From idea to startup - what is your product?

A lot of startup ideas fail to know the difference between the product and the customer. Here's what you need to know.

From idea to startup - what is your product?

As a entrepreneur at the very beginning stages of thinking about creating a startup, you may find that you have a lot of interesting ideas around a theme, you just can't quite see the business yet. You may start with a feeling – a hunch – that there is some new opportunity lurking in the mist that no-one else has discovered.

You need to establish early on what your core value add is. For example, if you're a technology company, it may be to do something faster/cheaper/new. Technology can however fall into the trap of technology looking for a problem to solve. An example of this may be to invent a smartphone case that has a graphics chip in it for better gaming. Here you have the technology – clearly better than any other phone case – but the market has to demonstrate that customers want better gaming and developers want make games for it. In other worse, it's looking for a problem to solve.

On the flip side, you may not be a technology company. Your company may be based around information, such as education or content publishing. These are generally the harder businesses to define because you need to decide what the product actually is.

Often quoted, people say that Facebook isn't the product, you are the product. This is correct. Facebook make money by selling their audience – you – to advertisers. The product Facebook sell is attention, and attention comes by having people.

Customer vs Product

You need to establish who your customer is, and what is your product. Recruitment agencies sell candidates as a product. This is because the ones paying recruitment agencies are the companies looking for their new employees. A recruitment company who doesn't have a database of candidates wont get very far, as they have no product to sell.

So how does this help you with your startup? You want to be very sure of the following:

  1. Who will pay for your product or service? – the customer
  2. What do they get in exchange for paying? – the product

The exchange may be information, such as education in the from of articles, courses, or videos. If the person consuming the education pays for it, they are the customer, and the education is the product.

If you give the education away for free, and plan to make money by advertising, then the consumer of the education is the product and the advertiser is the customer. In this scenario, you have to sell twice, first to get the consumers to pay attention by having excellent content, and second to convince advertisers to sponsor or run ads.

The most valuable asset you have to achieve that is to have the best quality content compared to everyone else. People are not sheep, they will not follow your brand if it's not special. If people do not follow your brand, they do not give you attention, and you do not have a product.

In the content marketing world, you become a publisher. Usually connecting readers with advertisers.

No cheating

If you're producing content to build an audience that you can monetise – by selling advertising or in the case of recruitment companies, selling candidates – you can't cheat at one thing.

What will YOU do to make sure your content is the best out there?

If you can't do that, but you have a fantastic idea on paper and impressive business model, but the content is the week link, you wont get very far. It's easier to sell something that's awesome, than to sell something that low quality. Spend your time creating the best content.

Our strategy at Zaro

At Zaro, we are building a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product, who will have direct business customers who pay to use the service. This is straight forward. However, we also plan to build a loyal fanbase of independent users who can use the product for free. Why do this? Aside from our mission to get Zaro into the hands of as many people as possible, we do also recognise that those users are advocates who can bring in businesses. So they become an asset to us.

In order to achieve this, we must build awareness of Zaro and one technique is content marketing. We aim to have the best quality content for designers, developers, markers who can get value. Great content can enable a loyal fanbase.

Much like the scenario of Facebook, when we have attention from our loyal fanbase, we can advertise to them. Only we won't sell the advertising to third parties, we advertise our own product.

We therefore play the role of the technology company, but also the publisher. As a technology company we sell usage of our software to companies. As a publisher, we sell our audience to promote our technology product.

It's basically a funnel.

  1. Users see our content on social, Google Search, links, etc
  2. They click to our content and like it 👍
  3. They subscribe to our content via email, social, etc
  4. We introduce them to Zaro and how it can benefit them as we now have their attention
  5. They use Zaro – for free 😍
  6. They talk to friends and colleagues and showcase their work using Zaro
  7. Companies see Zaro and check it out
  8. Companies love Zaro and pay for it 😎

At any time we can sell Zaro directly to companies, but the network effect of having a loyal fanbase using Zaro publicly because a real asset to us and is how we can tap into exponential growth.


Cable companies not only have you as the customer, but also as the product. Have you ever wondered why you pay a monthly fee to watch TV content, and there are still adverts? Someone figured out how to double dip on their profit by first selling to you, then selling you. Thank goodness for Netflix.