The Importance of Co-Founders

I’ve always worked better alone.  Maybe it’s because I’m pretty stubborn, and its in my nature to inadvertently play devils advocate with every opinion I encounter.  But today was different.  Today was a great example of why Co-Founders add so much value to a venture, and with starting Assist, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Vince and I pitched to a group of founders in a local incubator a few days ago, and got completely ripped apart.  Completely might even be an understatement.  One person in particular kept drilling us on how we are different than what’s already out there, and we thought our answer was good enough to settle the crowd, but it didn’t.  They started listing out alternatives for each case use of Assist.  Yes – they were valid, and it really got me thinking.

I’m a pretty reactive person by nature.  When an issue comes up, my mind gridlocks itself until it’s resolved.  I really need to exercise the phrase “sleep on it,” but its pretty fucking difficult.

So my initial reaction was to REALLY differentiate ourselves, so much that my mind was starting to go into what I believe is almost “desperate pivot ideas.”  I rationalized what’s not working with our platform and used it as evidence for a hard pivot.

Vince wasn’t really sold on the pivot idea, but we had a lot of good back and forth.  The issue with talking strategic direction is that a lot of it hypothetical, especially in the early stages.  You need to back up your direction with evidence, which you don’t have yet, and any amount of evidence you do have can easily be mitigated with early stage issues (bugs, difficulty of creating a marketplace etc).

At the end of the next day, I was pretty sold on making the pivot.  Vince convinced me to wait on it, and we headed to a meeting with a potential advisor / mentor.

This guy we met with was crazy excited about Assist and loved the platform.  He basically gave us a complete 180 from what we got ripped apart for earlier this week.  His thinking was along the same line as Vince’s rationale to not pivot / react, but was articulated differently.  Vince knew by instinct what he thought needed to be done, but this guy really hammered it out for the both of us.

He told us:

“There’s plenty of space in the marketplace.  It doesn’t matter if your excruciatingly different.  If you do something thats out there, just do it better than anyone else.”

Between hashing things out with Vince, and talking to this guy, I realized I may have been looking at things all wrong.  I used our target market as an anchor point, and looked to change our platform based on our perceived target market.  In reality, this guy was stoked for us because he would use it in a totally different way.  I needed to step back and assess our target market.  Who would benefit the most from what we’ve just built?  Do we have enough evidence to support an answer to that question?

No.

I don’t know what the future holds, or if I might look at this post a year from now and completely disagree with myself.  But I know that if I was doing this alone, I would have been too reactive without knowing enough about the decision I was making, and I probably would have stopped myself from being open to the new ideas presented in the meeting that forced me to take one more step back and re-assess.

Most of all – Today was a great example of why having Co-Founder(s) is so important.  I feel like we are back on track, and maybe more on track than two days ago, which is more than what you can ask for after being derailed in a room full of start-up founders.

Until next time,

-e

PS – I apologize for the super unorganized thoughts.  Just opened up my laptop and spilled words on to the page.  Hopefully most of it makes sense 🙂

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Shipping Fast

In the startup world, everyone swears by shipping fast & shipping often.  I always knew this in principle, but never fully felt like I grasped & understood it to the full extent.

When you are faced with “Shipping Fast,” it usually comes with a trade off.  This could be additional features you wanted to add, or refinement of your current ones.  Either way, it forces you to really prioritize what you want to showcase, and why.

Vince and I had so many features that we wanted to roll out.  Our idea in full would have realistically taken a year to create, perfect, and bring to market.  We knew we needed to make a minimum viable product, and slowly test the market / add features, but its a totally different feeling when your going through the motions.  Talking about it with a beer over dinner is so much easier.

We are 1 month in of launch, and at times felt like we shipped way too early.  We forced Ricardo & Rommel (Our Dev Team) to slap things together at the last minute due to the pressing deadlines & urgency we gave them.  The feedback you always receive is expected.  “This doesn’t work, the app doesn’t flow, this doesn’t make sense etc,”  Once you really get past all the whimsical UI / technicalities, you’ll be able to hear the true voices of your market.  They’ll tell you a ton of things, but it’s up to you to not only sift out what’s important, but what they’re really trying to say.

I don’t mean they’re lying to you, or intending to beat around the bush.  A ton of the user feedback we encounter starts with the problem -> how they would specifically handle it.  I’ll give you an example (specifically on our platform):

“I don’t know if I can trust this person” (turns in to) “You should create a 5 star rating system.”

Although it may be a good idea, you don’t want to jump into creating the next yelp just yet.  It look a little practice but once I dove into the depths of the “why,” the solution became apparent.  This led us to be able to come up with one solution for what we thought was many problems, through many user suggestions.  Hopefully were right.

The bottom line is: We would have never been able to understand immediately what was important to our market.  If we had waited until everything was perfect, we would have just had an extremely refined & useless application – a year later.