I’m in DIA on my way home from Microconf, the conference for small software startups that I just attended in Las Vegas. This was a “first annual” conference, put on by organizers Rob Walling and Mike Taber. I highly encourage them to do it again next year and beyond.
Close to a hundred attendees heard just under a dozen speakers tell their own startup stories (successes and failures), give advice on where to spend their time (a commodity both more precious and more available to a self-funded startup than money), and how to keep on going through the dark and the busy times.
Most of the speakers were great. A handful (Sean Ellis, Ramit Sethi, Patrick McKenzie, and Hiten Shah) stood out for me personally, both for the quality of their presentation and because they spoke to where I happen to be with my own startup right now.
I’m not going to waste my own time or anyone else’s trying to summarize the individual sessions. Almost all the speakers are bloggers and big chunks of their ideas are available in their own words online or in books they have published. (*) I’m just going to share what I’m personally taking away: four themes and one slightly more specific bit of actionable advice.
TAKE ACTION — Do something; don’t waste time being afraid you’ll embarrass yourself. (You will embarrass yourself somehow; get over it.) Launch a minimum viable product in some form. Take your lumps, iterate fast, get better. But be aware that, in the end, if your all actions don’t result in a body of enthusiastic users, your most productive action may be to kill the current product and move on.
LEARN — Define metrics, gather data, test, test, test. Talk to users and listen to what they say! Then think deeply — what they say may not be what they are really telling you. (And never, never, never outsource support — those calls and emails are users talking, not annoyances.)
BE PERSISTENT — Not just in terms of giving your business the clock and calendar time it needs to succeed. But also you have to be willing to suck up and do the parts of your business that need you to do them no matter how much you don’t like them (likely to be marketing and support for a lot of techie founders). Does this bit of advice contradict the bit above about being ready to kill a product rather than drag it on? Sure. Get over that, too. The world is full of paradox, full of ANDs and not just ORs.
AUTOMATE — Anything you find yourself doing for the third time, find a way to make it take less time (preferably as close to zero time as you can get) the next time you need to do it.
Finally, my most important personal take-away: Don’t be afraid to do things that don’t scale. (At least not early in the life of your startup or once, anytime, just to see what would happen or to delight a customer.). This is important for me because, with phone apps (at least ‘normal’ B2C apps) NOTHING scales. At least no marketing or promotional activity I’ve been able to think of. I’ve been worried about spending too much time trying to seek out nurses and talk to them individually because, with a $1.99 price point, I can’t justify the time. But, by not doing so, I’ve pretty much condemned all the time/money I have spent to the trash heap. Can I afford to talk to lots of nurses? No. Can I afford to talk to no nurses? An even bigger no.
(*) So why go to a conference if a lot of the speaker content is available online? a) There’s huge benefit in the speaker’s interaction with attendees — hearing the questions that get asked and the answers given. b) There’s equally huge benefit in interacting with the other attendees — sharing our own stories, successes, and frustrations — particularly when done so in the lens of what the speakers have just talked about. A huge thanks to Rob and Mike for an event that gave plenty of time for both the formal agenda and the informal time to interact.