When launching a startup for the first time, there are so many things to focus on.
I found this myself when I started my first business. Instead of slowly getting started with entrepreneurship, tackling one task at a time, I dove in headfirst attempting to launch a fully-fledged SaaS startup right from the start. It quickly became apparent why this strategy was destined for failure. You can learn a little bit more about my journey here.
So, how should you get started with entrepreneurship? In this article, we’re going to cover this exact process using the stair-step approach.
If you’re more of a watcher than a reader, check out this excellent video by Rob Walling about the SaaS stairstep approach.
What is the Stairstep Method?
The stairstep method is a way to start your entrepreneurship journey, which focuses on creating simple products first and then moving on to more complex ones as you gain more experience.
We’ll cover each of the stages of the stairstep approach in more detail later on in this article, but the basic premise is:
- Start by creating simple products with organic marketing channels – This helps you get to grips with the basics of entrepreneurship.
- You then keep building small products until you’ve bought your own time and have gained the entrepreneurship experience so that…
- You create your own fully-fledged standalone product that isn’t reliant on an external marketplace.
Who Created the Stair Step Method?
Rob Walling observed a common pattern among successful entrepreneurs: they often started with smaller business ideas before moving on to create more complex products.
After noticing this trend, Walling created the Stair-Step Method, a framework that encourages entrepreneurs to start small and gradually work their way up to larger and more complex products.
With this approach, entrepreneurs can learn the fundamentals of business, build their skills, and gain valuable experience before tackling larger, more complex projects.
Why Should I Use the Stair Step Method?
In my experience, the stair-step method has the following benefits:
- Gradual Learning: The stair-step method lets you slowly learn the basics of becoming an entrepreneur while earning money
- Low Risk, High Learning: Starting with a small product lets you quickly learn the basics while being low risk as you haven’t spent much time and money developing a fully-fledged business
- Testing Ideas: The stairstep method allows you to experiment with new ideas and niches in a low-risk way
- Market Validation: Starting with a smaller product lets you gauge market interest, which you can then expand into a fully-fledged business if it takes off
If I’d known about the stairstep approach when starting my entrepreneurship journey, I’m sure I’d have become a much more successful entrepreneur more quickly. In my opinion, it really is the way to fast-track your entrepreneurship journey.
So now we know why we need to use the stairstep approach, let’s delve into exactly how to use it.
How Does The Stair Step Method Work?
As the graphic above shows, the 3 steps in the stairstep method are:
- Creating a small product using an organic marketing channel
- Creating more small products until you own your own time
- Create a stand-alone product
Let’s delve into the details of each of these steps.
1. Create a Small Product Using An Organic Marketing Channel
The first step of the stair-step method is to create a single, simple product that is built on top of an existing application.
The key here is to find a product that has the potential to be profitable and that you can create with the resources you have available.
Building your first product on top of an existing application, such as creating a WordPress plugin, massively simplifies your marketing efforts (which in my opinion is one of the hardest parts of entrepreneurship). That’s because as long as your product shows promise, these marketplaces will drive the traffic for you, meaning you won’t have to worry about customer outreach!
What’s more, because you’re only creating a small product, you’ll be able to create it really quickly. This allows you to start getting customers (and more importantly their feedback) early.
How Do I Launch a Product On a Marketplace?
In my opinion, given that marketing is largely covered by the organic marketplace that you choose, starting your business should be relatively simple.
Simply follow the steps below and read the linked articles to help you get started with your first business.
- Find a Marketplace – see below for a guide on how to do this
- Come up with a Great Idea
- Validate Your Idea
- Build Your MVP
- Gather Feedback & Iterate
Where Can I Launch These Micro Services?
There are loads of marketplaces where you can launch your micro-service.
I would recommend visiting the following to get started, but I’ve also found that there’s a list of 70 services on Rocket Gem’s site which I’d recommend you check out if you can’t find what you’re looking for below.
- Salesforce – One of the largest B2B app marketplaces in the world
- Shopify – One of the largest e-commerce app marketplaces out there
- Crisp – A live chat platform with a brand-new marketplace
- WordPress – The largest blog hosting platform with a marketplace
- GitHub – The most popular code hosting platform has an online marketplace
- Heroku – The Heroku hosting platform includes a well-fledged marketplace
2. Repeat Step 1
Yes, step 2 is that simple!
After you’ve successfully launched your first product, it’s time to build on your experience to build and launch another.
The plan here is to keep building more and more products until you’ve both bought back all of your time from your day job and have a tonne of experience that you can apply when building your own product.
The Micro-Product Ceiling
Normally, these micro-products have a ceiling on how much money they can make you. In my experience, this is about 2k/month, however, this obviously depends on your actual product.
While owning a handful of these businesses will be more than enough to replace your normal 9-5 job, if you want to keep expanding your business and reach a 6-figure salary, normally you’ll need to move onto step 3 of the stairstep method, otherwise you’ll get too bogged down dealing with the logistics of managing multiple, smaller products and the marketplaces that they live on.
3. Starting Your Own Product
Now that you’ve got a track record of business successes and you’re an experienced entrepreneur who owns your own time, it’s time to move on step 3 of the stairstep method, making your own product.
This time, when you start your business, the training wheels are off. You’ll need to identify your target market and have an in-depth marketing plan before you start to make sure that your startup is a success.
As you’ve already started multiple businesses before, this step will be a lot less daunting if you had started at step 3, meaning you’ll be much more likely to succeed.
Disadvantages Of The Stairstep Method
Although I’d wholeheartedly recommend the stairstep approach as it allows you to learn the business fundamentals slowly, it’s not for everyone, especially if you want to work on a startup full-time very soon.
That’s because the stairstep approach requires you to slowly build up your skills and experience on small products. These small products often lead to small monetary rewards (especially at first), meaning that you’ll need to spend quite a bit of time building quite a few products before you’re able to live off of the business’ income.
However, I’d argue that the likelihood of an experienced entrepreneur creating a moonshot business, let alone as a completely new entrepreneur, is practically 0, meaning that unless you get very lucky you’re much more likely to find success starting your entrepreneurship journey using the stairstep method.