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How to start

Written by Justin on March 29, 2014

What’s one thing you could do to help people right now?

The people I’ve been interviewed on Product People keep telling me the same thing:

“I wish I’d started with something smaller.”

We all have big ideas for big things we’d like to make. Maybe it’s a full blown SaaS application, or a 500 page book, or the next viral mobile game.

You have big dreams (I have big dreams too). But I’m going to recommend you put them on hold, and do something different:

Build something small, and sell it for $1.

“If you can get anyone to show up and pay you $1, you’ve made it on the internet.” – Dan Martell

I don’t mean “one literal dollar”. I’m talking about building something that has value, that’s not too complicated, and that you could build and sell in a week, a month, or 3 months.

Maybe it’s a WordPress theme, a little book, an icon set, or a video course. Jason Fried’s first product was a little database program he made in FileMaker Pro. He sold it for $20.

Start with something small.

The advantage is that you’ll no longer be a person with ideas – you’ll be a person with customers. You can’t talk to ideas, but you can talk to people. And once you have customers, you’re officially in business.

It’s like dating: you don’t ask someone to marry you 5 minutes after meeting them. You start small: you invite them out for coffee, take them to a show, or go for a walk. These are small acts, but they’re meaningful. Gradually, your relationship develops into something bigger (maybe even a life-long partnership).

Building products is about helping human beings. People have BIG COMPLICATED NEEDS, but they also have small simple needs. It’s ok to identify the “little” needs first.

“Starting small puts 100% of your energy into solving real problems for real people.” Derek Sivers, Start Now: No Funding Needed

Making and selling things is actually quite hard. You can’t just show up and win; you need to ramp up slowly. My buddy Matthew Crist says it’s like people who decide to run a marathon. Marathoners don’t just show up on race day and run 26 miles. They start small, probably with 5 miles. Even 5 mile runs require a training schedule; a gradual ramping up. Running a marathon means lots of practice before the big race.

“Making money takes practice, just like playing the piano takes practice.” – Jason Fried, Signal vs Noise

Part of your training program, as a product person, is to figure out how to build things that people want and need. You can learn techniques from books, but nothing beats first-hand experience. You have to be like the marathon runner: you have to put in the miles. Build something, and try to sell it. No one showed up? Figure out why. It’s a lot better to make your mistakes on the 5 mile race, rather than the marathon.

Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea founder, as a child

One of my favourite stories, is of a man named Ingvar Kamprad. He started practicing sales young: he would go door to door on his bicycle, and sell matches to his neighbours. After a while he moved up to Christmas decorations, fish and ball point pens. Then at age 17 he started his first company. He called it IKEA. A company that had $37 billion dollars in sales last year, literally started with a boy selling matches. IKEA is huge, but matches are small.

Start small.

Justin Jackson

Tiny Marketing Wins


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