The Startup
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The Startup

A Continuation of Startup Philosophies.

If it appears that startup philosophies and other mementos are inextricably linked to product development ideologies, you might be correct in thinking that. After all, looking at the source of inspiration for individual or collective entrepreneurial pursuits is a way for the (dispassionate) bystander to deduce the rationale and logic pathways that arrive at the conclusions. And usually, these conclusions are hypotheses about what consumers want and need, that the product solution would then “promise” to deliver.

“Ever tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail Again. Fail better.” — Beckett.

What Beckett tries to get at here is that you can always fail differently, and that is sort of the thing that provides variety and color to life. The initial presumption behind the tech mantra of “Fail faster” is that failing provides relevant information to what doesn’t work, and thus leads you closer to what works. Relevant or not, it really doesn’t matter. What matters here is that Beckett’s sarcastic quips has become the foundation for tech motivational memes. A contrarian and insightful (and very famous) venture capital investor whose newsletter I’ve subscribed to in the past has actually pointed out the absurdity of the ‘failing faster’ principle several years ago because he understands that he invests in unicorns primarily with the expectation that they can and will succeed — not that they will fail.

I. Problem Discovery

After reading much online material on product development, I still rather struggle at implementing the process of 1. Research, 2. Feasibility Testing, 3. Prototype and then 4. Minimum Viable Product. I was initially rather struggling to understand why I couldn’t just go to Step 4 directly. I mean, sure, I agree with the necessity of understanding and clarifying the problem the product is going to solve, especially when there are lots of problems your consumers are experiencing. There is certainly the difficulty in identifying whether it is indeed a product problem, that is, or another solution should be warranted instead. No quick answer here, really. What I presume is really happening here is that most people don’t like the research part. You’re in a discovery state of mind, and the more you talk to potential customers, the more problems you uncover. Are these problems even relevant or merely tangential? It looks like an ever expanding scope of problems that aggregate together, where you need to parse through the confusion of the customers to identify true insight into their problem. What if I have five hypotheses of value creation? Do I create five minimum viable products?

II. Key Performance Indicators

What gets measured gets improved. If you’ve worked in digital advertising, you already know your clients care about conversions. If you’re a CEO at a Fortune500, you care about next quarter profits. In a way, this is a great way of developing the discipline of measuring progress. If you’re a founder, it’s almost universally known that you need to talk to users (future customers). Because you need to understand their problems and whether they need the solution you offer. Ultimately, what gets defined gets clarified and better understood. This appears to be especially important for startups poised for growth: where or which part of the user experience is the 10x? 100x? 1000x more efficient and effective? Personally, I try to talk to at least one user (potential customer), industry insider, and one future teammate per week. While it’s probably too slow for accelerator standards, there’s also additional research that needs to be done when tangential problems and ideas arise through your conversations.

III. Motivational drivers

Are these vanity metrics? You could ask. They are not. Much of the product ideology centers around two basic user value propositions. 1. You solve a customer’s pain point or problem, or 2. You bring them (addictive) joy and delight. That is extremely reductionist, purely for the sake of illustrating a point — and the point is people need to want to pay for it or use it or otherwise, demonstrate they need it. It’s called having product-market fit. In case you’re wondering, there are metrics to measure motivational drivers for products because product managers need feedback and other signals indicating users will keep using the product.

IV. Triggers

Emotion; another driver for human behavior

“Was it through reason that I arrived at the necessity of loving my neighbor and not throttling him?…Not reason. Reason discovered the struggle for existence and the law which demands that everyone who hinders the satisfaction of my desires should be throttled. That is the conclusion of reason. Reason could not discover love for the other, because it’s unreasonable.” — Tolstoy

“The struggle for existence and hatred are the only things that unite people.” — Tolstoy

Unreasonable, certainly, love is. It appears to be the nature of emotions to be unreasonable. If we take the perspective from the evolution of our biological inclinations, much of our emotions have evolved based upon prehistoric times and circumstances that are no longer relevant today. From Tolstoy’s perspective, we surely have to understand the preconditions for these quotable opinions: war, the set arbitrary notions of us versus the enemy. Instead of having the nature or nurture debate, perhaps the premise for the debate is wrong, and nurture is just another factor to exacerbate our natural, unreasonable emotional tendencies. Wars and massive killing presets the nurture conditions here, in Tolstoy’s times. You can even draw the conclusion that mutual destruction is a feature of humanity. At last, evolution has failed humanity. Or, has humanity failed evolution?

No matter now. From a product perspective, it means positive motivation, joyful feelings, or a sense of relief from an ever increasing administrative burdens from a physician’s point of view.

V. Checkpoints for pivots

I’ve seen advice from venture capitalists that speak to pivoting or quitting when things are too hard for a long time. The point is subjectivity needs to be taken into account. What constitutes too hard? Are you expected to never have a learning curve? There are people with multiple chronic illnesses without access to medication because they cannot afford it — aren’t these people living a life that is considered to be “too hard”? It is understandable. We’re oriented towards finding the fastest and easiest solutions to maximize our intended results. Anything that’s remotely difficult and requires time to evaluate gets deprioritized. Either find a short cut, make it easy, or do something else entirely. Alternatively, there are other realistic investors who give advice on investing in teams that have shown grit in their personal or professional careers, and can power through obstacles to reach your product’s hyper growth phase.

Takeways

Despite the absurd-sounding origins of our entrepreneurial philosophies, the conclusion is that investors have their own investing philosophies because of presumptions that are inherently baked into what they understand to be success models.

Works Cited.

[1] Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. , 2011. Print.

[2] How to Build a Startup: Udacity Free Courses. (n.d.). Retrieved December 05, 2020, from https://www.udacity.com/course/how-to-build-a-startup--ep245

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Jacqueline Chan

Jacqueline Chan

An online diary regarding reflections, thoughts on emerging tech, sales and stuff. Drop me a message at Jacqueline [dot] gotomarket [at] gmail [dot] com