What to avoid when working at a startup

Note: I originally wrote this article on personal blog in Slovak.

When our CEO Janko asked me to work with him on his new Spotibo tool, I was very excited. I joined the project very quickly. But there was a big challenge ahead of me: to master marketing in a startup environment.

Even though I didn’t think it would be quite so challenging at first, I quickly realized I was wrong.

In a startup, you have to give up various habits and start thinking a little differently. It is not important to have perfect, established processes for everything. You have to focus especially on the main product functionality and customer acquisition.

I began to read quite a lot on these topics. I was most inspired by Get Real from 37Signals and The 7 Day Startup from Dan Noris.

I usually write my own notes from books and return to them quite often. As this topic gets really interesting, I’ve decided to share some of those notes with you.

These notes are not just for marketers. They can help anyone who works in a startup environment, whether you are a founder, programmer, merchant, designer, marketer or working at customer support.

Some things will come at first glance as pretty obvious, and you might say it’s nothing new to you. But is that really the case? Do you do that in practice as well?

I have to admit that I know everything about “the theory”, but every day I find myself “stuck” in one or more parts of the process. And that’s when I realize that I don’t do some things at all like I should in a dynamic startup environment.

Book – The 7 Day Startup

These are the important ideas that I took away from The 7 Day Startup:

Don’t think too much. A beautiful design and new features are not important. The point of each product is to solve the customer’s problem. The customer will tell you afterwards if he or she likes your product and is willing to pay for it. The customers do not know what they want beforehand. If someone says that your product is the most brilliant of all, don’t believe this initial reaction because nobody knows what they actually want, until they are forced to pay for it.

What should you avoid when lauching a new product?

  • Sexy thoughts and sexy ideas – The only important thing is to create a product that solves the problem.
  • Feedback – People do not know what they want or don’t want until they have to pay for it.
  • Details – Spending hours on creating a logo is not important at all.
  • Pricing strategy – At first, s set up an initial price, and then rely on the customer’s reaction to decide whether to adjust that price.
  • Payment gateway – In many cases, PayPal will be all that you need.

Book – Get Real

From 37 books, I’ve written a little more. Here are the main points that got me thinking:

  • Do less. Develop fewer features. Give the customer fewer opportunities. Have fewer people. Organize fewer meetings. Offer less of a promise.
  • Startups solve a million questions every day. You can’t think of everything in detail. Just make a decision and anticipate what will be best.
  • Do you really need an investor? Don’t think about what you can do with € 100,000, but consider what you can do with € 20,000. Think about what you’ll do in three months instead of six months.
  • If you are inspired by your competitors, don’t just look at the features that your product should have. Also look at what the product should not have.
  • Don’t say what you are doing better than your competitors. Say what you are doing differently.
  • Once your job become a duty for you, it is bad sign. If you keep it small, you will always enjoy it.
  • If you make any new changes, keep costs at a minimum. Because if you want to change anything later, the more expensive and challenging it will be, the less likely it you are to make that change.
  • For some reason, it works best when the team has three members 🙂
  • Don’t solve future problems now. If it’s not a problem yet, it does not make sense to deal with it now. You will deal with it when the problem occurs.
  • Do not try to please everyone. You will end up pleasing no one. Some employee ideas will simply have to be refused, and you will often have to ignore customer requirements.
  • Do things that are only really important. Some things just do not matter, so just deal with it.
  • Do not have a to-do list of features that would be good to have one day. You will never incorporate them. An important feature is one that will often be repeated in customer requests, and you can easily remember it without writing it on paper.
  • Do not ask customers what they want. Ask them what they don’t want.
  • Do not expect everything to be done perfectly the first time. It is rarely the case.
  • Do not give programmers a complicated task that will last for a long time. Programmers will spend half of their time doing nothing and will finish just before the deadline. Instead, assign smaller tasks over shorter time periods.
  • Do not hire new people. What for? Do you really need them?
  • If you already hired someone, try them first. Assign them to a small project that will take, for example, 20-40 hours.
  • If you really need something to be done, ask the person who is the busiest.
  • A small team does not need specialists, but rather people who have a wide range of skills.
  • If you don’t know who to hire, then hire the person who is the most enthusiastic and is a good writer. A person who is able to put thoughts on paper is always a good fit.
  • Do not start programming without having a finished interface design. Interface is your product and what people see.
  • Do not forget to suggest blank and error pages.
  • Consistency is not always important. The context is way more important.
  • When you are designing a web site, don’t use lorem ipsum, but normal text.
  • Think about your product as a person. It will help you with copywriting.
  • Signing in to use the product and logging out of the product or service should be as easy as possible.
  • Do not stand in the way when the customer wants to leave or cancel the account. He or she should do it without any difficulty.
  • Start collecting emails as soon as possible.
  • You should show your paid product features to the customers directly in the tool.
  • You don’t need a specific employee just for customer support. You and your team can handle it at the beginning.
  • Customer questions need to be answered immediately.
  • Count on the fact that you will have to refuse some suggestions from the customer. You can’t satisfy everyone.
  • Create a forum where customers will help each other. Yes, even with your product.
  • Be honest and let your customers know about your failures.
  • Write a blog.
  • You don’t have to fix all the bugs at once. Make priorities.
  • Don’t freak out immediately after someone starts to complain. It’s normal.
  • You don’t have to develop new features just because you want a new feature. Keep it simple.

In Spotibo, we try to remember all of the points above, even if we don’t always practice everything 🙂 But everybody learns by their own mistakes.

Have you taken any points from my notes? Is there something that you do the same way or something that you do wrong? Let me know in the comments.

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