Stop aiming for the stars & start trying to land on Mars

If you're boot strapped STOP PLAYING BY VC RULES

Did any one else’s parents encourage them to aim for the stars?

Mine did.

That message has stuck with me, and I have used it often to encourage myself to keep going and keep dreaming. Its a great mentality for getting over the hurdles that you encounter day to day.

We all pretty much fall for it. Think about the last pitch deck of presentation you saw. I’m betting that revenues scaled in a pretty exponential fashion, and in 5 years the company would sell for AT LEAST $100 million. Oh, and the target market? It was probably everywhere AND accessible. Only, they left out one part. They haven’t sold a single unit yet.

That’s the problem with aiming for the stars. You have no real direction. Instead, you rely on CHANCE. In this metaphor, you’re basically shooting your spaceship in some direction and saying “at some point the gravity of something will capture me and I’ll start orbiting.”

In a VC backed company where resources are only dwarfed by opinions of certainty, this might be an ok approach. They have the luxury of time. But in a boot-strapped organization it can be a death sentence.

Financial strapped startups (read: 99% of ALL new companies) need to be smarter. The HARDEST thing you’ll have to do is land customer #1 PROFITABLY. It’s easy to give away your product and lose cash doing so. Its HARD to go through the process of narrowing until you identify your CORE CUSTOMER. But going through this learning process is the ONLY way one can truly know WHY someone is buying their product.

But Matt, I can just run Facebook ads and target exactly who I think will buy my product. Its profitable!

No, its not. Or maybe you’ll get lucky out of the gates, but its not sustainable.

Platforms like Facebook are designed to keep marketers reliant on Facebook. They are specifically designed to hide the WHY from you (whyyyyy are your customers buying your product?). By simply understanding the WHO and not the WHY digital ad platforms make it nearly impossible to discover other advertising means that might be cheaper and more effective.

There’s no true shortcut for the hard work of moving slow and gaining insight. And if you’re boot strapping, there really is now excuse not to.

So how do we aim? They key is having the right mentality.

When you’re early, its not about achieving your five year goals. While vision is fun and exciting to think about, it does NOTHING for what we need to do today. The first step in having a million customers is to have one customer. So that’s what we focus on. Literally finding ONE customer.

Until we’ve accomplished that goal, we don;t need to think about customer #2. Once we have, we now have additional data that we can assess to find the next customer, only this time a little easier. As we gain more information and continue to experiment we become smarter and smarter each cycle. Its only after enough cycles of this process to we actually gain the knowledge where it makes sense to spend money on an ad platform.

So, stay humble and keep your eyes on the prize. It may not feel like you’re making progress when you focus on one unit instead of one million, but yo’ll be working on skills and knowledge that a platform won;t be able to take away from you. And that’s really what sustainability is.