My Startup Quote Adventure
I’ve always been a huge fan of learning by doing. If there’s a skill I want to explore, I dive in without seeking outside help. When I enjoy it I turn on my radar and seek out as much relevant information as I can find. When I don’t enjoy it I move on and have a basic sense of that skill’s purpose and how difficult it is to gain expertise.
Unfortunately, no matter how much I try to avoid unnecessary information, it always sneaks it’s way into my life. Usually it starts with a quote that, when alone, barely makes sense. When a colleague seems to base a strategy on a dubious quote I ask for clarification. Then, before you know it, we’re neck deep into a totally irrelevant conversation.
If you haven’t heard, there’s a website called Startup Quote for doing exactly that! Some quotes are great while others make my blood boil. Let’s take a quick adventure through some quotes I’ve discussed with colleagues over the years, starting with the one I hear the most.
“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman
I love the advice of launching early, but don’t see why you need to be embarrassed. If you’re prioritizing speed and quality at the expense of quantity of features, are you embarrassed about it being too simple? But isn’t that point of launching early? I don’t get it.
Could this be about prioritizing speed and features at the expense of quality? Launching a shitty product is embarrassing. Is that what Reid is recommending you do?
“Learn not to add too many features right away, and get the core idea built and tested.” – Leah Culver
Leah gets it. Speed and quality. Do it fast, and get it tested. No reason to be embarrassed.
“Create something simple. Let the market pull you in.” – Brad Burnham
Brad is all over it. Get just enough built that enough people can pull you towards the right things to do. Talk to your customers and use them to refine your future plans and identify an ideal customer.
“When you have to prove the value of your ideas by persuading other people to pay for them, it clears out an awful lot of woolly thinking.” – Tim O’Reilly
Tim gets it, too! Too many untested features could reveal you didn’t actually know what you were doing. That’s another reason to be embarrassed. Getting your solution too far ahead of the known problem is dangerous.
“You have to solve a problem that people actually have. But it’s not always a problem that they know they have, so that’s tricky.” – Joshua Schachter
I admit. Sometimes you have to arbitrarily guess. Although, it should never be an uneducated guess. If you’re that far away from the problem, you should probably do some more research. It’s much faster than blind iterations.
“Customer research produces bland products. We’re producing a piece of art.” – Michael Arrington
Seriously? Who let you in here? Customer research has nothing to do with building a product. You can’t blame building a bland product on customer research. Research isn’t about getting answers, it’s about understanding the context of your problem.
“Do things that won’t scale; it will teach you.” – Brian Chesky
Brain probably likes a little research here and there. Doing things manually is another form research. Really, deeply, intensely understanding the problem before you automate it. You’re odds of doing it right the first time jump dramatically when you have first hand knowledge of the situation.
“We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” – Arianna Huffington
If you’re doing something that’s never been done before there are no guarantees. No amount of research, hanging out with you’re potential customers, or even product iterations will guarantee success. This is damn good inspiration for only going as far as you can based on educated guesses. The larger your commitments, the greater the odds an error could be a death blow.
“You need to fail quickly. If you think you know what’s going to work in any aspect of your startup, you are wrong.” – Chuck Gordon
Boom! Chuck has a good grip on reality. Work as though failing is the most likely situation. Be optimistic, but assume you can never really get the most elegant solution on your first try.
“Usage is like oxygen for ideas. You can never fully anticipate how an audience is going to react to something you’ve created until it’s out there.” – Matt Mullenweg
The only real confidence you can have in your product is when you see people using it and loving it. You have to build the most meaningful things as quickly as possible while avoiding features and interfaces that get in the way.
“Every feature has some maintenance cost, and having fewer features lets us focus on the ones we care about and make sure they work very well.” – David Karp
What features you choose to delay building or remove altogether should be just as high of a priority as adding new features. Every new piece you add to the ecosystem requires your customers to recalculate and relearn how to get the most out of the product. Adding can be just as invasive as removing. If something isn’t extremely valuable anymore, it may be doing more damage than good. Don’t be afraid to wait or remove.
“Every time you make the user make a decision they don’t care about, you have failed as a designer.” – Aza Raskin
I hear the phrases “tech debt” and “design debt” a lot. These phrases seem to be more focused on the problems of the company. We need to start thinking about a form of debt we put on our users when we require them to make unnecessary decisions. Low value features and poorly designed interfaces do exactly that.
“It became an exercise to reduce and reduce, but it makes it easier to build an easier for people to work with.” – Jonathan Ive
As much as I love the idea of dedicating time to reducing complications, it makes me wonder how we let it into the product in the first place… Where did it come from?
“It’s simple until you make it complicated.” – Jason Fried
Now we’re back to building too much, too fast. We’re the ones introducing complexity. We’re doing it to ourselves! Maybe slowing things down and dedicating more time to doing simple things and keeping them simple will pay off.
“Customers want new functionality, but they don’t want the traditional complexity that has marred products in the past.” – Marc Benioff
People have expectations of a similar outcome with similar products. That doesn’t mean they want it done in a similar way. Time spent figuring out a simple approach, instead of duplicating another’s approach, might actually be the short-cut we’re all looking for.
“In many cases, the more you try to compete, the less competitive you actually are.” – Kathy Sierra
This quote is wildly ambiguous. I think her intentions are to encourage you to do something awesome for the sake of doing something awesome. Once you’re attention has focused on your competition, you’re much less likely to do something awesome and become another average product among average competitors.
Which leads me to my final and favorite startup quote of all time.
“Nothing works better than just improving your product.” – Joel Spolsky