So You Built It and They Didn't Come Now What?


When you look at all of the innovation that has been added to the world in just the last one hundred years, it is absolutely astounding how far we've come. Start-ups endeavor to capture that innovation and make its benefits available to those whose lives will be forever improved by it.

Yes, there can be great wealth and fame for those intrepid entrepreneurs who dare beyond the dream, to actual execution. But there is also great risk and no ...

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When you look at all of the innovation that has been added to the world in just the last one hundred years, it is absolutely astounding how far we've come. Start-ups endeavor to capture that innovation and make its benefits available to those whose lives will be forever improved by it.

Yes, there can be great wealth and fame for those intrepid entrepreneurs who dare beyond the dream, to actual execution. But there is also great risk and no guarantees.

Today the barriers to starting a company are almost too low and that can seduce an entrepreneur to build without truly thinking the idea through to its rightful conclusion.

· It's just full speed ahead - of the competition even when there isn't any.

· It's millions of investment dollars spent on a product with no customers yet.

· It's build it and they will come.

Well, what if they didn't come? What are you going to do now? What can you do?

This is a far different situation than when you were driving the original idea, selling the vision, seeking and getting the intoxicating "Wow's", when everyone would talk to you and everyone was chasing you to share his or her sage.

But when you've built it and they didn't come, when you have that epiphany that maybe they aren't ever coming, when the buzz and the fervor turn into fear, uncertainty and doubt, where do you turn?

I had no trouble finding total strangers with whom the title of this book resonated. I would tell them I was writing a book "So You Built It and They Didn't Come. Now What?" and they would just smile from ear to ear. Then they would immediately start to tell me their own stories of start-ups that stumbled; whether it was one they worked at, their relatives worked at, they bought from or sold to or read about; there was no one that didn't have a personal experience to share.

Well I've accepted that I can't get to every start-up's CEO before he builds a product with no orders for it. He wouldn't listen anyway as most are too busy building to listen then. But what I can do is help him figure out his Now What? when it happens. This book is not about theory. It's true stories with practical advice on what to do next.

Getting it right creates jobs, provides for the future of the families involved, brings products to the world that can forever improve lives and bring benefits to our global economy. It is with great courage that these Executives so candidly have shared their own true stories of how they came to their Now What moment and what they did to get it right. No one told them, now they openly will tell you:

I hope, as we all do, that you never need this book. But if you do, know that you aren't the first and you aren't alone. We're all here to tell you what no one else would tell us.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781425915469
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Pages: 156
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Read an Excerpt

So You Built It and They Didn't Come. Now What?
By Jackie Bassett AuthorHouse Copyright © 2006 Jackie Bassett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4259-1546-9

Chapter One Now what?

You've been hearing your VP of Marketing complain for months that there are "no closers in the Sales team," or that "Sales needs to position the product better." Likewise, the Sales team says, "Marketing isn't giving us the ammunition we need," or "We need white papers and better messaging." And by now your engineering team has thrown up their hands in disgust and just started writing more code and adding more features. So you've brought in new staff , fired or lost many employees. You've tweaked and tailored the product so many times that you hardly know what it does anymore. One by one you've stuff ed in all the features anyone ever said the product must have in order for Customer X to buy it-or for that matter, simply to get it to work. All this activity is completely unproductive, and born from pure frustration on all fronts.

Silos are building. Trust is breaking down everywhere, and team spirit has all but disappeared. The people, the product, the prospects: everything has changed. But the results have not.

All of the changes you have made to date look Herculean; but in fact, they are purely incremental. The time for real change has come. It's time to admit you were wrong, and commit to getting it right. You do need to keep going, but you need to choose a different road. You need to make some drastic changes that most won't like-and many will fear. Some of your most loyal staff may leave. Some will just go dead quiet, while others will become quite vocal.

With the decision to change comes the need to re-energize yourself, because you're about to work harder than you ever have before. You need to take a long, hard look at exactly what problem you are solving, and for whom. You need to eliminate all your preconceived notions about what product your customers want to buy. And, you need to get rid of the negative effects of the turmoil you've encountered up to this point.

What problem are you solving, and for whom?

Remember: Just because a product doesn't exist, doesn't mean it should. The problem has to solve an immediate customer need; otherwise, it is simply not compelling. You can certainly build products that aren't compelling-but that's not what you had planned to do, was it?

I work with both inventors and start-up entrepreneurs, and the only real difference is that one has VC money. Each has a product he is convinced everyone should have. Both did a measure of research that, in his mind, validated the market demand for that product. They asked three, four, maybe even five of their colleagues for feedback and every one of them said, "Wow-that's so cool!" They spent hours online finding research that proved there was a market of billions. (and they didn't stop looking until they found it) But as Paley's Maxim states:

"The true inventor is not merely the man who registers an idea as a patent. She alone discovers who proves the purpose & satisfies the world." Paley's Maxim

Taking an idea from concept to fruition is hard work. As we've all come to realize, registering a patent, procuring funding, and hiring a core team are only the beginning of what makes a great company. That's where the old maxim "build it and they will come" can start to go so horribly wrong. The real challenge is determining whose business world will be forever improved because of this product. Who really does want to buy your product? The only way to know for certain is to ask them to pay for it.

What's even harder than that is getting entrepreneurs to postpone production of a product until they have determined its value to actual customers. Just because one can build something doesn't mean one should. Again, just because a void in the market exists, doesn't mean it should be filled. Maybe it's not a void at all. Maybe the product doesn't exist because it shouldn't!

So what you have built is nothing like the product you thought you would have: so great that customers would be beating down your door to buy it. Come on, admit it: that was your true vision, and you sold that vision to your investors, who also believed it-enough to give you millions of dollars. I'm certain the product works great. Customers are probably giving you rave reviews on how cool your technology is. But if they're not buying it, none of that really matters.

The good news is, I'm also certain you weren't completely wrong about the problem you were looking to solve. While the original product is rarely ever the right one, it is also never far off from what it needs to be. After all, some customers actually did buy your product. But the number of customers who found either the product or the problem compelling was not sufficient enough to deliver the amount of revenues you had expected.

The solution? Find customers willing to buy your product before it's even built. But, you ask, how can I know what they'll buy if I don't build it first? Well, that's an entire process in itself-and in Chapter7: Getting The Product Right This Time, I address exactly how you can accomplish this. Customers who have a truly compelling problem proactively look for companies who have built a solution for it. If the right product existed, they would already have bought it. If they've looked extensively and haven't been able to find that product, certain customers will be more than happy to pay ahead of the actual build. Those customers who know they can't find it anywhere else, and still find the problem compelling, know they can either try to build a solution themselves or let someone else burn the cycles to do that for them. Keep reading and I'll tell you exactly how you can find customers who will buy before you've built a product.

Now if you're still in denial and believe that it's Marketing's job to build awareness and create a need first, that's fine. You can choose to throw a lot more Marketing dollars at the world, if you have any left. Most likely that's exactly how you won a few customers already. But how much money was spent creating that need, and what was the ROI? Had you built that kind of extreme marketing budget into your margins? Or did you want to build a product that people are already looking for, at very attractive margins and with the level of repeatability that would make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams? Let's look at your options and what market validation you do have to work with.

For one, you've accumulated a wealth of actual customer feedback so real-time and accurate, you could sell it back to all those market research gurus you first listened to. Remember: even if customers said no, or bought but weren't satisfied enough to buy again, you still have a lot of invaluable data. What customers did not want is just as validating as what they did. In addition, you now have a relationship with some great contacts that you can easily return to later when you're ready.

Start Listening to What Customers Say They Want

Each feature you added in an attempt to sell the product holds a key to the right solution-the solution your customers would have bought, had you built their ideal product. Each customer in what is surely an enormous pipeline holds a piece of the puzzle you now get to solve. Each company in your CRM system that is not closing has an answer regarding what it would be willing to buy. The company engaged with you because it had a compelling problem it wanted solved; you just didn't solve it in a way they would have been willing to pay for.

Stop wasting cycles beating yourself up over it. Paying attention to these customers and the data they have provided will help you eliminate those preconceived notions you held for so long about what they would buy. Unfortunately, rare is the start-up that builds a product based on well-defined, end user-focused requirements and documentation. In my fifteen years of working with start-ups I have encountered only a handful of companies that did it this way. In many cases, the goal of technical brilliance outpaces the goal of filling the perceived need of the customer.

Ironically, customers aren't looking for technical brilliance. They want a product that works for one specific problem that's given them months of insomnia. It's that one part of their job they hate the most: the one that makes them want a new job, or stops them from getting their real job done. When a customer problem is so compelling that they come to you looking for a solution, they'll buy "good enough." In fact, if it's technically brilliant, you run the risk of scaring them away. Customers fear that those extra features will cause an entire new set of problems, or that they'll be paying too high a price since the product has features they don't feel they need.

This is exactly what happened at Netscreen Technologies. I was one of Netscreen's first one hundred employees back in 2000. Netscreen was a very successful security start-up that went public in 2001, and was then acquired in 2004 for $4 billion by Juniper Networks. Its first product was a very straightforward security appliance: an integrated Virtual Private Network (VPN) and Firewall device that took all of the iterative processes of security and burned them onto a small chip that passed network traffic very fast.

But the majority of customers didn't buy it for the sophisticated level of security it delivered. The real driver back in 2000 was its speed. Traditional security was all software, and that decreased network speed. The Netscreen gear was almost all hardware, so it could go fast. Customers just wanted speed. Having two security features was more than the "good enough" customers were looking for. In fact, some customers asked for a discount, since they only wanted the VPN piece and didn't want to have to pay for the Firewall feature. I had to assure those folks they were only paying for the VPN, and the firewall was free.

Clear your head of recent downfalls

What you as CEO need to do next is own the problem. Clear your head of all of the recent turmoil you've experienced and reset your own expectations about the challenges of starting a new technology company. This has not been a failure at all, but merely a learning curve. You will get it right this time, but now, like never before, it's about money and time. Fortunately, lack of cash will force you to make the most fiscally sound decisions you've ever made; and lack of time will ensure you don't waste it on unproductive activities: no whining, no finger pointing, and no nonsense.

Honestly, you thought you were ready to launch a finished product, when in reality you were test flying a beta. If customers don't want it, the product is not really finished, now is it? Even if technically it worked, any paying customer's demand was still very much unproven: it was a beta. You spent a lot of money, hired several rounds of employees, invested in many different marketing campaigns, but customers were still telling you no. Now that you're finally listening, here's the "Now What?"

You absolutely need to reset the Board's expectations. Sound painful? Could it be any more painful than those every-two-day Board meetings where they ask you the same questions they just asked two days ago? Remember: the Board does want your company to succeed. Are they altruists? No. They want a great return on their money. You aren't getting anywhere by continuing to tell them those deals in your pipeline are slipping into yet another quarter. It's costing you far more than cash to continue down that path: it's costing you credibility, and you're going to need all the credibility you can get in the next steps you will need to take to turn the company around.

Each of your investors expects delivery on what you promised, whatever you promised. Much like the stock market, they will respond favorably or unfavorably based on expectations-expectations that you set. In your earlier enthusiasm you may have promised the moon. Then, when sales were slower than what you originally expected, you projected a hockey stick of revenues. You can't reset those expectations fast enough.

The Board may not be saying it aloud, but they haven't been looking at this hockey stick as a healthy stream of revenues. They've been looking at it as the first red flag that deals are slipping. To you, the pipeline of deals was just growing. But your Board has been seeing your lead-to-close rate worsening, and they are seriously alarmed now. You'll need to act fast and with great leadership to regain the personal credibility that's been slipping away with every missed forecast.

The Board will welcome this reset, as they stopped buying the old plan far ahead of when you realized things had to change. But even faster than you can get in there and reset their expectations, you need to create a new plan with a solid direction to it, and it must be well detailed. I'll cover more of this in the next Chapter, with a real-life example of a start-up that did just that.

If you are here, it's time to course-correct:

Your VP of Marketing complains there are "no closers in the Sales Team" or that "Sales needs to position the product better" Your Sales team is saying, "Marketing isn't giving us the ammunition we need," or "We need white papers and better messaging" The members of your engineering team have thrown up their hands in disgust and started writing more code and adding more features VCs are calling you at home in the middle of the night You've burned through several million dollars of venture capital funds and you're running out of runway You've replaced the VP of Sales three times and the VP of Marketing twice You've added ten or more new features that each round of salespeople you hired (and fired) insisted their prospects must have Your sales pipeline is now an exponent of your closed deals, and growing bigger every quarter Board meetings are happening, seemingly, every two days Your product is technically brilliant, yet you have only a handful of customers

Now What?

Recognize this can't go on! Get ready to make some drastic changes Own the problem, and don't waste cycles beating yourself up Analyze with laser-focus what specific part of that original problem is truly compelling, and to whom Eliminate any preconceived notions about what the customer wants to buy Clear your head of any negative effects from the recent turmoil No whining, no finger-pointing, no nonsense Find customers who will buy your product before you've even built it (yes, you can; keep reading!) Reset the Board's expectations with a new, well-detailed plan

Chapter Two Know the signs to act on early!

Entrepreneurs are, and often need to be, pathologically optimistic. But this same strength left unchecked can also prevent one from taking critical course-correcting actions in a timely fashion. So how can you know for sure that the problem is not just slow sales, but that some drastic changes need to be made? There are signs! When you see or hear them, you need to act on them, and fast.

Slow sales are always diagnostic of a core problem. Many things could be going wrong, and you can't let any of them continue. Maybe the problem you're trying to solve isn't compelling enough in the mind of the target customer. It doesn't matter that this problem should be compelling, or that the costs of inaction are great. It doesn't even matter that the potential harm, should he not use your product, could cost that customer his job. If the customer doesn't view the product as compelling, then it's not. You can educate, create awareness, show the customer all of the benefits he will receive from using your product, and you have. But, quite literally, he's not buying it.

Are you hitting the wrong target customer? Or is that specific portion of the problem not compelling, and do you need to narrow or adjust your focus? Your product, as so often happens with visionaries, may simply be too early for the market. You're ready for it, but your customers are not. The only reason people buy anything is because they see something in it for them. Or perhaps they do see what's in it for them, but processes internal to their company or industry prohibit them from making the purchase. Either way, the results are the same. You're just too early. You can't afford to sell a product whose implementation first requires significant changes within a company or industry.


Excerpted from So You Built It and They Didn't Come. Now What? by Jackie Bassett Copyright © 2006 by Jackie Bassett. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

About This Book....................xii
Introduction: The dilemma....................xv
Chapter 1: Now what?....................1
Chapter 2: Know the signs to act on early!....................10
Chapter 3: The Next Twelve Steps....................20
Chapter 4: Get Back to Basics And You're Back in Business....................29
Chapter 5: Stop Selling and Start Interviewing!....................41
Chapter 6: If They're Not Paying, They're Not Customers!....................53
Chapter 7: Getting the Product Right This Time....................66
Chapter 8: Create a Disruptive Sales Team....................80
Chapter 9: Creating a Disruptive Sales Process....................90
Chapter 10: Or was it broken when you got there?....................104
Chapter 11: Know Your Market Accelerants, and When to Hit the Sales Throttle....................114
Chapter 12: Who Wants To Buy It More Than You Want to Sell It?....................123
Additional Resources....................129
About The Author....................132
About Voci Media Works East....................133
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