Building from Zero
“The way to get started is to quit talking/planning and actually begin doing.”
Hey everyone👋, welcome to the 40th newsletter post.
Imagine if you had a map of how to build a startup from zero, how to get customers, raise funding and make it something with people you’ve never worked before.
Wouldn’t it be much easier than sleepless nights, unexpected failures, learning dozens of new skills, making countless decisions and fear of running out of money? As a founder, you’ll always face new challenges every time you try to build something because people, ideas, time and situations will all keep changing.
“The way to get started is to quit talking & planning and actually begin doing.”
It’s easy to get caught up in a false sense of planning and preparation which gradually becomes procrastination. We obsess over perfect plans rather than taking action. It’s good to have some planning to keep everything on track and know what to do next but it should be a faster process → build-measure-learn loop.
And to be in the loop requires to keep it minimum and actionable. The faster you’re able to execute, learn and revise, the better to keep the momentum going. Over the years I’ve built my own system and principles that help me take action and execute faster.
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Define the problem
I read it somewhere, you need to have a clear written vision. Visions without defining a problem are dangerous. They are often solutions to made-up problems or, even worse, alternative realities to things that are working just fine.
Having an idea is great but take a step back to see if this is the problem you should solve. Start by:
Testing - build a prototype quickly and validate the idea. You have to be more cautious when you have competitors around. Just because you see some loopholes, doesn’t count for a new product. If your competitors haven’t added some features you see as lacking, it can be because they’ve done their research & know what the customers want.
Talk to potential customers to define the product and figure out who are you building for. When you talk to your customers you’ll be able to figure out how they view the problem and what is the one good-enough feature that can bring traction.
One thing I’ve learned while interviewing customers, even while advising founders, the worst thing is to talk about the solution. At first, they will get excited and even think about being paying customers and you’ll be happy to get direct validation but it will look like a sales pitch. Rather, you should talk about the problem, go unscripted and keep the conversation going, and let the potential customer talk about the problem.
Many times I’ve concluded the way I was solving the problem doesn’t fit with the customer. Once I was advising a founder who was building a community product where members rather than having a conversation through text, engage with voice notes. The aim was to help them build network and confidence.
The biggest issue here was, they thought this is the way a problem should be solved. But when we conducted interviews with open-ended questions we found the hours spent on developing this has to be marked off.
Build a “good enough” product
“As you consider building your own minimum viable product, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.”
What does “good enough” product even mean? You build a scrappy version of your product that is “good enough” to get traction early, it can be scaled on a faster level. See how Figma did it:
“In the early days of Figma, we talked with practically every designer we knew. In search of more feedback, we turned to Twitter which I realized we could use to determine the most influential designers. After getting the data, I further filtered the list to people that were personally inspirational to me. Then I cold emailed / found introductions to many of these people and showed them Figma.”
— Dylan Field, CEO
By doing things that don’t scale doesn’t mean you do absolutely anything. In fact, you build a good enough product and offer a great experience repetitively and you nailing that one core feature.
Starting from zero is an exercise where the founder tries to take different pieces to make a sellable product.
Doing things that don’t scale - Sustainable growth
Your goal shouldn’t be to do anything that scale, it should be to build a great experience.
You can level the scaling of your product in 3 ways:
Do things that don’t scale - reaching out, cold emailing, etc.
Ads and paid marketing
This makes me think of BeReal and how the founders first introduced the app to the world through LinkedIn. But the response was bruh. A few weeks later they posted a video explaining the concept, which got some users (like 50).
They continue to post the app on different directories, but they only posted on French websites (the founders are French). They did everything they can to spread the word.
Not just the hard work was in their favour + the ever-changing consumer behaviour after the pandemic gave them a great opening. In fact, their timing was perfect. They released it in the mid-pandemic and around the time when people & prominent groups were going anti-Instagram. Big publications started to call it the next big thing.
Your initial scaling isn’t where you compromise with the quality of content or goal towards maximising the number of users. In fact, many startups started with a simple beginning: Instagram with photos, Facebook with college students, TikTok with lipsyncing music videos.
Let me know if you’re building a product/startup & tell me how you’re doing it, any challenges or lessons you’ve learnt?
👋 PS: I’m Ritika founder, product marketer and advisor for early-stage startups, find more here or connect with her here. If you’re a first-time founder looking for curated resources, download here. If you enjoyed this post, read the past issues here. You can also promote your product in this newsletter.
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