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Opinion Editorials

Thinking about starting a business? Fake it until you (have to) make it

(EDITORIAL) Starting a business can be tricky, to know what you’re getting into you should get your hands dirty to prove product and/ or market fit before you actually need to.

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Start early

Creating and running a tech startup is no mean feat. In addition to coming up with the idea, fundraising, recruiting and selling, it involves lots of… well… tech. You’re likely going to need to set up hosting services, code repositories, analytics, CRMs, CMSs, VPNs, CDNs and a host of other three letter acronyms. You’re looking at weeks of work just to create your infrastructural table stakes (the bare minimum) and that’s before you start working on the stuff differentiates you. Your system architecture is unlikely to be your UVP (Unique Value Proposition) but it’s necessary.

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But what if you didn’t have to do it all (yet)? What if there was a way to delay the time spent on coding—never mind fundraising or recruiting prematurely—to focus on refining what makes you special. What if there was a way to prove that you are on your way to finding the proverbial product/market fit before spending all of your time and resources on something the market doesn’t really want? I’m here to tell you that there is — you should fake it before you (have to) make it!

Fitting in

“Product/market fit is being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” -Mark Andreesen, VC at Andreesen Horowitz (2007)

Zappos’ founder, Nick Swinmurn’s early-day hustle is probably the best example of proving out a hypothesis before spending resources on building. In 1998, five percent of shoes were sold through mail-order catalogues and Swinmurn believed that he could beat those numbers with an online version. As he told Business Insider (2011), he “went to a couple of stores, took some pictures of the shoes, made a website, put them up and told the shoe store, if I sell anything, I’ll come here and pay full price.” By faking it, he confirmed that people would be willing to order shoes online without trying them on.

Swinmurn had proven product/market fit before setting up a warehouse, buying thousands of shoes or building out a complex inventory management systems to handle the supply chain.

If you are struggling to find an analogue in your business idea, consider this, what could you do manually (by hand) or personally (by yourself) that you envisioned coding or hiring for in order to fulfill a customer need today? Could you manually respond to text queries while building your NLP chat bot to see which queries surface most frequently? Could you deliver the order yourself before hiring drivers? Could you manually create travel policies before coding up an algorithm (that’s what yours truly is doing) to do it automatically? Just because you’re the one making the cold call or hitting “send” the on-boarding email doesn’t mean that that is how you’ll run your business for life. As Paul Graham, founder of Y-Combinator is famous for saying, “Do things that don’t scale.”

Graham’s point is larger than mine — he applies this principle to early stage attention-to-detail, sales, customer support and more.

But also addressing manual processes he says, “This lets you launch faster, and when you do finally automate yourself out of the loop, you’ll know exactly what to build because you’ll have muscle memory from doing it yourself.”

Expectations meet reality

Without the insights gained during the personal pain/inconvenience of faking non-scalable things, you very well could be building the wrong thing first. You may assume a linear development roadmap to match the expected customer journey through the product (Sign-up, Onboard, Collect Payment, Reporting Dashboards etc.) but by manually doing things, you can work out where you get the largest return on your time and cash investment and achieve the greatest efficiencies. It is possible that manually on-boarding users directly through SQL or Postman only takes you two minutes whereas copying and pasting stats from a database into a reporting table or email takes you an hour.

Although sequentially on-boarding comes before reporting, you should logically remove yourself from the larger bottleneck by automating reports before automating on-boarding. Not only will you have gotten to market faster by manually doing as much as you can, you have also encountered all of the possible permutations that your reports need to accommodate and can build a better product.

Another benefit of manual processes is that they force you into the world to experience your market first hand.

When you’re starting out you often have a good idea but a bad grasp of the market you are entering and in order to reach that mythical-but-neccessary product/market fit, you have to get to know your customer deeply. You can’t isolate yourself “building” if you’re the one responsible for responding to that customer support chat, delivering that sandwich or writing up that policy.

Instead of blindly building what you think is a good idea for an unsuspecting market, you are becoming intimately familiar with the people you think are going to be paying you.

This approach lines up well with the concepts of building an MVP (minimal viable product) and lean startup methodologies as you are building just enough to get by, and interacting continuously with your customers as you manually fake processes until you have to make them. Then, when you need these manual processes to scale, you know what’s most urgent based on your available resources and what’s most important based on the deep insights gained from interacting with your customer, making Dwight D. Eisenhower very happy, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix:

matrix

If you fake it till you (have) to make it, your development, recruiting, sales and even fundraising will flow much more naturally as you’ll be armed with newly-gained:

• Intimate market knowledge
• Initial customer traction
• Prioritized roadmap
• Product/market fit
• Answers to questions you wouldn’t have thought about beforehand

So go out and do things that don’t scale and fake it until you (have to) make it!


Sources:

Part 4: The only thing that matters

Lessons Learned Growing Consumer Products

The Zappos Founder Just Told Us All Kinds Of Crazy Stories – Here’s The Surprisingly Candid Interview

Do Things that Don’t Scale

The Lean Startup

Scaling Lean

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix: How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks and Make Real Progress in Your Life

Daniel Senyard is a writer, speaker, serial entrepreneur and founder of travel startup, Shep . Over the course of seven years in the startup trenches, Senyard has done it all (fundraising, strategy, product management, marketing, band booking, photo-copying etc.). Born in South African, Senyard has lived in Africa, America, Europe and India, and has a funny accent.

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Opinion Editorials

How to turn your complaint mindset into constructive actions

(EDITORIAL) Everybody knows someone who complains too much. While being open is important for mental health, constant bellyaching is not.

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Everybody knows someone who complains too much. While being open is important for mental health, constant bellyaching is not, so here are a few tips on turning your complaints into constructive actions.

It’s important to understand the difference between “complaining” and “addressing.” Talking about problems which mandate discussion, bringing up issues slated to cause larger issues down the line, and letting your boss know that you have the sniffles all fall into the latter category due to necessity; complaining is volitional, self-serving, and completely unnecessary in most contexts.

Complaining also puts you in an excessively bad mood, which may prevent you from acknowledging all the reasons you have not to complain.

Another point to keep in mind is that complaining occasionally (and briefly) isn’t usually cause for ostracization. Constant or extensive complaining, however, can lead others to view you as a largely negative, self-centered person — you know, the kind of person literally no one actively seeks out — which is why you should focus more on redirecting that negative energy rather than using it to remind your barista why they gave up their dream of becoming a therapist.

Complaining stems from two main sources: the need to be validated—for example, for others to know what you’re going through—and the need to be comforted. Addressing a chronic complaint mindset, then, is largely about validating and comforting yourself. This is a simple solution which nevertheless can take years to manifest properly, but you can start by doing a couple of things differently.

“Focus on the positive” is perhaps the hokiest advice you’ll get from anyone, but it works. In virtually any situation, you can find a positive aspect—be it an eventual outcome or an auxiliary side-effect—on which you can concentrate. Think about the positive enough, and you’ll talk yourself out of complaining before you’ve even started.

It’s also good to remember that no one, no matter how much they care about you, can handle constant negativity. If you find yourself constantly hitting people with bad news or tragic personal updates, try mixing up the dialogue with some positive stuff. That’s not to say that you can’t be honest with people—friends, family, and colleagues all deserve to know what’s going on in your life—but make sure that you aren’t oversaturating your listeners with sadness.

Lastly, keep your complaining off of social media. It’s all too easy to post a long Facebook rant about being served cold pizza (no one likes cold pizza on day one), but this just results in your loding a complaint reaching a larger number of people than vocalization ever could. If you have to complain about something in earnest, avoid doing it anywhere on the Internet—your future self will thank you.

Being honest about how you feel is never a bad thing, but constant negativity will bring down you and everyone around you. If you can avoid a complaint mindset as a general rule, you’ll one day find that you have significantly less to complain about.

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Opinion Editorials

What Musk’s tweets say about toxicity of modern work culture

(EDITORIAL) Musk is an inspiring figure, but his recent tweets speak volumes of what’s wrong with work culture, especially in tech.

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Oh, Elon. Haven’t you learned yet? No? Your beautiful, sweet, brilliant mind. I don’t know whether you need a hug or a stern talking to — maybe both — after your crazy, erratic tweets, but Elon Musk’s Crazy Tweet of the Week™ shows a huge problem growing in the tech industry and modern work culture.

In case if you missed it, here’s what went down:

1. On Sunday, the WSJ wrote that Tesla is the “hot spot” of young job seekers and engineers, in spite of or even because of Musk.

2. Par for the course, Musk responded on Twitter with the following comments:

3. Twitter exploded with replies such as these:

If anything, this opens a discussion on a toxic tech — and honestly, American — work culture. But we’ve written about that. It seems like we’re slowly learning that 40 hour workweeks are often okay, and here’s why:

Elon isn’t normal and we shouldn’t compare ourselves.

The thing is, Musk does get more done in the average workweek than a normal person. But this is because he’s brilliant and has figured out ways to beat the system, and he has a million different ideas that other people are implementing. Elon shouldn’t compare himself to the average person, because, well, he isn’t. It’s clear he’s brilliant (and knows it), so we shouldn’t compare ourselves to him, either.

Something we can take from him: learning to automate the remedial tasks and spending our time to maximize efficiency and not waste time. And for the average person, that probably means getting a good night’s sleep or eating well (that means not just drinking Soylent. Looking at you, developers!) so you can actually be effective the next day at work or with your loved ones.

Improve your efficiency.

Are there productivity tools that you haven’t been using that you can? Are you tracking your time and how you’re spending it? If you’re an entrepreneur, or better yet, solopreneur, are there small tasks that take a lot of time that you can do better, faster, stronger? If you need some ideas, check out the years of tips accumulated here on AG.

Elon knows where his strengths don’t lie, and he has a lot of people doing those jobs. So take some of the things he does, but take it with a grain of salt. But unlike Musk, treat your employees well, don’t burn them out, and empower them to do the tasks you don’t do as well.

Most “average” humans have normal responsibilities: families, maintaining a healthy lifestyle (this means sleeping well, eating well, and exercising), and maintaining balance with other interests that make us better employees, bosses, and entrepreneurs. Remember: you’re a human being, not just a worker bee. Don’t let Elon’s Tweetstorms lead you astray.

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Opinion Editorials

How to crush your next remote job interview

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Working remotely is becoming more and more popular. Learn how to excel during a remote job interview.

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As the career landscape continues to change, so does the way in which we interview. With an increase in remote workers, there is also an increase in video interviews.

What immediately comes to mind for me was three years ago when I had a video interview with the fabulous COO of The American Genius. Since the company is based out of Austin, and I’m in Chicago, we had a video chat to see if I’d be a good fit for the company.

While it took some of the pressure off being able to be in my own home for the interview, there was definitely the con of…being in my own home for the interview. Fear of any noise or interruption posed as a slight distraction.

Like an in person interview, there are some pressures that go along with a video interview. The main one being that you need to sell yourself as an extremely responsible individual who can handle the freedoms and rigors of remote work.

Employers are looking for accountability in their remote workers. You must be able to execute your tasks in with a heightened amount of self-discipline.

This can be done through use of time trackers and proactive reporting. Keeping track of each task you do, and the time spent doing it, will provide something tangible for your employer. Be sure to explain during the interview that this is something you will provide to the employer.

Next, because there is a change in environment, and arguably a change in responsibility level, the questions asked during the interview may be different from your standard interview.

A few questions that may pop up to keep in mind: what hours will you be working? What is your remote experience like? Is this something you’re seeking for supplemental work, or trying to do full-time? What is your home workspace like? What tools do you use to keep yourself on task? What is your preferred method of payment?

In turn, there are some questions you should be prepared to ask, as in any other interview. For example: What would a typical day look like if we were working together in-house? Do you offer advancement opportunities? How many of your team members work remotely and how do we all stay in contact?

Working remotely can be a whole different beast in terms of proving yourself to your employer. Having yourself fully prepared for an interview can help start you off on the right foot.

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