One thing I’ve come to fear a lot is the act of thinking too much. The tech startup world moves so quickly that if you’re doing nothing, you can consider yourself to be moving backwards. The one thing we need to constantly do is to keep moving forward.
Assuming we don’t get ourselves distracted by things that don’t matter (eg. non work related stuff like video games or pseudo work related stuff like excessive networking as stated in the Distractions section of Jessica Livingston’s post on “What Goes Wrong”), the only other thing that can stop us from moving forward is analysis paralysis. Thinking & talking without the action.
The fact is that action trumps thought because most of your assumptions will be wrong. If you don’t put your assumptions to the test by validating with real people, you’re likely to build something nobody wants. (cue Lean Startup link)
Pointing back to Jessica Livingston’s post, making something that people want is hard, and founders need to find a focus in three main things: building things, talking to users and exercising.
One good way to find out if you’re wallowing in the pits of analysis paralysis is to answer these questions:
“Am I building something?”
“Am I talking to users about what I built?”
If you’re not, why not?
We might think that Instagram was a runaway hit. They got it. They knew what was gonna be popular and they built it. But in truth, they only learned about what people would love by building burbn and realizing that people wanted to share beautiful square shaped photos with nice filters.
Would they have known that without continuously working on Burbn even though they only had about 80 active users? What if they drowned themselves in self pity early on and started over thinking things and stopped figuring out what users wanted to do?
Planning and thinking for the future is a good exercise, but it HAS to be complemented with action because planning and thinking does not help you learn much.
With that said, action focused planning will be my way forward. Figure out milestones for the product and work on achieving those goals.
I’m afraid of not moving forward, are you?
It’s probably one of the least rational thing to do especially since you’ve spent most of your waking hours pondering a difficult problem. Sleeping just seems like more waste of time.
However, I’ve found myself coming up with solutions to these problems during states of half consciousness. This phenomena isn’t new. It has been well documented as a source of ideas.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of this, I try to think of a difficult problem before a nap. I don’t often do this during normal sleep because I’m still unsure of whether it’d impair the quality of my sleep so I try to do these during naps.
So far, it’s been pretty effective for coding and business related issues. I still can’t draw for nuts no matter how much I think about design, but I’ve had great UX ideas come to me from these half conscious state of sleep as well.
For people solving tough problems everyday, it’s worth a try.
I started off as a half ass-ed technical founder. I was decent at building static websites but all I’ve ever really built with Rails was a shopping cart with code I duplicated from a book. Within a few months of building Zestyl, I’ve settled into the role of a technical founder and now spend most of my waking hours building the product.
So you must be thinking, “What? A non-technical founder who learned how to code is asking me not to? WTF is this shit?”. Now now… let me explain. I’m bringing this up because there are people who advocate learning to code so as to gain respect from potential technical co-founders. That’s utter nonsense so stop wasting your time.
A startup needs to carry out 2 functions really well in the early stage. We need to build a good product and we need to build traction. These are the very basics of execution we need to get right at the beginning. Whether you’re going lean, mobile first, test driven, agile, social or whatever… Just get those two things right first. Those will get you to product / market fit and that is the first real check point in your journey.
If you ask most startups, they’ll tell you that building a product is way easier than building traction. Seriously, coding your product up is the easy part. Actually getting people to know about it and to use it regularly is tough. You need some serious hustling skills to move the needle every single day. (Building a product that people love is another story altogether, but it’ll still require you to get Product and Traction right)
As a technical founder, I really couldn’t give two hoots about whether you have any technical chops or not. Yes, there should be mutual respect but what will help you gain my respect is your ability to acquire users. You’ll gain my respect if you’re able to execute the most efficient plans that will help as many people know about and use the product as possible.
If you’re going to take up the role of the non-technical founder, please do not waste time. Time is one resource we will always be short of and you will have way more on your plate than you will know how to deal with so keep your mind focused on gaining traction.
Lucky for me, Jalen who’s my non-technical co-founder has taken up the challenge of moving the needle so that Zav and I can concentrate on building the product. It’s a major burden lifted off our shoulders as ding dong-ing between product and traction WILL waste a lot of time. Focus is key.
P.S. One caveat: The only time you should ever be spending time learning to code is if you are the one who’s building the product.
I guess it’s no mere coincidence why Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger’s talk is really inspirational to me, particularly because they built v1 of their product without having any prior computer science degree.
I graduated from the Business School undergrad programme of the National University of Singapore and I unfortunately screwed up my interview to get a spot in the highly coveted NOC programme which sends students to overseas internships. I always wanted to be part of a cohort that went to Silicon Valley for internships. As a result, my exposure to tech startups (other than through techcrunch.com) was next to none. But hey, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I picked up frontend development during my first job at a digital media agency and backend development during my free time. And I’m now building Zestyl with Zavrick who is also not a Computer Science grad. We are using Ruby on Rails because we wanted to focus on development speed and it really helps when there is a large community using the framework you use.
What struck me about Kevin and Mike is that their lessons that debunk the startup myths really resonate with me. And they are also really down to earth and work really hard. As much as I think that luck plays a part in startup success, I also believe that luck finds you only when you work hard for it.
I’m really happy that I spent the time to finish watching the interview. It’s time to ramp things up a few gears and get insanely focused on the important things that will drive results.
Shout out to my co-founders Zavrick and Jalen: Thanks for being on the bike ride with me. We might not know when we’ll reach the destination but we just have to pedal hard to the next hill and the next, and the next… It’ll be a great journey and a grand adventure. :)
I have never found myself saying “I don’t know” this much. I used to see it as a sign of weakness.
Now that I have founded a startup, I make hard decisions and answer tough questions everyday.
“What is the best way to pitch the revenue model for our business?”
“Who would be the best incubators for what we do?”
“How much content can we possibly populate in a week?”
“Which bloggers should we approach?”
“What kind of content should we focus on first?”
I don’t know and I’m not afraid to admit it.
If an entrepreneur didn’t have to make difficult decisions day in day out, they wouldn’t call it risky business.
The best thing you can do for yourself as an entrepreneur is to not delude yourself and think you have all the answers.
It is OK not to know everything. Just be the hustler and do everything in your means to get from not knowing to knowing.