Earlier this week, I wrote broadly about 3 steps to launch your creative business: find a support system, develop a plan, and create a minimum viable product. Out of all 3 of those, the one that is most critical to the success of your business is creating a minimum viable product because of its potential to save you both time and money in the long run.Don’t Write a Business Plan
In 2005 I took a year-long course for my undergrad degree called Real Business Experience. At the time it was an elective course, but has since become required for all business students, a wise move in my eyes. While the curriculum hasn’t necessarily proved to match my specific real-life business experience, I learned some valuable lessons that I still reflect back on: the most memorable being that writing a comprehensive business plan is a complete waste of time.
My team and I spent an entire semester writing an incredibly detailed 70 page business plan for a business that we had no actual idea if it had “product-market fit” (I’ll dive more into this in future posts). For the record, the business we launched was a t-shirt printing company in which we became the middle man between consumers and printing companies. Not an entirely compelling business, but on paper, it totally worked.
However, had we spent time testing a minimum viable product (a simple version) of this business instead of writing a business plan, we would have quickly seen that it wasn’t a terribly scalable business. Sure, we could make decent revenue for a class project, but it was never going to go beyond pocket change into a large company.Testing Product-Market Fit
When I launched Umba Box in October 2011, I steered clear of a business plan, only doing a set of financial projections (mainly because I have an unhealthy obsession with Excel). Applying what I learned about testing product-market fit, I launched a landing page using LaunchRock that gave visitors a few sentence overview of my business idea, and collected email addresses and encouraged them to share the page with their friends to drive additional traffic.
Within a week, I had a couple hundred visitors give me their email address (this is also a strong indication that they’d be willing to pay), so I took my test one step further and emailed the list a simple Paypal link offering up a test Umba Box for 50% off what I thought I would charge. Within 3 hours of hitting send, I had sold out of the allotted few dozen boxes I had available. I considered this a success on two fronts: 1) this was something that people were willing to pay for and 2) it seemed to be a price point that people were comfortable with.Don’t Recreate the Wheel
After seeing the limited success of the trial run, it was at that point that I began building a site on Squarespace, a site builder that has a highly intuitive drag-and-drop interface for non-technical users to build a functioning website. To accept payments and manage subscriptions, users completed their transactions on Memberly. What I didn’t do was pay a web development agency $30,000 to build a fully customized site from the get-go. (I could have found a technical co-founder, but I’ll save that for another post). While it wasn’t polished and smooth, it worked. And it worked well enough to attract the attention of investors at 500 Startups.
Notice that along each step of the journey, I used tools that were already available to me: LaunchRock, Paypal, Squarespace, and Memberly. I didn’t try to recreate the wheel, as I knew I was initially just testing to see what I needed to tweak.
If you’re wanting to launch a creative business, don’t think that you have to create everything from scratch. Use the tools that you already have available at your disposal: blogging platforms like WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr; and selling platforms like Shopify, Store Envy, and Etsy. Test your products, see what works, and continually improve.
Let me know what you think:
|The Simple Secret to Finding and Cultivating Your Passion||How to Build a Site (When You Have No Idea How)|
|The Simple Secret to Finding and Cultivating Your Passion|
|How to Build a Site (When You Have No Idea How)|