The First 100
Measure the strength of your idea with real customers.
My name is Ben Lee, and I've been in digital product development for more than 10 years. During that time, I've built hundreds of websites, helped launch more than 500 mobile apps, and worked with clients ranging from Epson and Spotify to Snoop Dogg.
Those 10 years have taught me a lot about how to build great products. But more than anything, I've learned that snappy UI, beautiful design, and extensive feature lists – all the things that most developers want to spend their time on – aren't what make a product succeed. At the end of the day, the bells and whistles don't really matter. What matters is building something people actually need and want to use.
Whether you're making a blender or a mobile app, the same basic principle applies: if there's no market for your product, your product will fail. It's that simple. But unfortunately, most people don't focus on validating demand for their idea: they build first and ask questions later. And more often than not, that's a recipe for throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars on a mobile app that no one wants to use.
We realized this a few years back at my agency, Rootstrap. We saw that there was a problem in the development model, and to solve it, we designed something that's now called Roadmapping: a pre-development product workshop that helps founders validate their app idea against the marketplace before heading into development.
Roadmapping lets founders ensure there's demand for their product – before they build – it instead of blindly heading into development. With more than 500 Roadmapping sessions under our belt, we can say definitively that it works: 18% of our alumni raise more than $250,000 in pre-product seed capital, and Roadmapping alumni have raised more than $500 million in total. That's thousands of percentage points better than the industry average.
The material for this course comes straight from our Roadmapping process. We use these techniques and exercises every day in Roadmapping sessions, and I can say from experience that they've helped founders validate and build real products that go on to acquire millions of users. If you read them closely, do all the exercises in full, and bring your full mental capacity to this course, it'll help you do the same thing.
Completing this course will put you miles ahead of most founders. This is the work that's necessary to acquire real, honest-to-God customers – and no matter what kind of business you want to start or what app you want to build, that's what really matters.
Give it a try. And remember, completing this course is just the beginning. You'll still have a long road ahead of you to build a successful business.
But trust me – this is an excellent way to start.
Good luck my friend.
CRO & Cofounder
Why 100 Customers?
Because product development is one big science experiment, there’s really only one thing that can be guaranteed: the more people who interact with your product, the more feedback you’ll receive, and the closer you’ll get to building something they actually want.
If you can get 100 people to interact with your product, or even just talk about your idea, you’ll be well on your way to validation. And without validation, your science experiment can go horribly awry. You’ll use up all of your time, money, resources and mental bandwidth - all of which are in limited supply - only to develop a product that will ultimately fail.
And the reason 90% of startups fail is due to a lack of validation. It was this realization that led us to create Rootstrap, along with Roadmapping - our custom service designed to help our clients validate their idea before writing a single line of code.
Consider this your own personal Roadmapping session. Our goal is to help you fully develop from a mere concept into a strong business, starting with 100 customers to help you validate your idea. Here’s how:
Part One: So, You Want to Start a Business?
Gut check time. Let’s see what you’re made of.
Part Two: Who’s Going To Care?
Before we find those 100 customers, let’s get an idea of what they look like.
Part Three: What Can You Build For Them Right Now?
All talk and no action make Jack a bad product owner.
Part Four: Can You Prove Your Solution Is Viable?
Time to put a real thing in front of a real person.
Part Five: Building Your Business
Here’s how to create a cohesive brand around your idea.
Part Six: Launching That Bad Boy
It’s time to start gaining traction. 100 is just the beginning.
Completing this actionable guide will require significant effort on your end, but just remember: validation dollars are infinitely cheaper than development dollars. And you don’t have to complete this guide in one sitting, so don’t be intimidated. You can take it step-by-step over the course of weeks or months. And once you finish, compile all of your answers into a single document that you can share with teams and refer back to time and time again.
We promise, you’re going to be a hell of a lot more confident going into development, and much more prepared to scale or make a multi-million dollar exit.
So, how do we begin? It all starts with you.
Part One: So, You Want To Start a Business?
Gut check time. Let’s see what you’re made of.
What does it take to become a great Product Owner?
Traits like avoiding perfectionism, adapting quickly to change, accepting uncertainty and embracing the process will all help of course, in due time. But right now, there’s something more pressing at hand:
Why are you here?
What’s the dream at the end of the tunnel?
How honest are you prepared to be with yourself?
We ask because many entrepreneurs have trouble with blind spots. Some underestimate their abilities; others over-inflate their pride or become blinded by hubris. But we’re all human (let’s hope), and we all suffer from similar biases and errors.
This guide will help you overcome these challenges, but for any of this to work, there must be absolute honesty - starting with yourself. Again, why are you really doing this? Why go through all of the trouble, or all of the ups and downs? What is to be gained?
Zig Ziglar was a genius when it came to questions like these. He always argued that you should know what you’re working towards, how you’re going to do it, with whom, and why. We couldn’t agree more.
Exercise One: Set Your Intention
Don’t Cook in the Squat: Goal Setting Advice from Zig Ziglar
“You’ll never make it as a wandering generality. You must become a meaningful specific.” - Zig Ziglar
“When you catch a glimpse of your potential, that's when passion is born.” - Zig Ziglar
Zig Ziglar’s Seven Steps for Goal-Setting
1. Write it down.
2. Put a date on it.
3. List any and all obstacles you’ll need to overcome.
4. Identify the people, groups, and organizations you’ll need to work with.
5. Spell out a plan of action. (Set that time limit in there.)
6. Identify all of the benefits to you.
7. And do it now.
What’s your vision for the future? What’s the endgame here?
Do you want to scale your idea and sell? Get acquired and exit? Are you in it for the long haul? When’s it due?
“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I will give you a man who will make history. Give me a man without a goal, and I will give you a stock clerk!” – J.C. Penney
• • • • •
Okay, you’ve got a goal. A noble start. But what about motivation and passion?
Supposedly, Bill Gates once said, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” Well, if your goal is to retire and do nothing, the easiest way to do that is to complete the job quickly. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to secure a financially beneficial exit as quickly as possible. But for others, there may be a deeper motivation at play other than money. Some people are called to do things. Maybe you’re being called to start this business. Or perhaps this has been a dream of yours for many years.
Either way, now that you’ve established what your goals are, it’s time to understand the driving force behind them. What will ensure that you achieve your goal? And how will that driving force serve you after you do? Dig deep. What’s keeping this fire alive?
Exercise Two: Find Your Motivation
Let’s Talk Passion & Sweat Equity
“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you're passionate about something, then you're more willing to take risks.” - Yo-Yo Ma
“Sweat equity is the most valuable equity there is. Know your business and industry better than anyone else in the world. Love what you do or don't do it.” - Mark Cuban
“I want to know why you do what you do. What is your motive for action? What is it that drives you in your life today (not ten years ago)? Or are you running the same pattern? Because I believe that the invisible force of internal drive activated is the most important thing in the world...I believe emotion is the force of life...and that decision is the ultimate power.” - Tony Robbins
How about some Maverick motivation?
Only Dead Fish Go with the Flow: How to Be a Maverick
Excerpts from interviews included in Mavericks at Work by William C. Taylor & Polly LaBarre
“Most people in an industry are blind in the same way. They’re all paying attention to the same things, and not paying attention to the same things.”
“It’s not enough for leaders to challenge the prevailing logic of the b