This Symbl.ai for Startups content series separates facts about the founder journey from fiction — with a little help from program mentors and startup experts. For additional information about how early stage voice AI businesses can benefit from the Symbl.ai for Startups program, reach out to [email protected].
How many times have you come across a blog post with a variation of this title? We’re guessing you’ve already glanced through a whole slew of them that all offer the same vague advice.
This article, however, delves a bit deeper than those into the nitty-gritty process of it all. Something important to remember as you read on is that each of the four steps in the following paragraphs are of equal importance — you will need to put the same amount of effort into these suggestions from beginning to end in order to get your business off the ground.
Step 1: Test demand for your product
The first step in this process is to test demand for your product. Before bringing a startup into existence you have to get out there, make some noise about it, and see who bites.
By this we mean tweeting about your product, buying ads on Facebook, purchasing some Google adwords — even $20 toward this process can go a long way. You yourself will have to shoulder the initial burden of telling the world about it, and telling the RIGHT people. Don’t fall for the “build it and they will come” mentality.
You should also sign up for a cheap or free email campaign tool such as Reply.io. Then, you can build a landing page and offer early access to users who sign up for your marketing emails. Be very clear about the problem you’re solving in order to funnel people to this landing page; these early signups are super valuable.
Now that you’ve got your list of interested people and a functioning landing page, your task is to find three paying customers before you do anything else. Let’s repeat that: You must find three paying customers before you do ANYTHING ELSE.
Don’t knock good old-fashioned cold calls or other seemingly outdated marketing efforts when you get to this point. Put your salesperson hat on and become a bonafide evangelist for your product. Candidly, if you’re the founder of a company and you can’t successfully sell your own product, you shouldn’t have entered the startup world to begin with.
For these discussions it is helpful to generate a web-based clickable prototype (if your product is SaaS based), a prototype app, or use another rapid prototyping tool to create a working mock-up of the product. Figma or InVision are two popular tools of this ilk worth looking into.
There is no excuse for not having the product put together when speaking with prospective customers. You need to know what the product will eventually look like, how to sell it, and how to build it with this kind of prototyping software.
Step 2: Find spaces where your product belongs
Is there a marketplace for your voice AI product specifically? For instance, are you building for a voice assistant or a conversational assistant? In that case, check out the Alexa Skills Marketplace or the Slack App Directory. Be on the lookout for niche marketplaces where your product’s use cases will be appreciated.
You could also go the crowdsourcing route here, but this might complicate your cap tables. Knowing how crowdsourcing will affect your cap tables is important because that will come up later when you’re in dialogue with investors.
You can also introduce your company directly after it launches on Product Hunt, where thousands of tech enthusiasts and journalists flock daily to check out what’s new and next across sectors. You can learn more about this process here, but know that it’s a little more complicated than it may seem and you will need to finesse the system a bit to stand out among the many other tech startups going live on any given day.
There are so many websites that solely showcase freshly launched startups, so it’s worth investigating which ones will accept you at your stage of pre-launch. Be ready to put a lot of sweat equity into this process of becoming easily discoverable.
Step 3: Generate content
CONTENT IS KING. Be extremely vocal on Twitter, Medium, and your blogging and social media platforms of choice about the problem you’re solving.
This advice comes with the huge caveat that you have to write directly from the heart. Keep your CEO hat on and be plain spoken, honest, and straightforward. Do not try to be trendy—try to be vulnerable and honest. Read: No marketing-ese flowery language during this first stage of your company’s launch!
Founders can also offer to guest write blog posts on publications that their target users consistently read explaining the problem their new product solves; this will work better if one is consistent over time with publishing written content, however. Starting a blog can be a ton of work, but it’s well worth the effort if you break through and end up becoming a thought leader in a given industry.
Even better than guest writing, though, is having a respected journalist or institution give your product an unbiased positive review. You can reach out individually to journalists from all over the world via email or through LinkedIn explaining why their readership would value your voice AI product to get this ball rolling.
There are also tons of message boards and other virtual “watering holes” where potential users hang out online, and your team should use this to its advantage by joining in on conversations across forums, message boards, and social media sites to alert the movers and shakers within these communities about why your product is so great, different, or disruptive.
Speaking of social media websites, you’ll want to create a solid digital presence within whichever one (or two, or three) aligns with your product the best. Invest in a company HootSuite account if this is something your team struggles with.
There are social media tools that you can pay for as well that can help you gain followers at a faster rate, and in turn these new followers will start dialogues with you and each other about their — invaluable, at this stage — opinions on the product.
Step 4: Make yourself and your startup as visible as possible
If you’re building a conversation intelligence product for call centers, you need to be at the trade shows, conferences, etc., that cater to the call center space. If your voice AI product solves a problem within the world of finance, get yourself in the physical spaces where the people who will want to use your product are congregating. This goes for any vertical.
If you don’t have the energy to go to in-person conferences and summits, you need to be where people are looking for your solution on the web. Don’t be afraid to ask for help throughout the process of launching your product — that is also likely to bring in customers. LinkedIn is great for this, because asking people in your network for help or feedback will lead them to become interested in what you’re doing and customers will come from that.
One last thing that is perhaps the most important piece of advice in this article: Don’t despair if this process takes a while. A huge mistake we see many startup founders make is shipping their product too early with the aim of getting rapid iterative feedback. Don’t just ship a piece of crap and see what happens. We believe this is an unfortunate side effect of the popularity of “The Lean Startup” and the concept of the MVP, or minimum viable product.
Stick with it — grit is the key to winning in the long term here. If you are solving a real problem, you’ll know when you’ve done enough. Sit back and ask yourself: Is the thing I’m shipping solving my problem?
If the answer is yes, you’re well on your way to widespread success.