It’s like jumping out of the plane and hoping you’ll build the parachute before hitting the ground.
We thought we’d build this website app and then set it free. D’oh! 3 years later we’re still huffing and puffing every day to push it closer to the vision we originally had. More product development, more marketing, more feeding the social media beast…
We’ve learned a lot along the way but still have so far to go. I thought I’d share my “if I only knew then…” list to help others embarking on a start up and not give up.
It takes MUCH longer than you think.
We were originally quoted 3 months to build our baby. Eighteen months later and more money, still no baby.
We originally scoped a product which had 10 times the functionality. There was lots of “but what if someone wants two birthday cards because they’re having a party for twins” or “might as well offer the option to sell stuff like T-shirts once we’re collecting money from a group”. We spent weeks crawling on my dining room floor with pieces of paper getting the user experience, interface and flow right.
Pare it back – creating a minimum viable product (MVP)
In the end, we pared it right back to the basics. We used the concept of the “minimum viable product”. This means that creating the barest bones of your product that will still offer the nugget of what excites your prospective customer. You can read a whole book called “The Lean StartUp” by Eric Ries. In essence, it’s about getting something out there so you can gauge how people react. Create a “wire frame”, the logic of how the site flows and cut off anything that’s not essential. If you need to create a slick front end but have to have some bits running manually behind the scenes, so be it. This allowed us to launch. Now we’re adding in the fancy bits one by one.
Talk to people!
Talk to your customers. Talk to other startup-ers. Get advisors.
We wanted to keep it secret and reveal the perfect performance on opening night. Fail! Nothing is as useful as important as knowing why people want your product and how they want to use it. For example, our designer recommended building a dashboard from which users could build and choose a suite of features they wanted when collecting money from their group. We knew our customers would find that terrifying. A dashboard implies expert tech knowledge. We wanted a process that I described as a tunnel. You know you just keep going forward and clicking “next” till finally you hit “send”.
There are big advantages in asking for help and advice. For one, it helps! But also, one of the big things investors look for is your team. Ideally, we’d have created an advisory board for support, advice and network.
Talk to other start up-ers. When they use language you don’t understand like “virality coefficient”. Write it down and either ask them straight away or nod intelligently and run to google it later.
How did we get meetings?
Most people will agree to a first meeting, even big shot investor firms. They usually give great and quite candid feedback. We always take notes and always learned things. It helped us prioritize. But remember, the only thing that means they’re interested is a signed contract. Everything else is politeness.
Some tips here. Always ask for an intro to another person at the end of your meeting. Don’t know how to find the right people? Even the shyest woman can put a post on “Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine” (a closed Facebook Group for women in business) and ask the group a question. It’s a savior. Ask for feedback, advice, promote your business or commiserations.
What stopped us from quitting?
I suppose I’m a tenacious optimist but still, there are times! Two things really helped. First, having a co-founder. When one was ready to jump, the other held onto her feet. (Sometimes it was still sore). The other was to lower the bar for a minute and just try to keep going, if not perfectly. My son sings the song from Nemo’s friend “Just keep swimmin’. Just keep swimmin’. Just keep swimmin’”. I play that in my head often.
We’ve all had that cringe-able moment when you actually put up your hand and volunteer for the collecting money from friends for something: the farewell gift for a colleague, fundraising