I was browsing the “Who’s Hiring, December 2011 edition” thread on Hacker News just now and thinking about how awesome it will be when our startup, Revisu, gets to advertise on one of these threads. It made me think: What do we have to do to get to that point?
I started making a mental list–a pretty short one, actually. We need to have revenues enough to support hiring, which means we need to have more paying customers, which means we need to get more general traction, which means…which means we need to keep pushing.
Startups are about pushing. Constantly.
When I first got interested in startups, it seemed easy enough to get started. Just make something people are interested in, they’ll start using it, and suddenly a million dollars! At a high level (a really high level) I’d still contend this is correct. But, as I’ve learned, there is a ton of stuff that happens between the “make something interesting” and the “people will start using it” bits.
At Revisu, I’m happy to say that we’re finally starting to see that traction! People are seeing value in Revisu and actually using it with their teams like we envisioned they would. Whew, that only took…how long again? Well, I can’t remember exactly–longer than we thought it would–but I do remember that it took constant pushing to get there.
Pushing is also about velocity.
In terms of work, it’s a tough proposition to keep your queue full when you’re filling your own queue. However, if you’re working on your startup and you find that you don’t know what to do next, that’s a really bad sign. I means you aren’t working hard enough–you aren’t learning fast enough.
To really push hard you need to be able to move from task to task quickly and efficiently. After I finished polishing a feature I went immediately to working on the deck. In a startup, there are hundreds of things that need to get done and the pool of people to work on them is really small–you and your partner(s).
Seriously sweat the small stuff.
Pushing means not just getting stuff right, but getting stuff right right. Small things that are broken in small ways break experiences in really big ways–ways that keep people from using your software. Especially when you consider that something that might not be a big deal to you is indeed a deal breaker to anyone else. One of the most common problems an MVP is that it’s missing the V for small (or perhaps more often big) reasons!
As I’ve said before, at Revisu we’re known for iterating quickly. Our primary motivation for quick iteration is that we want to get things right. Thus, we get stuff out the door quickly, we figure out how it’s wrong, and we iterate. While this is a really great way to get things right it can be extremely painful, too. After re-designing our login page for the 15th time because it still doesn’t look just right, it can be just…exhausting.
Lean + Pushing = Cognitive Dissonance?
After I wrote this whole post, I thought that I should go back and address this as I love lean development, Eric Reis’ strategies, and the benefits there of. Often enough, though, I have a really hard time reconciling the concept of MVP with sweating the small stuff.
The trick that we’ve been using lately is to evaluate what the #1 blocker to progress is (from a customer on-boarding perspective, obviously). Perhaps it is in direct competition with what we would call an MVP but I’d contend that that just means that your MVP is not an MVP!
Pushing hard on product is a lot like social media marketing to me: It just works! Somehow, you put energy in to it and the results will surprise you. I don’t think it will be a direct ticket to success, and I have no idea how long we as a team can keep it up, but we’re getting extremely positive results and making really great progress. Hopefully you will, too, as it’s the only way I’ve found to bridge the traction gap.