HBO's Silicon Valley

“I have an idea for an app” and “I have an idea for a website” are two of the best phrases any modern entrepreneur-hopeful can utter. Those phrases are the seeds to future potential greatness. They can lead to huge outcomes depending on how smart the idea develops from infant to emotional teenager. Venture capital and angel funding, pitch decks, demo days, focus groups, marketing plans, hiring social media gurus, gathering assets, growing ideas… all if it relies on the existence of one thing, and one thing only – a Minimally Viable Product (MVP). The premature version of the idea developed into an early stage application.

Cue the Han Zimmer theatrical horn hit…

Fun fact: Expectations are set by experiences. Everyday everyone is exposed to an onslaught of mature applications, websites, and software. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Uber, companies who have raised millions upon millions of dollars, blown through countless ma- hours, and have created user experiences within their application ecosystems that are intuitive, thoughtful, fresh, ever changing, and (obviously) profitable.

Fun fact number two: Accept the fact that these are not baselines for expectations of an MVP.

Delusions of Grandeur

The first time you think of your idea is absolutely the worst state the idea you have will ever be in. Dreams of flying around on Segways in a hip office filled with hip people laughing over a Foosball table, think-tanking in board rooms, and sipping company funded lattes swirl around like a cow in a tornado. Thoughts of the billion dollar exit or Powerball IPO start to fill the room. These aren’t poisonous thoughts to have, shoot for the moon, no one ever got to a billion dollar exit because they got lucky (okay, that’s not entirely true… but I digress).

Cow!

Founders without cronies in the tech space don’t just materialize billion dollar startups from ideas, and IPO’s never happen from Betas. An idea can’t even be, and shouldn’t ever be built into a Beta, it should be built to talk to a specific set of business outcomes, and market tested. This has to happen well before millions are invested into building something people might not actually want to use. This happens. This happens a lot.

Focusing on Business Results

The first rule of Start Up Club is to identify key business results that should be achieved with an app. Once the desired business outcome has been identified and ingrained in the idea, it takes sheer willpower to laser focus in on that goal, and avoid deviation with all things “possible”. This isn’t a “do one thing well” speech, this is a “don’t deviate from the plan with crap no one needs” speech.

First Rule of Fight Club

Time and again, I’ve seen it so many times, Founders come in with an awesome idea, they have the flexibility and money to throw idea after idea at a viable solution to a market need, then botch it on a thought they had in the shower. Nuance details that cost weeks of development time, delay time to market, and cannibalize marketing budgets on features thought of by a small committee that don’t effect the business outcome in the initial stroke of genius that got the funding together for the MVP in the first place.

99.9% of the time this is fatal. Don’t do it.

But also; don’t be afraid to dream, don’t be afraid to improve. But improve. For real. How? Data.

The importance of metrics

Whether the app be on mobile, web, a smart TV, or all of the above, it’s imperative to focus on the desired outcome, and build toward just that. Chances are the idea swirling about for an app is “Uber for X”, “Dollar Shave Club for Y”, “Facebook for Blah”, “Like Instagram, but for dogs”, or perhaps it’s something completely new. Regardless, do people want to use it? Can a market be found for it to allow it to scale? Is there room for additional input from a focus group? Is it possible that you don’t know everything there is about the problem you’re trying to solve?

The Social Network

The key to making sure you don’t throw money into an idea bonfire is to realize that you don’t know everything. Neither do your friends. Strangers also don’t know everything. Family members don’t know everything. Spouses (okay, my wife knows everything) don’t know everything. Collectively you, your co-founder, friends, family, spouses and your kids can help paint a good picture of “everything” enough to make good ideas great. I call this hedging intuition.

The path to properly vetting an idea is to simply have a way of presenting it without pitching it. Explain what’s being targeted, sure, but don’t lead the witness. That’s it. Pretty straight forward.

Finding your revenue model

Please, for the love of all things holy, if you don’t have a revenue model yet, just click here and pick the one that makes the most sense.

Prioritizing the customer/user

To reiterate: It is absolutely imperative to seek out, take notes on, and seriously consider feedback from Everyone. Everyone is a powerful ally, Everyone has good insights, and if the idea is good enough, Everyone will use it, hell if the idea is great enough, everyone will use it as well. Confused? Consider this, not everyone uses Facebook, but Everyone does. Get me? Good.

soylent-green

The proverbial Everyone is the only person that really matters. Unless you’re some big box bad ass that commands the markets to bend to your will, you have to bend to the will of the markets. Listen to them, they will tell you what they want, and if you build it… the chances that they come are better than if you never seek out their advice.

Adversely, you can’t take everything Everyone says and call it canon. This is where statistics can actually be useful. Follow the Mode. Statistically, Modes are the items that show their faces the most frequently within test groups. Modes are the tasty, scrumptious, key areas of feedback. Ignore those outliers that merely sound amazing, and above all, ignore everything that comes after the phrase, “oh, it’d be super cool if it like…”.

Development v Marketing: Dawn of Budget Expectations

If you build it, they might come. If you market it, they will come. There are no “Field of Dreams” startups. For the kids out there, that was a 90’s reference. Listen, it’s important to build it, that’s not just some biased rhetoric coming from the owner of a web and mobile development firm. But if the plan is to spend 90% of your budget on design and development, pumping out nuance features, and building a release candidate version 1.0 for mass market day 1 — pack up and forget it. Save your investor’s money.

dawn-of-justice

We live in a world where attention is the commodity. Rarely does an idea hit the marketplace and just “go viral, omg!”. No matter what anyone in the universe says, no one can predict what’s going to go viral. No matter what anyone in the universe says, no one magically gets free attention. No matter what anyone says, Press doesn’t come cheap. Above all, attention isn’t growing on freely lootable trees in some magic Attention Forest. Consumers aren’t camping out in front of the app store in tents waiting for “Release Day, omg!” either.

To misquote the great Steve Balmer, “Marketing, Marketing, Developers!”. The golden ratio for development to marketing is 2 to 1. $100,000 of development, $200,000 of marketing. “Dude, that’s a lot of money.” Yeah, it is; but think back for a moment, how much runway does $200,000 give anyone in marketing an idea. F**k loads. Chances are an MVP will not (and frankly should not) cost $100,000; and it should never cost more than that.

Yeah; the owner of a development and marketing firm is telling you to spend less, focus your ideas, and don’t willy-nilly your way through funneling thousands upon thousands of dollars into our pockets… and?

Reasonable time frames

Think about it this way, if development of the core elements of your idea takes longer than 20 weeks to create and enter the market, the idea is probably too big, too convoluted, makes too many assumptions, and will honestly cost you too much. The risk around building the idea is too high for most investors to really latch on to, especially if you’re not rubbing elbows and delivering the babies of said investors.

Going back in time

20 weeks.

That’s it.

Craft & Logic has built out MVP’s in 6 weeks. The Twitter MVP was built in far less time than that, but frankly, in 2006, Twitter really was a whole wad of “not much”, so there is that. Facebook’s first version was built by Jesse Eisenberg in like 7 on-screen minutes… Truly though, Facebook did a few targeted things in a narrow field of focus and then ballooned out from there over an eleven year stretch of runaway feature creep; millions upon millions of dollars and man-hours, and… you get the idea. Start small. Start focused. Don’t burn money and time on building God-Mode OMG Alter Physics Disruption blahblahblah.

Take the idea, grow it into a focused business idea, present it to people, note input, accept feedback, and get to marketing… sooner than later.