How to start a startup

Let me start off by saying there is no right way to start a startup. Also, you shouldn’t blindly follow another startup’s path to success for it’s impossible and everyone’s journey will be unique in their own way.

Every successful startup solves a problem that whose solution adds value to people’s lives. Here are some ways successful startups have come up with solutions to problems in our lives.

Scratch your own itch

In 2013 Ryan Hoover had a genuine interest in finding out about all the cool startups and products that were out on the market. To satisfy his need, he founded a small website called Product Hunt where companies, mostly from the Bay Area, would promote their products. Little did Ryan know, other people were also interested in finding out about up-and-coming startups and soon Product Hunt garnered a lot of traffic from the Bay Area. Fast forward a handful of years, Product Hunt is now the premier place to promote and post about your product or service. In recent years, the traffic from the Bay Area now makes up less than 1.5% of all traffic due to the boom in worldwide popularity. When Ryan started Product Hunt, he did not imagine he would be selling his business for millions of dollars – he was scratching his own itch.

For more information on how Product Hunt came to be listen to Episode “How Product Hunt’s Ryan Hoover Built a $20M Community From Scratch” of Shaan Puri & Ishan Haque podcast “My First Million“.

Create your market

Markets can be created through fear or fear of missing out. On example of such is Brooklinen, a bed sheets startup self dubbed “The Internet’s Favorite Sheets”. For a time on the New York subways, this startup posted ads that implied the average New Yorker’s bedsheets are covered in millions of bacteria since they rarely change them and that our bedsheets are low quality fabrics. As I read this ad, I thought to myself, “Man, do I sleep in a pile of bacteria every night? When’s the last time I bought new bed sheets? When’s the last time I washed my bed sheets?”. Ads like this make you think – maybe think just enough to make a purchase with a strategically place discount coupon upon landing on their website.

Yes, their product may be amazing, however, there are other bed sheets out there with the same or better quality. The only difference here is the clean website, modern looking product, and very well targeted marketing messages. If you never saw that ad then those thoughts would probably not cross your mind.

Brick through the window advertisement
Creating a need in the market with a brick

Solve an old problem in a revolutionary way

Fortunate for us, old problems are still being solved in revolutionary ways due to advances in technology. An age old problem that has been solved countless times is how to get a person from point A to point B. The human race has engineered cars, trains, planes, cruise ships with amusement parks on them, etc. With so many modes of transportation this problem seems beat to a pulp.

Enter Uber, Lyft, and Turo! All of these services have all solved this problem in ways that have never been solved before and are now reaping the benefits tenfold. Instead of hailing down a taxi in the rain on Broadway, I can lay in bed and command an Uber or Lyft driver to meet me outside whenever I want. Yes, I’m still getting from point A to point B, however, it feels like I’m getting personally catered as if I’m royalty. In fact, we have become so spoiled that if an Uber/Lyft driver takes a minute too long to arrive, we millennials become slightly agitated. Can you even fathom a world without a service like Uber/Lyft?

Why my first startup failed

The purpose of the article is to share my insights on why my first startup failed so that you potentially don’t make those same mistakes. There were many issues with the way I ran my first startup, however, I’m going to only list core flaws that I thought were the key players in our demise. Hope you enjoy!

Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop

I’m going to quote Eric Reis from his book, “The Lean Startup” because I can’t say it any better:

“Plenty of entrepreneurs focus their energies on the individual nouns: having the best product idea, or the best-designed initial product or obsessing over data and metrics. The truth is that none of these activities by itself is of paramount importance. Instead, we need to focus our energies on minimizing the total time through this feedback loop.” (76)

My first startup spent too much time chasing wild one-off ideas and didn’t take the time to learn if what we’re doing is actually working. Startups should focus their energies on validated learning, which is essentially running all of your startup ideas through the scientific method. Using the scientific method for validated learning applies to all departments at a startup – not just tech. Here’s a high-level breakdown:

The Hypothesis

The process of validating learning starts when startups focus on validating the hypothesis about the service they’re providing. This hypothesis must be fallible – meaning that you can 100% prove or disprove it at the end of the experiment.

Example Hypothesis: “My potential customers are willing to pay $10.00 a month for my service”

Setup the Experiment

Once the hypothesis is set your team, in a cross-department collaborative effort, must decide how to set up the experiment so that you can collect the data needed to validate your initial hypothesis. This may mean setting up the proper website tracking code (e.g goals in Google Analytics), sending out a survey, setting up meetings to talk directly with your target market, etc.

Execute & draw meaningful conclusions

Once the plan is in place on how and what you’ll do to run the experiment, it’s time to get out there and do it! Going off the example hypothesis, a meaningful conclusion would look like:

1. Yes, users are willing to pay $10.00 a month for my service for the following reasons…[report of the experiment backed by actual data goes here]

2. No, users are will not pay $10.00 a month for my service for the following reasons…[report of the experiment backed by actual data goes here]

The faster your startup can get to a conclusion, the faster you learn and spend significantly less time building a product no one really wants. Running all your ideas through the scientific method will give you an indication on whether to pivot or preserve the path your startup is on. The most successful startups are not the ones who have the best management, the most money, or the best engineers. The most successful startups are those that learn the fastest.

Final Notes

Knowing why your users love and hate your product is paramount to your startup’s survival. The absolute last thing you want is to not document your results and waste time doing what you knew at some point didn’t work.

Why let your marketing run an ad marketing campaign before reading documentation about a similar campaign ran last year with metrics on what worked and what didn’t?

Why spend time building & deploying an accounting software before finding out how & why your target market handles their finances the way they do? 

Please like, share, & comment!

Small Startup? Need to find tech talent?

The purpose of the article is to share my experiences finding tech talent with a small budget. If your company is a native or web application it’s absolutely imperative that you have a great technology foundation that meets your business’ needs – and is built by the right people. Here’s a list of mediums that may help you find tech talent in no particular order:

“People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” – Jim Collins

1. Meetups

Meetups are a great way of networking yourself amongst a group of people who generally have the same set of interests. Nowadays you can find a meet up that’s focused around certain technologies, frameworks or content management systems that your business needs.

Post a succinct description of the position and a way to contact you on the message boards of the groups you’re trying to target. Be mindful not to spam the groups with your job postings as you may want to check in with the group admins for guidelines regarding job postings on the group message board. The group admins may even help you reach the right people you’re looking for.

1. AngelList

Angel list is great for finding talent that’s specifically looking for startup work. Make a company profile, add your job, and start inviting candidates to look at your job posting. When you do get a match on AngelList, be proactive and quickly respond to any developers questions about your job posting.

I would not recommend posting your job on platforms such as LinkedIn or Indeed Prime for those looking for employment on those sites are probably looking for a stable job with full benefits – not a volatile startup with no guarantee of success.

3. Code Bootcamps

Contact local code boot camps in your area and ask to speak with someone responsible for making sure the new graduates are employed ASAP after they graduate. When you reach out to these schools you will have to provide them with a short description of your ideal candidate. In turn, they will send you resumes and introduce you to the candidates that you wish to interview.  The majority of the candidates will not have 5+ years of development experience, however, most are eager to learn and jump into the next opportunity if given the chance.

4. Freelancers

Leveraging the plethora of freelancers out there is a great idea. If you’ve hired a freelancer just based on a cheap hourly rate or quote, don’t be surprised when you’re about to hit a deadline and you find out that almost nothing is production ready. Simply put, you get what you pay for. It would be best if you had a tech-savvy person, CTO, or product manager on your team that can negotiate with and properly screens the freelancers.

Final Notes

Don’t focus too much on finding someone who is super passionate about your brilliant startup idea. You may be spinning your wheels looking for the “perfect fit” who fits the exact mold of what you’re looking for. You’re much better off looking for someone who loves to build awesome things regardless of what it is they’re building.

Know of another cost-efficient way to find great talent? Comment and let me know!