By definition, if you want to start a business, you need to sell something: the product, the customers, or the company. The sooner you start selling, the faster you’ll get useful feedback. Delaying the decision to sell takes away one of the most powerful feedback loops required to build a new business.
Ideally, you want to be selling something that a particular group of people actively wants to buy.
There’s a very simple reason for this.
People hate being sold to. They want to enjoy the process of buying, or just do it and move on. That’s how they will always see it.
Your riskiest assumptions are probably related to your prospects and customers. Establish empathy quickly with your target prospect, figure out what's valuable, and get your innovation into the market.
The more you go against that simple assumption, the more pain you will feel. To scale this up to a full startup, you’ll have to think like that about everyone you interact with. Your prospects. Repeat customers. Even investors. When they deal with you, they all want to feel like they are buying from you.
The most difficult first step is deciding on a particular group of customers that you want to serve.
Each group will have a defining set of needs. By choosing a customer, a startup team chooses to focus on those needs. Everything else doesn’t count. Whether they test the product by creating a paper prototype, or they build out a massive chunk of enterprise software in anticipation of their first customer, the startup team dedicates themselves to fully solving one problem better than anyone or anything else–for one particular customer type.
So if it’s unclear, from a strategic point of view, the first step is always to find a problem worth solving. In and of itself, this is more complicated than it might seem. The customer needs to be aware of the problem. Selling to someone who doesn’t think–or even know–they have a problem, is hard. It’s always easier to sell things that your prospects already want.