Far too many startups focus on the code rather than the human value

A Tale of Two Tech Startups

Is building an app a recipe for entrepreneurial success? I get that impression when talking with a number of entrepreneurs. In many cases it seems that starting a new venture is all about technology rather than what the technology does. On the other hand, I’ll meet with entrepreneurs who focus first on creating an amazing service or product and only then building the technology to support it. I call this: A Tale of Two Tech Startups.

One person who I met with recently had an interesting idea for a startup. It was a service that clearly filled a specific need. It had a very targeted customer focus. It had an idea for interacting with people through technology.

The entrepreneur had a lot of questions: where can I find designers and developers to build an app and a Web site? How much would that cost? What type of social media channels should I use to advertise the service? And many other technology questions.

I run into this a lot. Finding a developer seems to be the biggest challenge for a majority of new entrepreneurs. So how did I help?

I suggested that they figure out a way to prototype and test the service in any way they could without technology. The biggest question for me was not delivery but instead: How might they provide an amazing service experience that would be unmatched by any competitor? You actually don’t need a lot of technology to start answering that question. To be honest, you don’t need any.

At the end of the day, if the product or service isn’t great, no amount of technology will save that business idea.

Compare this with another entrepreneur I met with. He had noodled around with an idea for a few years. Then, he found a connection to an app developer and is working to build a “Minimum Viable Product” app that he can share with prospective investors (and customers, I assume).

When I asked how he had tested and validated his original idea before he started building the app, he looked at me funny. “I’m testing and validating it with the app” he replied patiently to someone who clearly didn’t ‘get it.’

What I didn’t get was how someone could design a product or service without a laser like focus on the customers they hope to attract. In this case, the entrepreneur could have created a number of low-fidelity examples of the service, using pictures, sketches and text. They could have validated it by offering the “solution” in real life in a non-digital way to see what happened. Actually there are tons of ways to prototype any idea that emphasizes experience over technology.

The biggest challenge for the app builder is that once he and his developer build it, they’ll ignore the overall “Meh” reaction and focus on the details of how the app works or doesn’t. My iPhone is filled with initially interesting apps that I’ve realized I have absolutely no need for.

I recently read a post on Medium by Laurence McCahill who’s started something called the Happy Startup School. He wrote about creating a “Minimum Loveable Product” (MLP) — a variation on the Lean/Agile focus on a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). His starting was the classic conundrum of creation: you want it fast, cheap or good. You can only choose two. What differentiates an MLP from an MVP is that the Loveable Product always chooses good.

So, if you’re building the Next Big Thing or launching your new entrepreneurial ventures, focus on the experience first and make it great by designing it and testing it with the people who will actually use it. You don’t need technology to do that, in some cases paper and pen work just as well. It’s not about creating yet another app.

Photo Credit: brotherM via Compfight " cc

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