New podcast series!Zero to Traction: How first-time founders create companies that scale


Never put the "what" before the "where"

Never build the thing before knowing where you’ll sell the thing.

Lest you launch to crickets.

I hear this story almost every week: you’re a founder with a product, you think it’s a good one, some early validation gave you some evidence you’re on the right track, and so you built it.

And… then what?

No one buys, because you aren’t sure how to sell it.

  • You try running ads here or there, but they peter out.
  • You think about hiring a sales team, but where is that capital coming from?
  • You pay for a marketing consultant, and the results are unimpressive.

Eventually, your startup wilts, the stench of failure grows, you lose interest, and you move on.

It just wasn’t mean to be.

The problem wasn’t product, sales, or marketing. It was distribution.

The first step in any innovative effort is to find the customers, to talk to them, to discover their problems, and then to find and validate solutions to those problems.

What, what was that first step again???

Find. The. Customers. ‼️

Amazingly, most founders just miss this first step — and it’s so frustrating!

George from Seinfeld complaining about Newman not following the postal carrier creed

“But I did talk to customers!” You’ll say.

But how many? Did you find one or two or a handful? Or did you go where thousands of them are and see if you could get their attention?

In other words, you built a product for the five customers you spoke to, but you never found a market.

Before building the thing you’ll sell, figure out where you’ll sell it.

Before you even think about building, ask yourself if you know where your first customer is coming from. How about the next 10? And the 100 after that?

If you don’t, pause. Go to talk to more customers.

You may have a great solution to a problem, but you don’t have any means of getting it in front of those customers — and you may not even know how to find them.

And, even worse, you may be chasing a mirage.

A good founder thinks to ask about customer problems, their desire and urgency for a solution, and their ability to pay. But a great founder thinks to ask where she can find more of those customers.

Where do they hang out? Who are their influences? How can she get in front of a large number of them efficiently?

In other words: never build anything until you know exactly how you’ll get it in front of your customers.

Because if you can’t figure it out, you’ve wasted time and cash. But if you find customers first and then build the product second, they’ll buy it on day 1.

Heck — they’ll probably pay you to build it!

We often say not to be a solution in search of a problem. But you also don’t want to be a problem in search of a customer.

The correct order is always:

  • Distribution
  • Problem
  • Solution

The reverse is suicide.

Whenever you're ready, there are 3 ways I can help you.

  1. If you’re still in the idea-to-seed stage, trying to get early traction, I’d recommend starting with some coaching:

    → Book a 1:1 coaching session to tackle one key challenge, from prototype to pitch.

    → Apply to my Traction Coaching program, and we’ll find traction together.

  1. If you already have early traction, I’d recommend running a Traction Sprint to find the traction you need to get from Seed to Series A.
  1. Of course, you can always ask me a question for my weekly office hours livestream.

3-2-1 Traction Newsletter

Every Monday morning, you’ll get three big ideas from me, two curated ideas from others, and one thought-provoking question for you — all to help you find traction for your startup, or fail fast trying.