Starting Up – Lessons Learned the Hard Way

April 21, 2011

11:15 am

The following is an admittedly oversimplified outline of the Cultura venture deployment process with some insights and a few things we learned the hard way.

CONCEPT
Under any given good idea is a great one. This stage of your venture is a matter of collecting information and connecting dots. Immersing your team into your market intelligence while leveraging an open line of communication for everyone to collide different ideas together towards creating value for your prospects.

Once that value proposition has been identified, you must move to strip away all the unnecessary parts. All that extra stuff you added during the brainstorming process (the fun stuff) but has no real reason for being. What you are left with is the core product. The thing that people making a buying decision based on. Start There.

Learned the Hard Way
Don’t try and please everyone.

Think about your market as your friends and family. Pick one person and please them so much that they can’t live without your product or service. Make it a utility for one person and there are millions more just like them.

VIABILITY
This is the most important part of the development process as it is the first way to get real data on thing you plan to spend thousands of dollars and hours doing.

Most times, entrepreneurs ‘go big” right out of the gate with their product with not much more data than that of a few friends. This leads to a lot of unnecessary time and expense as you often ending scrap most of what you first build.

Build the “minimum viable product”, the thing that people will use your product or service for and see if they use it. Is it a utility – something people use every day/week/month? Collect feedback through your site and talk to users as much as possible. You will be amazed how much you learn in the first few weeks of someone using your product. Patterns emerge and dots are connected.

Learned the Hard Way
Don’t worry about aesthetics at this juncture. Just make it usable and able to easily collect feedback and email addresses.

PLANNING
You have likely heard the “just build it” mantra from those who say you should build something and put it out in BETA form. They are right. That is what the viability stage is for and in reality, every website is always in some for of BETA as you will have constant iterations over the life-span of your venture.

When it comes to planning your public launch or big push, you want to go with the other saying: “measure twice, cut once.“ There is nothing worse than a year long development that ends up more a product of the teams frustrations than any plan.

Before you write a line of code or spend a dime on marketing, you want to be able to visualize your entire product cycle and user interaction points.

Learned the Hard Way
Wire frame every single page of your website and do it again and again until your fingers cramp up from drawing lines and highlighting points of interaction. This will not only make your site better in the end but you will discover things you missed in planning and opportunities for better user experience.

DEVELOPMENT
There are dozens of books on project management and most have good tips but in the end it is about communication. A constantly open line of communication with your programmers is essential to a well executed development.

Keep emotions even keel and stay on top of everyone on the team. Leading by example will motivate the people around you to work at a higher level.

Learned the Hard Way
Re-factor (clean-up) your code at the end of development and before any live use.

You want to avoid struggling with messy code in a live environment, particularly in the earliest stages where small quality assurance fixes can turn into a nightmare instead of a tiny iteration as it should be in the course of any roll-out.

INCUBATION
It never ceases to amaze me how many companies have big public events to celebrate their launch day. This is the tiny window where your product lives or dies. You have to be on constant stand by, ready for anything in the first few weeks. People have short attention spans and they will only consider you once. Grab their attention and solicit their feedback in this stage focused around quality assurance and making small, cheaper mistakes.

Learned the Hard Way
If a feature changes the flow of the site, it waits until the next iteration. Unless completely essentially and therefore was missed in the planning process, new features change the product without yet having enough data to support any rational decisions. Get all your features in a single shared list and measure each one as worthy or not for anyone of the many updates you will make over time.

PRE-SCALE
Also known as the exhale point. Things seem to look like you made enough good decisions to get this far and the feeling of panic is not so prevalent. Unless of course you are self-funding and running out of cash. This is the period of time you are building the business while staying as agile (fast) and lean (cheap) as possible. Putting a fine tip on all your assumptions and preparing the best you can for the work to come.

Worrying about competition is a waste. Do your thing the best you can do it and continue to interact with your customers/users at every chance and look for opportunities for your future.

If you measure twice in planning, you want to measure ten times here. Ideally you are able to position yourself so that you can cover your base operations cost with existing revenue and only seek out capital to reach a larger audience ultimately scaling to a bigger customer/user base and more revenue. You’re going to increase your chances of finding the right investor(s) for your project the more you focus the plan for their funds towards new customer/user acquisition. Look for twice the capital you think you need and expect to get half. Make sure the people on your team are capable and if not, cut the fat before scaling up.

Learned the Hard Way
Don’t be too set on your revenue model(s) until you have had time to make a small impact on your market. You could see a huge opportunity that didn’t occur to anyone in the earlier stages. Also, don’t hire people before you are feeling real pain from overload. You will often spend too much brain power on planning for things to keep them productive instead of things that will actually drive revenue.

Editor’s Note: This article was writen by Jason Lorimer. Jason is a Fellow Entrepreneur @CulturaHQ, advocating on behalf of those with the ambition to do more than just entertain ideas. He builds things armed with an insatiable curiosity and a healthy dose of impatience. Developing socially integrated platforms where people can participate and add their own value to their experience, Jason and his team transform pre-internet business models into post-internet companies that scale. At the office, when he is not working with partners to incubate their early stage ventures, he posts on his blog and loves kicking around ideas with other entrepreneurs from around the world. Occasionally disconnected from the world wide web, Jason is a music lover and amateur artist with several creative outlets including photography and painting.

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Jason Lorimer is a strategist and fellow entrepreneur @Entrepreneurs (http://blog.culturahq.com/), where he works to advocate and execute on behalf of those with the ambition to do more than just entertain ideas. Jason and his team transform pre-internet business models into post-internet companies and prepare them to scale. Most recently Jason has set out to help cultivate industrial age cities into start up hubs. You can follow him @JasonLorimer

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