur), you can see some posts where people use their blog posts as a reddit post, which provides value for those who don't read their specific blog. Then, you can link back to your own blog at the end of the post. In doing so, you provide value before you promote yourself, and so any products or services you then promote will be associated with quality to your readerbase.


Thanks for posting this. I am at a very similar place with startups where I am attempting to stop just paying lip service to lean startup ideas. I'm going to look into the tools you mentioned.

BTW, the last startup I worked at we were building a really cool "timeline" interface using react. I see you are using Vue but we still might have some interesting discussions. I found some really fun/difficult product and technical problems with developing that type of interface.


I joined a startup a few years ago and I did see this in action. The founder was such a believer in his vision he would go to whatever door he managed to get through and was selling them his mock-ups. He is not technical but he has go a good eye to UI and also had great idea. When I joined him (I'm technical with no eye to UI and not very good at human relations) he already had customers aligned (no product yet) and also won 4 desks in local incubator (big brand's incubator...) I found this astonishing and to date I am under impression trying to learn from him where I lack.


I've worked at a couple startups where we would speak MVP with our lips but our actions did not follow our words. None of them were ultimately successful.


It only works for some kind of products and some kind of buyers, obviously. You can't sell someone a can of tomatoes based on a demo.

But, if the value you can provide is immediately obvious to the customer, rather than an incremental improvement on their existing situation, then you can get them to express interest before you have a finished product to provide them with.


exactly. most products don't exist in a vacuum.

"sell first" works if you have such a unique solution/value such that for the customer it's a "either this demo or nothing" situation. that's exceedingly rare.

most of the time there's a healthy large existing set of solutions serving the same market so it's difficult to justify using something new.

even if you have some unique selling points they may not be strong enough or they may be canceled out by the lack of other features and maturity of your new product vs existing established ones.

for example let's say your product is a customer support software. how do you "sell first" when there are so many mature existing companies solving the same problem?

how long will it take you to reach the same capabilities, support, security, reliability of existing solutions?

are your differentiating points really strong enough that someone's going to say "screw Zendesk I'm going to try this random new one-man product because they have this feature X"?


You pretend to have a product, and try to sell it -- market it, advertise, etc. If you get people trying to buy it / use it, you know you're going in the right direction.

So yes, basically you bullshit everyone with some mockups and a pretty website, to determine if anyone would even be interested in the thing you want to build.


Selling isn't just the monetary transaction. It's research, outreach, CRM, pipeline, working on the descriptions, marketing text, blog posts.

All of these things can be done while making the product and will inform the production process.

But.. I need to take my own advice. Too easy to retreat to building. Or passively reading and thinking that is market research.

That's my safety zone, hidden away from scrutiny and judgement.


You may be able to make a sale and then build it and still keep the sale, but if you think that this is too risky with respect to reputation or having a customer depend on what you’re selling be ready, it’s still worth going through the sales cycle until you’ve found something you can sell.

It won’t magically get easy to sell the product when it’s ready, so it’s possible eliminate bad ideas which are hard for you to sell early, even if you let the sale fall through towards the end.


Once you find a real pain points, people will beg you to buy/use your product, even if all you have is a crappy version rushed out.

To be clear, some startups require to have a super polished version to be successful. But even then, there's often a way to have customers pilot an early version or cheaply test the market.


> "Is it the philosophy that the customer doesn’t know better and you have to tell them what they need"

Yes and no. One of the only people to have ever done that successfully that I know of was Steve Jobs, and that's what made him a one-of-a-kind genius billionaire. Believing you can do the same will cause your wheels to spin endlessly without going anywhere. It's pure hubris.

On the flip side, it certainly can help to have some insight, intuition, or flash of inspiration for a product or service. When you have the idea, then you have a hypothesis. Don't treat a hypothesis like a fact! This is where people make the biggest mistake.

Your goal is then to find evidence related to the idea. The evidence will tell you whether the hypothesis has potential or whether it's completely bogus.

Two big places you can find evidence: competitors and customers.

If there are already competitors in your field, that's a big piece of evidence that your idea has merit. If there are no competitors, that doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have a chance, but definitely take it as a sign that there's probably a good reason there's nobody else doing it.

If you can find customers, it's nearly proof that you're onto something. Just be cautious because sometimes people will say they like your idea and genuinely believe to themselves that they would pay for it but then actually not in reality.

> "How do you sell first?"

The biggest way that I know of is basically just communicating with people. Find a way to get someone on the phone or get them to open your email or even see them in person, and then pitch your idea to them.

If you're selling a service then it isn't too difficult because you can just verbalize the service and gauge their response. When they like your idea it will be very obvious because they will get excited. If they're not excited then you're talking to the wrong market or your idea/hypothesis needs to be reworked.

If you're selling a product it's essentially the same, but you may need some simple mockups/pictures just to help communicate the idea. You really do not need a full fledged working product or even an "MVP" for this.

The concept of an "MVP" is a huge source of confusion because it assumes you know what "minimally viable" even means. How can you build an MVP when you have no idea what to consider "minimally viable?" The MV part of MVP completely depends on your customer. No customer, no MVP. (This may not quite apply if you're building something specifically to fulfill a need that you have.)

Hope this helps!

By the way, please take this with a grain of salt. This is my personal experience from a couple of failed startups and zero successful startups. I'm clearly not an expert.


Go to a store nearby.

Buy something.

Put it on Ebay.

Sell it.

Tinker with the product description and price and measure results.

Rinse and repeat.

You will learn more than many wanna bes.




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