Lessons from a failed startup
Do less, and do it better
In failing to build a company, I have learned many things. Core to all of them is that a company is not a product. Ideas change, products change, people change. We “pivot”, rapidly, relentlessly, sometimes ruthlessly.
Managed well, change is a catalyst. Managed badly, it can be catastrophic.
In this series, I try to explain the various ways in which I failed to understand this, and how I would endeavour to do better next time. You may notice that the style of these posts is more instructive than usual. Remember that these are mostly addressed to my future self, and as such, I am telling myself what to do; you, my dear prose compiler, can do whatever you want.
This is my mantra.
Think about your product. The thing you’re proudly creating to serve the needs of your customers.
It’s doing too much. What’s it doing that it doesn’t need to?
We often hear people talk about the Minimum Viable Product: the juxtaposition of:
- the smallest, lightest,
- yet purposeful and useful
- thing you made.
Unfortunately, most approaches that I’ve seen to “minimise” the product have been by simply cutting features. Often, to minimise, you need to re-think.
null dereferences, but only 20% of the time.
What if we had focused on a niche? We could have made something that caught bugs related to the OWASP Top 10 security flaw categories, and nothing else. It would have seriously limited our scope, but we’d be able to quickly and accurately articulate the benefits, and security was a hot topic even in 2017. It might not have required any machine learning, which we would have been a little sad about, but it’d be far cheaper to verify, make, maintain, and iterate upon.
(I’m not saying this would have worked, but I think it’d have had a better chance.)
Don’t just cut functionality. Ask yourself, is there a smaller, more focused niche you can target? As Seth Godin says, who’s your minimum viable audience?
Do less, and do it better.
More in the series
- Focus on the problem, not the solution
- If the company goals change, the company should probably change too
- "Do research" is not a corporate strategy
- Your corporate values transcend your product vision
- Trust your gut, understand your heart, and open your mind
- Go to therapy with your co-founders
- Explore the terrain first
- Unless someone cares, don't waste your time
- Code is a liability; ship without coding, if possible
- Do less, and do it better
- Agile methods are tools to try more ideas in less time
- Until you have traction, money is a trap
- If you don’t know how to do it, that’s your biggest problem
- Roles can be fluid, but they must be defined
- Camaraderie is helpful, but no substitute for working together
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