If only I could go back in time, I would send this to myself. Here are lessons from my experience of running a startup for four years. (Some from the books I read). This will save you time, money and energy.
Media, Movies, don’t portray reality. They convey stories which people want to see and believe. Don’t fall for it. If you don’t trust me, research on the ratio of successful vs failed startups in your country (Around 90% of the startups fail). Probabilities don’t favour you. Yes, movies do inspire and motivate you. The problem is they give you unrealistic expectations. In a movie things are simple, you brainstorm, develop, and go viral. In reality, your brainstorming session with your co-founders itself is a pain. Forget about developing on time and going viral. Huge expectations will delude you to jump start and build things. The result is you burn out quickly. Lower your expectations.
Let me ask you a simple question, Who are your customers? If you are going to answer me “everyone”, you are in trouble. You need to find a specific group of people to begin with. Amazon started as a book store. Initially, Facebook was only open to the students of Harvard. Focusing on a specific group, ex: “computer science students of Harvard University” will help you bring clarity to your ideas. You will have laser focus. You will know what design attracts them, what colour to use, what message to convey, etc. If you have confusions, it is because you are not addressing a specific group.
Once you complete brainstorming some jumpstart to build things. Don’t build. Your idea is based on your thinking on how the world works. Unless you are a Newton or an Einstein, chances are those assumptions are wrong (Remember 90% of startups fail). Some try to validate their idea by finding evidence to support it. Have a look at the above video. Your brain often works against you. It’s called confirmation bias (You can learn more about such cognitive biases from the books The Art of Thinking Clearly & Seeking Wisdom). When you have an idea in mind, your brain starts filtering things to confirm your idea. Don’t believe it. Instead, find evidence against your idea.You need to solve a problem for your customers. It’s also important to solve a problem they care to pay. You need to ask the right questions and dig the problem out. In order to do that you need to ask the right questions. This book was an eye-opener for me. The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you.
Before you build a product, form a community with your potential customers. You can use Facebook, Whatsapp or Medium as a platform. Have a genuine mindset to help them. Push videos, articles, etc to help them with their issues. Find what content they engage with. Since most people don’t do what they say, you are likely to find the real problem observing their behaviour. You would be surprised to see how community members will volunteer to help each other. When we build a community for football fans in India, writers volunteered to write on our blog. Once you gain the trust of the community, your idea becomes theirs. They will be your evangelists. The community effect will be contagious. They will take care of a lot of things for you. You can’t buy this with money. Go to product forums of iPhones and Android. It’s people like you and me who answer users queries. If you need a guide in building communities, check out the book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin.
Don’t just have one idea, have a bunch of them. You don’t have to build them all. Instead, make landing pages for each of your ideas. If you can’t program, use something like Instapage. If you are a programmer, use Github Pages. Have a buy now button, you can even add a price. If people show interest, you tell them “You are on a waiting list, we will get back to you”. Once you have proof that people are interested, go build it. This is a technique a lot of my friends in the startup use. This strategy will save you time and resources.
Some developers have the habit of creating solutions from scratch. It’s gonna cost your startup time. The smart ones are likely to reuse existing solutions that are open source. Ask the developer to check for an open source alternative. Try finding a developer who understands business. In the early stages of a startup, you are still figuring things out. You go through rapid prototyping. The more you engineer it, the more it hurts when you have to throw it away. I would say, it is enough to make it work. When users stick to your product, optimise it.
Expect the next episode in the coming days. Follow HackerNoon and me (Febin John James) so that you won’t miss out on them. I am creating a community for startup entrepreneurs. The purpose is to help them build their ideas fast and cheap. If you are interested, sign up here.I also recommend one book with every story I write. For this story, it’s The Art of Thinking Clearly. Reading is invaluable. (If you don’t have time for reading checkout Mentorbox).