Always Be Pitching

Build, measure, learn.

That’s the Lean Startup mantra. It sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly tough to do well. And while it’s designed to eliminate waste and provide a speedier path through product development and validation, it can still lead to silos in how we think about startup progress. It’s so easy to spend an inordinate amount of time in the build phase, ignoring everything else, even if we know we’re really supposed to focus on “measure & learn.”

The solution is to always be pitching.

Never stop pitching your solution to prospects. Even when you’re in build mode, you can still be pitching, doing demos, showing off your solution (even in its half-baked, prototype stage). Think about two cycles through “build-measure-learn” – one is focused on the product and what you will deliver to customers; the second is focused on the pitch, and how you’ll sell to customers. Ultimately they’re both about understanding what problem you’re solving (and how painful it is) and whether or not your solution solves the problem well enough. But they’re different too. There’s a lot of learning to be done in the second cycle. The cycles aren’t completely in synch, but they definitely overlap – you’re building product while you’re pitching product and learning.

build - measure - learn

Always be pitching breaks you out of build mode faster. It keeps you in touch with customers, keeps your pitch fresh, and allows you to learn much more – on a constant basis – about what resonates with people. You can experiment with how you pitch, how you demo, what value propositions you emphasize, etc. This process isn’t about collecting feedback for development in order to tell them what to build. It’s about understanding your customers, learning about their pain, crafting the pitch and getting comfortable interfacing with the outside world. You can’t run a business in a vacuum. You have to get out there and pitch.

I’m making a point not to say “always be closing” or even “always be selling”, although this is definitely close to selling. But the goal isn’t revenue at this point, the goal is to learn what works and what doesn’t. Pitching is a more appropriate way of thinking about it.

Failed pitches are as good as successful ones. You want to be extremely selective about your beta customers; you’re not looking to open the floodgates. But practicing and refining your pitch will be extremely valuable when you put your product in customers’ hands in order to get to the measure and learn phase of the process.

December 13, 2011 Posted in Product Management by

  • http://codercofounder.wordpress.com/ Ilya

    I agree. As nice as Build Measure Learn is, it still allows for a certain degree of handwaving and selective attention that you can get away with. Getting in front of prospects should be the kind of continuous (and sobering) process that is impossible to ignore just because you are now in the “build” phase.

  • http://www.addvalue.com.au personalised items

    Always plan out things right. Measure the possibility of the project since in this manner you can for see the upcoming things to happen. By this you can see different perspective and can adjust on some impossible things.

  • Tyler Moore

    Great advice. I work as a freelance SEO consultant, doing business with local Indianapolis startups like http://docraptor.com/ and I’m a huge proponent of constantly pitching your service or product. I think the problem a lot of developers have is a lack of interest in salesmanship, and pitching definitely ties into salesmanship.

  • http://theblakefirm.com/services/media-technology/ Intellectual Property Attorney

    This is certainly good advice for many startups, however, in my experience I’ve also seen a lot of entrepreneurs that spend too much time pitching.  For these guys, the challenge is to stop talking about how great their product will be, and to actually make the great product.  I’d also take a slight exception to the advice above by saying that often, too much of the emphasis is on pitching the solution.  Even more important than pitching the solution is pitching the problem.  Many startups would do well to focus more on showing potential investors and customers how important the problem is, which makes the solution immediately more relevant.

  • http://textbooks.org/ Jade @ Textbooks

    I’ve read this somewhere that for authors it would take them two to three years of pitching, a continuous hard work before the release date of their books.

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Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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