Be the concierge

Many people wonder what tech company founders like me do during their days. They imagine a “super-busy schedule” with a lot of “important meetings”, thousands of critical business decisions that have to be taken, signatures… you name it. It’s true that we do have a lot to do, but we also need to sleep sometimes.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to be a developer, a CTO, an editorial director and a course creator at my own company (and also the janitor, but that’s a whole other story). With so many different roles, it’s hard to define oneself.

Not long ago, I finally discovered a title that summed up what I was doing best:

I’m a concierge.

What?! A concierge?

It appears that the exact term is: MVE Concierge.

MVE stands for Minimum Viable Experiment, as opposed to MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

It’s hard to test new ideas for a product. Usually, the boss has a Big Idea, she writes it down and people work for months to build it.

I believe it’s dangerous to act this way. How do you know if the idea was right in the first place? Why do you expect the CEO to have the best ideas?

Why do you expect the CEO to have the best ideas?

You want to make sure the idea is good, but not to waste thousands of work hours on it. People who have read the Lean Startup usually try to build an MVP (coding the minimal version of a product).

Other people have pushed this idea to the extreme. Enter… the MVE Concierge. This is what I do. 😎

Instead of telling people that I had a brilliant idea last time I was asleep or drunk, I actually try to make it happen without coding anything. I do everything by hand to experiment with the idea. At this point, there is no product. Or, to put it another way, I am the product.

It’s hard to imagine how to do anything without coding, but in my experience there’s always a way (albeit a tedious one). Let’s talk about some real life examples!

Real life examples

The mentorship experiment

At one point, we wanted to try using mentors to guide and support students on OpenClassrooms. We didn’t know if it would work, we didn’t know the best way for them to collaborate with students using videoconference solutions.

It would have taken us over a year to build an entire platform: reservation tools, conference tools, validation and feedback systems… It would have taken a lot of energy, for results that we were uncertain about.

Instead, I decided that I would do everything myself in the beginning. I would be the mentor, I would handle the first sessions manually and decide what to do next. I used Skype for the conferences, I sent manual Google Calendar invites, wrote notes on Google Docs, etc.

You don’t want to waste too much money building something nobody wants.

It proved to be immensely valuable (and turned out to be one of our main products). Later, when I had too much work being a mentor myself, I started hiring mentors. When doing stuff by hand on Google Docs became too much of a hassle, I told the developers the exact tool that I needed.

This process proved to be very efficient:

  • I didn’t ask for help in the beginning, I started working on it immediately.
  • I was more aware of what I really needed when I started to talk to the developers.

What if you were to start Deliveroo?

Now, try to do the same. Think about how you would start the food-delivery startup Deliveroo if you were the founder.

You would probably say:

  • “OK, I need several people with bikes”
  • “And I should have a restaurant list online, with a list of menus”
  • “People should be able to pay by credit card”
  • etc.

This would take a long time to build. First you need to find out quickly if it’s a service that people would use, and you don’t want to waste too much money building something nobody wants.

The hard part for me is figuring out how something can be done without coding anything.

How would you handle this as a concierge? The best way would be to do everything yourself: grab a bike, go take orders directly from people, see if they like your service. Then, if you start to have too much work, gradually offer a way to order food online and look for people to do the delivery job.

You will learn a lot because you’ll be talking directly to your customers.

A piece of advice

This methodology proved to be very efficient for me and, in the end, for OpenClassrooms. Not every idea is a good one (far from it!) In fact, it’s not that there are good and bad ideas, but usually ideas that need some improvement. By doing the work yourself, you’ll learn much faster what people are waiting for.

The hard part for me is figuring out how something can be done without coding anything. You need to be creative and you shouldn’t be afraid of doing things by hand. Some people say you should aim to do things that don’t scale.

If your idea is a good one, you should be overwhelmed by work soon. That’s good. It means you’re on the right track. You can start building the product and delegating to other people now, so you can try other ideas!

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