Yes, you read that correctly. If you build it, they really will come! It is time to change this conventional advice that is leading entrepreneurs astray in building their companies.
Time and again I hear entrepreneurs being told that, “If you build it, they will come” is false and will kill your company. The conventional wisdom is that entrepreneurs that just build it will fail. I’m here today to tell you that this is in fact false. Instead, you MUST build it in order to succeed. Not sure you agree with this point of view? Keep reading and you’ll see why this conventional wisdom is leading Startups astray.
In the world of Entrepreneurship, we often tell the stories of the rebels that forged their own path against conventional wisdom. If this really is true about successful Entrepreneurs, then why do we spend so much effort on teaching conventional wisdom? And, why do most Startups act, talk, and typically follow the same paths? They are supposed to be rebels that forge their own paths, remember? If you need proof that Startup culture tends to follow fads and trends of this, simply look at the Silicon Valley Patagonia’s vest controversy.
For decades now, it’s common to hear early-stage accelerators, advisors, and mentors tell startups that “If you build it, they will come” will cause you to fail. This advice is centered around trying to get startups to focus on marketing, sales, and building a following before (or during!) their product development. Simply building a product and putting it out there is supposedly the fastest way to fail because, “no one will come.”
But wait a minute, aren’t we supposed to build a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) that only contains the bare minimum of features to sell or get traction and then release it with the intention of only a few people using it? With this advice, the focus isn’t building a massive following. It’s to build a basic version 1 and then get a few people using it, get their feedback, and then continue with a build-measure-learn process of company/product development. Aren’t these concepts contradictory? Yes, they are.
Sure, a case can be made that you should build a massive following, share it with a few, and then roll it out to the audience in greater detail. But very few startups do this as the lure of a larger launch is enticing. The skills and time required to both build your MVP and a large community to launch into are both vast and difficult without a ton of prior experience. Of course, the startup world loves to point to unique individuals that have done this, but it’s not a sustainable path.
The fundamental problem with most advice is that it’s too hyper focused. We need to change the overall narrative of what we are talking about when we share advice on how to run a company. When it comes to the “build it and they will come” advice, the real problem is centered on the noun of this statement. We need to redefine what the ‘IT’ is. Instead of putting insane focus on the marketing and community development we need to focus on building the company. Instead of only focusing on building products, MVPs, and these slow launches, we need to focus our advice and support on helping building companies.
This may seem obvious, but rarely is the focus of the advice that is given to early-stage Entrepreneurs. Instead, almost all advice is focused on a singular topic. After a month of starting a new venture, Entrepreneurs have 100s of items that they feel they should be doing that are not interconnected.
They feel they must build an MVP, build a community, build out your social media presence, newsletters, podcasts, create landing pages, focus on SEO, focus on content marketing channels, focus on influencers, and untold other topics. But each of these individually is just another case of the traditional, “If you build it, they will come” mantra. Evidence shows that this alone is not correct and each of these individual items must be worked on as whole for the company to succeed. We see Startups fail that have a great following, but the product never quite works and even more products without a true business design behind it. Simply focusing on marketing, development, pitching, or a great website will not help you succeed.”
Yes, If You Build IT, They Will Come!
It’s time we changed this narrative and focused on providing advice that talks about the IT. This two-letter word should always represent the company. I stand by my statement that if you build IT, a company, then people will come and buy your products.
This means focusing on building out your brand, messaging, company identity, marketing strategy, and your products. It means focusing on these as interconnected pieces of a business that work together to find, market, and sell to customers. By thinking of building IT as a business and not a product, Entrepreneurs will avoid the trap of focusing solely on one area of the business.
Moving forward, no product development advice should be given without connecting it to the business model, marketing channels, and all aspects of the Startup. No community development or marketing advice should be given without designing the interconnectivity. Entrepreneurs also need to get better at taking advice and resisting the urge to focus on just the parts you want to do. They need to build a business, not a product or marketing channel. All advice needs to fit into the overall business model you are building before you start working on it.
More importantly, Entrepreneurs to also understand that all advice should be meticulously evaluated. Just because it worked for the Unicorn Startup in the press or your friend’s company, doesn’t mean it’ll work the same for you. The lessons learned from each mentor, program, or article you read requires you to extract the value and embed it into your company.
In closing, please remember: If You Build It, They WILL Come, because you are building an awesome company (i.e., the ‘it’) that attracts customers, solves their problems, and continues to grow by providing value through an interconnected network of business components.