In my first couple of startups, I built things in the traditional order: product first, then audience.
With Think Traffic, I started blogging first, then figured out which products and services to deliver to the audience that gathered here.
Which approach is better? Is it better to build an audience first, and then a product/service, or should you build a product first and find the audience later?
Spoiler alert: either can work, and countless examples exist in both cases. The real question is: which approach is most likely to work for you?
I wish I had some statistical evidence to share with you, but I don’t know of any studies on this. Anecdotally, the audience-first approach worked better for me, but will it for you?
The Problem with Building the Product First
So why not create the product first, and then go looking for an audience? Isn’t this how most businesses start: someone identifies a need, builds a product, releases it and word gets out to willing buyers?
There are two problems with building a product without an audience. First, it’s most likely you’ll end up with a product that doesn’t exactly meet your potential audience’s needs. All that time spent on product development can easily be wasted.
The biggest risk you’ll face as an entrepreneur is building something no one actually wants.
Next, even if you do create something people want, it’s not as if they’re magically going to show up at your door. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Yes, some companies get lucky with viral word-of-mouth, but most often this has to be engineered.
Just because you build a great product, that doesn’t mean you can skip over the audience-building part. You’ll either have to build an audience through hard work (content marketing), or with deep pockets (advertising).
The Problem with Building the Audience First
On the other hand, the common argument against an audience-first approach is that it can take years of content creation to build a sizable audience.
Building great content takes a ton of time and effort. It’s easy to get stuck in the blogging trap and never get around to creating a product. I’ve seen this over and over again with bloggers who can’t seem to turn their audience into paying customers.
If they come, you will build it.”
For entrepreneurs, it’s true that having a thriving audience is a fantastic thing, but only if you have the stamina and creativity to turn that audience into a business.
Many simply don’t.
The Solution: A Minimum Viable Combination
A business can’t exist without both a product/service AND an audience.
The real danger lies not in whether you start with the product or audience first, but in becoming overly focused on one without the other.
You need both a product and an audience. Your product has to be a great fit for your audience. As a business builder, your goal should be to figure out whether your audience will buy your product as soon as possible.
The real risk is in spending months or years on a product or an audience only to find out that no one wants your product, or that you can’t figure out how to offer something to your audience that they’re willing to pay for.
Spending too much time solely on product development OR audience development is a waste. To build a business, you have to do both simultaneously.
A product without an audience is a solution without a problem.
An audience without a product is a hobby, not a business.
You could start either with an audience or a product, but the best approach is to start with both. Start building both your audience and your product early to avoid wasting time on the wrong product or the wrong audience.
Build a minimum viable product alongside a minimum viable audience, and you’ll have a winning combination.
Now Let’s Hear Your Approach
I’d love to hear what your approach is, and why you decided to take it. Are you starting with the audience or product first? Why? Which way is better?
I asked yesterday on Twitter “which comes first: audience or product?” Here are three answers I really like:
@corbettbarr Both work fine. Sometimes it is easier to build an audience with the product in mind. + they expect to be sold to.
— Nathan Barry (@nathanbarry) April 22, 2013
@corbettbarr if you have an audience before a product, your sales will initially be MUCH better.
— Paul Jarvis (@pjrvs) April 22, 2013
@corbettbarr You can go either way but you can’t have one without the other.
— Tara Gentile (@taragentile) April 22, 2013
What’s your favorite approach? Tell us in the comments.