Early Stage Company Development · Early Stage Funding

How scrappy should early stage founders be?

Brian Bensch Founder & CEO at Snow Schoolers

May 7th, 2016

I'm a big believer in the lean startup process, but there's always lots of different perspectives on what lean means in practice. A couple questions for my fellow early stage founders (or those who have been and are now funded/established founders).

1) Who are the first people you seek feedback from on an idea? Friends/family vs. strangers? Where do you find them?

2) How do you make ends meet while bootstrapping? Have you taken part-time jobs like driving for Uber?

3) (and this is relevant for anyone -- founders or advisors or engineers) Would you consider driving a stranger to the airport in exchange for getting 15-20 minutes of their genuine feedback? 

That's the idea behind www.farefeedback.com, a crazy concept around ridesharing + feedback that I came up with yesterday. I hope this post does not come off as overly promotional, but feel free to check out the landing page I just threw together, and am very interested to hear people's thoughts on the three questions above. 

Sam McAfee Building Popup Incubators for Corporate Innovation Programs

May 7th, 2016

@Shardul nails it, as do @Irwin and @Dimitry. Customers, customers, customers.

And I love the "I like Lean Startup, but..." comments you see so frequently. The only reservations people really have about the method is how raw and unpolished an initial product can safely be. And I think that hair-splitting argument totally misses the point.

If you read "4 Steps to the Epiphany", or listen to anything Steve Blank or Eric Ries have said over the last 5 or 6 years that this methodology has been developed, the main point is always this: test your idea on real customers, and validate that you actually have something worth paying for before you invest time, money, and other resources into building a real product. Everything else people agonize over with Lean Startup is just background noise next to this fundamental approach. Keep that in mind, and the rest are just tactics you can look up on a million blogs (like mine).

Good luck!

Shardul Mehta

May 7th, 2016

1. The first and only people to seek feedback from on an idea are your target customers.

2. Part-time or full-time job. And/or you can "pre-sell" your idea to early customers. You want to do this anyway, because no sense in building something no one will pay you for.

3. Only if that stranger was in my target customer profile, and even then I'd prefer not to do it in a car, because I don't have an opportunity to take notes.

Ellen Patnaude Changing lightbulbs since 1995

May 10th, 2016

I can appreciate your dilemma/challenges, and I, like others here, am impressed with your moxie for seeking feedback so early in the game! Kudos for being brave and courageous. I think those qualities will carry you far as an entrepreneur.

I have owned my own business for many years now, but am in the process of exploring what an expansion of that business in a different direction would entail. My own process for gathering feedback certainly started with friends and family, mostly because for many of us, just the process of saying the idea out loud helps us figure out whether or not it's totally crazy! Now that I've gotten so much positive feedback, I've moved on to fellow business owners/entrepreneurs and others that I've met through the networking I do. That group of people has not only encouraged me (and who doesn't like that?!?), but they've asked hard questions that I've not always been immediately able to answer. They've gotten me to consider the proposal from different angles. And ultimately, they've helped me sharpen the proposal, as well as forced me to think through more extensively, how the hell I'm going to be able to make this happen.

Now I'm ready to move on to potential customers. I've identified three main categories of potential clients, created a profile for each one, and have started to develop a list of names. I'm gathering my courage as I type this to start approaching a few of them.

Keep going - don't let anything anyone here said demotivate you. Take it in the spirit in which I'm sure it's intended - to help you think through even more how you're going about the process of building a business. You can do this!!!

Dimitry Rotstein Founder at Miranor

May 7th, 2016

you also get to see their anonymized profile and can determine how relevant
their background is to your needs 

Lean Startup also means starting from a very narrow target segment and surgically tailor your product to that segment. The chances that a random Uber passenger belongs to my chosen segment are too slim (unless my target group ARE Uber users), plus it's not likely that some generic profile will allow me to determine whether that person is in my target audience in the general case.

would you use such an app as a passenger?

Probably not. I get motion sickness if I use a phone or even try to read something during a ride. That may be true for a lot of people, by the way.

 We all use Uber/Lyft/etc. today

I've never used any of those. I use public transportation, if I have to, though I prefer to walk as much as possible. Admittedly, I might be an atypical case.

verbal feedback while someone's clicking through an app or site can still be super helpful.

It can also be very distracting and dangerous. This isn't a casual conversation about the weather.

Armen Solakhyan Creator of SipLink App

May 9th, 2016

Agree with lots of points here. Turning a feedback giver into an early adopter is one of the greatest pains for today's entrepreneur. 
The pain is valid and your idea is valid as well, especially if your startup is consumer facing. 
There are couple of startups launching in the same space:
http://www.leanmethods.co and http://handrailux.com. Probably there are more out there.

Irwin Stein Very experienced (40 years) corporate,securities and real estate attorney.

May 7th, 2016

You have been a developer for 9 weeks and you want feedback? I admire your moxie. Feedback is important but you don't necessarily want it from your barber unless your barber is a potential customer for what you are developing.  You are offering a ride to the airport and one hour of your time to get feedback. What is an hour of your time worth?  Is the feedback worth at least that much?  Could your time be better spent writing up a business plan to get real funding? Whatever you do, don't tell people "here is a landing page that I threw together".  If you can't present yourself to the world s a serious professional you are going to have a very difficult time being taken seriously.

Dimitry Rotstein Founder at Miranor

May 7th, 2016

1) Who are the first people you seek feedback from on an idea?

Basically, anyone who'd listen, but the most informative and important feedback always comes from potential clients, particularly potential early adopters.

> Where do you find them?

Now that is the million (or rather billion) dollar question. The answers vary greatly depending on the product and the target market/segment. You have to know your market in order to succeed, and this question is the most important one that tells you whether you know the market or not.

2) How do you make ends meet while bootstrapping? Have you taken part-time jobs like driving for Uber?

There are several ways to make it work. Here's one method I'm using right now:
I got a part-time job cleaning apartment buildings, 2 full days per week, mostly for the physical exercise and a way not to burn out programming. The fact that it makes me enough money to pay rent is a nice bonus. I prefer to think of it as a gym that PAYS ME rather than the other way around.

> 3) (and this is relevant for anyone -- founders or advisors or engineers) Would you consider driving a stranger to the airport in exchange for getting 15-20 minutes of their genuine feedback?

In my case, it's probably irrelevant, since I don't have a car, and prefer to drive as little as possible due to poor eyesight. But in theory, sounds intriguing, assuming there is at least a considerable chance that such a person would be a prospective client (within the targeted market segment). Otherwise, it's probably not worth my time. Also, the feedback process has to be simple and mobile-friendly, in particular one that doesn't create much distraction (that would be unsafe), and doesn't require heavy use of the Internet or devices that cannot be used in a car (e.g. training equipment). The thing is that I'm mostly interested in practical feedback to using my apps/websites, and the feedback should be more than verbal, i.e. I want to watch the user actually using my software - that would give me more information than words can describe. If all I can do is to describe my idea and listen to an improvised opinion, then it's not worth my time either, unless that person is a world-class expert on the subject, but even then it's of limited use (I don't care much about expert opinions, to be honest).

Dan Dascalescu Developer Advocate at Google

May 7th, 2016

Not a bad idea! Especially if the driver solicits feedback from knowledgeable people - fellow entrepreneurs, small business owners.

Andy Collen Producer, Director,Owner, Happy Trails Animation

May 9th, 2016

entrepreneurs is about living in your dreams not dreaming in your life. That said there must be room for honesty. As an entrepreneur you want to work on something that makes sense so make sure your dream is something that can fit into the realms of many.

Part of what funders are looking for in the beginning is how much blood and sweat you have already put in. True funders that worked their way into their position really understand the value of hard work and if you have not been willing to put that in then they will be hesitant from the start.

Not about scrappy.. more about building relationships with founders. The beginning is about patience and showing that you are calm cool... and have developed a great idea. Remember the better you develop your inroads the more founders will be willing to listen. Show then that you know what you are doing and that it is a great idea by example.

This is less about beating folks over the head and more about preparing your concept to a level where they can see it... if they can't and you are the only one then maybe you need to re think... pressure seat in a short car ride not exactly the best time to present... it did work for Will Smith in the movie "Pursuit of Happiness", but then life is seldom like a movie.

However if you can do it there you should be able to do it anywhere... which is really what money folks want to see... that you know every angle and are prepared. Truth is funders will want to see a track record and having no history or work ethic could be hard. Like trying to get a housing loan with no viable income... not a good idea. So make sure you have evidence that can help show your past efforts with projects similar to that you are currently pitching.

Founders like a good idea but the real risk comes in when they looks at your abilities. Make sure you have some interesting folks on board that can help accentuate your abilities and idea. You yourself may not have enough experience at the table in some areas of building a product...and thus who you bring in might help. Also shows that you know how to work with folks... much like you will have to do with the founders... depending on what deal they are willing to make.

Sydney Wong Founder at VenturX

May 7th, 2016

For my startup, my friends are not the target market so they will give me 'feedback/encouragement/etc.' Are your friends and family within the customer target that you are aiming for?

For farefeedback, I don't know if the anticipation of getting a survey for a free ride would skew a certain % of the riders' opinions....because they know they are getting a ride out of whether it be free or discounted than a taxi where no one is expecting anything.