The Gap Stage: Between Market Fit and Scaling or The Blood, Sweat & Tears of Selling Your Ass Off to Get to Sustainable Growth
The Gap Stage
The first significant group of customers you sell your product or service to is special. They set you on your way to sustainable growth. I’m not talking about signing up an early adopter or two. I am talking about that first sizable group that you work your ass off trying to and then selling. They become your company’s foundation for growth. They create the forward momentum needed to move your business to the next level. As an entrepreneur, signing up your first 50 customers who pay $2000 per year or the 20 that pay $20,000 is a distinctive stage in the evolution of a startup. I label it the Gap Stage. It’s the stage after you determining market fit, but before you press the gas pedal down in order to scale the business. It’s the messy stage. It’s a hard but transformative stage. It is here that you birth your business.
I call it the Gap Stage because there are gaps in your market and customer knowledge, and gaps in your product and service capabilities that, once filled, will make scaling possible. The Gap Stage is where you refine, polish, re-polish, reposition, and re-learn what you know about your sales process, the market, the product, and target customer through repeated sales and customer engagement.
Obtaining that Special Group of Customers
There is nothing you can do that will help you develop your business and product strategy better than trying, selling, and then servicing that first significant group of customers. There’s no other way to deeply understand your customers’ challenges and get a real sense of their experience with your product then getting into the trenches and trying to sell your product over and over.
Nothing you do during the Gap stage is scalable. But what you learn during this time will lead to a scalable, sustainable sales process. More importantly, if you are not successful here, the concept of scale does not matter.
During this period, you the entrepreneur must be intimately connected with the selling of this group of customers. That is where you refine your earlier learnings and gain the experience and knowledge needed to move the business forward and move beyond a minimum viable product.
How do you secure this set of customers? You give some deals away or discount heavily. You call on your friends, their friends, and their friends to find prospects and customers. You cold call prospects and do it again and again and again. You scrape websites for email addresses or hire low-cost labor just to copy them. Then you send out emails again and again and again to potential customers. You go hang out at market-specific trade shows to meet prospects and industry influencers. You give talks about your product where they will let you. You follow Facebook groups that cater to your market and call those in the group that bitch and moan about your competitor’s product or complain about a problem that your product or service addresses. You scrap, claw, and fight hard for every one of these customers. You try almost anything to find prospects and sign them up.
Going All in With the Customer
Once you start gaining customers and they start using your product, you and your team will put in many, many hours with each one of them learning and coaching, as well as making sure that they have a positive experience and get the desired use out of your product. (Customer success is the bedrock on which everything else is built.)
This stage is a learning process on how to sell, onboard, and support customers as well as fix and enhance the product, so it fits better the needs of your customers and the broader market. You repeat it over and over again, refining the process and product so that selling and onboarding each new customer gets smoother, faster, and more manageable.
During this stage
It is during this stage that you assemble the knowledge and relationships necessary to construct a sales and marketing model that will help you scale your business.
The essential premise of this stage is that it is a market first stage. Furthermore, you need to embrace the cold call and love the deal. This is not the scaling stage. This is a foundation building stage. If successful in this stage, you will have the tools to scale. Get the customers, care for the customer, and learn from the customers - repeat!
Go all-in with the customer. Stay customer-obsessed and use the feedback to refine and grow your product beyond an MVP as well as improve market fit. Even if it doesn’t feel “scalable,” do whatever is needed to generate measurable value for the customer. Delighted customers provide you with the foundation to scale. Once you figure out the recipe for making a significantly sized group of customers successful on your product and sell them on it, you are ready to address the issue of scale. You are on your way to creating a sustainable, growing business.