How I Saved My Startup Before It Even Launched
Launching your product first and looking for customers second will leave you dead in the water
One of the most important things I’ve learned after running a company for 10 years is that before you talk to an accountant, a lawyer, or even your spouse about starting a business, you need to talk to your future customers and understand their frustration points. Most importantly, you need to put their names on a list.
This can be life or death for a startup. It was for mine. It’s what kept my business afloat when I had almost no money left in the bank.
Building my list
I started my multimillion-dollar cybersecurity education business 10 years ago at age 26. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had really started building my audience at 14. Back in 1998, I was an aspiring white-hat hacker, and the best internet speed I could dream of was 56 kilobits per second — something that, for economic reasons, I only had access to for an hour at a time, once a week.
I was eager to learn everything about computing, and I wanted to share my knowledge with others because it reinforced my understanding and forced me to do thorough research. I published a newsletter containing tutorials, how-tos, demonstrations, and so on — something that would solve a problem or explain a concept in simple terms. Every week, I would email my newsletter to my small but growing list of subscribers. I was basically helping my audience for free, and this turned me into an expert they trusted.
Turns out, I was unwittingly applying the most powerful technique in online marketing: content marketing. When founders educate their audience through thought leadership, they position themselves as advisers instead of just marketers. They build trust and authority with an audience—two powerful triggers when it comes to buyers’ psychology.
Up to that point, everything was moving in one direction: I was broadcasting messages without much feedback. I had no idea the content I was producing would build such a strong relationship with my audience. Yet that relationship lasted for years, and it would be there when I needed it.