More Lessons from the Startup Hustle

Here are more takeaways from HustleCon 2017, the conference I attended last Friday focused on non-technical startup tactics. You can read about the first 5 takeaways are here. In this post, I’ve added context from my lens — the conference itself and insights from my recent startup experience.

Networking at HustleCon Lunch

Max Lytvyn, co-founder, Grammarly had some great tips. If you don’t use Grammarly, download the Chrome plugin now — you’ll look and feel smarter.

  1. MVP the market before the product.
    Max said, “pick a homogenous segment with an obvious pain point, solved by a subset of features that align with your vision.” I talked to Brad Hoover, the other Grammarly founder, in 2012 about joining as one of the first marketing hires. At the time, Grammarly was still narrowly focused on academics, and I’m guilty of not seeing the larger vision. “We thought real time feedback was important, but the academics were fighting plagiarism, so we optimized for precision instead of speed.” Focus is how great companies are born — duh! In my subscription dog products startup, to say I overshot my MVP is an understatement, (picture below of my home page — I had a professional photo shoot for 26 dogs in one day out of my home.) Although our all-natural, U.S.A.-made, eco-friendly offering was unique, it didn’t solve a pain point. It turns out dog parents wanted entertainment, not sainthood. And, dogs are not known for their discerning palates, they eat poo after all.
Cozi, the 4-Month-Old French Bulldog Featured on my Ecommerce Site

2. Sell before you build. 
This is the oldest rule in the book, but often overlooked. Max said, “Once we had specs, we went to trade shows and got feedback, validation and our first customers. Those initial buyers funded the rest of the company.” Once launched, data from targeted ad campaigns can tell you what to do next. “We used AdWords to advertise potential features, if they clicked on ads, they wanted those features.” Data is the new online Yellow Brick Road.

3. Expand in small, quick iterations. 
Today, the lean startup principals are standard operating procedure for tech companies. But talking about “lean” is different from making hard choices about feature creep and vanity metrics. Max says, “Build for your next market, not the ones you have. For Grammarly, its existing users, academics, were not going to teach them about its new users’ pain points. “Expect each next step to be harder as you grow and learn.” Rapid execution beats a great idea every time.

Manish Chandra, Poshmark. Manish talked about Poshmark’s fashion discovery platform. (True story — years ago a friend went “shopping” in my closet for a white trash party.) Maintaining a fashionable wardrobe requires regular purging, a sense of style and a bit of “je ne sais quois,” all of which occasionally elude the best of us.

Me, Senior Prom, a Fashion Don’t
  1. Personalization isn’t a substitute for personal.
    “Fashion discovery must be person-to-person.” There are many curated-monthly, luxury-resale and mass market fashion marketplaces, but Poshmark focuses on relationship-based ecommerce. “Poshmark is for people who used to buy clothes in a store where they know you by name. It’s the next generation of retail.” But, to duplicate that retail-therapy-feeling, shopping must be easy.
  2. Challenge the status quo.
    Amazon has set a new standard for speed and efficiency. But fashion comes in all shapes and sizes; thus, shipping is harder. Manish fought payment processing and shipping behemoths to deliver frictionless commerce. “We almost shut down.” USPS finally agreed to flat rate packages. As consumers, time is our most valuable currency, so we expect online shopping save us time.

The Kapor Center for Social Impact is an institution focused on tech inclusion and social impact, that I’ve been admiring for years.

  1. Diversity is Still a Problem.
    At lunch, I snagged a seat in the shade sitting with a group from the The Kapor Center for Social Impact. Likely unknown to millennials and Gen Z, Mitch Kapoor, is well-know for founding Lotus, the Electronic Freedom Foundation and many other organizations that built the personal computing industry. Mitch may not remember me as a young PR gal roaming the halls at PC Forum and Agenda, but I remember him. At lunch, two of the women from Kapor Center and I started talking about the lack of diversity at the conference — a fact I honestly didn’t notice until they mentioned it. Given Oakland’s diverse heritage, the current political environment, and the progressive attitude of the organizers, this absence is notable. Hopefully next year we’ll see people of color on the stage.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the conference early before hearing some notable speakers like Tom Bilyeu from Quest. I heard him interviewed by Geoff Woods on the One Thing Podcast, and he sounds truly remarkable — I hope I get a chance to meet him.

Marissa Verson Harrison is a strategic marketer, growth expert and brand builder. At Lean Startup Strategies, we help companies achieve their business objectives in record time. Whether you’re a startup company testing product market fit or a public company developing a new product, we find ways to put a $1 into marketing and get $5 out.