Credibility: the missing lean startup tactic

This post is a bit of a recap, and also an explanation of the logic behind my complete disregard for “sell before you build.”

The importance of credibility

My friend William, who runs Honey & Soul Paleo Goodies with his wife, told me once that running a business really boils down to a people finding mission.

I agree. But finding people is just the first step in building the business. You need to convince them to give you their money in exchange for your product. You need to make a sale. A sale is predicated by finding the customer, but it doesn’t happen without trust. You need to put in the time to nurse the relationship to the point where you earn trust and make the sale.

That time to nurse a relationship, in turn, is predicated by credibility. Your people finding mission and your business will fail without credibility.

Talking to people about their problems

If you’ve been following my blog recently, you might have read that I don’t believe in talking to people about their problems, if you’re interested in enterprise problems like myself.

Consumer problems don’t require much credibility. Normal people are excited to talk to anybody, especially to you if they can talk to you about their problems. You just need to not be an asshole, and bam, you have enough credibility to talk to consumers about their problems.

Enterprise customers are too busy to just talk to you. By default, the average person will not have the credibility to talk to enterprise customers about their problems. In my current understanding, you’ll have credibility if you either are famous or have a product already. No fame or no product means no credibility.

A caveat

I know not everybody agrees with me. Lots of people who are way smarter than I am say that you can still sell to enterprise customers before building. I’m sure it’s possible, but I don’t think it’s worth the time to find out. I think the time is better spent elsewhere, as elaborated further in this post.

Defining “minimal” in MVP

Those of us who aren’t famous and want to solve enterprise problems, we have to build a product to gain our credibility. We have to build our MVP.

Defining how “minimal” our MVP should be is probably more art than science. Popular startup wisdom says that if you’re proud of your product, then you waited too long to put it in front of customers. However, that’s not very actionable.

So how much should you build for your MVP? I much as I want an actionable answer, I don’t have one, but I know that you should build just enough to earn credibility. Enterprise customers should be able to see it and be able to take you and your product seriously. You should be able to earn yourself more of their time and attention. The amount of building required to do so can be determined only by you.

Lean startup tactics vs. lean startup philosophy

I’ve been working on my startup attempt for almost four months now. My first three months were dedicated to talking to SMB customers about their problems. I was always more interested in B2B than consumer, so I wanted to apply the lean startup methodology to a B2B product.

It’s particularly sexy to say that you got customers to pre-pay for features that you didn’t write a single line of code for yet. I tried that with my target SMB customers, but it didn’t really work out.

Yes, I sucked at selling. But that wasn’t the main issue. The punchline here is that I was adhering to lean startup tactics while disregarding the lean startup philosophy. Selling before you code is a cool tactic. But the philosophy of lean startup is to burn as little of your resources as possible to validate your market and your product. Sometimes that requires ignoring the prescribed tactics and writing a little bit of code.

When you understand the underlying principles behind advice, you’ll know when to listen to the advice. More importantly, you’ll know when to break it.

If you enjoyed this post or would like to give me any feedback at all, I'd love to hear from you! You can tweet me at @dillonforrest or email me at It'd make me super happy to hear from you!