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The NPF Method: Building A Customer-First Tech Product

Dele Omotosho
Dele Omotosho
11 min read

Regardless of what you know about computers or software, here’s one thing I can assure you:

Today, building a software-based business is easier than ever. 

I know, I know… you don’t believe me [yet] and that’s OK. 

In this guide, you will soon learn why that is. I will walk through a framework for building your first tech product even if you don’t know how to write a line of computer code (or never seen a computer before — wait… how are you reading this?).

First, a small secret — most people fear getting into the tech because they fear they can’t write code or don’t understand all that technical stuff. 

The shocker: 

When it comes to building a tech business, none of those matter very much.

That’s some good news!

If you missed it, let me repeat, building software today [as a business] has gotten easier, much easier. And before you go out celebrating, let me still clarify:

Building software is hard, but you know what’s harder:

Finding a business that people will PAY for…

That, my friend, is HARD.

Very hard.

Luckily, that’s what this guide is about. 

I will show you an alternative approach to building a tech business starting from this very hard place — getting people to pay for your product before you even build anything.

The Crushing Game Plan

Here’s our game-plan:

  1. Start with the VERY HARD stuff (i.e. getting a business people will pay you for).
  2. Build a technical, software-driven solution.

A clarification: 

When I say “technical” or “software-driven”, I’m referring to a business that relies on technology to deliver value. It can be a mobile app, a web app or some other fancy things like API, AI, blockchain, etc.

For now, none of those matter, we will get there, but not until we get our foundations set — doing the very hard stuff.

The 6-Step Framework

When you set out to build a tech business, there is always the temptation (especially if you’re technical) to start with building a solution; your solution to what you think will be the fit to the problems people are having.

STOP!

Let me introduce you to a new way of thinking about building your business that will save you heartaches.

  1. Apply The “Nigeria Police Force” (NPF) Method ? Most important
  2. Pre-sell
  3. Build Loyalty
  4. Build “It” ✋ the wrong place to start
  5. Build More Loyalty
  6. Profit

Let’s dive into the details.

Step 1 : Apply The “Nigerian

Police Force” (NPF) Method

Think about this:

I’m sure we can both agree that everyone has problems, your singular job as an entrepreneur is finding all those problems, crafting a solution and delivering it to the people.

It’s really that simple.

The problem is, it’s not so simple finding problems people have, (and strangely, all the advice you get seem to skip this point) you have to hunt for it, and be sure there’s enough value they will pay for.

This is where Nigeria Police Force (NPF) Method come in.

To the uninitiated, there’s a lovely city in West Africa, Nigeria called Lagos. When I started driving around Lagos I started noticing a pattern:

  1. There’s a lot of armed men often stopping your car and asking for “stuff”
  2. They all seem to ask for the same stuff, the same way — never, ever being direct.

The conversation will go something like (in Nigerian Pidgin English):

“Well done, oga, wey your particulars?” (Hello, where’s your [vehicle] papers). You provide that.

He continues, “wey your safety triangles and fire extinguisher”, you show that. He’ll keep asking about other random [car] things, until he says something like, “Oga how far nah, you know …” (Sir, you understand…). 

Any person who has spent sometime in Nigeria immediately understands this “code word”, pay “the tax”.

Here’s the insight: 

They [the NPF] never actually come out and ask you what they REALLY want, they keep asking around it, and that’s the core of the NPF method:

  1. The NPF first identify their target; you, an entrepreneur must first identify your customers.
  2. The NPF talk about (and around) their target’s problem and/or try to agitate it; you, an entrepreneur must talk to your customers, about their problems (NEVER about your solution no matter how tempting) and try to agitate/dig very deep to mine their truth.

The premise is: 

You talk to people (your [identified] prospective customers) about what you want (finding out if your idea is any good) without actually stating your intent (building a solution to sell to them).

Here’s the framework:

The biggest mistake that many entrepreneurs make is defining the solution before they have:

  • Understand who their customers are.
  • Spoken to these customers (those that will pay them).
  • Understand the problem, from their customers point of view.

Sadly, many jump right to building out a solution only to discover when it’s too late that unfortunately, no one cares.

Let me repeat, the “building” should come much, much later. 

The key thing is:

When you get your idea, talk to people you suspect might be your customer, have great conversations with them, and like the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), don’t bias them with your [supposed] solution. Get the front-row point of view of your prospective customer’s problems.

Here are some things to keep on mind as your go through this method:

  • Everybody lies, even your friends. Put them to “The NPF” method. People lie when they think it’s what you want to hear
  • People often know their problems but not how to solve it
  • Don’t trust what people tell you, watch what they do—this is where you find the bottlenecks, i.e. your opportunities.
  • If people haven’t found a walk-around to solve the problem in the past, they won’t care for your [new] solution.
  • Fixate on your prospective previous behaviors, it’s a superb predictor of the future.
  • No one lies when you ask for cold, hard cash.
  • When you watch hard enough, you can find what your solution is worth to people
  • Never obey people’s “ideas” (especially when they are not paying), get to understand their intent.
  • Talk less, listen more — in fact, the more you’re talking the less you’re learning.
  • When you’re rejected, its good news! It’s an opportunity to learn, better.
  • Don’t get stuck in the weeds, always have your eyes on the bigger problem.
  • Keep your learning casual, the more formal, the more opportunities for lies.
  • Be careful with people who don’t give definitive responses. They waste time and give little insights. You want your prospects to be firmly on one side of the fence or the other.
  • Give people the chance to reject you — its good news.
  • Find opportunities to chat about things you and a potential cares about, you learn, they enjoy the conversation.
  • Always be having conversations until you stop hearing something new.
  • If you’re not not finding consistent problems, pain, and goals, you might have to pivot.
  • If you can find up to 30 people, try to get 50% + (about 16 people) to validate your idea.

Step 2: Pre-sell

You’ve gone through the “NPF” method and gotten good results? Congrats, you’re getting closer.

Let’s push things further:

Once you’ve spoken to some prospective customers about the possibilities of them using your solution, before you run off to start building, let’s narrow things down with these two things:

  1. Build a Landing Page of your “product” (~1 hour) If you’ve spoken to enough prospective customers, you should know what your unique selling point is.

To test the viability of your idea, build a product landing page that clearly states that selling point. Don’t spend too much time on this. Depending on your level of skills, there are several landing page builders, search and pick one that matches your skill level.

At this stage, you design that landing page to be as close as possible to a finished product with a clear call to action (as you would in your finished product). You want to measure if people resonate with your message and your interpretation of their problem and proposed solution (your value proposition).

  1. Drive traffic to your landing page. (~2 hours) Use paid media like Facebook, Bing, or Google Ads to drive people from your NPF to this page (and others like them).

Only use free source (like Social media) if you cannot afford to use paid media.

What you’re looking to get at this stage is some commitment (i.e. asking for their email/phone number, asking for a down payment, etc).

Please, don’t spend too much time at this stage because you will iterate through a few ideas to truly getting to validation.

Your cycle will look something like:

Step 3: Build Loyalty

If things are working well in your favor, you will now have a few that will give you some commitment. The value of commitment will be relative. You’re the best judge of what will be significant to you.

If you gotten something significant, proceed through this stage. If not, go back to the previous section. 

Here’s how the flow looks:

Don’t worry if you’re not set to proceed, go back to the previous section and iterate.

Early stage customer loyalty is extremely important, building this loyalty before you even kick-off any solution.

Through the campaign you’re running to send traffic to your “product” page, these is a great oppurtunity to practice building those relationships.

Truth is, you are new, no one cares!

They [future customers] must trust you; give value and build an “expertise” in your business niche.

Here are things to try:

  • Giveaways
  • Blog posts
  • Follow-up emails
  • WhatsApp/SMS Messages follow-ups

Step 4: Build Your Product

Now the part we all love, the “easy” bit:

Build your tech product…but WAIT!

If you already know how to build your software, congrats. 

If you don’t, no need to worry, In the following section, we will go through the key things that you need to know.

A strong word of caution:

Unless you’re already a skilled developer, I recommend you have someone else build the solution. Your core task: work on building your customer-base, selling and marketing your solution. 

As an entrepreneur, this is the best investment of your time. Regardless, you still need to understand the tech jargons. 

So here we go:

Business Models

Here’s the more popular business model for tech companies:

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): You charge a subscription to use your software/app. It’s the sweet spot for a technology business; you get that sweet recurring revenue.
  • Licensing: You charge a fee to use your product, often a onetime fee.
  • Freemium: This is a sibling to the SaaS model, in this case, there is a free version of the paid product (think Dropbox) that you hope users will eventually upgrade to the paid version. This model is attractive but can be hard to get users to upgrade. Not beginner-friendly or the faint of heart.
  • Free-As-A-Service: Your product is free and you find other ways to monetize, often through ads or professional service.
Platform: AI Development

If you’re interested in artificial intelligence, here are some platforms you should know about:

  • Amazon Web Services: forecast, recommend, insights, analysis, transcribe, etc
  • Google Cloud Platform: Vision, Video, etc
  • Twilio (Bots): SMS bots, WhatsApp bots, telegram bots, etc.
  • ManyChat (Bot): Facebook Messenger bots
Platform: Web Development

In web development, there are several platforms/technologies that you might want to build on, I’ve narrowed it to a few:

I often divide the platform into:

  • Front-end: the part of a website you see and use. As of this writing (this tools evolves so fast), here are the top options: 
    • VueJS 
    • AngularJS 
    • ReactJS 
  • Back-end: the “invisible” section of the website. These are the most beginner friendly in order of difficulty.
    • Firebase
    • Strapi
    • WordPress
    • Laravel
    • Ruby on Rails
Platform: Mobile Development

In mobile development, things have gotten simpler, it’s iOS or Android.

  • Android – Kotlin/Java
  • IOS – Swift
  • Android + iOS: Flutter / React Native (If you’re going this route, I strongly recommend Flutter)
Outsourcing Development

Just in case you missed it, let me remind you: Don’t build a software solution from scratch IF you can afford not to (even if you’re an experienced developer). Get help. 

Hire a developer:

  • Upwork
  • Fiverr

Buy Source Code:

  • Mobile (React Native): https://market.nativebase.io
  • Web and Mobile: https://codecanyon.net/
  • Web: http://themeforest.com

Financing Your Solution

I know you might have the question, how do I pay for things if you keep asking that I not do it myself?

There are a few ways to finance the solution you will build. As an entrepreneur, your greatest asset is your time and you should always consider your time more expensive than the money. This means, if you can pay for more time, do so and spend your time, generating more money.

Here are the key source for finance, in order of preference:

  1. Your Personal Savings: Most ideal.
  2. Blood, Sweat & Tears Equity: If you don’t have enough personal savings, you might have to learn, and build and be willing to do the work AND/OR find other willing to do the work for a share of the business.
  3. Friends, Family & Fools: If all else fails, seek out family, friends and fools, tread carefully. This should be least preferable to the others.

Step 5: Build More Loyalty

Customer Service is KEY. Don’t hide, be personable to your customers, entertain them. No customer, you die, treat them well!

Step 6: Profit

Obviously!

Keep an eye on that cash-flow! That is, learn finance and understand how the numbers works. 

(See my reading recommendations below).

Crushing Your Devil

Regardless of what you may know or how confident you are, if you don’t execute, nothing happens. Let’s walk through a framework for deliberate execution.

  • Have Quarterly goals (4/year) — what are the “big things” you want to accomplish in 1 year? 3 months?. 
  • Break your quarterly goals into:
    • Monthly Goals
    • And, your monthly goals into Weekly goals
  • Block out time every week to review your weekly goals.
  • Make a daily list and do it with the Pomodoro technique.
  • Do the HARD things first.
  • Give back a.k.a. be intentionally generous. It’s not always about you.

Apps for Success & Discipline

Use these apps religiously (All free): * Google Calendar * PomodoneApp or Focuslist (Mac) * ClickUp

Skills You Must Have

When building a tech business, much might think that the topmost skill to have is how to write code, or how to understand technical jargon, or how to know the latest technological fads.

All wrong.

The topmost skills you must have are:

  • Sales: knowing how to spot problems, what makes humans tick and pay to remove pain.
  • Marketing: knowing how to position your solution for optimum impact.
  • Writing: knowing how to communicate yourself at scale.
  • Entrepreneurial Finance: knowing the key numbers that move the needle.
  • Organizational Intelligence: knowing how to manage your own shortcomings and getting the right team. You can’t do it all!

If you don’t have these skills yet, see the resource section on books to learn, it’s a must.

No matter the next technological evolution or the next new things, as long as you’re dealing with humans, the above will be what will set your solution apart from the crowd.

Resources

Here are my recommended reading to get your mind and skills in the best shape for business battle (in no order of preference): 

  • Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals With Objectives – Christina R. Wodtke
  • Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel – John Carlton
  • The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur: The Tell-It-Like-It-Is Guide – Mike Michalowicz
  • Brave Bootstrapping: How to Grow a Global Tech Business Without VCs – Sarah J. Perry
  • The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Getting Your Shit Together – John Carlton
  • Claude Hopkins Scientific Advertising – Carlo Galetti, Claude C. Hopkins
  • Breakthrough Advertising – Eugène Schwartz
  • Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy
  • How to Build a Business and Sell It for Millions – Jack Garson
  • The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers & Learn if Your Business – Rob Fitzpatrick
  • Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits! – Greg Crabtree & Beverly Herzog
  • Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content – Ann Handley

If you’re wondering why I included no book on a specific technology, let me clarify again: this is a guide on building a business not on writing software or using technology.

To an entrepreneur, technology is a means to an end, not the end itself.

Go to MarketMoonshot

Dele Omotosho

I help software businesses in emerging markets breakthrough sustainably & profitably


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