Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Niraj Ranjan Rout who is the founder of Hiver.
According to the Wall Street Journal, 3 out of 4 startups fail. I wonder where we go wrong! Is it the conventions that we are conditioned to follow? Is it Big Data which has made us myopic?
I started Hiver in mid-2011 to build a collaboration tool that would let people stay in their inboxes and yet get work done efficiently.
Having run the company for more than 4 years now, I have learned that not everything that they taught us in college can be put to work. There are lessons that were always meant to be learnt the hard way.
Over the course of running Hiver, I have put together a small list of unconventional tips for startup founders.
1. The 3 month rule
I was told that all founders are impatient, or else they would work for big organizations instead. Let me tell you that this is not entirely true. Yes, every founder wants to change the status quo, but, being impatient can take things south faster than you can imagine.
Impatience is bad. Expecting fast results – well, that does not really work in the real world. We’ve all heard those stories of startups with stellar growth; well, it does not happen as often as you’d like.
Every new major thing you start working on – be it a new sales strategy, a new marketing strategy, or major changes in product positioning or functionality – it takes a fair bit of time to start showing effect.
When you’re doing something major, keep at it for 3 months without expecting significant results.
Our story: I did not expect a customer acquisition for the first 3 months. Quite surprisingly, it helped me focus better on the product.
2. Start marketing before you have a product market fit
Market fit is the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand. I was told that this is the first step to building a successful venture in which the company meets early adopters, gathers feedback, and develops the product accordingly.
We went the other way; we started by building the product first, based completely on our instincts. That done, we began marketing instantly.
We had our first set of users – this is when we started gathering feedback, and kept improving the product with every feedback that made sense to us.
The users helped us get to product market fit quickly. It also prepared us for ramping up marketing later.
3. Employees over customers
Agree that every process needs to be planned on keeping the customer in mind, and, there’s an efficient way to achieve this – put employees over customers. Every single time!
Why? Customers can be unreasonable at times, and cause undue stress. Just because a customer is paying money does not mean they are good for your business. There will always be customers who will try to micromanage, or be abusive, or take too much company time, or even threaten.
Where should the focus lie? Employees.
Employees are the backbone of a company. Treating your employees right will not just boost their wellbeing and happiness, it’ll gradually trickle down to your customers.
Happy employees will:
- Not fake smiles.
- Become your brand’s cheerleaders.
- Be more productive.
- Bring new ideas on the table.
- Build customers’ trust in the business.
Our story: I knew that shared Gmail Contacts is a great feature, but, customers will take time to adopt it. Despite initial users telling us that it does not add value, I kept the product team motivated; I never let the feedback reach them.
The feature is a hit now. Why? My happy product team kept on putting in their best efforts.
4. Users don’t tell you what they need
Users will always tell you what they want, but not what they need. It is never a good idea to ask users what they want.
What’s better to talk about with users?
- Problems that they’re facing.
- Stories about how they use other products.
- Their buying decision process.
- When do they use a specific product?
- Their lives.
They might not be great at telling you what product will they definitely use, but, they’re great at talking about themselves – which is a great thing to know if you’re making a product for them.
You can’t base all your product roadmap on what users tell you. Always base your long term product roadmap on your understanding and instinct about the market, the problem, and what you think can be best way to solve the problem.
Our story: We did not ask users if they’d like shared labels in Gmail. We asked them if collaboration, or task assignment from email was time-consuming, most said yes – we had the answer right there.
5. Don’t drown in Data
Data is good. Too much data is bad. Trying to out-think your rivals by looking at data is almost like shooting in the dark.
No matter how much data you look at, there’ll always be some you’ll miss. There’s a huge value in making decisions driven by your instinct, instead of getting stuck in analysis paralysis.
Especially in SaaS, because it’s possible to iterate and fix almost every aspect of your business if you are quick.
IBM says that it’s not just about data, it’s discovering the stories in it. A couple of pointers to keep in mind.
- Think strategically, act tactically – think long term, but take incremental steps which might not be purely based on data. For example, walking through the last few interactions with the customer is a better way to predict their behavior, better than any data about them.
- Find the story in data – a common mistake is looking at data with preconceived notions of the result, and manipulating the data to support that. It’s better to rely on instincts; analyze the data, and act with intuition.
What about you – what lessons have you learned which weren’t taught in college?
Author – Niraj Ranjan Rout
Niraj is the founder of Hiver (formerly GrexIt), an app the lets you share Gmail labels with other Gmail users. Niraj works on programming, customer support and sales, and also contributes to design and UI. He’s a fusion music aficionado, loves to play the guitar when he can.