The inner workings of startup-life
The goal of my column here is to reveal the inner workings of start-up life, and with that life comes an entire spectrum of emotions. I feel like I should post a large emoticon board on my wall so every day I can circle one of the emotions as to how I feel. That changes minute by minute depending on what I am dealing with. No, I am not bi-polar. That’s just how it feels to have a startup.
I was recently asked in a private Facebook group “why do you do what you do?” When I first read the question I did a double take just to read it correctly. That felt like a metaphor because I needed to think about what I was reading and then actually think about the answer. Why DO I do what I do? Because i’m passionate! I’m passionate about the consumer, transparency, being an entrepreneur, the need to make a living, disrupting, creating something people like, technology, the schizophrenic highs and lows of success and failure, seeing if others think like I do, making a great product, efficiency, useful data, the unknown, asking the question “why” and “why not,” and because someone told me once…”you cant do that!”
I have no idea if anyone will relate to these answers or not.
A third business venture
This is my third venture in business and I can happily say I wouldn’t trade my first two experiences for all the tea in China. They are what has made me who I am today, for better or for worse.
We were labeled “pioneers” at my first company. What did that translate to? Nothing but experience. What we did do was blaze a path for many who followed. We pushed forward the evolution of an entire industry. A lot of people who followed in our footsteps made a lot of money. I did not. But I helped changed the way an entire industry operated and I helped champion a cause for the consumer.
My second journey was by accident. It was after my first company was no longer in operation that I accidentally fell into homebuilding. The time was right. I had been raised in a family that was extremely architecturally conscious, I had an eye for design, I am crafty by nature, and many people over the years had said, “you should be a homebuilder. You would be great with your eye for detail.” So, I said what the heck? It was a great run for 10 years building million dollar plus spec homes, but we all know how that ended.
Back to the question of why
Which brings us to today. Why am I here? Why do I do what I do? I already listed the reasons. The problem is that doesn’t make it any easier and it doesn’t always make it fun.
Lately I have been struggling with the issue that nothing can happen fast enough or be good enough. One of my favorite commercials on TV is for Staples where a single person named Dave is cast in his office doing 12 different things all by himself. He walks down the hall, saying “Hi Dave”, as he waves to his alter ego. As an entrepreneur with my own startup, that is my life.
The real frustration for me is the reliance on others to do things I wish I could do myself but aren’t qualified. On the top of the list…WRITE CODE. I would give anything to be a programmer.
Currently, my programming is outsourced. This was the only option to create my beta product. My team is excellent! There are, however, inherent issues that I face. They have other projects. I am not in control of their time. I rely on them for application management. As an entrepreneur starting a company, there is NO ONE willing to work as hard as me, as long as me, or to create a product as well as me! If I could do all of the things I pay others to do, I would never sleep. It is very difficult to get others to share your start-up passion.
Getting others to share your start-up passion
Case and point: on occasion, we will push out a release to our production site. After the fact, I might notice a bug. If I was able, I would work tirelessly to push a fix, but I CAN’T. It kills me because no one feels quite the same about that [bug] as I do. Yes, I want perfection. Is that so bad? Everything I am creating depends on delivering the best product and the best customer experience possible and once it makes it to www, it is a reflection on us.
My team does their job and does it well, but I will soon face other issues. I need better controls on what we are doing. I am a one man show right now. Our dev takes place in a completely virtual environment. I work daily with a team of four. Three live almost an hour away and one is in London. We are extremely agile.
Two ways to develop
For those of you who dont know what I mean, let me explain. As I see it, there are two ways to develop:
First, you can sit down with a company, pay them to do a Scope & Discovery with you for a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 dollars where they will go over as many details of your application as you can think of. They will help you develop user stories, functionality, workflow, and if they provide assistance in business consulting, they will throw in some strategy planning as well. Strategy might consist of pre-launch planning such as creating a buzz, capturing sign-ups to keep prospects “in the know,” beta testers and when to take out your MVP (minimum viable product).
The BIG problem is after you have spent a week with these guys, they will want a big deposit. Then they will want you to GO AWAY! They will try to create and code your product, working from what they have as their understanding, with as little contact as possible. The reason for this is logical. They want to knock out as much code while not allowing for any scope creep. This is actually a good business practice [for them]. If you are a hands on type of person (like me), you will not be sleeping for an indefinite period of time.
Then you show up to review your deliverable and, VIOLA, it’s nothing like you expected. Now you have to pay for the time already spent in dev and the time it’s going to take make corrections. It becomes a “he said, she said” argument about how it was SUPPOSED to be. Everything becomes subject to interpretation. The developers say…”you never said that”. You say…”I thought that was understood,” and the cycle begins. I have painted a worst case scenario here, but it happens.
The second method is developing in a very agile environment which is more of a “make it up as you go along” routine. This is more favorable for the hands-on entrepreneur, and arguably better for the team because there are less mistakes along the way, and things are constantly being refined to be exactly the way you want it. However, with this model exists the dreaded “scope creeeep.”
Scope creep is when you want to add one “neat” little thing. That turns into three “neat” little things and so on and so on. Now you are off track from the prioritization of the deliverable. The devs have spent time appeasing your need for instant gratification, and the project is taking twice as long as anticipated on twice the budget. As ugly as this may sound, it is still my preference.
Every day, subject to their availability and other projects, my team and I are banging on IM’s, group calling on Skype, emailing, sharing files and previewing work on our dev site. This is as close to being a developer as I can be, without actually being one. I love that!
My next challenge
Now comes the first problem as we move forward. I want a dedicated code team. I want more input on a more frequent basis. When there are bugs, I want them fixed immediately. I dont want my project subject to someone else’s time based on commitments to other clients. I want a group that can brainstorm together and not feel like I am imposing on their time. I like a cohesive team working together in a single environment in a single place. I want a team that feels such a strong sense of commitment to our project that they will stay until it is done, and done right. Maybe I live in la la land. But that brings me back to… if I could do it myself… I would!
There are time to market concerns. I wrote last week about the blistering pace of technology roll outs in the real estate technology space right now. That keeps me up at night. I know of only a handful of companies that seem to be headed in the same direction as NuHabitat (my company), but I’m sure there are others. Some of these guys are the big boys with deep pockets, and others are like me.
My next challenges lie ahead and there is a great deal more I have to do to get my company where it needs to be, but that is the life of a start-up – constant pursuit of perfection.