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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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productivity slow fit dostadning

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

Can we combat grind culture and injustice with a nap?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) A global pandemic and a climate of racial injustice may require fresh thinking and a new approach from what grind culture has taught us.

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Sleeping cat with plant, fighting grind culture.

Information is delivered to us at warp speed with access to television, radio, and the internet (and more specifically, social media). We are inundated with messages. Oftentimes they’re personalized by something that a friend or family shared. Other times we manage them for work, school, or just keeping up with news. Many entrepreneurs already wear many hats and burn the midnight oil.

During this global pandemic, COVID-19, we have also seen a rise in awareness and attention to social injustice and systemic racism. This is not a new concept, as we all know. But it did feel like the attention was advanced exponentially by the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020. Many people and entrepreneurs felt called to action (or at least experienced self-reflection). And yet they were working at all hours to evolve their businesses to survive. All of this happening simultaneously may have felt like a struggle while they tried to figure out exactly they can do.

There are some incredible thought leaders – and with limited time, it can be as simple as checking them out on Instagram. These public figures give ideas around what to be aware of and how to make sure you are leveling up your awareness.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Center for Antiracist Research – he has been studying anti-racism and has several books and interviews that help give language to what has been happening in our country for centuries. His content also delves into why and how white people have believed they are more than people of color. Here is a great interview he did with Brené Brown on her Unlocking Us podcast.

Tamika Mallory – American activist and one of the leading organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. She has been fighting for justice to be brought upon the officers that killed Breonna Taylor on March 13. These are among other efforts around the country to push back on gun control, feminist issues, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brené Brown – research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has been listening and engaging on how racism and our shame intersect. She also speaks about how people can reflect on themselves and where they can take action to better our society. She has some antiracism resources on her website.

With all of this information and the change in our daily routines and work habits (or business adjustments), what is a fresh approach or possibly a new angle that you haven’t been able to consider?

There is one social channel against grind culture that may not be as well-known. At an initial glance, you may even perceive this place as a spoof Twitter and Instagram that is just telling you to take a nap. But hold on, it’s actually much smarter than that. The description says “We examine the liberating power of naps. We believe rest is a form of resistance and reparations. We install Nap Experiences. Founding in 2016.”

It might be a great time for you to check out The Nap Ministry, inspired by Tricia Hersey. White people are called to action, and people of color are expressly told to give time to taking care of themselves. Ultimately, it goes both ways – everyone needs the time to recharge and recuperate. But people of color especially are being told to value their rest more than the grind culture. Yes, you’re being told you need to manage your mental health and include self-care in your schedule.

Through The Nap Ministry, Tricia “examines rest as a form of resistance by curating safe spaces for the community to rest via Collective Napping Experiences, immersive workshops, and performance art installations.”

“In this incredibly rich offering, we speak with Tricia on the myths of grind culture, rest as resistance, and reclaiming our imaginative power through sleep. Capitalism and white supremacy have tricked us into believing that our self-worth is tied to our productivity. Tricia shares with us the revolutionary power of rest.” They have even explored embracing sleep as a political act.

Let this allow you to take a deep breath and sigh – it is a must that you take care of yourself to take care of your business as well as you customers and your community. And yes, keep your drive and desire to “get to work”. But not at your expense for the old grind culture narrative.

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Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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Opinion Editorials

How Peloton has developed a cult-following

(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.

I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.

Vertical Integration

If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.

Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.

Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?

Going Live

But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.

Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!

The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.

Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?

Getting Competitive

Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.

These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.

Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?

Conclusion

At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!

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