"Small leaks sink big ships." - Benjamin Franklin
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We are entrepreneurs. Part of being an entrepreneur is receiving a lot of advice . . . some good, some bad, some irrelevant. Sorting through this information is a challenge in and of itself.
Much of the advice an entrepreneur can receive comes from books, and as an entrepreneur I have read a lot on the subject of starting a company.
Each author has his or her own experiences and there are some great books out there, however there seems to be a trend towards “lean starting” a company. This trend is taking over the world of technology based partly on the Eric Ries book in 2011 called "The Lean Startup." Speakers travel the country educating people on how it works. Conferences take place specifically geared towards the "lean startup" methodologies. This is a big deal in the technology world and for good reason, the principles not only have merit but a myriad of success stories that used these principles.
One thing to note. The title of this article does not mean "The Lean Startup" is the opposite of doing it "Right."
It could be argued Facebook used these principles to achieve their tremendous success. Also companies like GoToMeeting, Quora, DropBox and AirBNB. Even GE and Intuit have started implementing their principles. You won't find me ever saying "Lean Startup" is not worth looking into. It may work for you. Here is a link so you can take a look.
Lean startup methodologies will tell you not to work on a business plan, but to work on a business model.
You see, all companies are not the same. A common premise to several of these books is the following:
1) create an "MVP" (minimum viable product)
2) hurry up and launch your product, start collecting revenues.
4) update your product often and listen to your clients to build your business model and let your clients grow with you. This is called "Validating Learning" in the colloquialisms of the "Lean Startup" world.
5) track and measure everything.
If you have not read these books, I may have just saved you a few dollars and some of your valuable spare time. ;-)
This "hurry up and launch" philosophy can be a fantastic piece of advice or the advice that single handedly destroys your dream.
The difference between success and failure is one little thing that no author can assess or give to you: “common sense” regarding your product. Each product is different. Therefore the rules do not apply equally to each product. You must have the common sense to know your product well enough to be the final arbiter of when it is ready to launch.
Let’s break it down.
• Hurry up and launch.
• Start collecting revenues. Texting Campaigns For Business
• Update your product often based on data.
• Listen to your clients to build your business model.
All that sounds GREAT. Who doesn’t like to launch, collect revenues and update products?
As far as listening to your clients this again requires common sense. Sometimes your clients are right, and sometimes they are solving their own issues. You need to know your market well enough to delineate between the two and learn how to push back with tact.
How does common sense apply to whether to launch early and grow or not?
Much of this decision will be based on the complexity of the software and the usage of the product itself. The more complicated the software you are creating, the more focus that will need to go on the architecture.
• Simple applications, which are easy to maintain: The more complicated the application, the easier it usually is to break.
• Limited back-end infrastructure constraints: You aren’t expecting high traffic user usage, extensive database calls, or server scalability/bandwidth issues.
• The market is straightforward and established (not in the process of being “understood”): Some products miss the mark in what they launch and what the market wants. In cases where it is not so simple, it may make sense to get your product out to the market and get some good feedback before investing many more months developing something that may not be needed.
• Customer training is not a major issue: If your customers will not turn into a resource burden as you grow, this is a big advantage to launching sooner rather than later.
If your application fits these criteria, than an approach as suggested in the “Lean Startup” makes a lot of sense. If this were a boat, this would be a canoe or dinghy.
Look at building software like building a boat or a ship. Certain pieces of software are simple to operate and maintain and meant for a few people in relatively calm waters: a canoe or dinghy.
The beauty of these types of software projects is that they are less expensive, take less time to build and if they break they are easy to fix.
Likewise, if they sink the shore is usually easy to reach and you don’t drown!
Other software products may be built like speedboats, which cost a lot of money and break all the time. These companies may be losing money and either wreck, blow up or sink at some point after a small fortune was spent on them. The “Technology Boom” has a lot of these . . . they look sexy but don’t make money. Some still get purchased for a lot of money but that's a different story.
Then there are the pieces of software built to make a profit. These will typically solve customer issues. You expect high traffic. You expect reliability. You want your customers to be comfortable for long periods of time with lots of interactive entertainment. These products are built to MAKE money. This could be a charter fishing boat, a dinner cruise or a full-blown cruise ship.
These are complicated software development projects that require a lot of planning and testing.
To make this very simple without overdoing the whole “boat thing” think of it in these terms: if you are planning on taking your ship out to sea, you can’t quick start it as a dinghy and hope to patch it up and turn it into a cruise ship. Your ship will sink and you will go down with it.
If you are developing a more robust product with real software and you don’t have your backend in place to manage customers and track analytics then one of the following three outcomes is likely in your future:
1) You grow like crazy and then die because you can’t support the growth.
2) You never grow and die a slow death because no one wants to use a half-baked site.
3) You grow and spend much more time and money fixing your issues than you would have spent getting it right before launching.
Number 3 is your best case, and not only have you spent sleepless nights and time and WAY more money fixing “as you go”, you have also LOST a lot of revenues from customers who did not get the best product or service. Word of mouth is always a key to growth. How much revenue have you lost? You won’t know because if you went to market with a product not ready for primetime.
More money is wasted in IT than can ever be quantified by not doing things right the first time, testing and launching a solid product. When customers start using the product and things start falling apart panic sets in and spending hours fixing things becomes a way of life. Deep into the nights you and your coders will go fixing bugs, documenting code and hoping all your customers don’t leave and bad mouth your company.
From my own experience and reading books that make the contrary point, I have come to the following conclusion: every business is different…there is no “one size fits all.”
For any business that has substantial goals and aspirations, it is my experience that building a quality product before launching will save you a lot of headaches, sleepless nights and a LOT of money. Losing customer opportunities early in your company’s life can be tough to bounce back from.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Spend the time, energy and effort up front to make sure you are launching a quality product. If you do it right, you will be much better positioned and more profitable if your idea takes off. Shortcuts lead to long nights.
As a final benefit, your customers will have time to give you loads of suggestions that go beyond “your site doesn’t work!”
The Lean Startup has tremendous merit for many businesses, but not all projects or people are built the same. Research the methodologies and see if it fits your vision and personality. If not, there is no shame in building an infrastructure that goes well beyond the "MVP" of the Lean Startup. If you are confident in your vision, have the resources and the time it just might save you a lot of headaches to do it right from the beginning.
Only you know which is best for your company. "Lean Startup" or "Do it right"? I believe "Lean" is great if your idea is less complicated. Had we tried that methodology with Texting Base, I don't think we would have made it this far. Research all methodologies and decide for yourself if "Lean" is right for you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eric Beans is CEO of Texting Base, Inc., out of Orlando, Florida. Texting Base is a cloud-based software that adds efficiency and power to business texting communications. Combining the efficiency of a “mass text” and the effectiveness of a personal text message, Texting Base uses patent pending software to allow businesses to build relationships with their customers like never before. Prior to Texting Base, Eric Beans owned Premier Mortgage Capital, Inc., a nationwide state charted mortgage company and helped to start TechSpan, a global IT consulting company.