EP. 4: The WORST Assumptions You Can Make as a SaaS Founder
In our personal lives, we’ve learned that assumptions will often lead us astray. When it comes to an early stage SAAS startup, they can be the difference between success and failure.
In this episode of In Demand, Asia Orangio of DemandMaven shares the six worst assumptions that you can make as a SAAS founder and how to reframe them for success.
- Check out the Baremetrics blog post on SAAS milestones: https://baremetrics.com/blog/how-fast-saas-companies-hit-arr-milestones
- If you build it, they will pay.
- The traditional saying if you build it, they will come. But
- Here’s the thing – it’s too easy to build software these days.
- Don’t get ahead of the paying process
- Two approaches: getting beta users, keeping them for a long time and rolling out a payment plan later, or rolling out a paid tier now
- Generally speaking, if you’re in a market with competitors, offering a cheaper plan will be your best bet; offering it for free may or may not be perceived positively if they expect to pay something
if you’re in a market without competitors or it’s net new category, offer it for free for as long as you can. charge after you have clear adoption
- “It worked for them”.
- Copying someone else’s tactics will work for your business. Not always. There’s certain situations where certain activities make sense and work, but more than anything, it’s a particular context.
- The first 100 customers are fast.
- On average, 217 days to get to $833 MRR
- 400+ days to reach $100K ARR (or $8300K MRR)
- 716+ total days to reach $1M ARR (or $83,000K MRR)
- Reaching $100K MRR — 2.5 years
- You can change a market’s behavior.
- Product adoption happens because of two things:
- It’s truly easier to use your product
- It’s solving a problem better than the competitive alternative
- The market moves as fast as you.
- On average it takes a few months for the market to catch up to you. they’re not waiting for your every update
- Others are doing better than you or have it more figured out.
What’s up, founders? And welcome to another episode of the In Demand podcast where we talk all about how to get to your very first 100K in MRR. I’m your host, Asia, over at DemandMaven where we work with early-stage founders on reaching those exact growth milestones, the first 100 customers, the first 10K in MRR, and then of course the first 100K in MRR.
Today, we’re going to talk about the worst assumptions that you can make as a SaaS founder. I’ve got six here today. So buckle up. We’re going to dig pretty deep into each of these. They are myths, assumptions, global perceptions that at the end of the day really aren’t true. And we’re going to dig into each one, debunk a little bit of those myths, and form some new assumptions. So sit back, relax, or not. Panic. No, I’m just kidding. Don’t panic. Don’t do that. But seriously, sit back. Take some notes. If anything really resonates with you, I would love to know. But also, I hope that more than anything you walk away from today with some confidence but also with an enlarged perspective or a widened perspective of where you’re at in your SaaS journey and what’s, finger quote, normal and also what’s not. Let’s dig in.
The first assumption, if you build it, they will pay. If you build it, they will pay. This one is shockingly more common now. Where it comes from is it comes from … Well, first of all, in the market today, just in the real world today, it is easier than ever to build software and to acquire software. If you have an idea as a founder, you can build a SaaS relatively easy, quickly, and in some cases affordably. It’s easier now more than ever to even build no or low code software. So if you have a concept, pretty much anyone today can either hire a developer or build it themselves.
And it’s not so much anymore that if they build it they will come. That’s always pretty much going to be true. And that speaks more to the global assumption that you don’t need marketing or you don’t need to promote your product once you’ve actually built it. Maybe I’m stretching this assumption a little bit, but I think most founders generally understand, at least now. It’s a widely accepted and known now that, well, of course you need to promote it, and of course you need to market it. There’s too many software choices out there today. What makes us really think that we wouldn’t need to? Maybe I’m being a little bit too optimistic there on how many people do understand that and know that.
But the opposite side of that is not just if we built it, they will come, but will they come and actually pay? This is an assumption that we have to be extremely careful of as founders. Because if we don’t have any paying customers yet, and I find this is far more common for founders who don’t have paying customers yet, at the end of the day, you do have to fundamentally believe that they will pay at some point. But if we don’t know, if we don’t actually know if they will pay or become a paying customers, they’re paying you real money and they’re not like your mom, your grandma, your cousin, then we have to validate that assumption at some point.
Sometimes, and I think this really speaks more to whenever I’m talking with founders, sometimes we get ahead of ourselves. We make the assumption that, oh, if I just build it, they’ll pay, but I need to skip to the they will come part. And this is actually where I think a lot of founders put themselves in dangerous situations where they are so considered about the marketing aspect and they haven’t even considered is this product valuable enough for people to pay real money for. Otherwise, you are doing charity work and you are offering a product for free. Which if that’s part of the plan, awesome. There’s zero judgment there. But if you do expect to actually get revenue from a product, if you actually expect to charge for the product, it’s so important that we don’t skip too far ahead and just assume that people will pay for it.
The best way to know if someone will pay for your product is to actually try to charge them for it. What I love about that part of the process … And typically, with the founder journey, just in general, the journey looks like I’ve got this idea, I’m going to validate it in the market, I’m going to do some customer discovery and a little bit of customer development and see if I can get some users. I need to actually build the product. So then they go through the process of building the product and validating it with what they’ve got or what they’ve heard from those potential customers.
Then, at some point, they have to actually make it live. I’m putting that in finger quotes because this could be like a mobile app or this could be more traditional, like browser, SaaS. But at some point you have to make it accessible in some kind of way to your users. Then at that point, this is where it gets a little tricky because you either need to immediately validate if people will pay for it right off the bat or you see if people will just use it first. But either way, there’s so much magic that actually happens.
And I call it magic because it is truly something that you have to experience at the right time and at the right moment. But when you do, it is unforgettable. Because when you actually do get to that moment of I’m going to start charging money for this, for access to this product and for you to be able to use it, something magical happens. And the most base human instinct kicks in, and it’s that fight or flight, or that heck yes I’m going to pay money for this, or this is not worth my time, I’m out. And there’s literally no faking that. There’s no replacement for that moment of truth. That moment of truth, there’s no denying it, and there’s certainly no faking it or replacing it.
And unfortunately, many founders skip way far ahead from that moment of truth. They focus much more on selling and the marketing side of things before they’ve ever even charged for their product because they assume that people will pay for it. And I always backtrack. Sometimes I’ll talk to founders who really, really, really want to hire DemandMaven to build out their marketing or to lay a marketing foundation, or some kind of growth foundation, or even execute a few tests for them. But if they’re not actually charging for the product, we’re basically generating a bunch of free users and hoping that they pay without actually ever knowing if they’ll pay, and that’s the difference.
This is an assumption that can unfortunately cost you a lot of time, blood, sweat, tears, and money. I always recommend to founders if this is an assumption that you’re carrying with you, you don’t have any paying customers, two things. How can we validate that, that people will ultimately pay? Or, and/or, how do we ensure that when we do start charging that we learn as much as possible, either about the user, or about the market that they’re in, or their vertical, or their segment, or their persona, if you will, and also about their behavior?
There’s really two approaches, and these are the approaches that I hope that you take with you. You can choose either one. There is no right or wrong answer. There’s certainly caveats to them and disclaimers to them in terms of when would you use which. But if you’re not certain if people will pay for your product, well, first, let’s make sure that we’re actually building the product. So let’s not get too, too ahead of ourselves in terms of thinking about pricing and what payment plans we need to offer. If the product isn’t even built yet, that’s really mission number one. After the product is built, we can start getting it to the hands of prospects, people who could become customers but they’re not paying right now. We also call these people beta users or beta testers, either one. Although, typically, beta users and beta testers are there to explicitly test the product, whereas prospects are people that we would like to ultimately attract at some point. They could technically be both.
But, there’s really two approaches here if we’re not currently charging for our built product. The first approach is we can offer it for free. So offer it as more like of a beta program. Or maybe it’s something that people can apply for. They get to use it for free, but they don’t pay for it quite yet. There isn’t a payment plan quite yet because we need to validate that we actually have something that people will use.
The second approach is, okay, let’s maybe get … Let’s focus on getting our very first few 10 paying customers. All you need, really, is 10 to begin with and that’ll give you a pretty indicator of who is most likely to actually pay and stick around. But we offer a payment plan right off the bat and try to find our very first 10 customers. So maybe we don’t offer it for free quite yet. We might have a free trial, an extended free trial. Maybe it’s 21 days or 30 days. But beyond that, we’re entering the market with the intent of charging immediately.
Neither one of these is, honestly, right or wrong answers. It does ultimately depend on your market. There’s two indicators, at least, of when you would choose one over the other. For example, if you have competitors in the market, maybe you’re in a slightly competitive market and your product is something that people generally recognize … So let’s say you’re entering into the project management industry, for example. You’re much more likely to either offer a much cheaper plan, meaning you can probably enter into the market charging right off the bat, but maybe you offer a cheaper plan. Or you still have the intent to charge but you’ve got much more flexibility on when that actually happens. So maybe you offer that extended free trial. Maybe it’s three months. You could also approach it much more like an annual deal where they get three months free but you’ve booked them for the entire year.
There’s many different ways to approach this. But if there are competitors in the market, you have a lot of flexibility in terms of offering it completely for free. Maybe you do just do freemium for a while so you can learn as much as possible, but you could also just immediately start charging for it. And it’s really up to you and the market of what is expected here based off of what your product is and who you ultimately serve.
There are some cases where your industry and the market that you’re in, it would be weird to offer a platform for free, especially if it’s something that there are other competitors and your prospects expect to pay and it would be weird to offer it for free. This is especially the case in terms of enterprise software. But play that one by ear. So if you’ve got competitors in the marketplace, you’re probably okay. Just go ahead and start charging for it. That would certainly be a way for you to learn as fast as possible. But you’ve got flexibility so use your best judgment in terms of what people expect product-wise in the marketplace that you’re in.
The flip side to that. Let’s say you’re in a market that doesn’t have any competitors. You are entering into a totally new category or it’s a category that’s adjacent to an existing one but there’s not really anyone who looks exactly like you. Couple things. First, what are your competitive alternatives? Meaning, what are the things that people are doing instead of using your product? Are they using a spreadsheet? Are they using one of the more popular, well-known freemium versions of what you offer even if it’s not as cool or awesome as what you do? What are people using instead? What is the existing behavior? That will let you know if you can likely enter into immediately offering it for free.
But chances are, if there aren’t any other real competitors, meaning people aren’t used to paying for something in your vertical, or market, or industry, then you’re much more likely to focus on acquiring as many beta users as possible, focus on acquiring as many people to try it out for as long as is necessary as possible, and then roll out a payment plan only after you’ve really figured out who you have the best product market fit for. Either one of these approaches absolutely works just based off of your business, your product, your market, your prospects, and your customers. There’s no right or wrong answer, but there’s certainly a way to challenge that assumption of if I just built it, they’ll definitely pay for it. Wrong. You really don’t know that until you actually do start charging, and that’s kind of, honestly, the scariest bit.
Push come to shove, though, it doesn’t really make sense to push the gas on marketing efforts when we don’t really know who is most likely to pay. I tell this to founders all the time. It’s a concept that is so tough to communicate sometimes because many founders believe that they have to do marketing first, but I almost always disagree. In fact, I actually recommend that it would be faster if founders actually did sales first and customer development first. And no, it is not a scalable strategy. It’s not meant to last you for your entire journey. I’m not even saying go build a sales function or go build a sales department. It’s not what I’m saying at all. All I’m saying is if you don’t know if someone’s going to pay for your product, try selling it. You’re going to learn really fast if they will or they won’t. And if they don’t, figure out why. Understand why. And if they do, ah. Now we have a segment that we can start to build around. Now we actually have a market that we can build marketing around.
One thing that marketing is amazing at is it is really, really, really good at expanding, and growing, and filling your pipeline with abundance with what you’ve already got. It’s not the best at figuring out who the best paying customer is. The hands down fastest, best way to do that is to do actual sales. And no, like I said, it is not meant to be a scalable strategy. In fact, if you’ve got, let’s say, like a less expensive product, maybe you’re only charging two dollars a month or something, I would still say even then it’s actually much better to talk to people about it and to actually try selling it yourself even though it’s as cheap as it is because you will learn so much more doing that than us trying to make a bunch of guesses on the marketing side, just hands down. So from now on, it’s not if you build it, they will pay, it’s much more like if you build it, test it out, validate it, get some feedback, they’re more likely to pay.
The second assumption. This one really gets under my skin, but it is unfortunately so common. It’s so common that I actually wrote an article about it for Growth Hackers a couple years ago. But it’s this general assumption that if it worked for them, it’s going to work for me. I want to light that assumption on fire. I want to light it on fire. The reason why is because, yes, one of my favorite things, stories, if you will, or parts of being in SaaS and startup world in general is talking about our experiences of how we’ve grown and what we’ve done to achieve our goals, dreams, results, you name it. I love sharing those stories. I love talking about those stories. I love unpacking those stories.
But one critical thing about all of those growth stories, you can do all the research on the planet, you can do all the Google searching, and all of the hacker news scrolling, and all of the product hunt scrolling, and all of the tweeting back and forth, you can do all those activities, you can unearth so many ideas, and strategies, and paths, and journeys that people have taken to achieve the results that they’ve gotten, but one thing that is so critical about all of those strategies, and tactics, and stories is their context. One assumption that definitely gets founders in a lot of trouble is the assumption that if it worked for someone else, it’s going to work for you. This is false. This is so false.
But it’s not false for the reasons that you might think it is. It’s only false by way of the context. Certain tactics, certain strategies work extremely well for certain markets, but only based off of those certain markets. The reality is that certain strategies, tactics, and practices, while many of them are extremely consistent, some of them are just completely broken when they’re applied to a different kind of customer or a different kind of market. There are some strategies in marketing, for example, that for the most part are shatterproof.
For example, if you can build an inbound organic SEO strategy and build that content and get the traffic, amazing. That’s one of those strategies that for the most part across most industries it’s pretty shatterproof. But the second that you put inbound in front of a market that doesn’t search for content, shockingly enough, it falls apart. This is the kind of context that many founders don’t actually have when they’re studying another company’s strategy. One thing that I always try to emphasize for them is, yes, the strategy is cool. Don’t get me wrong. The tactics that you see on the other end of those strategies, those are really cool, too.
I love when a company does a really good job of marketing or growth. In fact, a great example of this is Superhuman. I absolutely love Superhuman. I love everything that they do. I’m a huge fan of Superhuman. But I often hear from other founders, “Oh, man. It would be so cool to copy their onboarding strategy.” And something that I have to remind them is, don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing onboarding strategy, but it was born out of a very specific set of contexts in a very specific market. And also, the way that Superhuman as a company is built, there’s so many different parts of that context and so many layers of that that we don’t understand or know because we’re not in the company ourselves.
So if you find yourself doing research on other founders’ journeys on how they achieved a certain result, I’m not saying don’t do the research. I think that that’s still important. It’s still important for you to understand what are the different strategies, and tactics, and challenges, and practices that are available to me. What can I do from a go-to market or just marketing perspective that might generate the desired result for me? That’s not the bad thing at all. And even bad is a strong word. It’s much more like it would just be much more helpful if you also remembered and reminded yourself that there is a specific context upon which this story worked or this journey worked. And if you know what to look for, you’ll be able to pick up on those things. For example, how long did it actually take them?
An example that I hear a lot also is actually from Drift. Drift is an example that many founders use from a standpoint of total admiration, which I completely agree with. I totally get it. I also admire their growth and what they’ve achieved. Something that I hear a lot, though, that founders want to copy is creating a category. Drift created a category, this conversational marketing category. I’ve also heard it on behalf of account-based marketing, companies like Terminus.
And don’t get me wrong, creating a category is really freaking cool. The challenge with it is that there’s many arguments around when creating that category, when that context actually really supports what a company is doing. It’s not that it couldn’t work for you, it’s just simply that if you’re going to do it, here are the things that made that successful for Drift. For one, funding. It’s really expensive to create a category, actually. And April Dunford, she is a positioning expert for software companies. But April Dunford actually talks a lot about her experiences attempting to create a category and just how challenging, and expensive, and long term that is.
The other thing about Drift, for example, that people don’t really remember or realize is that Drift didn’t come out of nowhere creating a category. The reality is that it had actually taken them two to three years before we had ever heard of them to have created such a name for themselves. It actually took them much longer than you would’ve thought beforehand. So if you’ve got five years to create a category and you got the funding, be my guest. But that’s the kind of context that so many of these success stories are … It’s not that they’re missing, it’s just we don’t know to look for it. So if you find yourself really studying certain stories or really studying certain strategies and tactics, again, just ask yourself, “What is the context here that has made this successful? And what is the context that I’m in that could make this fail?” Those are the questions and things that you should be asking yourself. Otherwise, if it’s a more or less pretty low risk strategy or tact, I say go for it.
So it’s not really if it worked for them, it’ll work for me. It’s much more like if it worked for them in this market, in this industry for these kinds of people under this kind of software category, then it will probably maybe work for me. It’s not a guarantee. So don’t get too hung up on copying a strategy exactly like what another company has done to achieve a particular result. But if you are going to, at least take a step back and just think about what is the context that could make this really work and what is the context that could make this not work. That’ll help save you quite a lot of time, money, and energy, and also could help you gain as well. Adapting a strategy could also be something that you achieve by going through that exercise.
The third assumption. Ooh, this is a good one. I just looked down at my list and I was like, “Oh, man.” Okay, the first 100 customers is fast. I’m going to say it. The first 100 customers is fast. This one actually hurts to say sometimes because I don’t know that it gets talked about enough. I don’t know that it gets talked about enough amongst founders how long it actually takes from day one of working in the business or on the business to I’ve achieved the first 100 customers to I’ve achieved the first million in MRR or 100K in MRR, either one.
There is an article by Baremetrics on the Baremetrics blog. I believe it was actually by Josh Pickford. There’s an article on the Baremetrics blog that talks about how long on average does it take SaaS companies to reach these growth milestones. The growth milestones being 10K in ARR or I think like 100 or so dollars of MRR, all the way up to a million in ARR. The results across a thousand SaaS companies, it’s fascinating, and it’s also a little bit shocking how long it actually takes to get to these big milestones. I say 100 customers, but really could be any of these milestones.
Just for fun, I’m going to give you some of these stats from this article. According to this article, on average, it takes about 217 days to get to $833 of MRR. 217 days. That’s the first day of working on the product and offering it, go to market is what we’re assuming. So we’re assuming that the product is finished and it’s live. So if it took you two years to build it and now it’s launched and it’s live and now you’re trying to get customers, it could take you an extra 217 days on average to get to $833 in MRR.
To get to 8,300 or so dollars … Excuse me. To get to nearly 10K MRR, technically this 8,300 MRR, but to get to even just like 10K in MRR, it could take you 400-plus days total. Let’s see. Almost an extra year after that first year. So maybe like a year and a half it could take you just to get to 10K in MRR. And then finally, to get to 1 million in ARR, so that’s about little less or little more than 83,000 MRR, 1 million ARR, 700-plus days on average.
Now, what’s really cool about looking at these numbers is that while it takes a long time, or at least it seems like it takes a long time to get to these particular milestones, the cool part is that once you get over it, once you get over that hump, reaching the next increment is actually much faster than it was to get to the very first one. The saying goes your first 100K is always going to be the hardest, but the second will be much easier and much faster after that. Same thing for the first million. After you reach the first million, it gets much easier after that. In fact, it appears, at least on average, that the time to get to the second million is reduced by, what, 60%, 70%? So it’s much faster to get to the next million. But getting to those very first milestones, a lot of effort, time, and energy, money even, resources … I don’t want to say money because that’s not necessarily a requirement, but at least the resources.
I think part of the challenge with this particular assumption is that back to what I was saying earlier, so many of us, we do so much research, and listening, and talking to other founders and unpacking their journeys. What I don’t know is as obvious or clear, however, is how long it actually takes people to achieve these milestones and achieve these results. Sometimes it can take a year, year and a half just to even get to the first 100 customers, let alone the first 10K in MRR. Doesn’t really matter what you’re charging. Sometimes the first 100 paying people is one of the hardest things that you can possibly accomplish. But once you do, it gets easier to acquire the next 100, and then the 100 after that.
You know I love my disclaimers, so of course I have to say, I feel compelled to say that just because it takes some companies a really long time to achieve certain results, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t push for those results. It’s not at all what I’m saying. But what I am saying is that even with effort, even with hard work, it can still take quite a long time, long, of course, only being defined by what our perception of long is. I actually think that, personally, getting to a million, if on average it takes about 700-plus days, and that’s assuming that you’ve survived and you’re able to survive that long just to see that, then that’s actually pretty fast. You’re doing pretty good. I don’t know that most businesses see that much revenue in that much time. But 700 or so days, two and a halfish years, two and a half plus years, that’s on average how long it can take.
I think more than anything, I want to make sure that we’ve got the right mindset when I say this. It’s not to say that this is a bad thing or you need to be worried or concerned. It’s much more like it will take time, and it truly is a journey. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t push, but it’s certainly not something that is rushed. I think that is, more than anything, the resounding truth. If you put in the work, you’ll likely see the results. And if you put in the right work, you’ll potentially see the results faster.
But overall, when you hear another founder say it takes time … I put that in finger quotes. It takes time. It takes time. It really truly does take time. In fact, on average, it could take you two and a half years to get to the first million. And again, that is not to scare people. But if if grounds you a little bit into reality and if it motivates you to take the best action now or to at least prioritize what you’re doing or to make sure that you are building the right thing, definitely do that. Know that this will be a journey, and it truly will be, and it will take time. So it’s not necessarily that the first 100 customers is fast or that it should be fast. If anything, the first 100 customers is exactly correlated to your market, to you, your resources, your business, and really, I mean, at the end of the day, the product.
All right. Number four. You can change a market’s behavior. This one kind of falls in line with creating a category, and maybe that should’ve actually been an assumption. But it actually does work for some businesses so I don’t want to be too overzealous there when I say this. But a very common mistake that we make as founders, as marketers, as researchers, as whoever, a very common mistake that we make is that sometimes we assume that we can just change a market’s behavior.
What do I mean by that? I mentioned competitive alternatives earlier. A competitive alternative is really a behavior or it’s an action or a step that someone takes instead of using our products. That competitive alternative, it can be anything from taking a particular street every single time you walk home, all the way down to I only use Excel for these things, all the way down to, well, this is how I do my checklists every single day. And sometimes we hope that as SaaS providers and founders that, oh, well, we’re offering this product. Well, certainly just use it.
But here’s the tricky thing about building a product and actually having adoption. Product adoption happens because of two things. It’s truly easier to use your product, not perceived easy, but it’s actually fewer steps for people to use your product as opposed to the competitive alternative. The second thing is that it’s solving a problem better than the competitive alternative. Better is to be defined by your market research, your customer research, of course. And we can also define better really by is it saving us time, or money, or both, or is it preventing us from experiencing a pain, so risk aversion in some kind of way. And there’s likely other examples of this.
But it has to be doing those two things. It has to be helping us do something better and solving a pain better than what I was doing before, and it has to actually be easier. What I find is sometimes we come across problems in the market that we want to solve with a product, but the product isn’t really well positioned in terms of the prospect’s workflow or just their flow in general. In fact, sometimes we create a product and we assume that we can change someone’s behavior in order to use it and to actually get value from it. This is a dangerous assumption to make, and it’s one that’s much more closely related to the actual product development process and then also, of course, the customer development process or the prospect development process of really understanding, well, what is the customer’s pain, what should we actually be building, and how can we put ourselves in the right position that way we actually get used.
It’s not as often that I come across this. But every now and again, if I’m talking to a founder about their product and they’re not seeing the adoption, they’re not seeing people actually use it, sometimes it’s the market. Sometimes we’re just targeting the wrong people. But sometimes, and more often than not I find, we have made the assumption that we can just change the market behavior, that we can change how they already take certain steps and take certain actions. But as long as we fulfill those other requirements, we can see that production adoption. So for example, as long as we’re truly making it easier and we’re better than the competitive alternative, then we’ll see the adoption. So that’s where, of course, changing the market behavior does actually become possible. But if we’re not doing those two things, we’re not going to be able to change what people actually do.
I’m going to give you example. And actually, this is also a client example. I’ve got a client in the therapy mental health space. They are a client that I’ve worked with before, an amazing client, great, great overall case study and example, but they are in the telehealth space. What they offer is a software that helps connect pre-licensed therapists with clinical supervisors. And what they do is they offer a way for pre-licensed therapists to actually get clinical supervision virtually. You wouldn’t have thought this, or you might not have known this, I should say, but apparently it’s actually really hard for a pre-licensed therapist to actually become real therapists, like licensed, credentialed therapists. They’ve got to get clinical supervision. Sometimes those clinical supervisors are super far away from them or they’re not able to reach them.
So this particular product offers a way for these two people to connect virtually, complete supervision. The pre-licensed therapist is happy because they complete their supervision hours. The clinical supervisor is happy because they’re able to retain in a way a client. The therapist actually has to pay for this time. And they can do it without … They both can do this without having to drive anywhere. Then, of course, they can do this, really, cross-country depending on what their licensure time is and what state they’re both in. That’s the context.
Now, here’s the thing about the therapy industry. Therapists are not traditionally the most technical people in the world. That’s not really where their training is or where their best strengths lie so we can’t really expect them to use incredibly complex software. And at the same exact time, there is a behavior that they already take that if we can identify that behavior and figure out a way how to insert ourselves into that process then hopefully they will see … Well, first they’ll discover us, but then also they’ll see that, really, we’re a much better solution than the competitive alternative, which the competitive alternative is I’ve got to Google search a clinical supervisor in my state for my licensure type, and I got to hope and pray that they’re affordable, and I also have to hope and pray that I can actually drive to them. This particular product, however, eliminates the need to drive and also enables pre-licensed therapists to find available clinical supervisors within the price range more or less of what they’re expecting to pay.
If we had just assumed that we could change a market behavior, we would’ve just built a product, and just let it out loose, and just hope and prayed that, well, not only did people find it but that they just immediately used it. But what we found instead was that there was a competitive alternative and a behavior set that we knew we weren’t going to be able to change but we could at least influence, and that behavior was … Well, the way that most pre-licensed therapists find clinical supervisors is by really just searching them. They use different directories, and they use referrals, and they ask their friends, they ask communities. But more often than not, they’re actually just doing the organic search research. What I mean by that is they’re literally just typing in clinical supervisors in a particular state for a particular credential. That was the behavior that we identified through customer research and through customer development.
We wouldn’t really have guessed that or at least validated it without doing that actual research and talking to customers and talking to prospects not necessarily about how they found us, because that’s not really what is important, but how would they have found a supervisor in the first place. If we didn’t exist, how would they have found a clinical supervisor? Again, I’m trying to identify the market behavior that already exists. I’m not trying to create an entirely new behavior.
So what did we do when we discovered that pre-licensed therapists look for clinical supervisors in their state for their credentials? We created landing pages for every single state for every single credential. So if anyone is looking for a clinical supervisor in Georgia for an LMFT, for example, they will find our landing page, upon which we will educate them on what clinical supervisors are actually available in Georgia. But also, this is an opportunity to instead of having them change their behavior of looking for a supervisor, we’ll actually help them change instead how they solve it.
So we haven’t changed the market behavior necessarily around, well, what do pre-licensed therapists do when they need to solve this pain. Instead, we matched it and then we offered them a different solution. That’s what I mean by we can’t just assume that we’re going to be able to change your market behavior. The chances of that are actually really small. But what we can do is identify it, insert ourselves into that process, and offer ourselves as a different, better solution. And if we do our job right, both from a marketing and a product perspective, then our customers will see that we actually are easier and that we are doing it better than whatever it was that they were doing before. That’s really true product adoption. So it’s not necessarily that you can change a market’s behavior. It’s much more like you can’t change a market’s behavior, but you can put yourself in the right place at the right time and offer the market a different solution to their behavior.
Okay, number five. The market moves as fast as you. My background originally wasn’t in marketing. Honestly, it was about art, actually. I was a traditional oil painter. I painted figure. I loved oil paint in particular, and my degree was actually in art. It wasn’t until I moved into technology that I was introduced to a marketing career. And when I moved more into technology, I pretty much doubled down on software and marketing pretty much from the get-go, as much as I could at least.
One thing that I’ve learned as a marketer is that especially in your early marketing career it’s that the market just simply does not move as fast as you do. As the founder, as the marketer, as the growth expert, as the whatever, you will always move faster than your market. What I mean by that is your insight, your ideas, your campaigns, your execution, pretty much every single thing that you do, it’s going to take a little bit of time for the market overall to catch up, especially if you’re doing something that is really innovative and really, really, really different. In fact, the more innovative, the more likely it is that it will take even longer for people to understand and to adopt.
Airbnb is actually an example that gets thrown around a lot in general, but I actually do believe that it resonates pretty well or fits pretty well here. What I mean by that is, again, similar to Drift, most people don’t realize that Airbnb was actually around for, gosh, I think it was about four to five years. Don’t quote me on that. It was around four years that Airbnb existed before anyone ever really truly knew that it existed. Their first few years was them trying to sell and build a relatively different kind of product. They originally had a different idea and a different concept. When that didn’t take off as fast as they thought it would, they decided to actually focus on a totally different product and sell and market that instead to keep the lights on. But when they came to it, they came back to it with a very different set of insight and a very different set of expectations around how the market will react.
It wasn’t until after they came back to their original concept for Airbnb, or Air Bed and Breakfast at the time, that they realized that they were focusing on the wrong part of the marketplace that they were ultimately trying to build. Originally, they were focused on just offering a bed and breakfast to people who were traveling or to people who were really just needed a spot to stay for the night. And instead, they decided to focus much more on the property management aspect of everything. Surely there were other people who had places to rent or to offer to others who were traveling who didn’t want to do a hotel. They also realized that their positioning and the way that the product was designed and built at the time wasn’t really conducive to this new set of behaviors. But even still, it took Airbnb four to five years to actually get the rest of the market on board. Airbnb pretty much always moved faster than the rest of the world. And it’s something that’s so hard to internalize, but absolutely true.
You can run a campaign. And some campaigns, if they are well designed and if they’re well timed, will generate great results. But pretty much overall, you as a business, as a product, as founder, as a marketer even, you’re always going to move faster than your market. So it’s important to remember that there are some scenarios and situations where whatever marketing you pull together, everyone else usually needs to catch up to. So if you don’t see instantaneous results overnight, just keep that in mind. It is likely because the campaign or whatever it was that you produced might not have been the best optimized.
But even in that scenario, even with the best optimized campaigns, sometimes our timing into the market is just a little bit too early. So we have to figure out do we … For lack of a better phrase, how do we dumb it down a little bit for customers to be able to get on board with us? Because sometimes we jump way too far ahead sometimes. We make assumptions that we think that everyone understands, that everyone knows, and it’s not necessarily the case. So it’s really not the market moves as fast as you. It’s really much more the market moves as fast as it wants, and you can choose how you match your cadence to that.
All right. We’re into the last one, the home stretch. This last one is very near and dear to my heart because I personally feel like I talk about this, at least with my founders, all the time. But it’s that others are doing better than you or have it more figured out. I can tell you with confidence, with just the utmost confidence, that no one really truly has it all figured out. And also, it really truly is your journey, and it’s not supposed to look like anybody else’s.
It breaks my heart in the most emotional and kind of clichéd way whenever a founder asks me if a client is doing better or worse than them. Part of it is because I think we all kind of have that … We all have a little bit of that insecurity that maybe we’re screwing it all up and we really don’t know what we’re doing. Maybe we got the imposter syndrome speaking in our ear or in our minds. I think a lot of us are generally afraid of taking the wrong step.
It’s also really easy to compare your results and your successes to another’s, especially when results and successes are all that seems to be lauded. It’s very rare that you read a story about failure. It’s very rare that you read a story even more so about how much was lost, how much money or revenue was lost, or how much we wasted, or how much time we wasted, or all of the wrong turns that we took. It’s much more likely that successes are celebrated.
And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t celebrate our successes. Of course we should. Not saying that. But what I’m definitely saying is that if you’ve got this assumption that others are doing way better than you, or that you don’t have it figured out, or that they have got it more figured out than you, just make sure to pause there. Just pause. Because those kinds of assumptions about yourself, about your business, about your place in the world, those kinds of things impact your mindset way more than you might think it does. Being on the receiving end of that, even as a consultant, or a team member, or what have you, being on the receiving end of that mind space and that mindset, it has a lot of impact, and not all of that impact is positive. Sometimes it’s actually very negative. But if you find yourself constantly comparing your current place or your status to someone else’s just make sure to pause and check those assumptions. Would you ever say that to a friend ever, especially a good friend? Probably not. So don’t talk to yourself that way.
Do a little bit of self work on figuring out where those insecurities are coming from. But also, take it from me, and take this with a grain of salt, but take it from me if you can, just know that no one is really doing better, not really. There’s a trade-off in every way. You might see success on the outside in one place, but just know that everyone has struggles, everyone has challenges, everyone has things that they’re working through, and it’s just so rare that anyone has everything perfect.
But also, your journey truly is your journey. You’re never going to be able to follow someone else’s path exactly as they’ve laid it out. At the end of the day, it’s still going to be your journey and your path. So if it feels like you’re behind, just be careful about that kind of thinking. Not saying that you shouldn’t push at all. Not saying that you shouldn’t strive for greatness and excellence in virtually everything that you do. But what I am saying is don’t hold yourself to some perceived reality or to some massive cognitive distortion that tells you that you’re not enough, that you’re not doing enough, or that things are just really shitty and they can’t be repaired or fixed in any kind of way. Very rarely ever true, but it’s also it’s really special, and beautiful, and unique that it truly is your journey.
Don’t mean to get super crunchy on you guys, and I don’t mean to get a little bit spiritual on y’all, but I’m just saying if you find yourself comparing, pause. So it’s really not that others are doing better than you or have it more figured out. It’s much more that others are just doing them, and you should do you. That’s the magical, beautiful thing about founder journeys in general and entrepreneurs in general. We’re going to do us. You should do you. And that’s a cool, and amazing, and a wonderful thing. I hope I get to do that with you. Sounds awesome, actually.
But also, now a little bit of a caveat, no one really has it figured out. Everyone is struggling with something. Never forget that. Everyone has their own struggles and challenges, especially in this early stage. Does it get easier? Debatable. Ask Rand Fishkin if it got easier for him when he had more to lose. Some things did, and other things didn’t. It’s all about perspective at the end of the day.
Thank you so much for listening. That was a fun one. That was a really fun one, actually. I hope that you learned something today. I hope that this was helpful or valuable in some kind of way. As always, I want to hear from you. I want to hear about some of the assumptions that maybe you’ve got or others that you’ve identified in founders in general. So what are some of the other assumptions? What did I miss? Let’s talk about it.
As per usually, thank you again for listening. Hope this was helpful. My name is Asia. We’ll chat next time. Thanks again, guys. Bye.