Start Ups fears and the power of right thinking

Almost the first word coming to one’s mind in relation to “start up” notion is risk. The sad reality is that very few products are successful, despite of all the perseverance, hard work and creativity of their producers. At the same time, some start-ups’ stories sound like modern-time rags-to-riches stories. What’s the formula for success then?

Many say: “They have been in the right place at the right time”. In this way it sounds like a pure good luck or a ready-made excuse for those who haven’t succeeded. Mature entrepreneurs reject this line of thinking. They say: “ Success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.” Here “process” doesn’t mean a blueprint to follow but thinking in the right way.

Wrong thinking produces wrong acting. Based on entrepreneurs experience stories let’s try to define these wrong beliefs and fears having place while releasing the first product version:

Belief # 1. Brilliant business plan. The first questions to answer before starting building the product are: what should we build and for whom? Usually a thorough business plan is created answering these questions but not limited. After weeks /months of implementation and ardent arguments about bugs and features the first version goes live and… Nothing happens – the fears were unfounded because nobody even tried it.
Lesson to be learned: The idea is only then brilliant when customers say it’s so: not a well-known domain guru or results of whiteboard exercises performed by the marketing dept. Resort to talking to customers as early as possible.

Belief # 2. Low quality sucks. Entrepreneurs care about reputation so much. This originates the fear of releasing a low quality product which would tarnish the reputation as an engineer: “People would think I didn’t know how to build a quality product.”
Lesson to be learned: Mistakes are almost inevitable, they are in the very nature of start ups as in a start-up who the customer is and what the customer might find valuable are often unknown. So the tip is: fail often but fail quietly. Build a minimum viable product and test it empirically on a small fraction of potential customers. Even if your first product sucks, at least not too many people will know about it.

Belief # 3. Hurry to become big. Entrepreneurs tend to think big – it seems if the product is complex and has heaps of features it will definitely win customers’ hearts. As the result, thousands of lines of the code, endless arguments about which bugs to fix and which to tolerate, which features to cut and which to cram in, for the first product version which may mean just waste for customers.
Lesson to be learned: Don’t be in a rush to get big, be in a rush to have a great product. When you launch development try to firstly figure out how “minimal viable product” for your customers should function and look like; what you need to build in order to test your product idea assumptions.

The thing is that the first version is the best time to make mistakes. Each version serves as a basis to learning and then making a vital pivot in order to adopt some part of the vision to reality. The whole process looks like “build-measure-learn” loop (Eric Ries (c)). Going throughout this cycle reputedly implies another threat:

Belief # 4. Preconception towards some “build-measure-learn” element. It means thinking of this or that element of the cycle to be more important. For engineers it’s learning to build things as efficiently as possible. Plenty of entrepreneurs obsess over data and metrics. The guts speak…
Lesson to be learned: None of these activities by itself is of paramount importance. The aim should be to minimize the total time through this loop as the core sense of Lean Startup method is to recognize asap that it’s time to pivot.

That’s pretty much it. Think big, start small, pivot fast, scale actively 🙂