Monday, March 02, 2009

An Opaque Startup Update

Since I spend most of my waking hours thinking about our startup, it only makes sense to share some of those thoughts with you guys. The time isn't right yet to make any big announcements, so I'll have to keep it pretty opaque.

I took a trip around the world last September. During that trip, I wrote a comprehensive 36-page business plan that laid out the products, strategy, and potential target markets. Best thing I ever did, as it forced me to methodically think about my next thing.

But ultimately, we axed most of it: The product we're working on right now was little more than a footnote in the original plan, and filled less than one of those 36 pages. What reduced the 36 pages to one? We did a lot of market research, talked to scores of potential users - we wanted to make sure we'd make something people want. And fortunately, we were all very enthusiastic about this one product we're building today, which made axing the rest less painful.

This first product won't appeal to everyone, but will be super useful for certain subset of email warriors. We built some elegant technology that solves a pressing, but underrecognized need. That's about as much as I will say for now.

What did I learn so far?

Hard choices: In a startup, you have to make hard choices: Things like who you choose as your cofounder. Or having to say goodbye to a product idea that you were very fond of but didn't test well with real users. Or saying "no" to meetings prominent investors because your time is better spent working on the product. It's easy to say yes to every idea, person, or investor, or drag out important decisions, but that's often plain wrong.

Work hours: The pre-launch stage we're in is exhausting and fulfilling at the same time. We're putting in around 50 (maybe 60?) net hours per week, and I try take time to relax on the weekends (I'm writing this on the way back from a snowboarding trip with the gf).

Effectiveness: Since we're not putting in the cliche 100 hours a week, we have to use our time wisely. I'm a believer in "big design up front", and instead of spending night and day coding, I try to get everyone to write a design doc, evolve it, write some unit tests, write code, and refactor (red-green-refactor style). That style of work is much more appealing to me than spending hour after hour of writing one sloppy prototype after another. And way more effective.


Nathan Zeldes said...

I can't wait to see this product!

In the meantime, it's heartening to read how seriously you're approaching the business of running (being) a startup. And I think Paul Graham is a good source of insight.

Good luck, Gabor!

VlogHog said...

36 page business page and 50 hour work week? That sounds like work.

Are you trying to put off the get rich quick blogger crowd?