Startup Mentality is a blog series intended to motivate and inspire those who run startups or aspire to run them – from C-level executives to entry-level staff. Our contributors have lived the startup life. They have persevered through successes and failures, and they are still forging ahead, building businesses and breaking down barriers.
Here at ISM, we’ve learned a thing or two as our products have evolved. We’ve had great ideas, many of which fell flat, and we’ve had other ideas that grew legs and morphed into completely different ideas. It took time, patience and quite a few quick pivots to get us to where we are today, and so, fellow startup, here are some keys to success, from our team to yours.
Put your concept in front of buyers before you have an MVP. Yes, before.
Most books about developing tech products will focus on the creation of a minimum viable product and THEN putting it in the hands of the end user for feedback. But at ISM, we believe in creating a ‘development partnership’ where we are are able to work with our potential customer to develop a product that meets their needs — before the product actually becomes a product. This mindset enables startups to waste as little time as possible as they work toward the final deliverable.
Be constantly testing your MVP “in the wild.”
Once you have your MVP, the game changes to putting that usable, demonstrable version of your product into the hands of the real customer as soon as possible. If your idea isn’t being tested by the end user during development, often you will deliver something that doesn’t meet the expectation of the customer. As a result, your expenses will be higher, and ultimately the effort may end in failure – the early product doesn’t have to be polished or perfect. We’ve learned that it’s important to fail fast, learn from failure and course correct. Remember, you are developing a product that works in practice, not just in concept — and most product ideas don’t cut it in the wild.
Find a balance between business development and product development.
In many startups, there is a lack of understanding between what the business development folks are doing and what the product development folks are doing. The goal here is to create harmony between the two, because if that doesn’t exist, disaster will strike. It will. It’s just a matter of time. If the concept that business development is peddling to the end user does not line up with the realities of development capabilities or timing, you’re going to be hitting the dev listings again real soon. How do you find this so called balance? Well, that really comes down to the next point.
Keep the internal lines of communication open… like, really open.
We learned quickly that including someone from business development in our regular product development meetings was essential to our success as a team. Not the daily stand up, but regularly scheduled, weekly communication is ideal. This helps avoid pitfalls both large and small. While those out in the field are gathering information about the end user, product development has to be kept in that loop. Conversely, business development needs to know where the dev team is, what obstacles they are dealing with. Regular communication is key — even if it’s on virtual platforms like Slack.
Have a product rep at the live demos, but brief them in advance.
This is something that really builds trust and accountability across both company and potential customer. Having a product rep at a live demo shows that this product is real, and that there are real people working on it. People who can answer the tough questions that can and will come up in a demo creates a lasting impression on customers. And of course, since everything can be virtual these days, at a minimum, have someone dial in. Record the demo. This makes for one warm and fuzzy, productive team. Oh, and do brief the entire team before a demo. This helps to avoid those moments when sales and development disagree publicly. Avoid those moments at all cost.
If it doesn’t work, course correct… quickly.
Most tech startups have a few things in common. One of those things is their development methodology. Here at ISM Connect, we use the agile methodology which runs on scrum, a process by which development projects are completed over set time periods — here it’s two weeks — and the team conducts “standups” on a daily basis to keep the ball (aka production list) moving forward. This way we are never more than 2 weeks away from the next thing. When something doesn’t go our way, we course correct, and we do it quickly. That’s the idea of scrum. It works. We like it. That is all.
Always be thinking about how to serve more customers with less.
Different customers want different things, and as a startup grows, this becomes a natural problem. How do we scale if we’re trying to be everything to everyone? At this point in the startup lifecycle, it’s time to think about designing a single platform for all customers that has customizable touchpoints. Creating customer personas is a great starting point. Then, you iterate your product to work with varying customer personas so that you are selling your resource, not constantly churning and creating one offs. If you can figure this out, then you’re well on your way to winning in the game of startups.
Well, there you have it. These are our keys to developing a successful tech product — one that your customers want and need. Hope you enjoyed. And remember, Collaborate. Plan. Sprint. Deliver. Repeat. #delivertheawesome
Rob Seaner is VP of engineering and Davis Eckard is director of production for ISM Connect.