In all my years building and operating startups, the most important lesson I’ve learned is this…
Those that build the right product and broadly market it most effectively, win.
This might seem obvious to some. But in my experience, too many founders spend too little time building and too much time hesitating, philosophising, pontificating, and/or getting bogged down things that don’t really matter.
Particularly in Australia, founders often get distracted by chasing validation by government, media, and academia.
These people tend to lose.
I have been guilty of this many times in my career. I’ve chased the spotlight, attached undue emphasis on getting media coverage from product launches, and measured my success on the size of my personal brand and social media influence.
That’s why something like Clubhouse is so seductive.
If you’ve been living under a rock, Clubhouse is the new audio-based social network that allows people to start audio chat rooms, invite individuals up to be speakers, and host conversations. Think of it as live interactive podcasts or virtual conference panels.
It’s been getting a lot of buzz and has hosted some interesting conversations with celebrities and influencers like Elon Musk, Kevin Hart, Meek Mill, Tiffany Haddish, and many more.
It can be addictive and fun. Especially during a pandemic where face-to-face interactions and networking events are limited.
All the usual social media gamification applies. Follower counts, reach, viral adoption, suggested user lists, and the explosion of “how-to” guides and Clubhouse “experts” etc.
If you’re in a business or a role that involves building and curating audiences, then it’s probably a tool you need to master very quickly.
If, however, you’re primary function is building and scaling a startup or product – it’s probably mostly a distraction.
I’ve written extensively about the principle of startup scale.
From the presentation “Startup Scale”
In short, the goal of any venture-backed tech startup is scale. Scale requires growth. Growth requires focus and discipline.
As I discuss in the presentation linked above, there are many techniques to stay focused and achieve scale.
Some of these include…
- Set the right goals: User growth and retention are the right goals. Revenue should be second or third on the list.
- Put the right people in charge: Product should lead. Sales, marketing, ops should support
- Develop a clear mid-term product vision: Set a north star that is a) far enough away that it animates and motivates the team b) near enough that everyone knows what they’re aiming at in practical and pragmatic terms.
- Have faith: This means believing in your strategic planning and in the abundance of the market. It also means believing that you and your team are effective enough to create standardization and find the right customers to buy your repeatable product as is.
- Pay attention to the data: This involves researching the market to know there is enough pain and money in the direction you’re headed. It also involves listening closely to customers (on aggregate) and watching user behavior closely.
- Say no more often: This is perhaps the most important principle. Saying no is hard. Particularly if your business is not well-capitalized and is therefore dependent on revenue to survive. There are many techniques to being better positioned to say no. Again these are unpacked in greater detail in the presentation linked above.
One of my favorite ways of staying focused on product and growth is to ask myself and the team I’m working with a simple question:
“What is the number 1 reason that more people are not being more successful with your product more often.”.
Then I fix it.
Then ask the question again.
In this way, startups gain the only kind of validation that matters – commercial validation.
Don’t get seduced by the spotlight and the thrill of hearing yourself talk and having others applaud your cleverness. It’s instant gratification and it’s fun – but it is not the same as building and scaling a business.
In the meantime, add me on Clubhouse – I’m @chrissaad on there. (irony intended).
- Chris Saad is a product and startup builder & advisor, serial entrepreneur, co-founder of the DataPortability Project, angel investor, and the former head of product @ Uber Developer Platform. You can subscribe to his weekly views in The Startup Newsletter here.
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