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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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Desk with papers, computer, phone, pens, and more representing the need to declutter

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

Job listings are popping up left and right, so what exactly *is* UX writing?

(EDITORIAL) While UX writing is not technically new, it is seemingly becoming more and more prevalent. The job titles are everywhere, so what is it?

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UX writing

The work of a UX writer is something you come across every day. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints these writers work on are interface copy, emails, and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find these writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must-have. Excellent communication skills are a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post. But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater user experience design team. In larger companies, some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of the writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User-centric design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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Opinion Editorials

Have an in-person job interview? 7 tips to crush the competition

EDITORIAL) While we all know the usual interview schtick, take some time to really study for your next face-to-face job interview.

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Job interview between two women.

So, you’re all scheduled for an in-person interview for a job you’d kill for. It’s exciting that you’ve made it to this step, but the question is, are you ready? Especially with remote interviews being the new norm, your nerves may feel shaken up a bit to interview in person – but you’ve got this! And many of these tips can be applied no matter the interview setting.

We all know the basics of a job interview: dress nice, get there early, come prepared, firm handshake, yada, yada, yada… However, it’s good to really sit and think about all of the requirements of a successful interview.

There are seven steps for crushing a face-to-face interview. Do your homework upside down and inside out in order to walk into that room.

Which brings us to the first step: know everything you need to know backwards and forwards.

This can be done in two steps: getting to know the company and getting to know yourself. By doing website, social media, and LinkedIn research, you can get a feel of the company culture as well as the position you’re interviewing for.

By getting to know yourself, have a friend ask you some interview questions so you can practice. Also, take a look at your resume through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know you. Make sure everything is clear and can compete with other candidates.

The next step is to anticipate solving future problems. Have some insight on the department that you are interviewing for and come prepared with ideas of how to better this department. (i.e. if it’s marketing, give examples of campaigns you’ve done in the past that have proven to have been successful.)

Step number three requires you to go back to the research board and get some information on the employer. Find out who you’re meeting with (head of HR, head of the department, etc.) and make your self-presentation appropriate for the given person.

Next, work on making the interview conversation a meaningful one. This can be done by asking questions as people like to see you take an interest in them. Also, be sure to never answer the questions as if it’s your regular spiel. Treat each job interview as if this is the first time you’re presenting your employability information.

With this, your next step is to have stories prepared for the job interview. Anecdotes and examples of previous jobs or volunteer/organization experiences can help bring life to an otherwise run-of-the-mill resume.

After this, you’ll want to make sure that you’re showing enthusiasm for the position you’re interviewing for. Don’t jump on the couch in the lobby like you’re Tom Cruise on Oprah, but definitely portray that you’re excited and up for the challenge.

Lastly, make a good impression by being impressive. Be professional and in control of your body language. Put yourself in the mindset of whatever position you’re interviewing for and show them that you have what it takes.

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Opinion Editorials

The benefits of remote work are just too good to overlook

(EDITORIAL) Employees scream it from the rooftops and businesses don’t want to admit it: Remote work is just too beneficial to pass up- and here’s why.

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Work from home written with scrabble letters.

Remote work has been rising in popularity in the past several years. Especially following the COVID-19 global pandemic, more companies saw significant benefits for both their business and their staff that went beyond the realm of finances by allowing remote labor.

Less happily, many people lost their job during the pandemic, but they ended up having more time to put toward their passions or were compelled to get creative with their remote business ideas to ensure a consistent stream of income.

If you remain on the fence about allowing your employees to work remotely, or are considering a career shift yourself, take a look at the top four benefits of working remotely, which may sway your decision.

Better Overall Quality of Life

Allowing your employees to work remotely doesn’t necessarily mean they work from home full time. There are benefits to having your employees work in an office part of the time – say, two or three days – and working from home, in more familiar surroundings, the rest of the week.

In this way, your workers enjoy some freedom and independence while retaining the ability to interact face-to-face with their peers. That provides human interaction, which can play a substantial role in terms of improved mental health for your staff.

Happy employees means healthier employees, which can save your outfit money in the form of healthcare costs and lost productivity. But we will get further into the cost-saving benefits a little further on.

If you’re a remote worker, you should see yourself becoming significantly more productive. But why would this be the case if you don’t have a manager over your shoulder watching your every move?

It’s true that when employees have a greater sense of independence, they also experience a significant sense of trust on the part of their employers and managers. This is one of the huge benefits of working remotely because it has a trickle-down effect on the quality and overall production of people’s work.

Can Work Anywhere with Internet

Whether you are a small business owner or have crafted your work to tailor toward a life of remote labor, this is an opportunity for someone who has dreamed of being a digital nomad. You have the ability to work anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the Internet. If you love to travel, this is a chance to spend time in various places around the globe while continuing to meet your deadlines.

Multi-member Zoom call on a Apple Mac laptop with a blue mug of black coffee next to it.

Set Your Own Hours

In some cases with remote businesses, you have the freedom to set your own hours. Content writers, for instance, tend to enjoy more flexibility with regard to when they work because a lot of what they produce is project-based rather than tied to a nine-to-five schedule.

When you’re a business owner, this can be incredibly useful when you outsource tasks to save money. You can find a higher quality of performance by searching for contractors anywhere in the world and it doesn’t limit you to workers who live near to your office.

Saves Everyone Time and Money

 In the end, remote work typically saves money for every person and entity involved. Businesses save costs in terms of not having to pay for a physical space, utilities, Internet, and other expenses. This allows you, as the owner, to spend more of your income on providing quality software and benefits for your employees so your operation runs more smoothly and efficiently.

According to FlexJobs, employees or remote business owners may save around $4,000 on average every year for expenses such as car maintenance, transportation, professional clothing in the office, or even money spent dining out for lunch with coworkers. Eventually, the costs add up, which means extra money in your pocket to take that much-needed vacation or save up for a down payment on your first home.

These benefits of working remotely only skim the surface. There are also sustainability factors such as removing cars from the roads and streets, because people don’t have to travel to and from an office; or employees missing fewer workdays since they have the ability and freedom to clock in from home.

Weigh the pros and cons as to whether remote work is right for you as a business owner or online professional. You might be surprised to find that working from home for more than the duration of the pandemic is worthwhile and could have long-lasting benefits.

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