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Everything you need to know about startups can be learned from rowing

The way of creating a business is changing. You used to build a product and hope a customer would buy it. However, today you need to change your way of thinking from waiting for a customer to instead finding an audience that will then expose some customers, who will then shape your product and business model. Or put another way: Mindset -> Audience -> Customer -> Product.

When you say these words in order –  Mindset, Audience, Customer, Product – the order seems counter intuitive and wrong. This is very similar to rowing. When teaching rowing, the body works in segments. You start the stroke at the “catch” where the blade of the oar connects and catches the water. The knees are drawn up, the body angle is forward, and the arms are straight and forward (see graphic below)
From this position, your legs go from a bent position to straight, your body angle opens up and you move into a lay back position, then the arms bend as the hands are brought close to the body to finish the stroke. Or put another way: Legs, back, arms.

Most new rowers have a hard time initially getting their brain to do these motions in that order. Their instinct is to bend their arms first, open the back to a layback position, and then push their legs down. This of course will not move the boat very efficiently, and will most likely hurt your back!

The same is true for many new ventures. People want to do the opposite of what they should be doing. They want to focus on the product first, then the customer. When they really need to flip their thinking and go against what sounds and feels more intuitive. They need to change their mindset to focus on not knowing who their customers are or even what product they should be developing.

They need to get out of the building (as Steve Blank tells us) and find an audience. From this audience, then you can start to find your customers – those people who will actually pay you for your product and most importantly the customers that will help drive the development and iteration of your product. The actual product should be the last thing you focus on and develop, instead of the first.

Keep those arms straight until the legs are down and the back has opened!