Getting out of the building for techies

Quite often, people with innovative ideas are the ones we would call “techies” or otherwise “makers of things”. It could be a challenge for most techies to follow Steve Blank’s famous advice to “get out of the building” and make the most of it. There is however a simple method to follow, which could help overcome the challenges.

If you’ve never started a business or observed a business grow in front of your eyes, it might be a little tricky to understand that, making things is just one side of the story. It is a very important part and yet, there’s more to building a business than the product or service that you will be selling.

I think that there are three main challenges to “getting out of the building” for techies.

  • The first one is to understand what is involved in building a business.
  • The second is finding the motivation to get out of the building.
  • And the third is having a handy and easy to follow method that you can learn and easily execute.

In his excellent book “The E-Myth”, Michael Gerber outlines the three main roles required to build a successful business.

The technician who builds the product

That’s usually us. We like building things and building things is usually where we like to start. However recent research and publications suggest that this is not where we should be starting our start-up journey.

The manager who organises things

This (unfortunately) is a role/person we’ve learned to dislike. If you’ve ever worked somewhere and you had a manager, the chances are, you were not excited by your interactions with them. Hence it is easy for a techie to simply dislike the manager role.

The entrepreneur who builds the business.

We wouldn’t be reading this if we didn’t have at least a small entrepreneurial spark. That’s the spark, which leads us to start a business. However this is not a one off activity. And we need to call on the entrepreneur in us throughout our journey.

This list helps us uncover the first challenge for us techies because we are usually in love with the technological aspect of building the product (before falling in love with the product itself). But when you start a business, you need to be able to act as all three roles at different points in time and most importantly you need to quickly find others to work in your business while you work on your business.

Once you understand the concept of the three roles and the importance of building your business, it should be easier to appreciate the importance of “getting out of the building” and finding the motivation to do so. Working on your business requires you to be able to go into every role involved in your business and define it. Unless you are extremely lucky and the universe aligns perfectly so that your first guess is exactly what your customers want, you would need to have a role that talks to your customers, identifies their needs, and discovers how your product or service can best satisfy these needs.

The second challenge is about knowing what to do, what method to follow. It is very much interlinked with the first challenge, because not knowing how something works is a problem. We, “techies”, often tend to summarise things in two buckets –technology, of which we are very fond and we like to explore, and everything else. Often we call it different names- marketing, sales, non-tech stuff that we’re not very interested in.

However, knowing the method to use often changes our perception of an activity and we are more willing to give it a go. My preferred approach to follow is best described in Ash Maurya’s books — Running Lean and Scaling Lean and the LeanStack method which all build upon previous publications by Steve Blank and Eric Reis.

We have a number of blog posts, already published or coming soon that dive deeper into various aspects of the Lean Stack method, however there is an alternative method described in Giff Constable’s book “Talking to Humans”. While there are many parallels between this simpler approach and Ash Maurya’s books, I personally found it to be a very good first step.

I fully recommend reading Giff’s book — it is less than 80 pages and very easy to read. It tells a story and provides a simple method for talking to your potential customers and validating the main assumptions in your business.

The ideas and the method in this book overlap a lot with customer discovery approaches that can be found in many other books and publications. So you may find nothing new if you have already studied customer discovery. But as far as simple methods go, I believe “Talking to Humans” is a great start especially if you’re just beginning your customer discovery and business idea validation journey.

In his book Giff Constable asks important questions like “Who do you want to learn from?” and “What do you want to learn? ”. You will also find advice on how to source your interview subjects, how to run an effective session and how to make sense of what you learn.

There’s plenty of excellent techniques and advice and I don’t think it would be fair to copy it here, however, I hope I’ve mentioned enough to convince you to read Giff’s short book.

There’s a famous story being told in many books and articles about how actually, on average, only 1 in 10 startups succeeds. Without commenting on the numbers it is clear that the success rate cannot be high due to the many challenges and the various things that can go wrong or you just won’t get right the first time. These are the reasons that sparked the Lean Startup movement and it is more evident nowadays that customer discovery and lean experimentation can significantly improve your startups chances of success.

For us techies, there’s an obvious challenge when it comes to , well, everything non-tech related. You can read more about some mistakes to avoid in another article we published recently — “5 simple mistakes to avoid when starting up”. Also written by two techies.

I hope you find this useful and do let me know what you think?

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