The blog post I wish I had read when I started out as an entrepreneur

16 December 2010

This is the blog post I wish I had read when I started out as an entrepreneur. It would have saved me a LOT of time and money. They say you learn a lot from your mistakes. But frankly, in start-up world, there are so many possible mistakes available for the making, one needs to cut out the silly ones and focus on making the interesting mistakes. The mistakes you can really learn from.

For example, building your product from scratch, following an enormous spec, not using existing components and not prototyping are very silly mistakes. Making an incorrect assumption about customer needs which you can test cheaply is not.

I was going to make this a list (surprise surprise) but then realised people prefer stories. So here is my (rather dry) tale that incorporates the blog posts Alex and I have read over the last 3 years that have influenced us most; and to the extent that Alex and I are approaching Hidden Little Gems, our new Facebook app, in a completely new way. More about that in my next post. Now – back to the story.

A long while back someone told us to read “Don’t Launch” by Eric Ries. It essentially explained the critical difference between a product launch and a marketing launch. Don’t do your marketing launch until your product is good enough to retain the traffic the marketing launch attracts.

From then on we regularly read Eric Ries and discovered many of the other brilliant principles he advocates:
The Lean Startup

Agile development (developing in sprints and iterating)

Minimum Viable Product

Pivoting until you establish product/market fit

From one of those posts I discovered the inimitable Netscape Founder, Marc Andreessen, who also wrote a brilliant article on Product/ Market Fit.

Through Eric I also discovered Steve Blank. Steve is famous for Four Steps to Epiphany – his big Customer Development idea. Where Eric focuses ‘inside the building’ Steve focuses on ‘outside the building’ i.e. getting the founders talking to customers. Steve’s book “Four Steps to Epiphany” is quite dry and he actually recommends people read a summary some other chaps put together!

Along the way we have also been introduce to two other highly regarded guys who are essential cogs in this landscape – the metrics specialists – Dave McClure & Andrew Chen. Without them we wouldn’t know what our users were up to and what we needed to do to fix broken or weak processes.

Dave is the broader more colourful of the two (as an aside he recently wrote a controversial, but very insightful piece on the decline of the VC industry). He also won legitimate fame for his AARRR! Metrics for Startups presentation.

There is another person whose work I haven’t read enough of yet. Alexander Osterwalder (of Business Model Generation fame)  essentially is the glue that pulls Steve and Eric’s thinking together in a summary as follows.

“This startup search process is the business model / customer development / agile development solution stack. This solution stack proposes that entrepreneurs should first map their assumptions (their business model) and then test whether these hypotheses are accurate, outside in the field (customer development) and then use an iterative and incremental development methodology (agile development) to build the product. When founders discover their assumptions are wrong, as they inevitably will, the result isn’t a crisis, it’s a learning event called a pivot — and an opportunity to update the business model.”

That last paragraph magnificently combines the series of reasonably well thought out positions we had discovered along our journey and re-arranges them into a clear cut, crisp, exciting, scientific approach to startups.

It’s changed our lives, our thinking and the way we are approaching our Snagsta off-shoot start up which is coming soon: Hidden Little Gems.

More to follow on that!