Does your startup suffer from premature launch syndrome?

So here is a message I recently received, unsolicited, from someone I don’t know, through a major Q&A site (URL redacted to protect the guilty):

I’m a startup founder starting a company in the legal space. It’s called [abcdef.com], and it connects people with lawyers online. Sorta serves as a law firm to both lawyers and clients, but isn’t a law firm and has no physical presence. We’re trying to figure out what we need to do to get top lawyers to work with clients through the site, and I was wondering if you had any suggestions for us. Feel free to read about [abcdef] online.

My first suggestion? Don’t start. I get that it’s easy to build stuff, and I get that the lean startup folks tell you to rapid prototype. I say the same thing. But if you don’t have a business model, if you don’t understand your market, then you are not “building a startup.” You are exploring a hobby and trying to see if it can turn into something. 

That is a critical difference in mindset because it changes the standards by which you measure your success. Read 37Signals. Go figure out how to make $1 first. Then $2. Rinse and repeat. Building something that people use for free is not the same as trying to build something that people will pay for.

Without researching this guy, because he’s all but shown me it’s not worth the effort, I know that he is having problems with “top lawyers” because he doesn’t know what that means, he doesn’t know how they practice, how they get their clients, or much else of substance. Why bother? All these legal referral sites probably get close to 0% of their revenue from AmLaw 100 firms. Even if “top lawyers” aren’t working at those firms, they are working *like* those firms.

KNOW YOUR MARKET.

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