Theories Applied

It has now officially been two months since I started work.  I have no idea where the time has gone, but it has gone faster than I ever expected.  As I reflected on the first two months this past weekend, I thought a lot about the things that I have learned since I started.

Coming from the world of theory, frameworks and supposition (business school), I have found the transition equal parts exciting and frustrating.  Most of the frustration stems from the fact that the real world never quite plays out the way the theories suggest they will.  This is a pretty obvious statement, but it is still something I took for granted coming back to the real world of a startup and being responsible for developing, marketing and launching a new product in just two months.  In that light, a few key takeaways so far…

1. Don’t assume people understand, but build it so they can — Communicating with users, even if they are early beta testers (often friends), requires crisp communication.  People are so inundated with new things, particularly on the web, with new products and services, that it is critical to refine how you articulate the product and its benefits in as clear and concise a manner as possible.  Don’t assume people will “get it,” but then do everything you can to make the product simple, intuitive and of clear value to the user.

2. Minimally Viable Products (MVPs) doesn’t mean it’s easy — A lot of chatter is out there about lean startup methodology (@LsmFatso) and Eric Ries (@ericries) is doing great work in creating a movement around capitally efficient, user-focused companies.  A crucial part of the theory is the idea of the MVP.  The name is a bit of a misnomer and can lull first time entrepreneurs into a sense of comfort.  Just because it is minimally viable does not mean it is easy!  In fact, building a product that is engaging and useful for users is still really, really hard and it is important to put a great product out at the start.  A product is not an MVP based on how much work or effort you put into getting it ready for launch to users.  It is Minimally Viable because once you launch, you MUST continue to iterate and improve based on user feedback and rigorous analytical testing, so by default the first product should be the worst version (i.e. least viable) that you ever have.  Don’t get tricked by the name!

3. Things take time — The lean startup methodology is a process that takes time.  Once you launch a product, you need to then gather user feedback, test user behavior and iterate on the product.  As much as you want to think you will immediately have 10,000,000 users, don’t forget you must first get 100, then 1,000, etc.  Some products have insane user growth, but that often comes after a period of testing product market fit and improving your product.  Building great products and great companies is not like making EasyMac in your microwave, despite all the articles in TechCrunch that seem to suggest it is.  Patience young padawan!

Overall, things have gone well.  I’m still learning every day and that is what is important.  As I continue through this process, I’ll continue to update you on different lessons I’m learning, so hopefully there are many future posts that are similar to this one.  Like the products I’m making, I personally need to continually iterate and improve so that this current version is an MVP compared to what the future holds.

What are any lessons you’ve all learned from working at a startup and/or building a new product?

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