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Taking An Outside-In Approach To Building Your Business

Building a business can be exciting, full of coffee-fueled late nights in front of the whiteboard and light-bulb moments in the shower. But before you get caught up in the whirlwind of creating the next great tech company with visions of unicorns dancing in your head, it’s wise to take a look at your business idea from the outside in. Once you’ve fully vetted your business idea from a few different perspectives, you’ll be much more prepared to launch the next technology success story.

It’s thrilling to come up with a great idea that you can envision skyrocketing to success. It’s tempting to dive into these great ideas headfirst, but sometimes it’s easy to forget to check the surrounding water for hazards. Will this product or service solve a market need? Are there customers who need it and are willing to pay for it? If you don’t know the answer to these two basic questions, it’s time to hit the pause button before jumping into the water.

It’s critical that you don’t become so enamored with your great idea that you overlook the fact that nobody wants or needs it. The goal is to build something innovative and exciting that some set of customers in your market really needs, which will make the likelihood that your endeavor succeeds much, much higher.

Listen To The Market

The market will tell you what it needs if you listen closely enough. When my co-founder and I built our first company, Waveset, we addressed a need the market had been calling out for — a better way to manage identities in the enterprise. Years later, once we successfully sold Waveset, we identified a new market need that built upon our previous venture in identity management with identity governance. Our experience in the market, coupled with an ability to interpret the market need, has resulted in a sustainable market for SailPoint. More than 10 years later, we’re still evolving and innovating in identity governance. But if we hadn’t listened carefully to the market, we never would have made it this far.

Before you decide what you want to build, look to the market (prospects, customers, analysts, influencers) for guidance. If you can identify a hole in the market and create a solution that fills it, you’re one step ahead. And you’re also likely to have a built-in customer base looking for your product, which is the next step in evaluating your business idea from an outside-in perspective.

Seek Guidance From Customers

Once you identify the market need, it’s wise to identify potential customers and seek their input.

When we felt like we had a few ideas that might have staying power based on the current market, the next step we took was to seek out opinions and advice from our previous customers and partners. We wanted to better understand what problems businesses were facing and how they could be alleviated or solved using an innovative approach. The best way to do this is to go straight to the source. We spent countless hours on the phone drilling down into the identity-related problems our potential customers were facing so we could vet our ideas based on their needs.

Stay In Your Own Lane

It’s hard not to be enthralled by the latest and greatest entrepreneurial efforts, especially in the highly publicized technology industry. In the age of unicorns (and decahorns and even hectocorns), it’s easy to focus on what other successful companies are doing. But fast growth and high valuations aren’t always a ticket to success — just ask some of the former unicorns that are now worried about becoming plow horses.

Growth and success are both wonderful things for a business, but they can also create headaches when the appropriate processes and infrastructures aren’t also in place. You’re much better served to stay in your own lane, focusing on your ideas, your potential customers and your market’s needs with a calm, steady approach to building your business.

The Bottom Line

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when approaching your business from the outside in is that it doesn’t stop once you’ve “made it.” In every stage of your business’ growth, it’s imperative to plan and execute with the market and your customers in mind, whether you’re making improvements to your existing business or working on new innovations in your market.

At the end of the day, your entrepreneurial ideas don’t exist in a bubble, which is why taking an approach guided by market and customer needs is so important. For your business ventures to live long enough to not only see the light of day but hopefully last well into a sunny afternoon, they must be relevant to the market and vetted by outside audiences. So, if you’re looking to build the next big tech product, make sure you take the time to get those ideas out of your head, off the whiteboard and out into the world so you can really see whether they’ll sink or swim in the market.

This article was previously published on Forbes.com.

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