Sell before you build

Hi there - 

Here is this week’s “1 principle, 2 strategies, and 3 actionable tactics” for running lean…

1 Universal Principle

“Sell before you build.” 
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2 Underlying Strategies at Play

I. Early adopters don’t buy working products; they buy a promise of better.

Think back to any product you bought as an early adopter. Chances are you didn’t get to first test-drive the product. You saw a demo and bought a promise of better. 

Think Demo-Sell-Build instead of Build-Demo-Sell. 

This doesn’t just work for B2C products. Most high-ticket B2B products already utilize a multi-stage discovery-demo-close-pilot process. You don’t need a working product until the pilot — typically months away. 

II. Use your demo to define the right product to build.

A demo is the perfect stand-in for your product. If you can’t sell the demo, why build a product no one wants? Instead, ask why. Fix your demo, sell it, and then build exactly that. 

3 Actionable Tactics

I. Preorder Offer

Drive traffic to a landing page where you share

a. A Unique Value Proposition (UVP) or promise of better as the headline. 

b. A demo (like an explainer video) of how your product delivers this promise of better.

c. A clear call-to-action to pre-order. 

II. Crowdfunding Offer

Construct an offer as above, but place it on a crowdfunding platform (with a warm audience) within a time-boxed campaign (to drive urgency) and with a minimum funding goal (to test viability). 

III. Mafia Offer

“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
- Vito Corleone (The Godfather)

The issue with the last two tactics is that their success is predicated on the quality of your offer. If your offer doesn’t nail the right problem, customers don’t buy, and you often don’t know why. The guessing game begins.

This is why I prefer starting all my products with a high-touch founder-led mafia offer campaign where I first 

a. Interview enough customers to understand their problems better than they do. 

b. Use these insights to design the right solution and assemble an offer (UVP + Demo + Price).

c. Then, I sell my offer to 10 customers face-to-face. If they don’t want to buy, I get to why. This allows me to fix the offer until I can repeatedly sell it. Then scale it.

Yes, there are more steps here, but when you lead by 

  • outlining problems you know customers have, and 
  • demo a solution that fits like a glove (problem/solution fit), 
  • you end up with an offer your customers cannot refuse (mafia offer).


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