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Frodo's Ghost | If You’re Never Going to Ship, You’re Always Going to Fail
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If You’re Never Going to Ship, You’re Always Going to Fail

Being in a startup is the pits. It is like being emotionally tied to a roller coaster. Rising and falling, with the highs and lows of running a business. Twisting and turning with the passages of life. Weaving through the fires of hell, and then, finally plummeting into the abyss of eternal death.

At least that is my experience. I have not worked on a successful startup. Hopefully the next one will fly – fingers crossed.

I have been working alongside a few small businesses, who are stepping out of their regular marketplace and into something new, building a startup on the side. Breaking the habit of working for clients, who understand what needs they have, is difficult to break. Unlike client work, spending large amounts of money to develop the first iteration is not the best path forward.

(Un)Fortunately, creating a startup should be cheeper to start.

The first version is what you think Users want. Every iteration, once you enter the marketplace, is a change to better support your users.

Start with an Idea

A small spark can set a forest on fire, and a small idea can set a business on fire – in one way or another. Either it brings the business to life, funnelling talent and ideas into building a brand new product; or it burns money, until life is sucked from the company and other choices are made.

It sounds like a perfect storm: An Idea, Skilled Staff, and a Slow Period to begin work. But how do you leverage your resources to make it a success?

Unlike client work, beginning a start-up requires less initial investment, more emotional investment, and a lot of faith in the end goal. Many client projects are funded before they start, have a set of defined features, and are built with the end-goal in mind. A different mindset is needed with a start up, and remembering that will help you get to launch the idea.

Start with an idea. Then make it smaller, keeping in mind the larger goals. Develop a product that is Minimally Viable – the smallest amount of work required to get into the marketplace. No more – this is not a client project.

Keep it Simple

Simple is better. Don’t solve too many problems before you have users to help solve your issues, because you may be solving the wrong problem.

Ship before it is Ready

The brilliant light shines, yet you stand in shadow. You stand behind a lectern, with an audience like the sea before you. Hushed quite is all around. As you utter the name of Your Start-Up a pale light shines against your face. Everyone is listening.

So begins Product Launch. A story, a destination, as you release your completed product to market. Maybe, in a perfect world, you would have enough money to prepare a launch with a stage, but in reality if you get enough time to celebrate with a drink, before getting back to fix issues, you have done too much.

Product Launch is not to the fanfare and desired end point that we all set for ourselves. Product Launch involves less razzle, and more work. Launch is a target, a set point that you don’t fall back from, that should launch you into more work.

Think small and bite sized. Marketing will grow once you have a product and something in the world. It will change around the usage of your clients. It will become more targeted, because you are in the market and able to adapt. You are small and agile, without the time and big budgets to drum up fanfare.

This is a good thing. All courageous stories start under a veil of darkness.

Iterate and Save Your Life

Once your product is launched and the Few Users you have begin to use what you have made, you are in a good place. Any customers gained prove your idea, and build a base from which you can build. But they give you something you have never had before – data.

Data is the “unknown unknown” while you are building your start-up. Data is proof. Data is knowledge. Data is your building blocks.

Once you enter the market, you will do anything to keep that market. Update your clients about changes, keep open with your ideas and directions. Move forward. Service your clientele as if they are the most important people on the planet – because they are your foundation.

The worse position for a startup is not to fail, or to succeed. It worst place is right in the middle. With not enough money to stay afloat, yet too many clients to close down.

But that is a battle for the future. For now, when you launch you iterate. Change the code. Change the way the money comes in. Change how you hire and fire. Change how you work.

Always be moving, because a moving target is more agile. It is easier to steer a moving ship (and other great metaphors). Do and Change. As the launch fades, and you learn the lessons of the hard road, you will adapt to the way it should be. Stability comes with time.

Learning Time

Every startup I have tried in the past has been lots of work before launch. Every Startup I have tried has failed – maybe this is a common theme. The new one may need some work, but thinking about past projects has inspired me to work on a landing page for Refindery.

(title image taken by Miguel Cardona Jr.)

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