We all have different roles to fulfill during a product’s journey. Some of us are heavily invested on the sales and marketing side while others consider the technical decisions as their day to day job. While segregation of work is important as well as useful for founders, there are a lot of things that all founders need to learn to make sure they are ahead on the curve as they take continuous decisions for the product and its growth. Here are 10 things to do right away as you start your product journey.
You want your product developed ideally- No delays, just the right features, quick iterations and perfect collaboration- Isn’t it?
Well, then learn about product development lifecycle.
A Product lifecycle understanding will cover understanding of MVP, features priorities, feature specs, development cycles and so on.
There should be structured planning for development of a product with specific goals on each cycle. The goals can be different from increasing users to increasing retention. The ideation of new features and upgrades should be well planned and excite the team.
Missing understanding of the Product Development Cycle would lead you to unplanned scope creep, lack of understanding of what is working and what is not which in turn would make your judgement ineffective.
Some major aspects to follow in your Product Development Cycle are
By having a proper product development cycle, you can iterate fast, make best use of resources and avoid team issues.
Suggested Reading- Product Development Cycle Fundamentals
Most new startups often make a big mistake that they think that their full product is the complete MVP and that the users need everything but that is not the reality.
In Fact, Michael Siebel of YCombinator says- “the goal of a pre launch startup is extremely simple. Step one, launch quickly”
Remember that AirBnB did not have a map view or payments when they launched. Stripe founders themselves integrated Stripe in the user’s system by coming down to the office.
The idea for MVP should be to make a minimal product that you can get customers to use and give feedback. You should then be able to iterate faster.
Products fail when the product you are developing isn’t the requirement of the user at all. Hence, firstly understand the user requirements and then start building the product.
In this way, you’ll be able to deliver the appropriate product to the user. This can be done by talking to users, getting to know the needs, and not think of your product as the best because you need to be flexible to change.
That being said, your MVP would still require work and would need a proper development cycle, unless you just want to launch a webpage.
Check out the full talk by Michael Seibel on How to plan MVP here.
As we continue to emphasize learning from your users, it is really important to learn how to do it. While many people would claim to talk with their users and take feedback, it is important that user surveys/feedback are done in the right way so that you get to the right answer.
When planning your product, you should ask your users
Always take surveys via phone or in-person meeting and not email etc.
Being able to decipher what the users really want is one of the most important to do for a startup founder.
By doing user surveys right, you will understand your user requirements and the need for your solution.
Here is a video by YC Partner Eric Migicovsky outlining a framework for asking questions and collecting feedback from your users.
As you plan your product, start finding your set of initial customers. If they are not known to you, reach through Linkedin. The plan is to get in front of at least 20 people with your product idea or demo. Keep them engaged by giving them updates as the product grows. Make them your Beta customers gradually.
This initial reach and pitch has to be done by you- the founder. A salesperson cannot replace you here. Remember while these early customers learn about your product, you learn about them and you get to know they interact with your product. Hence, the importance of doing it yourself. The initial period is going to be consultative sales where you may be fixing errors and answering questions as they come.
Another reality check during this phase is would these early customers miss you if you stop your product.
Major channels to get your early customers would be Linkedin, networking events, references, paid ads, etc.
Time is the most precious thing for anyone and especially for a startup founder, it is the only thing that is getting spent continuously. It is important for everyone to manage time and stay frugal with time.
The important thing to learn would be to set out priorities and focus areas.
One nice trick to get your focus would be dividing the activities into 4 buckets between high impact to low impact on one axis and high time is taken to the low time taken on another axis.
You need to first take up the high impact and low time investment activities and leave the low impact and high time ones.
Another way to identify gaps is by making logs of your day for a few days and looking back into it.
Mentors can help you make less mistakes. As a product journey will take you from different situations, a mentor can help you take better decisions and solve dilemmas.
In fact, many times you would find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between to do and not to do. Mentors can help break these stalemates. Mentors help you see things that you may miss. Constructive criticism can help you improve and rectify your own faults.
Other advantages of having a mentor are getting connections, someone to bounce ideas with, encouragement, and even discipline. Ask them the ‘stupid’ questions and the things that seem silly or small.
Primarily looking for a mentor from a similar domain who can tell you about customers and scale in the particular domain you operate in. 1-2 mentors is a good start as too many mentors may mean you are not able to execute fast enough on the advice.
Arrangement with mentors can be on a fee basis, equity basis, or a mix of both.
To find a mentor, you first need to think of your expectations from the person. You may require different mentors at different points in your journey. Linkedin is a great place to start your mentor research. You can reach out with a sincere message seeking help. You will get it often.
You are in for a bumpy ride. You would be learning and unlearning every day.
Unless you are actively journaling, you would forget these lessons soon. Further, you cannot pass these lessons to your team to have them grow quickly.
Things like what got you started, what was the first thing you did, what was your aha moment etc are often asked questions from founders. How about you have a record of these as they get created rather than going back into a blurry memory lane. Journal helps you catalog your journey that can be used as an input for blogs, interviews, and other PR activities you would do at launch.
Journal is your place to put out ideas, snippets, learnings that collectively grow into a great document, evolving often into a playbook for the team, a place for blog ideas, a collection of mental notes, and what not.
Personally, when I go over my own journal, often I find ideas that I may otherwise have missed. The team’s KPIs or the plans are not built in a day. For me, they are mostly coming from different notes, recorded over a month, and more.
The habit of keeping a journal should happen as soon as possible in your startup journey. Keeping a journal doesn’t necessarily mean to have a personal thick book lying with you. It could simply also be a word file on your desktop. You may scribble in as soon as something comes to mind as well as the major events as they happen like parts of a speech that you gave.
I personally find Google drive to be the best tool for the same. Though it may lag in the sophistication of many other tools, I like those ideas from my emails, photos and notes are all available through a common search.
When working with your team- in-house or outsourced, it will help you if you know the tricks of the trade. You do not need to learn programming or any other high-level stuff, but a little attention to all the non-tech tools that help you be productive would help.
“True entrepreneurs are those that fold their sleeves and get work done.”
Similarly, you need to become multi-dimensional by learning as much as possible.
You need to grow your skills in areas such as having an eye for visuals, building benchmarks for team, testing, prototyping and so on. Try out the tools, take help, make yourself learn.
Here is a list of 20+ tools that non tech founders need to learn
You are building something that is full of unknowns. You need inspiration. You need access to the best resources. Well, all of this is possible from your desk. You just need to subscribe to the right channels and mediums. Here is what we recommend
TechCrunch– Every important news related to startups.
Reddit– Subscribe to channels where your industry is being covered. I found Reddit threads to have more intellectual inputs.
Slack Channels– Find Slack channels of interest from slofile.com- You will get a lot of like-minded people from these groups. Also a great way to quickly find people for feedback.
Startupschool – Backed by YCombinator, Startup School has all the Y Combinator curriculum that you need to follow until you get into YC.
Andrew Chen Essays on Startups– This publication covers great content on growth ideas, new trends, and in-depth analysis of various startup issues.
Steve Blank– The guy who started the lean startup movement. Steve Blank has covered several in-depth pieces on customer development, marketing, and technology.
Andersson Horowitz blog– I find a16Z blog to be utterly useful with great content and often ideas that help you grow your mind.
Make sure that you subscribe to them so that automatically you receive an update when a new post comes out. Google alerts is also a handy tool to keep tabs on industry news.
As a founder, you need to get seen, noticed, and talked about. The good news is that it all starts on Linkedin.
I work with many founders who last opened Linkedin 5 years ago (Well, this is an exaggeration but you get the point). Linkedin is where you meet your most important connections today from mentors, first hires, cofounders, influencers, and whoever else you would need in your startup journey.
So get out on Linkedin, start participating in conversations, post your hypothesis, and ask for your opinion. You will get your first customers over Linkedin.
You need to read fella. There is just no option.
Plan out your time to be able to do enough reading.
Reading gives you the fertilizer to grow your mind as your startup journey takes you to uncharted territory. Here is a list of my personal favorites
👉 Zero to One- Peter Thiel
👉 The Sales Acceleration Formula- Mark Roberge
👉 The Lean Startup- Eric Ries
👉 Rework- Jason Fried
👉 Traction- Gabriel Weinberg
When I first shared this blog with fellow founders, they asked me immediately, what not to do. Hence here is an additional section about what not to do.
👉 Do not get bothered by noise. Everyone has their own unique journey at their own pace
👉 Do not believe in everything you read in press
👉 Do not be in a hurry to accomplish. Grow steadily
👉 Do not choose quantity over quality
👉 Do not underestimate the power of a wrong hire.
👉 Do not skip planning. Plan and move
👉 Do not try and do too many things. Prioritize
Each product journey is different from others but the process remains the same. The things to do that are mentioned above help you build a great foundation for the execution of your startup idea. If building a startup is a journey, Take the right baggage with you.
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