If you’ve ever thought starting a business without a clear plan meant you were destined for failure, think again. Although the formal business plan has long been status quo on every entrepreneur’s checklist for building a viable business, I can tell you from experience that it’s not actually necessary.
I first got the idea to build a customer relationship management (CRM) tool specifically for small businesses while working at another company I had started. With my engineering background, I knew I could design and create the product myself with little to no outside funding. This meant there was no immediate need to formulate a business plan.
I worked out of my basement for nine months, living without frills, and focusing all my time and energy into perfecting the product. Fast-forward five years, and Insightly is now the No. 1 CRM in the Google Apps Marketplace and has more than 550,000 users in more than 110 countries. So what steps should you take in order to launch a successful business without wasting time drafting a business plan?
Step one: Get out there
With Insightly, I wanted to create a product that was easy enough for anyone to use, especially small business owners who don’t have extensive experience with technology. In order to cater to these users, I produced a solid tool that was easy to use but had the full functionality and capabilities of an enterprise tool. I put Insightly up on the Google Apps Marketplace platform, which was the best place for Insightly to gain visibility with small business owners. In only three months, I was able to scale the business to more than 20,000 users. Look for a platform that will get your product in front of your target customers. Once it’s time to take outside capital, investors will be impressed with the traction you made on your own.
Step two: Collaborate with your customers
The Google Apps Marketplace platform also allowed users to provide feedback, which is helpful when launching any product. We received more than 1,000 pieces of customer feedback every few days. We learned which features customers liked and disliked, and we directly addressed any bugs users found, all of which moved the product forward. Our customers know that when they share their feedback, we listen. This collaboration is key and a method of communication that we’ve continued even with our rapid growth. Don’t waste time creating a plan to appease potential investors. Instead, prove that your product is a powerful tool that will help customers succeed.
Step three: Bring in tools
Although business owners would like to think that they could do anything and everything, the truth is everyone needs help balancing, especially when growing a business. I used several different tools and services to help streamline business processes. To keep track of customer feedback, I used Google Consumer Surveys and Zendesk, an integrated support and ticketing platform to manage customer support requests and inquiries. Small business owners value responsive customer service, especially when problems can mean lost sales. Other tools I used include 99 Designs to design web pages and early prototypes, and oDesk to hire international freelance coders to speed up the process and launch the product. Without the help of outside resources, we wouldn’t have been able to get the product to market and scale the company as quickly as we did.
The experience of starting your company will give you a leg up when you do decide to put together a formal plan. You’ll have a great sense of what the product is capable of and the direction in which you want the company to move. Invest the time you would have spent drafting a plan into creating a tool that addresses market needs. You’ll quickly figure out if your company and product have what it takes to succeed with customers.