As a startup founder, you usually have a lot of decisions to make. What features, which bugs, what technologies, which partners to do next? You have market fit research to do.
Competition analysis and regulations positioning to work out. And speaking of ideas: Plenty of ideas will be coming in every day. All very tempting, like shiny new toys designed to steal your focus.
That’s the reason the lean startup movement praises building the Minimum-Viable-Product (MVP). The ‘minimum’ suggests that you don’t need to invest a ton of resources to test an idea.
Of course, as an entrepreneur you are ready and willing to face these challenges, but I can tell you from experience that there will be many sleepless nights wondering if the decisions you have made were the right ones.
The main thing you want to focus on in the beginning is killing the “ands”. By that I mean you need to focus strategically on a single decision and go all out. It’s better to have a solid decision that you can build on than to have two half decisions that have you spinning your wheels.
The V in MVP turns into the ONLY thing that matters
Viability is the only compass to decide which path to take. It’s the axe to cut priority list. By the very nature of a startup, you have very limited resources to work with. Because of this, startup mentality sometimes veers towards ‘throw it at the wall and see if it sticks’ or ‘go hard and break things’.
That sounds good in theory and you will probably break things, but it’s hardly the way to start a sustainable business. Decisions need to be carefully considered because if you start off in the wrong direction it isn’t easy to switch course.
If you’ve invested enough time in decision-making early on and you know which direction will make you successful, you can still make small incremental changes later without breaking the bank or your back.
This is known in the startup world as a pivot. A pivot in basketball is defined as “a movement in which the player holding the ball may move in any direction with one foot, while keeping the other in contact with the floor.” The key point being that you need to keep one foot on the ground. You may be able to turn to face another direction, but that pivot foot needs to stay firmly grounded.
The pivot foot in regards to startups are your early decisions. You can change your mind regarding the direction your business should take, but you will still be responsible and tied to those early decisions.
I’ll give you an example. When we were building Zenkit, we had initially decided that it was going to be an app builder. Basically you could build the tools you needed, without needing to be able to code.
I really thought it was the right decision and I spent a lot of time testing and researching the market. Then one day I realized it wasn’t something I was using every day. And if I wasn’t using it every day, why would anyone else?
So we pivoted…
We had been using Trello to plan and manage the project in those early days, because it’s simple, effective and free. Like I said, you have to watch your resources and money is a big one in the early days.
However, when I started adding more members to my team, and our projects got more and more complex, the Kanban board system wasn’t working any longer.
The flat structure is great, but the boards became unbalanced, and overly complex. To do, Doing, Done, Martin, Features, was how our lists looked. Martin was added to tasks that needed my approval or consideration.
It was a mess. I quickly realized we were already sitting on a solution, though. The app builder had all of the deep backend technology needed to build a simple, database-driven project management app.
The aim now was to make it as simple and lovable as tools like Trello, but as robust and capable as a traditional database or project management app.
We implemented the 2 D kanban
The decisions I’d made about the app builder were the foundation that helped me not only pivot successfully, but to carry those early decisions with me and make them work.
The problem I was focused on was one that I had myself, so not only is it easy to stay focused on the solution, but I already knew that I wasn’t the only one with this problem. There was a market of people using similar products, but none that addressed my specific problem.
So as a developer, if you can’t find a solution to your problem, you should build one. And that’s what we’ve done.