Filling Holes or Patching Holes?

One of the things about founding a startup is that you’re almost always trying to do it while simultaneously doing something else— like staying at the job that actually still pays you money or going to school so that you can gain the skills you need to start doing quality work.

Such is the case with BAX. All three of our founders are attending school full-time and until about a month ago I was even working outside school as well (luckily I managed to save up enough money to take the rest of the semester off, otherwise I would be writing this from my grave). Point being, devoting every waking moment to our startup is just not something we can do as team.

So what does this have to do with holes? Well, after BAX’s series of rapid direction-changing maneuvers, we stretched ourselves rather thin and started to see some pretty big holes in our business. We had a concept, but that was about it. At least on paper (or in the slide deck, if you want to get technical). Many of our peers had already started building audiences and testing landing pages which got us all in a tizzy thinking we should be doing the same and feeling like we were running out of time. But those are were the small holes. We had bigger holes to fill first.

We spent the weekend going back — our name, BAX, seems more fitting with every passing week — to re-fill our business molecule, business model canvas, and product roadmap. It was time well spent as it brought a lot of clarity to what our product was, but it meant that we didn’t get a lot of time to spend on filling those smaller holes.

One thing we did manage to do, courtesy of Xuan(Karen) Song’s excellent drawing skills and Andres Hurtado’s rapid UI design skills, was to create a storyboard detailing a use case for BAX.

Sample taken from BAX storyboard

But even now, it seems like there will always be holes to fill. Which makes me wonder if we’re really just patching holes instead of actually filling them. Or if we are filling them, what’s to say that they don’t have false bottoms and one day they’ll just collapse and all our hard work will go down the drain (again)?

Ah. Which brings me to my final insight for this week:

Sometimes it’s important to be a pessimist.

Wait wha—? Yeah, you read that right. Sometimes you gotta be the pessimist, the devil’s advocate, the little shitso. One of the things that I’ve noticed about people, especially startup people, especially designer startup people, is that they’re pretty much all guilty of being overly optimistic and confident. So long as things looks good and sound good, they’re all for it. Presto! Instant product. Instant company that everybody will love and will immediately go viral. Right? Wrong.

Humans are finicky little creatures when it comes to their money and parting ways with it, which is every successful business aims to do. There’s a beautifully snarky little diagram Christina Wodtke shared with us at the beginning of the semester which goes a little something like this:

It’s easy to make a pitch deck with stunning visuals and a value prop that’s absolutely to die for, but if there’s no substance and foundation underneath all that fluff, you’re not gonna survive two seconds when the big bad wolf comes a-blowing. So I’ve learned it’s valuable to be the pessimist and anticipate the wolf ahead of time. People are gonna tear apart your idea, throw the pieces on the ground, and stomp all over them. Don’t pretend that it’s not gonna happen— start asking the hard questions and pointing out the holes in your walls so that you‘ll actually be prepared when the big bad wolf does come.