Original question from Quora:

What are the most common mistakes first time entrepreneurs make?

My Answer:

The most common problem I see with first, second, third, fourth, etc. time entrepreneurs is they start with a product idea and not a market. It’s taken me years for this idea to really take hold, but I finally heard a story that makes this really click.

I read it in The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert, which should be required reading if you want to sell things using any form of advertising.

In Chapter 6

As you know, once in a while I give a class on copywriting and/or selling by mail. One of the questions I like to ask my students is: “If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who would sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side?”

The answers vary. Some people say they would like to have the advantage of having superior meat from which to make their hamburgers. Others say they want sesame seed buns. Others mention location. Someone usually wants to be able to offer the lowest prices.

And so on.

Anyway, after my students are finished telling what advantages they would most like to have I say to them: “O.K., I’ll give you every single advantage you asked for. I, myself, only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will whip the pants off of all of you when it comes to selling burgers!”

“What advantage do you want?” they ask.

“The only advantage I want,” I reply, “is A STARVING CROWD!”

Think about it.

What I am trying to teach you here is to constantly be on the look out for groups of people (markets) who have demonstrated that they are starving (or at least hungry!) for some particular product or service.

The starving crowd makes it easier to sell because there is demand. There is no need to convince people they need a hamburger if they are hungry. You simply say, hamburgers for sale and they pay the money. There is no salesmanship involved.

And yet, if you think about it, people selling hamburgers to a starving crowd are far outselling the entrepreneurs inventing new widgets that nobody wants or needs.

I’m a software guy and I’ve created many apps and services that nobody cared about because I fell in love with an idea, not a market.

So, go find a hungry market and sell them what they are hungry for.


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