Being business first in early stages.

Posted by in Engineering Management, Startup, Technology, Thought

A lot of time I come across founders/leaders in a startup who are focused on optimisations, building a solid technology. Many of them actually don’t have a business roadmap. They are still experimenting, figuring out the right path to the eventual product. To all such leaders, I only have one feedback, Please focus first on your business. If you survive the battle today you will win the war. To win a war you don’t need to win all the battles, you need to win the ones which cause the maximum impact. Technology related battles are all secondary, It would make sense only if you are tech first (SAAS) company. In fact with most of the SAAS company, winning the customer battle is important than engineering battles.

I have been working with startups for 4+ years now. Luckily I have got chance to see startups scaling from 5 to 150+ and have seen startups shrinking from 1300 to 5. What I have seen is that there are 4 major stages of any startup:

1. Inception

This is the phase when you come up with the idea, and you plan to build the solution out of it. You are not clear on the product-market fit. You know that there is a need, you understand the value of your product. In this phase, it is important to have your MVP rolling out as soon as possible than thinking of building a full-scale product and then rolling it out. What you are building in this phase is your understanding of the scenario. As humans, we tend to be completely absorbed by our perspective and ignore the rest. So if you just think that what you are thinking is right and build only that, you might actually end up wasting a lot of your resources/energy/time. And this might take away your first mover advantage.

2. Validation

Once you are ready with your MVP and have rolled it out. Focus more on validating it. Validation doesn’t mean validating with people around you, or people you are connected to, but validating with actual customers/users. People around you have been biased with your perspective. They might not give you 100% accurate feedback. I have seen many founders being stuck on there perspective and I have seen friends/family giving biased feedback to them to keep them motivated. That has led them into much more narrowed perspective and they start feeling that everyone else is wrong and they are right. This is very unhealthy just not for them but for all the people associated with you.

On the side note, this is one of the reasons why it is very important to have strong leaders on your team because they are the one who will step up and question you when you will go insane with your perspective.

3. Scaling

Now that you have validated your idea/product and you know what you want to do with your product. You should start scaling. Scaling doesn’t mean that you should now start focus on optimisations, but you should rather focus on “scaling business, not technology“. Once you start scaling you will come across different challenges, which will need changes in the product and your plan. Having your product being used by a thousand people is different from meeting needs of a lakh. When you cater needs of large volume, you will need to focus on optimising your operations! Now optimising operations would lead you into a phase of building supporting products for your internal teams. Now these products would be experimental (Inception stage).

If at this phase you start focusing on optimizing your technology, you will end up burning lot of resources, with no effective business output. Which won’t make sense. Also, optimization is a slow process. It needs a lot of certainties which would only come at end of this phase when you would have figured out your magic formulae to scale.

4. Stability

Now that you have figured out your eventual product, you know where you want to be, and how you can reach there. It is the time to get on to stabilizing and building a sustainable business/product. Because you are clear on where you want to be, what your customers want, you can actually let your team take more time and build the world-class optimised solutions.

There is a principle in software design called ‘Abstraction’. What Abstraction says is that ‘module A’ of the software doesn’t need to know the complexity of ‘module B’. Hence both should not worry about how to adjust to each other. Instead, both should focus on optimizing their performance, with available functionality. If this principle is followed you will end up eradicating half of the complexity. Now if we apply the same principle to the organization and module A being business and B being Technology. You will be able to build a sustainable organisation.

Conclusion

There is a right time to do everything. In early stages of your startup, it is important to focus more on your business and consumer needs than focusing on a world-class technology. If you survive the early days, you will end up building a world-class technology. Look around all the success full products (Facebook, Mercedes, etc), none of them looked the way they look today years back. If they would have focused on building what they had build today. They would have never have reached where they are today!