Patrick and I had a big realization yesterday: We don’t know anything.
I’m talking about Airtime for Email. We know that people are interested in it. We’ve had almost 100 businesses sign up since launch. We know it’s a validated idea – we have paying customers. Knowing that kind of thing just tells us that we should keep working on Airtime. But the problem is that we have no idea WHAT we should be doing.
Any business has thousands and thousands of component parts. The features, the branding, the colors, the pricing, and the list goes on. And each of these parts is dependent upon every other part. If you change the pricing then it changes the addressable market so you have to change the features. If you change the features then you’re going to want to change the brand to match the new features and the pricing. If you change the brand you need to change the color scheme, if you change the color scheme you need to change the voice that the copy is written in…and on and on.
This is daunting when you’re starting out. As an entrepreneur beginning with a blank slate you get this paradox of choice. Every decision is so important, and has such wide-ranging impacts on the business as a whole that it’s hard to figure out how to nail something down, how to start. It’s like looking at a blank sheet of paper knowing that eventually that blank sheet of paper is going to become a gigantic novel.
When faced with this for Airtime a few months ago, I did what any good entrepeneur does: I just started making shit up.
“We’ll bill as a tiered monthly service because….”
“We should definitely have a free plan because…”
“We should allow people to display different banners at different times because…”
So when you’re building a product you make everything up at the beginning. Then you go to people and try to sell them on your made up product. We did that too.
We have paying customers, and we’re about to serve our 150,000 email impression. This is all great at the beginning. But it’s not good enough anymore.
It’s really easy to get caught up in building feature after feature, redoing the look and feel of each page countless times, changing the pricing model here and there. But for what? Why? Once you have customers you can’t make stuff up anymore.
And that was my biggest realization yesterday: we’re running completely blind. We don’t know how people are using our product and we don’t know why. Everything we do from now on has to be driven by those two factors: how and why. There can’t be a wall of silence separating the people who build the product (us) and the people who use the product (our customers). Constructing a continuous feedback loop from customer to entrepreneur, and entrepreneur to customer is the only way to run a startup. That’s what leads to a focused, well-executed product that solves a problem for its customers. Everything else is bullshit.
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