Startup Tip #2: Talk to people early, talk to people often
While, and more importantly before, you “release early, release often“, talk to your customers, advisors, and partners early and often. This is a great way to prevent yourself from building the wrong thing. Coding is hard, talking with people is easy. [Though, many engineers might argue the opposite. :-) ]
Customers: Pitch customers your ideas and get their feedback.
- Will they pay for the new product?
- Which features could they live without?
- Try to have a basic demo/walk-through so that everyone can see what you are thinking. White boarding works too.
- Be sure to talk to a decent number of potential clients; Early on, you don’t want to waste time building features that only one client will use (of course, eventually, you may want to do so for your biggest clients).
Advisors: You need a solid set of experts to bounce ideas off of. People who have been where you want to go. You would be surprised just how friendly and helpful people can be, especially when you give them a piece of equity. [I’d like to take a moment to thank David Brussin, Brian O’kelley, and Mike Nolet; These guys are fantastic advisors on the product / management side].
Strategic Partners: Be sure to get your partners on board with what you are doing. You don’t want to develop something only to find that you can’t get access to a critical relationship.
Vendors: If you can pay someone (a reasonable price) to supply a component of your system, don’t build it! Oh boy are you going to save time.
- Try to lease/pay monthly and avoid long term contracts off the bat; You may want to drop the vendor in a few months.
- Be very cautious though if you plan to rely on an early stage startup for something… they could shift their product focus and leave you stranded.
At Invite Media, we lost a year of work because we didn’t talk enough. We iterated in a bubble and essentially developed a product without talking to a significant sample of potential customers and critical partners. We finally did figure it out though and shifted the product to something customers wanted. Josh Kopelman compared our journey to a heat seeking missile. I must admin that initially, we even made the mistake of developing with a single client in mind. We lost time working on features that only a single client ever used.