“Your success will be a function of the number of learning cycles you fit into your runway”
-Tom Hulme, Ideo
Startups face a peculiar type of time management problem. They have a fixed amount of time, yet they need to learn extremely rapidly, in order to achieve the right fit as fast as they can. Not only do they have a hard funding limit, they are competing with other companies in the same segment. Typically this is just a massive “land grab”, as early adopters become aware of a particular type of problem, and they start looking for a solution.
In order to do this effectively, they can systematize their learning. The creator of Behavior Driven Development, Dan North, has come up with the idea of deliberate discovery. Dan suggests that you focus on reducing your own ignorance, at least where you are aware of it. In addition to what you learn, you can be relatively certain that there will be a number of surprises as you develop your product.
Unknown unknowns could kill your product. While you don’t know what they are up front, it’s likely there are a few in each new product launch.
At first, there are a lot of business unknowns. What need do you want to address for what group of customers? Are they interested enough to pay for it? What particular group of people will want this? How can you get access to them cheaply? Groupon (GRPN) started out with mailing out offers via email. The technology they first used: PDF. Once they realized there were many people, responding to their offers, asking for more, they knew they had a winner.
Once you are clear on these basic questions, you can look at how you want to deliver and scale the solution. Software gives you a lot of automation and customization.
In short, you face numerous technical unknowns and possibilities. If you can rapidly nail down the skeleton of the architecture, that reduces the big unknowns. At the same time, if you use a lot of interfaces when coding, you have the option of replacing whole chunks of your code, once you have proven that your ideal customers want what you provide.
Sometimes software’s not the best choice. If you can deliver a high quality individualized service, some people would be willing to pay much more for that. Or you know from the beginning that you want to design a new type of gadget of widget, which inspires consumers to ecstasy. Ironically, your success is driven largely by how well you manage time.