Mitch Hills: Five Product Lessons From My First App Startup

Although I have been in business since I was in high school, it was recently 1 year since I launched my first startup into the world - an app named AroundAbout. With so many ups and downs, today I'm sharing the five product tips I have learned from doing my first startup that will be relevant to those doing their own. Here we go!

1. Don't be afraid to go niche.

Entrepreneurs are naturally ambitious, although first-time entrepreneurs are overly optimistic because they haven't face the real world yet, and they are yet to experience how difficult startups can be. They think 'if we just get 1% of ( x ) multi-billion dollar market, we will be rich!'. Unfortunately, this is not only a bad metric to aim towards, it can also result in you trying to be too many things to too many people. Essentially you become a tiny fish in an enormous pond. 

I made this mistake. I tried to do three different things to a slightly defined, but far too large demographic. So my first piece of advice is do not be afraid to go for a niche market, whether that's a niche location, demographic or product. Owning 20% of a small market is much better than 0.005% of a massive one. 

People can be afraid to go for something really specific because they might think it's too 'weird' or not worth doing. The thing is, whatever you're passionate about, there are other people who love it just as much as you do. In fact the weirder or more niche you go, the more the people in that demographic love it because it's so unique, and you are one of them. Basically, don't try be to be everything to everyone, it just won't work! This leads to my next point.

2. Do one thing really well.

Once you've clearly defined your market and your audience, do one thing really well before you expand. I'll give you an example from my app. AroundAbout is split into three sections: EAT, DRINK and DO. Whilst they all pretty much come under the same umbrella for stuff to do in the city, they are three separate (and relatively large) things and I should have started with just one. 

On top of three different categories I also launched in quite a few cities. This was good because it gave us more reach and awareness, although if I could go back in time I would do one city first, absolutely nail it, have a clear system in place and then move on to the next one. This is what I recommend for any startup or entrepreneur - start with one thing first and then move on. As they say: 'Nail it then scale it!'. 

This can be one location, one product or one feature - whatever it is, get something right first before moving on and trying to do too many.

3. Listen to your gut.

Even though it's statistically intangible, it amazes me how often my gut is right. When you feel something is wrong, when you feel someone is untrustworthy, when you feel something needs to change - don't fight it! Your gut is almost like a sixth sense, a part of you that can identify when there's a red flag.

Your gut also works with your passion. When people are telling you should change something, or telling you that you shouldn't do something, if you feel in your gut that you should go for it anyway and you are passionate about it, then do just that. 

I was a victim of this. I've had people that give me 'advice' and once I took it I regretted it. It resulted in me straying from the whole reason I started a company and it actually made me start to lose passion. Do what you feel is right and whilst you should always listen to feedback, make your own decision at the end of the day.

4. Always add value.

No matter what you do or what business you have, always look to add value to your audience. All businesses are simply solutions to problems, and those 'problems' come in all shapes and forms. Some solve important problems and some solve the 'problem' of being bored, but no matter what you're doing, make your solution as good as you can. 

One of the easiest ways to separate yourself from the competition is simply by adding more value. This can be in the form of your superior product, sharing more interesting content, talking to more people, helping someone out, most importantly if you add value for no reason but just to show your customers that you care, you will build trust and a loyal following.

5. Have a clear and realistic revenue model. 

This is a big one. As I mentioned in the first point about people just expecting to make truck loads of money, unfortunately it's not that easy, and if you run out of cash, you're in trouble. You need to have an actionable and tangible revenue model with projections and benchmarks you want to hit. This includes both your costs and expenses, and if you don't figure this out you might get yourself stuck. 

Whilst it's very important not to follow money as the sole purpose you do what you do, money is the lifeblood of your company and the language of business. Without it, you can't survive, no matter how good spirited you are. At the end of the day the market isn't going to give you a break because you tried or you had good intentions. You need cash to survive in business and a clear revenue model will help you with that.

One final note here - a a strong revenue model creates a strong business. Raising money does not. Raising money just means you have some cash available to grow, but without a clear monetisation strategy that will soon be gone. Too many people celebrate raising money and don't focus on the business. Don't fall for this.


I wanted to chuck a little extra point in here and that is to leverage press. PR is one of the best ways to get your product out there. It’s about putting yourself where opportunity can see you. Don’t underestimate the power of the press, even though traditional advertising is becoming overpriced and less valuable, PR will always be powerful. You can reach tens of thousands of people, get powerful social proof, brand equity and a lot of traffic for free! Read 'The Beginner's Guide to Getting in the Press' for more.

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I could write encyclopaedias full of other lessons I have learned in business, but I'll leave you with these five practical ones for now! Don't forget you can join The Exceptions community for free where you can network, get mentoring on your journey and much more. Join for free below. Enjoy!


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