Your one-way ticket out of Maybeland (The place where startups go to die)
Yes is good. No is good. Maybe is where startups go to die.
Let’s talk about how people get to that middle ground, Maybeland. Then, let’s talk about how to get the hell out.
Truth is, most companies—most startups—have to make their way through Maybeland at some point. First of all …
Maybeland is that place where some things are working, some things aren’t. You’re seeing some positive and healthy numbers, and you’re seeing some bad numbers. But at this point, you’re not quite sure what any of it means.
There’s enough good stuff to be hopeful, but not enough for you to know that you’re crushing it. There’s no spike heading towards the top right corner of your screen.
Very few companies knock it out of the ballpark on their first try, and very few companies experience soul-crushing and life sucking failures from the start. Most of them end up in Maybeland. It’s that gray area where you don’t exactly know if you should keep going, or if you’re failing but not realizing it.
Most startups will be in this place at one point or another. So how do you deal with that? How do you get out of that place? Let’s find out.
1. Data first—no, wait: Customers first, data second
A lot of startups find themselves in a situation where data is not helping them. There’s two reasons for this:
- They don’t have enough data.
- They’re not looking at the data the right way.
The first mentioned is up for debate. Do you always need a huge volume of data in order to get value from it? Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends on the context.
Let’s talk about the second reason. This is the one that’s more likely to set startups up for potential failure.
What the numbers tell you vs. what the customers really think
Here’s an example. You’re a startup with 50 customers. (If you don’t have customers, go read “How to get the first 10 customers for your B2B SaaS startup", then come back to this post.) If you have usage, say a handful of your customers are using your product, here’s what to do:
- Talk to the customers that are using your product the way it should be used
Ask them who they are, what they do and how your product fits into their business. Find out as much as you possibly can. Dig in, dig deep.
- Talk to the customers that are not using the product the way it should be used
Same spiel. Ask who they are, what they do and how your product fits into their business. But don’t stop there. Ask them (and yourself) what you can do in order to get them to use your product more effectively and in the way it should be used.
- Talk to people that don’t like your product
You’ll have plenty of people that signed up for a free trial that didn’t convert into paying customers. Maybe some of them left you some feedback already. Start with those, they will be more inclined to talk to you. Ask them why they chose not to pay for your product. This is your goldmine. Treat it as such.
Having gone through this process you’ll find out one of the following:
- There are more people out there that are likely to use the product the way you intended people to use it, or
- These are very unique customers and you’re operating in a niche market. Yes, they are using your product and they are happy, but it will be difficult to find and acquire more of these users.
Here’s the thing. You’re just building a business. That’s it. And the fundamentals of a business is that someone has to pay you. There has to be a transactional aspect. Go talk to people that have paid you and ask them why they did. Go talk to people that stopped paying you and ask them why they did. Start right now.
Early on in your product journey, you won’t have large quantities of data. And even if you do, there’s no guarantee that you will assess that data correctly.
So yes. Data is important. But you need to look at your customers before you look at your data.
2. Lean startup 101: Disprove your hypothesis
Most entrepreneurs set out to prove their hypothesis. Validate their assumptions. They want to prove that the world works in the way they see it, not how it actually works.
But when you set out to disprove your hypothesis, you open up your mind to an entirely different perspective.
So you have a company, a product, a team. You’ve launched and you’re in business, but you don’t know which way it’s going. Things aren’t moving and progressing in the right way, but you’re also not dead in the water.
There’s no obvious lose or failure.
If you’re looking back at the past month and look at your hypothesis and assumptions, but you don’t see anything that gives you a sense of direction to either prove or disprove those, you probably want to look at things differently. Because if you were doing things right and had proven those assumptions, would you not have customers by now?
How do you evaluate your situation and how do you look at your progress versus the things that aren’t going so well? Here are two things you can do today:
1. Go back to square one
Take your ego out of the equation. Get into the mindset of not knowing anything. From there, go forward with the intention of figuring it out, regardless of assumptions and ideas you’ve had previously.
Start from the beginning. How are people using your product? How are people not using your product? Why did they sign up for it in the first place? Once you can make an unbiased evaluation of your situation, you’ll see things a lot more clearly.
2. Set your emotions aside
It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked on your product for a day, a year or a decade. The day you go out there and try to get customers is day one of your company.
One huge obstacle in finding a solution is that you’re attached to everything that you’ve built and done so far. You’re attached to your ideas, your product, your people.
You’ve invested all your time and effort, you’ve made both physical and mental sacrifices to build your business and realize your dream. Throughout that process, becoming emotionally attached is natural.
Now, how can you develop a sense of detachment?
You are subjectively looking at the state of your business. Ask someone to take a look at your business and assess it objectively. Make sure you don’t just trust this person, but you also value their opinion. Go find someone that already has a detached view on the situation. Someone that has a good sense of business, perhaps even just a good sense of math.
Ask the questions you’re afraid of asking and purposely seek out the things you don’t want to hear. Because what you don’t want to hear is what you need to hear in order to move forward. Even one conversation could make you look at things differently and give you the sense of distance and the perspective you need.
Go back and simplify. Look at less data. You’re so polluted in the amount of things you’re doing and you’re so busy in all this work that you’re creating false signals.
3. Find ONE key metric to live and die by
Figure out the single most important metric for success. Everything else is irrelevant. Pollution. Noise. Distractions. Stuff that will keep you from getting to where you need to go to be okay.
Having one single number leading the way will make things way less ambiguous. That number will help you simplify your decision making process and cut out all the all the vanity metrics.
Ask yourself, “What is the one thing we’re going to focus on as a measure of success and failure?” Then just do that one thing.
If that number is going up or in the right direction you’re—by your standards—on your way to success. If it’s not, you’re failing. Simple! This will get you out of Maybeland and prevent you from being distracted by things that don’t matter, but seem like they do.
Push yourself. Is the way you’re thinking about things today the right way to think about things? Go out there, get perspective and get out of Maybeland. Then go out there and either kill it or crush it.
Get rid of the fluff and get clarity
Growing a startup will pull you in every direction possible. Get rid of ambiguity by making bold decisions that will lead you to clear outcomes.
Here’s how to do it:
- Talk to your customers: Get to know your customers before you get to know your data.
- Go back to the start: Remove all bias and set your emotions aside to reevaluate the health of your business and get clarity.
- Choose your ONE key metric: Ask yourself what you need to do in order to move in either one direction or the other. Die faster or get on the right track.
- Leave comfortable behind: Get to a place where “hope” means nothing and actions mean everything.
You need to do the above as quickly as possible. Set a game plan and set really tough goals and go for it. You’re either gonna win or lose. That’s it. That’s you’re one-way ticket out of Maybeland.
Curious to find out what our ONE KEY METRIC is here at Close? Tweet us and we'll tell you.
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