I wrote this in response to a comment on my last post when I found that I had more to say. Usman, thanks for your comment that led to this post.
In terms of “making different mistakes,” here’s some things I’ve learned both from other startups and from my own experience.
- Write down your goals, what you expect to happen and review it periodically. You can change this anytime, but write it down. People come away from meetings remembering different things. Writing your goals and expectations down also helps you learn.
- Don’t expect that you’ll be able to accurately predict what customers really want. Therefore, don’t spend lots of time building a perfect product for an unproven user group. Instead, show what you’re working on to people along the way. Get users to test an alpha version for you, observe, poll them and take what you’ve learned to build a fuller version. That will save you a lot of time and heartbreak.
- You can’t possibly read everything that’s out there on startups, business, and tech, so limit how much time you spend reading, but read the greats. Make time for books that have stood the test of time, for example Peter Drucker’s books on management. For startup product and customer development read Eric Ries and Steve Blank, who while new are already proven. For marketing techniques and insight, read Tim Ferriss and Seth Godin.
- I’ve been participating in the startup scene actively since about 2009. The startup business cycle is pretty short (we’re the fruit flies of the business world) so I’ve already seen quite a few startups shut down in that short time. I remember going to hear pitches in 2009 and in a few cases thinking: wow these guys have it together. They presented well, they identified a problem, came up with a cool solution, got buzz and early users… in other words, they did all the stuff they were supposed to do, and better than me. Then, six months or a year passes and I’m reminded of them. I decide to go to their site to see where they are now. What do I find? “Domain for sale,” “service no longer operational,” etc. Lesson: it can be really hard to tell who will succeed from a single pitch. As Paul Graham says, startups fail because their founders stop working on them.