One of our top recommendations to any founders about how to get started building a mobile app or website is to read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. This book that was highly influential in our early days when we started building software. We are very grateful that one of our mentors recommended this book because it has easily saved us hundreds of hours, tens of thousands of dollars, and countless headaches. It’s going to be tough to do, but we will try our best to highlight the core points of this book in this blog article.
👉Validation is Key
👉 Be Resourceful
👉 Build, Measure, Learn, Repeat
While I think there are so many incredible bits of wisdom to learn by reading the entire book, I know not everyone has enough time in the day to accomplish everything they want. So, I will try to summarize. For those of you who are not big readers, I’d love to also recommend a speech about Google by Eric Ries himself that covers the details in less than one hour. This is a great video to have playing in the background or downloaded for car rides.
Principle #1: “Validation is Key”
A startup founder is in constant battle trying to build something that has true product market-fit. Up until this point, most of the time a founder has only ever been exploring the idea from his or her personal viewpoint. Maybe they discovered the problem themselves or it’s something highly personal, but either way in order to succeed you need to make sure others actually want your product as well.
Too many times, a founder spends tens of thousands of dollars trying to build a product only to find out when they go to launch that they built something no one else needs. The book goes into detail about how you can validate an idea early in the process without ever writing a line of code. Most of the time great products are built to solve a core problem, and with careful research and testing an idea can be quickly validated. An excellent example of this is the founder from Zappos Shoes who had a wildly successful exit to www.Amazon.com in 2009.
During the late 1990’s, Tony Hsieh had a crazy idea. He believed the future of shopping for shoes was on the internet. But at that point in time, not many people had ever interacted with a computer or dared to buy something on the “world wide web.” When it came to shoes most people never thought you could buy them online and without trying them on, but Tony was unsure. First, he started researching the footwear industry. He realized that every year in the US over $2 billion is spent on people buying shoes from sales catalogs that are mailed to your house.
With this first assumption somewhat handled, he took the next step to building his company. Can you guess what it was? Most people would assume the next step is to find a warehouse, make connections with shoe manufacturers, raise $1 million seed round of funding, which are all logical answers, but his solution was much simpler. Tony had a shoe store right up the street from his home. He also had some basic computer programming skills and knew how to build the front-end of a website. With those skills, within 1 week he had a prototype up with photos, sizes, and pricing. This was the core of what he needed to prove his test: Would people buy shoes online without ever trying them on? The most genius part is that he never built the shopping cart or credit card integration. He simply put up the website with a buy button, and whenever users clicked that button it would say, “We are so sorry we are currently out of this size, but please put your email here and we will contact you when they become available.” He tracked everything and was able to prove with his data that he had “intent to purchase” from hundreds of customers. This example perfectly illustrates the author’s point of always validating your idea with the minimum amount of resources possible. These resources might be time, money, energy, anything. Always focus on simplifying, testing, and rapidly iterating from there.
Principle #2: “Be Resourceful & Resilient”
As a startup owner I’m certain of one thing: you do not have enough of what you need and need to constantly decide what actions will have the biggest impact on your company. Whether you are running out of time or your burn-rate is like a ticking time bomb, you are always under problems you need to solve. Sadly, most of the time people are ill-equipped to solve those problems and need to be resourceful to overcome them. Sometimes this means giving up hours in the night when you could be spending time with your family, or maybe it means thinking creatively about how to monetize your business. In the early days, you are always going to be stretched too thin, and that’s why being resourceful is key. Always think of problems in creative ways and try to think like Tony @ Zappos.
You also must be resilient. The market is not friendly, especially at first. It’s hard to find product-market fit, and it’s even harder to hold onto that for a long time. That’s why rejection is a constant friend of any startup owner. You must be willing to take the punches and constantly roll with the outcomes. You will never have complete control of your startup, and that’s why you need to keep a positive attitude throughout the process. As a friend of ours at Technical.ly Baltimore says,
“As a startup owner sometimes it feels like you are constantly banging your head against a wall and you sadly have no idea if tomorrow will be the exact day you will break through or if that day will never come”
One of the best bits of wisdom I’ve heard is from Michael Seibel, the founder of “Twitch.” In the early days, he and his cofounders were part of one of the most prestigious startup accelerators in the world, “Ycombinator,” where he is now a mentor. When asked what makes the best entrepreneurs stand out, he said,
“Early on you find out the founders who have fallen in love with their problem vs the founders who simply fall in love with their product. The founders that fall in love with their problem will always succeed over the ones that are too focused on their product.”
Here’s an excellent excerpt of Michael talking about this exact concept:
Principle 3: “Build, Measure, Learn, Repeat”
This is one of the most solid points driven home by Eric Ries in “The Lean Startup.” His concept is that building a successful business in its simplest form is conducting scientific experiments over and over again. You want to isolate one specific aspect of your company and create a specific experiment to test whether or not your theory is accurate. Here is the key part many founders miss: you must do this from an objective point of view. Too often founders don’t realize they are biasing their own results because of their mindset. I love hearing founders say, “Oh well, I have 20 friends who signed up for the beta release of my product, and they said they would absolutely pay $5.99 a month for my idea.” In reality this is never true; people lie. No one likes shattering your expectations, so always be objective in your tests.
– Take one specific aspect you’d like to build
– Identify the best way to objectively test if this is the right solution for the expected outcome
– Measure the results
– Iterate based on your findings
Startups are not stationary things. They die if they never change. A good product is constantly moving and tweaking their business until they truly identify product-market fit. This idea of approaching a business like a scientist was one of the most influential concepts I took away from “The Lean Startup.”
We wish you the best in applying these principles to your next venture!