Kristian tells us what questions you need to answer in the product validation process and explains how NotionTheory was profitable from day one, without investing in traditional marketing.
Today’s guest, Kristian Bouw, is co-Founder & CEO of NotionTheory, a startup that helps startups validate their businesses and acts as their personal tech team or “stand-in CTO.” A developer, designer, and serial founder, Kristian has led the development and delivery of over 30 products to market. He frequently speaks on startup topics and is mentor to a host of companies.
Kristian co-started his first entrepreneurial venture in 3rd grade. He and another classmate, who could draw, started giving tattoos at the top of the slide during recess – for 25 cents. Kristian eventually became a personal trainer, and his second startup venture was Thrive: a client management software for personal trainers. He ran into problems because he fell in love with his product, and that let his vision drive his day-to-day actions. The company folded, but Kristian was bit by the entrepreneurial bug.
He and his co-Founder, Mike Keung, brought an old bunkbed to a one-bedroom apartment in North Carolina, and they learned to code. Eventually they came up with the idea for NotionTheory. Kristian spent a month in D.C. living out of his car, but he received $20,000 in presales to validate demand. NotionTheory has been profitable since day one.
We’re going to learn how to validate product ideas, why you need to ask for money to adequately validate a product, and how NotionTheory achieved early growth – without any traditional marketing – by turning their first customers into brand evangelists.
“The product you sell is the major variable of your success.” (click to tweet)
In this episode, you’ll learn from Kristian:
- Not to let your product idea drive your business decisions
- It’s difficult to change human behavior, but it’s comparatively easy to change your product
- A product doesn’t just need to work well, it also needs to be something your customers want to buy
- The value of creating a business that is solution agnostic
- Almost any product you can imagine is possible, or will be possible soon – but should it be made? To answer that question, NotionTheory asks:
- Did you identify the right problem?
- Did you identify the right customers that has that problem?
- Did we identify the right solution that the customer is willing to pay for?
- The goal of validating a product is to maximize what you can learn with the minimum amount of time and money invested
- Your validation process should help you understand A) who your target market is and B) what message resonates with them
- You’ll know your validation process has helped you identify and solve a problem worth solving when you can generate pre-sales
- When dealing with sales or pre-sales, your goal is to help a perspective customer justify the purchase by increasing their perceived value of your product to match the price point of your product
- Metrics can tell you a lot about who your customer is, but the only thing that will explain WHY that customer does or does want to purchase your product is open communication with customers
- To achieve growth, NotionTheory didn’t develop a social presence, newsletter, or blog. They turned customers into brand evangelists by re-investing all of their time, money and focus into the process and experience for their first customers.
- When you are targeting early adopters, you want to target customers that value your uniqueness the most. These are the people you will be able to convert from validators to early customers.
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Resources mentioned in this episode:
Answers to Quickfire Q&A:
- If you could chat with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
- My grandfather on my dad’s side. He was actually a victim in the holocaust who was liberated. “I feel like we take a lot of things for granted, and just to like try to understand from him his experience … you have to have such mental toughness and unwavering resolve and perseverance. Just trying to understand how he was able to do that and incorporate a sliver of that into what I’m doing.”
- Name a tool, app, or website that you can’t live without and why.
- I would say Slack. “In terms of just keeping everything orderly, and making sure we’re responsive to everyone, it’s more or less been a game-changer for us in terms of just communication and collaboration.”
- Tell us something unique and interesting about you that not many may know.
- I used to be a semi-professional video gamer
- What is your favorite business book and why?
- “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel – “He took an unconventional stance to many of the issues, and it really kinda forces you to think about how you view those ideas … The whole point of reading…is to really challenge how it is you think or what is is you believe.”
- What is the top characteristic or trait that you look for in people you work with?
- “I would rather have an entrepreneur as an employee or team member that will leave after two years than someone who wants to stay for 10 … the creativity and the excitement and the passion of that person…will be far greater of a multiple than the person thinking 10 years ahead … a desire to learn would probably be the biggest”
- What is something you believe, but few others agree with you?
- “I am not in the camp where everyone gets a trophy. There are winners and there are losers … you always have to keep in the back of your head that, no matter how hard you’re working, someone else is working harder than you, and you can’t let up.”
How to contact Kristian:
You can reach out to him on Twitter @KristianBouw. You can reach out to NotionTheory on their website through their message form or find them on Twitter @NotionTheory. “We’re in Dupont Circle in D.C., so if you ever want to say, ‘Hi,’ please feel free to stop by.”
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