Arguably, the hardest part of starting something is actually figuring out where to start. It's almost a paradox - you know there's a race to be won but you can't find the starting line.
I decided to actually "do" something because I spent more than 6 months working on an ebook for my employer, Cockroach Labs, called the "Cloud Report". This is something the company does annually, where it benchmarks Azure, AWS, and GCP and then publishes the results for all to see. I was the lead author, which largely meant I made a decent amount of the content and testing decisions and did the bulk of the writing. Granted, it was a sizeable team that included some engineers who actually ran the benchmarks, as well as a lot of marketing and design support. But a lightbulb went off when I was proud of the result that if I was going to do this as a part of my day job, I could do it for myself on the side as well.
The first thing I realized was that I didn't really know where to start, so I started doing a lot of googling (as one does) and went down the rabbit hole on youtube a bit. Then I remembered that Ramit had Earnable and saw that a new Earnable Live cohort was getting started, and I decided to sign up.
One of the first things the course tells you to do is a) ask all your friends what they would come to you for and b) use those ideas, and a list of your own skills, to come up with some ideas. I landed on "Sales for Engineers" as my most promising initial idea, which is somewhat related to my day job and something I've coached (both paid and unpaid) people through for a long time. And then, I needed to talk to people to actually determine if there was a market and what problems people actually have to solve.
I had a couple of excellent calls with some fellow Earnable students, but more importantly, I posted on LinkedIn about it and scheduled a number of research calls.
I'll talk more about the research calls in a future post, but I've decided that I am going to "trial close" each person at the end of the call. So far everyone has said "Yes", but then again I haven't actually tried to collect any money yet.
So far, here's been my strategy:
1) Ask lots of questions about their problems, listen to their answers, and take notes
2) Label them with their problem by saying something like "So you're saying you're having a problem building a compelling product demo?" and then tell each person a story that includes a nugget that might help them with whatever problem they're trying to solve
3) Ask them to be a "beta customer"
That third bit is where the close comes in. Here's the general script I've been using:
"The problem you've been talking about is definitely something that I'm looking to address as I work through this. I'm looking for beta-testers, but I'm asking everyone for 3 favors... 1) I want brutal feedback, 2) A testimonial I can include on my site if I decide to move forward (but only if you learn something), and 3) $50 to help me offset the cost of setting up the systems and platforms to get things off the ground. That $50 is of course fully refundable if things don't go well. Would you be opposed to any of that?"
So far everyone has said no, which you'll notice is actually a "yes" in disguise. To which I can respond "Awesome. I'll let you know once I'm done with my research and we'll get you signed up!"
Why does this work? First, I asked them questions that helped surface the pain they were having related to my idea. Then I confirmed my understanding of their pain and made them own it, and then told them a story of how I've solved a similar problem in the past. The story always positions me as someone who's "been there before" - it helps that I have some expertise in this area.
But the killer thing here is the close. It works on a couple of levels, but I'm curious if anyone reading this understands why. So do me a favor, sign up for the site and tell me why you think it works so well by joining the conversation down below and leaving a comment, and I'll break it down in my next post.