learning

Learning to Build & Learning to Sell: The 2 Concepts You Ought to Learn If You Are Running A Startup

 [This article was originally published at www.BobbyOng.com. Bobby is a UCL Economics graduate and self-taught web developer. He is a keen follower of technology and is passionate about entrepreneurship, education and the pursuit of happiness. Read more about him at bobbyong.com and follow him on Twitter @bobbyong]

I wished someone had let me read Dan Shipper’s article on Why Are You In a Rush when I was starting out on my first website as a 17-year-old high-school boy. Many young entrepreneurs, according to Dan’s observations, seem to be in a rush because they believe their idea is The Next Big Thing and become so focused on their artificially set time-constraints that they “ignore doing the one thing that will help them the most: building tangible skills”.

My friend, Alan from Startup Chile once told me the following: There are only 2 things to focus on in a startup, Building and Selling – Everything else is peripheral.

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Why Learning is So Important

I wished I had taught myself the different parts of building and selling on the Internet more aggressively earlier on. It took me several unsuccessful attempts to finally realise that themost important investment I can make is an investment on myself.

Warren Buffett did say that knowledge is like compound interest; it builds up from reading 500 pages every day. In my interpretation, knowledge learned is cumulative and will build upon what you already know. If you believe that you are in the online entrepreneurship game for the long-term, the best investment you ought to give yourself is learning how to build and learning how to sell successfully online.

Learning How to Build

The first step in launching any online project is to build the website, web app or mobile app. If you are a non-technical person, the first instinct is usually to find a technical person to partner up to build the online product.

I would strongly suggest that instead of finding a technical co-founder, you learn how to code and prototype your idea out. It will not be an instant process nor will your prototype look fabulous, but the process of learning how to code will build a very strong foundation for you in understanding how to build for the web.

You may simply discard this advice of learning how to code and just hustle your way to finding a technical guy. Unless your good friend happens to be a good coder, I would tell you that the journey of finding a technical co-founder is a long and tough road.

A lot of non-technical guys will also dream of raising millions of dollars of VC money because they read about all the awesome startups on TechCrunch raising so much money. I usually tell everyone to STOP reading TechCrunch because TechCrunch emphasises the wrong points in a startup by glorifying the act of raising millions of dollars as an end-goal. Besides, TechCrunch is focused on Silicon Valley and you are most likely not based there. Read HackerNews instead and all of Paul Graham’s essays especially this piece where he defines a startup.

Read deeper into the blogs of Silicon Valley founders and you will soon realise that without a prototype built, it is very hard to raise any funding as a first-time founder. Traction is the key to raising funding as a first-time founder and this is what you should be working on before you even consider going to VCs or angel investors for money.

Learning How to Sell

The next thing you need to learn after the ability to code, is to learn how to sell what you created. I used to naively believe that once you build something, people will flock to your product like hot cakes. Turns out that more likely than not, most people won’t care about your product. This comes to the question: is the product you build what other people want?

If you are thinking of launching a startup, it is imperative that you read The Lean Startup. Instead of writing a 30-page business plan, do it with a Business Model Canvas. Experiment with what your customers want and learn how to reach them and sell to them.

You will soon realise that selling online is pretty much a marketing funnel and there are many things that you need to do to optimise that funnel. Some startups might choose content marketing as a start to their marketing funnel. Some might then use gamification to increase engagement level. Either way, you ought to know about cohort analysis and A/B testing to see what works best in optimising your funnel.

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What Will You Learn Today?

There are tonnes of things that you need to learn if you would like to stand a chance of succeeding with your startup idea. Nobody said the journey will be an easy ride. The point is to start learning every day because your lessons will accumulate over time.

Oh, and not forgetting, if you are impatient and can’t wait to launch your startup with your friend right now, do read up about shareholder vesting. Investing in your learning is the single best thing that you can do for the long run. Start investing in your education. Good luck with your learning.