“We Just Wanna Get Started”
Famous last words from too many first-time tech entrepreneurs.
Why This Topic?
My title at New Haircut is CEO. My real job?.. a toss-up between therapist and teacher.
I listen to the problems that entrepreneurs, VPs of Product, CTOs and other execs are trying to solve with tech, and I provide them with a framework to get them from where they are today to product-market fit. It’s a journey with moving parts that I’ve been navigating for the better part of 15 years — both as a builder and a consumer.
For those on their 2nd, 3rd, etc startup rodeos, they often get it, respect the process and their business launches and grows as successfully as the market will bear.
So then, this article is largely for the first-time entrepreneurs who believe they’ve got it all figured out and would like to just start building.
Don’t get all defensive. We were all there once — including yours truly. Before I was an agency guy, I was a founder. A real pain in the ass, too. I kicked and scratched and clawed to resist the process of others, whom I had hired to build me things. Being an ex-coder, I thought I knew better. I didn’t and it cost me thousands.
So I’m here to tell you to do 2 things:
- Hire people & companies that have proven they deliver.
- Let them do what you’re paying them to do.
Things We Don’t Question
First, a story about respecting real life process…
I’m a first time pool owner. A couple weeks ago I decided it was time to unveil what was below the shoddy, torn tarp the previous home owners had draped over the pool before signing it over to my wife and I. Unfortunately, we closed on our house in February which meant, at the time, we were purchasing a block of ice sitting in a pit of gunite — testing the filter, plumbing and heater weren’t part of the deal. So when I pulled the cover back and 7 frogs, 48 spiders and countless other insects scurried about, I was grossed out but not surprised.
I had some ideas (thanks Google + YouTube) in terms of operating the filter, adding salt and dumping in buckets of shock but decided my best bet would be to hit the pool supply store and ask for help.
They tested my water, gave me a car full of corrosive & carcinogenic chemicals to dump in it (“pool’s ready kids!”) and sent someone out to look at my setup. Within 2 days I had spent $500 without dipping a toe in the water (not that you’d have wanted to). But I was following the advice of the pros.
It’s now 7 days later and my pool has gone from this…
Why did things work out? Because I respected the process.
Everyone’s an Expert (on the internet)
Something changes when you go from pools to the interwebs. Clearly, anyone that’s read a couple posts on StackOverflow and has a maker account on ProductHunt knows better. I mean, they’ve been lurking on HackerNews for 6 months now and reading Fred Wilson posts for 3 weeks — they must know everything they need to about starting & growing a tech company.
So let me paint the picture… On any given week I speak with between 1 and 10 of these newly minted tech entrepreneurs. The convo typically goes something like this.
Founder: Hey, I’m building this gamechanger social marketplace API bootstrap and need a couple UX ninjas.
Founder: How much is it to build that?
Me: Well, I have no idea. Instead of guessing, let me walk you through a 1–2 week engagement where at the end of it your product idea will be chiseled down to what the market is telling us they’re most interested in, and for a fraction of the scope & budget you would have otherwise spent. In parallel, we’ll have built a solid understanding of your market as well as a set of artifacts that depict your customer. At that point, we’ll deliver to you a product roadmap that shows how your product will be launched & iterated in order to approach product-market fit.
Founder: Nah, we don’t need that. We just wanna start building it. We know what it should do already.
Me: So then you represent your entire customer market, right? Otherwise, wouldn’t it make sense to start there and build the smallest component of what they’ll value most?
Founder: We know our customer.
Me: Great, show me some of the discussions you’ve captured where they expressed their environment when they’re experiencing the problem you’re solving for?
Founder: Uh ...
Me: Because if you have that, we can start to build some empathy around how they think, what they want, what pains they’re experiencing … what they’ll hand their money over to you for when you offer them the right solution.
Founder: Hmm, when you put it that way …
Some are inconsolable. I get it.
For others, we offer ways to experiment with both approaches to prove it’s worth doing it the right way — the way it’s worked for countless others before them.
Point is, find people and teams that want to help you expand your universe of knowledge — who will help you get to the finish line better, faster, cheaper. Teams that will collaborate with you and create experiences your customers will ultimately cherish, pay for and promote.