After spending 6+ months at Telstra’s Muru-d Accelerator, I was invited back to share a few lessons learned.
A question came from the audience,
If you had your time over, what would you do differently?
My answer - I’d remove features, release a product earlier, and start selling sooner. We spent too much time 'getting feedback' from customers rather than trying to sell to them. Selling was the best feedback we ever got. People find it very easy to give feedback, but once you ask them to hand over some money, you get what they 'really' think.
Reflecting later that night I got thinking. These were fairly obvious lessons to learn. I'd read The Lean Start Up and some other books, and Muru-D mentors had mentioned it. So why were these my 'lessons learned'...
Why hadn’t I done them? Why didn't I 'get it'?
I came to realize a very uncomfortable truth…. I knew these lessons all along. But some how it didn’t matter. Why?
I was arrogant
Partly true. I was guilty of thinking I had it under control. I know my customers better. I’ve worked in the industry. My ideas will work.
I didn't understand what it meant to me or my company
Getting close. The theory made sense, but translating the theory to practice can be tough. We all understand the lean methodology, but when it comes to ‘what feature do I scrap’, the theory can easily be forgotten.
I got lost in the detail
Now we're talking. Oh but that feature will take just one more day. Well sure, then add that in. And well… if we’re going to do that, then it makes sense to add that feature, it will only take two more days. Before you know it... 2 months go by. Very guilty.
I was used to 'nice' things
The years of using polished tech products, built by the likes of Google and Facebook, had corrupted my mind. I thought people would judge a product by its complete list of features. Customers don't care. If your product does something they want and does it amazingly well, they'll put up with a lot.
Setting unrealistic goals
Guilty as charged. Our original goal was 500 customers at $50 per month. Well to service 500 customers we will definitely need automated payments, and for customer to pay $50 per month, we definitely need these super advanced features. Wrong! So wrong. The right, first goal is one happy customer. Figure out the next goal after that.
I was gutless
So true it hurts. Saying no, is often more difficult than saying yes. Our logic....Building more features was the safe option. We'd have a better product to sell, there was a better chance a customer will buy it, there was less chance we could fail. Not building a feature was tough. Our product would be average, customer might be disappointed, there was more chance we would fail. The reality, we sacrificed learnings for comfort. Bad decision.
So here is what I would ACTUALLY do differently
1) Go as fast as possible... then go faster
Old expression. You never get taught anything, you have to learn it. I hate to say it, but most of my mistakes were inevitable. The best thing I could have done was make them faster. Going fast wouldn't just have helped with product market fit, it would have helped me learn about myself, my strengths and weaknesses. The faster I can learn, the faster my company can grow.
2) Don't decide on features. Assume they are all removed, and then see what happens.
How to do this? Rather than sit there with a feature list and say 'yay' or 'nay'. Start with 'nay'. For each feature say, "If we didn't build it, would it be an issue?".. the answer more often than not is no.
3) Treat feedback interviews as sales meeting
End every interview with, 'How much would you pay?', then say you'll give them a 70% discount for the first year, if they sign up now. If the answer is anything but, 'Where do I sign?', treat all feedback as 'interesting'. The real feedback is you're not solving something they care about.
4) Stop lying to myself and toughen up
Ask yourself this honest question, (I wish I had)... "Why is my business not further developed?", Why am I not selling?", "Why is our product not ready?"
For me, the real answer was that I wasn't prepared to make the tough decisions. To make trade offs. To disappoint people. To fail.
Hope that helps a few people.