Anything you ever do publicly will lead people to give feedback, whether solicited or unsolicited. Feedback is great. It makes you better and stronger. But feedback can also slow you down and make you second guess everything you are doing.
I think there is a good balance of digesting feedback from a variety of people and trying to filter by the source of feedback. For example, there is a big difference between getting feedback from a paying customer and a friend or investor that thinks you should add X, Y, and Z.
There is a quote, I’m not sure from where, that goes something like ‘every startup founder should listen to everyone and no one at the same time.’ To me this means you should stick to your convictions about where to go with your business but listen to everyone and cherry-pick things you think will help it improve.
I’ve also spoken to a few people and here are the two things that stuck with me:
1) Don’t leave money on the table
Apparently the goal is to find a price that a customer “complains” about but still ends up purchasing. This means that you didn’t leave money on the table by underpricing your product (while I hear this, I don’t 100% agree and would rather give a customer 110% and delight them than price it at the point where they are upset but still purchase- but that’s me).
2) Pricing makes something valuable (as opposed to giving it away for free)
If you don’t charge for a product, there is a perception that your product is worthless. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. People find value in something that costs something.
Bottom line: Read the articles, talk to customers and figure out what the best price for your product or service is.
There is a lot of noise out there right now. So many startups raising money, going through the hype cycle of the tech blogs, it can really mess with your head. Seeing things announced on prominent tech blogs, day in and day out can make you feel shitty and ask yourself “why not us?” It was a lot easier when startups were not as sexy and companies could focus, mess up, fix things, and get them right without the bright-light in their eyes.
After all is said and done, the ONLY thing that matters is building a product that people actually use and care about. Sure you need money to operate and scale a business. And sure you need to promote your product so more people will discover it. But if you do all these things and forget about the most important thing (i.e. the only thing that matters) you will not last.
This is why it concerns me when companies, who depend on user adoption, raise money before they have a product in the marketplace. It’s frightening to think that people would even fund something like that. If you consider that a good product is the only thing that matters, you’d think people would want to see a product that people care about and use before pumping money into it.
This also make me think about the real startup work. This isn’t the sexy aspects that you read about on TechCrunch. This is the stuff that is happening behind the scenes. The blood, sweat, and tears. The determination. On occasion you will read a blog post about what it is really like, but this is not a side frequently seen in public. Product spec’ing, long days and nights of writing code, bug testing, pipeline building, market research, copywriting, product iterating, and more. Nailing this is what makes a company successful. Not the stuff that makes noise.
So when you see some big splashy announcement- read it, internalize it, then remember - “don’t believe the hype” - it will mess with your head.
Every once in a while I hear about a company making sure their executives aren’t active on their competitors sites (think Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google). I think this is a terrible mistake.
If anything, you should be the most active user of your competitors’ products. You should understand what works, what doesn’t, and how you can continue to make your product better than theirs.
You can’t truly comprehend your competitor unless you are a user of their product. This doesn’t mean you need to publicly blast out promotion for your competitor’s product, but make sure you use it like a typical user would. One additional user is not going to make a difference for your competitor, but it will make a difference for your business.
After all the money raised, praise from press, congratulations from friends- building and scaling a company is always about the product.
I’ve been noticing a trend with many companies looking to leverage celebrities, athletes, or popular figures in hopes that they will help drive traffic, users, usage. While there are times when this works- it is typically a quick fix rather than a long-term solution. If you are going to build your business on getting the occasional celebrity tweet out to move your business forward your product probably sucks.
This is not to say a good celebrity endorsement can’t help elevate your company- they definitely can. It’s just that after that endorsement if you don’t have something that people love, it won’t be long before your active users begin to dwindle.
Instead of hoping that others (celebrities, etc.) can solve your problems- focus on your product. Why do people love it? What do people hate about it? What are the most requested features? Build that. Talking to users/customers will ensure your proper focus. Because really it always is and always will be about the product.
If you’ve worked at a startup then you know the ups and downs that you can experience. Startups are not for the faint of heart. In one month you can experience everything from panic, elation, gratitude, fear, anger, indifference, joy, grief, frustration, relief, pride, jealousy, generosity, and much more.
One day you have raised money from the biggest names in the technology space, the next day you announce on TechCrunch- riding high on all the buzz about your company. Then a week later the press is gone, the product doesn’t work exactly as you had hoped, and your active user-base is dwindling by the day. It takes a special kind of person to dig deep, hunker down, and keep focus on building the best product possible. Vin Vacanti just wrote a great post about The Depressing Day After You Get TechCrunch’d.
Bottom line: While startups have been glorified recently with everything from TV shows on Bravo to crazy parties — they are a lot more difficult than they may seem. Before you start or join a startup you need to remember that you will have ups and downs- but it is all worth it when you build a great product and positively affect people’s lives.
At the time, I was working at Aviary and focused on third-party integrations for the web and mobile editor. David told me that while it is great to close a deal (and we should celebrate our wins), there is a silent killer for product partnerships. And that is poor placement.
Poor placement in this case was in regards to where the photo editor should be placed when a third-party integrates. His logic was that if you close a product partnership deal and fail to get the proper placement it is deemed to fail. He even posited that if you can’t get proper placement, you should walk away from the deal. His reasoning was that if you end up doing the deal with poor placement your numbers will be bad and it will be a poor signaling for other partners, investors, etc.
Placement can come into play from anything like a photo editor, a payment button when checking out, a widget on a third-party website, and more. Next time you are doing a product partnership, be sure to keep placement in mind.
Every once in awhile you need to refresh your pitch.
This usually happens when you have some new products coming up on the horizon. In your pitch and with any materials you use (pitch deck, take away deck, etc.) you need to reflect both the existing and the arriving company offerings.
When dealing with upcoming products and offerings I recommend explaining what your thought process behind building it was and ask the prospective partner if this is something they would want for themselves.
For materials you always need to be updating and refreshing upcoming products. With every meeting you will receive more and more feedback. That feedback will continue to drive changes in the offering which will in turn continue to drive change in the pitch.