Thomas Bandt

Startup Lesson Learned: Get Out Now!

Everyone is talking about that Zuckerberg mantra "Move fast and break things" – but let's face it: It is much easier said than done.

Published on Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Common Time Consuming Traps

Developing your own product isn't just a job. It's a passion. And you want to do it right. You're afraid to get bad press, negative feedback from your users, or even worse, your friends and family. They are backing you, so you have to deliver great things from the very beginning, right?

And maybe there is this perfectionism, primarily when you are operating in a field you know very well. Let's say you are an experienced developer building a new online platform. It's fun to explore new technologies and to integrate them into your product.

Or you are not located in Silicon Valley, so you have to prove not only your idea but the fact that you're able to build it in the real world, not only on PowerPoint.

I suffered all of these three points. Also, I had to fund the project by myself, so my team and I had to do much consulting and developing work in parallel.

It took us two years from the first brainstormings to a finished (but still very buggy) version of our online platform.

(We built an app, a website, and a back-end system with full synchronization and offline support for the app, which was way too much work for a small team like us, but that's another story.)

Nobody Cares About The Past

There were some people interested in our technical solution, sure. Still, our real users and even potential investors we talked with didn't care what we had achieved so far. All they saw was the status quo and what to expect next. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

So what matters is everything that comes next, all the investments made so far don't count anymore. That's a valuable lesson.

Unvalidated Assumptions Are Poison

We were two years within a tunnel, and we perfectly met our own goals. The problem was: Many of our assumptions were pure bullshit.

  • Offline support for our app, a massive investment in time? Not necessary.
  • A full-featured website for our users, we didn't expect to use a smartphone back in 2012? It was 2014, so almost everyone had one by then.
  • Our conservative privacy approach and our restrictive access system? Seems people already fell in love with much simpler products, not caring about their own privacy.

Two years in the game, with much time, money and energy burned, it was a really cool moment to see 100 or so users trying out our platform. But they didn't come back, so we couldn't convert most of them to real early adopters. And we had no energy left to shift.

Get Out Fast ...

  1. Be questioning the scope you're "sure" the first version will need to be accepted as a MVP. Maybe the 5 Whys will help.

  2. Stick to technologies you already know, and you are already productive with—a tough part for sure.

  3. Use fixed deadlines.

  4. Try to involve potential customers as early as possible. If that doesn't work because no one cares: Don't give up and take responsibility. It's probably not the early stage of your product but your original idea that doesn't attract the people!

  5. Care about the whole onboarding experience for your users from day 1.

... And Talk With Your Users!

One last thing that can't be avoided or deferred: Talk to your users! If you're not the type of person that easily approaches strangers on the street: acquire them online and use simple Skype onboarding sessions to get real conversations!

From the beginning we've provided one-on-one personalized onboarding with each customer on Skype if they want it, and most do. [...] These 30 minute sessions are by far the most value-producing operational overhead we have. Unlike other types of overhead which are not an effective use of my time, talking to customers on Skype is worth every minute I spend doing it.

(Andrew Culver)

I think that's a great approach everyone can try.

What do you think? Drop me a line and let me know!