It’s OK to fail – but fail fast and move on
LJMU’s Centre for Entrepreneurship is currently halfway through a pilot 10-week accelerator startup programme, Idea Lab, for tech-driven innovations. Students and recent graduates work in teams, as co-founders, on four new innovations, rapidly exploring who their customers are, how they make money off their products, how they design and build their products and ultimately, how to scale the business.
So what’s it like to work on a tech startup? We asked Graphic Design and Illustration graduate Jonathan Summers-Muir
I never planned to work in a startup, and nothing can really prepare you for it. It is probably best summed up as a normal day essentially feeling like a constant crisis. Once one fire has been put out, another miraculously forms and whatever victory you were yesterday celebrating has already been long forgotten.
I’ve only worked in a few startups though, but still, one of the key things I’ve learned throughout it all is that the project is ultimately doomed if the staff don’t get along. A good team is made up of staff where the borderlines of their job description are blurred. All that matters is improving the key metric of the business; get more users, more sales, more signups and so on.
Everyone needs to accept that at some point, you have to spend long hours doing incredibly menial tasks, updating a spreadsheet with what feels like a million rows or copying 600 product specs by hand just to move the needle a bit further. It can all be, and usually is, for nothing.
The sad truth is, your ideas are overrated. Anyone anywhere can end up being a competitor, or will race you to market. The trick is to be able to run and test faster than them.
Once up and running though, it’s easy to start building the wrong features for the wrong users. Adding too many will leave you and your team maintaining a monster that will, over time, become a burden with little reward. It’s easy to get drawn into building a solution that works for absolutely everyone in every situation.
That is a stupid way to work.
You don’t need to build a product or service that works for every scenario: it will alienate the larger base of users you can actually profit from. In one circumstance I recall, we made a G9 Led Bulb search page that overwhelmed our users with technical waffle as we reckoned this would work for both the technical early adopters and the broad non-technical users. All we did was convince the non-tech users to abandon our website, rather than explore it. The early adopter and technically savvy user stayed on site. There were barely any of these types of users and it would be impossible to run a maintainable profitable business by just catering to them. Therefore we can’t cater for them: we have to cater for the mass audience.
Many people will tell you of working in projects that spend all their savings mainly because they were constantly building solutions without testing whether or not there was a market large enough, or even a market remotely interested in buying into your product. These are the types of projects run by founders who reckon their startup is the next big thing because their parents liked the idea you pitched. Unless your product can survive with only your mother as a customer, you’re going to have to actually speak to and experiment (not in a weird way) with people whom you don’t know.
Most of the time, this means parking the ego, and just getting things shipped fast so that you can prove or disprove an assumption quickly and then move onto the next idea.
Jonathan is currently working on whichledlight.com as a Digital Designer. If you are an LJMU student or recent graduate with ambitions to start your own business, the Centre for Entrepreneurship is here to help you. You can follow us on Twitter or call 0151 231 3300 and we will guide you through the first steps to start-up.