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! Continue reading “Theories Applied”

Pivoter Beware

Entrepreneurs seem to have the stubbornness or self-confidence to fail, dust themselves off and try again.  The idea that a company can and should fail, but fail rapidly and re-adjust their trajectory as needed, commonly known as “pivoting” is a further manifestation of this entrepreneurial spirit.  It is a founder-friendly concept that is key to the lean startup methodology. It is in the best interest of all stakeholders to allow and sometimes encourage pivoting to occur.  If a startup can recognize early on that they need to re-adjust, they have a much better shot of recovering from initial setbacks, but this approach does come with some risks.

The term “pivot” seems to get thrown around with increasing regularity during discussions of lean startups.  “How did they pivot,” “Why did they pivot,” “How many times did they pivot,” “What is a different pivot that they could have executed on,” and the list goes on.   In some sense, it seems like there is a notion within the ecosystem that pivoting is a requirement to be a lean startup.

However, I feel that this misconception is a dangerous one.  While pivoting may be appropriate in some situations, it is certainly better to avoid it, if at all possible.   Relying on the ability to pivot, often at the expense of developing a compelling initial product vision does not come without consequences.

Continue reading “Pivoter Beware”