I had a great chat with Hiten Shah on my podcast, Product People.
At one point, Hiten brought up an idea I’ve been hearing a lot lately:
One of the key things we’re learning is that you need to build an audience before you build your product. Build your audience not for marketing, but for learning.
Too many of us are building products that don’t have a market. Hiten's insight is that you shouldn't start with an idea, but instead start with people.
I think Hiten is on to something here.
And yet, for anyone who’s never built an audience, this idea is hard to grasp. For one, many of us don’t know where to start:
How do I get started if I can’t even identify the niches that I belong to?
There are practical questions, as well:
How do I get people to follow me on Twitter, my blog, etc…?
How do I know if my niche will be profitable?
There’s also this nagging personal question I’ve had:
Isn’t it self-serving to build an audience, only so you can sell something to them?
Your mindset is a powerful thing: it has a strong influence over the outcomes you’ll achieve.
If you try to build an audience while you’re focused on yourself you’re going to get bad results. No one’s going to follow someone who’s self-absorbed and desperate.
Derek Sivers makes a great point in Start Now: No Funding Needed:
Start by teaching someone something this week.
I love this. Instead of trying to build a big audience, you start by looking for opportunities to help.
This mindset is helping me move from being self-focused to other-focused.
You see, when you focus on the needs of others, “finding your niche” actually takes care of itself.
Derek Sivers was a musician who had more programming knowledge than most musicians. When he started helping artists add a shopping cart to their websites, he “fell into” his niche. He was just trying to help people out, and it turned into a business.
Hiten Shah has a big audience, but that didn’t happen overnight. He’s been focused on helping marketers since 2002. That’s his secret: he started small, 11 years ago. Look at his Twitter stream, look at his blog. He's always on the lookout for opportunities to help people.
After 4 years of helping marketers, Hiten and his co-founder Neil Patel saw the need for heatmaps, so they built CrazyEgg. Two years after that, marketers were asking for help managing funnels, so they built Kissmetrics. These days he's focused on FYI.
We see the big Twitter follower-count, but we don’t see what’s behind that: looking for ways to help people every day.
Let’s return to our friend Derek Sivers:
Starting small puts 100% of your energy on solving real problems for real people.
Quit thinking about yourself. Stop focusing on your insecurities, your lack of experience, and your non-existant social network. It’s OK.
Instead, look for opportunities to help people.
When the person in the cubicle next to you is cursing at their computer that’s an opportunity. When you notice a question in a forum with no answers that’s an opportunity. When someone approaches you for advice that’s an opportunity.
Eventually, you’ll stumble on a trend: you’ll notice that a common group of people have a common problem.
Suddenly, you’ll have an audience.
And then, you’ll have an opportunity to help those people with a product.
"Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you." - Mother Theresa