How to Sell a Product That Doesn’t Exist Yet—And Why You Should
I sold nearly $10,000 worth of my training program before the program even existed.
Sounds like a Ponzi scheme, right? Like I’m selling tickets to the Fyre Fest?
But it’s true. I hadn’t written one word or recorded one minute of video footage. I just pitched to likely customers my idea for a training program on “how to build a six-figure digital agency from nothing, quit your job and live the laptop lifestyle.” Didn’t even have a name for the program. I asked them to pay me money to be among my first students…and they agreed.
How do I sleep at night, selling people something that doesn’t exist?
I sleep great, actually. See, I knew that at some point in the near future, it would exist. I had cracked the code and built my own six-figure digital agency (actually, Ogline Digital is a seven-figure agency). I knew the exact steps to reproduce what I did, and I knew that I could present it in an actionable way.
In fact, pre-selling the program got my ass in gear. I knew I had actual paying students waiting on the course. I had promised them their money back if the course sucked or never materialized. I knew that I had better deliver—and I had every intention of delivering.
So, I focused for 30 days, and the first iteration of “How to Grow a Hyper Profitable Digital Agency” was born. It wasn’t perfect. I have since made many improvements, but—most importantly—it worked. No one asked for their money back. I was personally available to my first students to help them with anything they had problems with. In fact, their feedback was invaluable to making the next iterations even better. (I’m currently working on a third revamp from the ground up.)
So, I sold about $10,000 of a product that didn’t exist. And here’s the thing: You should too.
Honestly, I Think Selling Your Product (or Service) Should Be the First Thing You Do
Forget setting up your website. Forget designing a logo. Forget a long process of R&D, six to 12 months designing the perfect product—just start selling the product or service, before it exists.
I’m not the only guy who thinks so. Tesla sold about $10 billion worth of the Model 3 before the car was even ready.
Of course, Tesla is a household name and an icon of automobile innovation. You will have a higher marketing barrier to clear…but it will be the best investment you’ve ever made.
And if you want to know how to make it happen, here’s what you need to consider:
1. Product-Market Fit
By selling my digital course before it existed, I was practicing what I preach. I tell my students that the most important step in growing a business is to get the cash register ringing as soon as possible.
Don’t wait until the product is “perfect.” Software developers don’t wait until their product is perfect. When you hear those in tech talking about an “MVP,” they aren’t discussing baseball. MVP in means “minimum viable product”—the most bare-bones version of the software/product/app/service that they can actually sell to potential users and get their feedback.
You don’t need a perfect product to have a successful business. What you need is product-market fit.
Product-market fit means that 1) people want your product, and most importantly, 2) they are willing to pay money for it. Lots of people get hung up on number two, but there’s actually an easy way to tell if people will pay money for your product. Ready? Here it is…
Someone pays money for your product.
That’s it. That’s how you tell. Not someone telling you, “Wow, that’s a good idea!” or “Man, I would totally buy that!” That’s why focus groups are useless. For the most part, people are “people-pleasers.” They want to be liked, so they say yes as often as possible…especially if nothing is at stake.
But if you were to tell them, “You would totally buy that, you say? Well good news because I have 10 of them in my car right now! Will that be cash or credit?”
Watch the mood change. “Oh, sorry, money is tight.” “I’m not on the market right now.” People do a complete 180 when actual money is at stake.
But if someone says, “Yes, I want that, and I’m willing to pay for it now,” that’s how you know your idea is a winner.
2. The MVP
Once you have determined that you have product-market fit (by actually getting the cash register to ring), you can start building your minimum viable product (or minimum viable service). Minimum is the operative word. Don’t take forever over-designing it. You can’t—you have paying customers waiting!
Best of all, with an MVP, you don’t have to guess at how to perfect the product. Once your customers have the MVP in their hands, they will tell you how the product can be made better. You might have a whole set of features in mind, only to have your customers tell you that they need something entirely different. Useful to know, right?
3. The Pivot
Entrepreneurs, especially in the tech space, talk about making a “pivot”—that is, taking a product or service in a new direction based on new information in the market.
Imagine trying to pivot when you have invested six months, 12 months or even longer perfecting a product. Suddenly you discover that the market needs something different. You have to pivot your “perfect” product. Painful. How do you pivot something that is “perfect”?
But what if the product doesn’t even exist yet? It’s easy to pivot. You don’t have to go back to the drawing board because you are already at the drawing board, free to follow the evidence until you achieve product-market fit.
The Bottom Line? Fail Fast, So You Can Pick Yourself Up Faster
If I had to pick one mistake that I see aspiring entrepreneurs consistently make, it’s spending six months, a year, two years or more designing their product…before they confirm that they have product-market fit.
Think of the opportunity cost. If it took $100, $500, even $1,000 or more of marketing to test product-market fit, it’s totally worth it—you just saved yourself two years of spinning your wheels on a product no one wanted. And once you have product-market fit, that marketing cost looks like a drop in the bucket, the best money you ever invested.
My “call-to-action” to every aspiring entrepreneur is this: Stop designing your product, and start selling your product. Don’t wait for it to exist—if your assumptions are wrong, that will be far too late. Move fast. Break things. Fail fast and pick yourself up faster. But make that cash register go DING! And then deliver.
Dylan Ogline, founder of Ogline Digital, believes that anybody can start and build their own digital agency, creating a life with more freedom, purpose and meaning. Dylan’s training program is designed to take the guesswork out of building an agency and remove all of the unknowns that stop so many people from starting their own business, all in just six weeks. Visit his website, on Facebook @dylanogline or on Instagram @dylanogline.