Lessons from a failed startup
If you don’t know how to do it, that’s your biggest problem
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 complex individual, can do whatever you want.
When you’re small, you don’t have traction, you’re making sales calls, and you have a problem, $Y$, you don’t know how to solve, it’s totally understandable to say, “I’m busy and this is not my expertise. It’s time to hire someone to take this on.” After all, you’re the expert in $X$; stands to reason that an expert in $Y$ would get this done faster.
Don’t. Do it yourself first, badly. If it goes well, you’ll have a new appreciation for the solution space and a much better idea of who to hire (or where to outsource). If it doesn’t, you can abandon the plan without much cost.
It’s expensive to hire (recruiters cost a bomb, job ads are tough to write well, and a multi-stage interview process can take weeks), and it’s costly to let someone go because they’re not working out. It takes time to make that decision, during which you’re not focused on your real problem, and you’re paying that person to do the wrong thing.
If you can do the job badly and still make a sale, it’s useful; go get a professional to do the next version.
This doesn’t scale. That’s OK; you’re not scaling right now, you’re figuring out what your product is.
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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