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Recently I’ve been getting startup help calls from people with Bitcoin product ideas, most recently Chris Grant, a recent college grad. Here are a few suggestions I give them.
Much of what I’m hearing about Bitcoin reminds me of the financial services revolution that started in 1995 with the arrival of the Internet – discount brokerages, e-commerce, new products and media. At that time I worked at The Motley Fool and had a front-row seat to the hype, fear, and hatred that comes with any major change.
You’re excited about Bitcoin – now what?
Congratulations, you’ve found a passion – the first step to success. You have a few startup ideas based on Bitcoin and are wondering how to get started. Maybe you’ve started building a product, applying to accelerators, talking to investors, or recruiting co-founders.
For most of us this isn’t the best way to start.
You don’t have to mimic Silicon Valley
The wealthiest, most successful investors in the world are pouring money into digital currency startups. The rare among us with the relationships, pedigree, visa status and luck will be competing for this money & attention. A few might succeed – far more will quietly fail.
They will follow a predictable pattern: idea > team > money > product. If you choose this route I wish you the best – but you have other options.
Here is how I would bootstrap a Bitcoin startup.
Start with “who” – pick your customer
Take a moment for a bit of self-reflection. Why are you interested in Bitcoin at all? I bet you’re excited about what it can do for people.
Perhaps you envision …
… Bitcoin liberating small business owners from credit card merchant fees, or …
… a more economical way to remit money to friends and family, or …
… providing investors with a new asset class
Figure out WHO you want your customers to be. For whom you want to work over the next 10 years? Whose lives do you want to improve with digital currency? Your odds of success go up dramatically when you truly care about your customers. Take a few minutes and create your first Target persona.
Learn your customer’s problems
Your customers don’t care about Bitcoin. Or you. Or really anything but themselves and their problems. Repeat after me …
Customers. Don’t. Care.
Start learning about their problems – an easier job because you’ve picked customers you care about – especially those who might be solved by digital currency. The easiest way to do it is to go and find them and offer to help them out.
“Need help buying you first Bitcoin? Don’t know what Bitcoin is or how you could use it as payment? Wondering how to get Bitcoins into your bank? What are the pros and cons of Bitcoin alternatives?”
You can help them face-to-face, over email, or over Skype/Hangout/phone (if you choose the latter, SoHelpful will make it much easier).
Then earn their trust by being helpful
Once you know their problems … start helping customers solve them.
blogging … speaking … newsletters … coffee meetings … 1-on–1 over Skype or Hangout … webinars … Hangouts on Air … drip email … ebooks … courses … workshops … organizing meetups … hackathons … conferences
Focus relentlessly on meeting and helping as many as you can. Build your customer lists, earn their trust, gather testimonials, understand their problems better than anyone else in the world.
And get you business going
After about 6 months you’ll know lots of customers – many, many more than your friends who spent spent the Summer writing code or applying to accelerators. If you have the time, skills, and resources you can jump right into building products. Just know that products take a long, long time to monetize. You have other options.
Start your concierge MVP. Offer paid workshops. Write a book. Do some consulting. Charge for you Meetup. Organize a conference.
ALL of these options … monetize faster … teach you more about customer problems … get you meeting more customers … than starting a product company. As a bonus you’ll also give yourself time to learn the skills you need to build products.
You can always start working on the products later. And speaking as an Angel investor – getting this type of deep market knowledge and experience will absolutely get my attention. Being helpful is a great competitive advantage.
Be patient – you do have time
If digital currencies are a financial revolution there will be many opportunities for you. Investors are funding ideas based on what worked in the old models – exchanges, transactions, financial services products.
Revolutions create new problems not evident at their start. Nobody imagined a problem sending money over email in 1995 until PayPal discovered it. The best Bitcoin business ideas will come from the problems we don’t even know.
Start helping people you care about solve problems today using Bitcoin. Doing so will not only greatly lower your startup risk but also put you in the best possible position to see new problems Bitcoin creates – problems you can solve with products.
Want to learn more? I teach this Helpful Marketing strategy
I’m teaching entrepreneurs worldwide this Helpful Marketing™ approach – I would really enjoy spending a day with you helping you apply it to your startup.
Let me know if you would like me to do a workshop in your city – next one in Omaha on April 19.
Photo credit: Antana