some thoughts from pushstart’s mentor connect

Kim Heras and the Pushstart crew put on another Mentor Live event last night. Think speed dating for start-ups and mentors.

I was privileged to get to participate as a mentor, and I thought I’d share some of the bits of advice a I found myself given out more than once…

 NOTE: I’ve opted to hit “Publish” on this sooner rather than to tidy it up. It’s basically a brain fart so there might be typo’s and I probably repeat myself. Hopefully it’s still useful. 

  • Read “The Lean Startup”. In fact, I probably should have made a little sign that said this.

  • Assume that at least 50% of your assumptions about your product are wrong. The only way to find out which 50% is to start product/market fit validation now. Like, right now.

  • There was an extraordinary % who where well down the product/platform development path without having market tested their idea. Often times the push-back against my recommendation to immediately go and market test was along the lines of “the website isn’t ready yet” or “we’ve mostly been mind mapping it”… It doesn’t matter – Understanding your market (i.e. those who have the problem you are setting out to solve) is 100x more important than your product. Get your idea in front of your target market NOW and start getting feedback.

  • If you’re getting your product or platform developed by an offshore developer or team, make sure you negotiate and get in writing a maintenance, support and changes service contract for the same or a slightly higher rate BEFORE YOUR FINAL PAYMENT. If you don’t, they have you over the barrel once you need help of changes and can charge you whatever they like. I learnt this little gem the hard way.

  • “The 4 Hour Work Week” omits to mention that setting up a business is a lot of of hard work, and requires a lot of mind share, attention and sacrifice (but is totally worth it if you’ve counted the cost in consciously decided to pay it).

  • “The 4 Hour Work Week” also neglects the issue of supporting your product once you’ve launched it, fixing it when it breaks (or when someone breaks it), responding to competitive pressure, and building towards an exit. Don’t forget that Tim Ferriss exited Brainquicken LLC, the case study for 4HWW… It wasn’t his cash cow forever.

  • “Can I outsource my marketing and support?” – In a nutshell, no. How are you going to perfect your pitch or iterate your product based on feedback if you’re not getting any? Marketing is like OXYGEN. You need to breathe it yourself. (Caveat: If you’re dealing with a high end digital agency they can help with this type of thing, but when most people say “outsource” in this type of environment they really mean “get it done cheaply by someone other than me”.)

  • Outsource payments to a gateway. Don’t try to do it yourself. Let them help you. Payments are hard – That’s why payment gateways have a business. Stump up the small per transaction fee and focus instead on your core business.

  • Also, re payments, if you try to do it yourself or take shortcuts you will get hacked eventually – and that will be the end of your business. Just trust me on this one.

  • Remember that mistakes are relatively cheap and recoverable at this early stage. You have an idea, not a business, and while you need to nuture and protect your idea you’ll also find that it is far more resilient to your mistakes than you’d think. Make them for the sake of learning fast.

  • No one is going to steal your idea. Anyone capable is already busy. Get busy socialising it and getting feedback so that you can make it awesome.

  • Someone will “steal” your idea – They’ve either arrived at it independently or seen you doing it and decided to fast follow you. Either way, it’s your job to out-execute. What this means to you is unique to your product, your market, and your plans for your business. Competitive pressure will come – There is nothing surer.