Building a new idea into a full product while gaining users and revenue is a steep steep climb. You have a great idea, some brains, and maybe a rough proof of concept already hammered out, now what? The world is full of Spotify, Zappos and Uber style stories, but those are just the tip of the iceberg in the startup ecosphere.
I have experience being a startup founder. I co-founded topLog, which aimed to use machine-learning to give system administrators better insight into what is happening with their IT resources. Unfortunately today it’s collecting dust in a private GitHub repository.
I was fortunate enough to meet some fantastically gifted individuals while working on my PhD. Three of us decided we had a unique way of looking at logs, in a way that allowed us to build predictive models for abnormal behavior. The engine was awesome, and unique (still today, to a certain degree). “All” we had to do was build a car around this kick butt engine of ours. Simple enough, right?
Turns out determining what kind of car is hard, really hard. Should it even be a car?
We learnt a lot on our journey, just not fast enough.
Despite all of our founding team’s best efforts, raising funds and hiring talented engineers, we simply did not get to market fast enough with a clearly defined product.
A million other things could have helped, but in the end, we spent too much time building our tech instead of building our product and our vision.
Looking back, some other inefficiencies may have been:
- Over-engineering our core technology for our future large scale customers, not our early adopters
- Figuring out how to manage customers and implement billing
- Defining our pricing model: how much to charge and for what?
- Limited understanding of how to take our product to market
- Lack of insights/tracking/metrics with regards to product use
I’m sure at least some of this resonates with you. Every startup struggles with these pitfalls as they take their genius idea to profitability.
I’m going to try and save you some time by sharing a highly opinionated perspective:
Focus on your expertise only
Focus on your own key value, find others to support you in the remaining areas, and do so fast and furiously.
We live in a great world these days. We don’t need our own servers, we don’t need an office, we don’t even need to be in the same time zone. You don’t even need to make your own website from scratch (there are services for that, especially early on).
Need to track early subscribers? There is most definitely a service for that.
Need to send SMS? service service service.
You get my drift.
Do not waste your time learning and building things you don’t need to. There will be LOTS you need to learn away from the product (pitching, vision, strategy, go to market). Let others help where they can. Need elasticsearch? Do not become the world’s leading expert, subscribe to someone else’s product, let them be the experts, and plug it into your application.
Sounds simple, right? Plug it all in and bam! Millions of dollars, Facebook-like user growth, Amazon-like revenue.
Not quite. As you scale, as you grow, of course you need to evaluate your SaaS spend and your scalability. You have to start building the knowledge internally, but in the early days, please, don’t learn the intricacies of MySQL vs Postgres (or even relational vs no-SQL databases). Pick what you think will work, plug it in and go.
Owning nonessential components will waste time and energy
At my startup, while my team built amazing technology (that fantastic engine) we had to worry about building out our billing, our user tracking, our account management, and a bucket full of nonessential components to our product.
This lack of focus on our core product led us to too many hours spent not showing off where we were unique, only building the things others already had.
I’m not saying we did everything wrong, we made a great product, we even raised some money and had some traction, it just came too late. While we believed in ourselves to figure everything out, we simply underestimated how much time it would take (and time, in a startup, is life).
Time is the lifeblood of a startup
When the dust had settled, and this thing called Manifold came knocking, I jumped at the chance to help others have an easier path to success. Manifold is something that would have cut a lot of my wasted founder learning time. It brings me great pleasure to help remove some of the barriers to entry for some great companies on our marketplace.
We help them with go to market, we give them an open platform to showcase their product on, we give them deep integrations into their users’ development flow and we have a lot of fun doing it.
Plus, they are all crazy useful services for other developers to plug in, something I would have loved to take advantage of myself.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll relaunch my own product into this marketplace. It sure would be a lot easier than it was when we first made a go of it It could give it an actual chance to get to a audience that would use and enjoy it.