Startup Jobs: Ideas, Routine, and Responsibility

    We continue [ 1 , 2 ] to compare approaches to work in startups in Russia and the USA. Today, statements by Sam Altman, Dave McClure, Dustin Moskowitz, Phil Libin about important and controversial aspects of a startup’s life will be commented on by Ilya Krasinsky, a freelance accelerator instructor, Yandex.Start, Happy Farm on product economics and metrics .

    From 2011 to the summer of 2013, Ilya led the development and product management of LinguaLeo mobile and desktop products (5M installations). Since 2010, he led the development of the LinguaLeo iOS application, which at the time of release took 1st place among all free applications in Russia. He helped to calculate the product economy and identify key metrics for more than 500 companies (from international companies with 30M + users to small startups).

    Ilya shared with us his experience and thoughts regarding what American “startup gurus” say about responsibility and leadership, when it is better to leave the main job at a startup, about routine and working with ideas, taking into account my understanding of the features of doing business.

    About working with ideas

    Sam Altman argues that working on your own startup should only be if you are harassed by a problem and you see no other way to solve it other than starting your own company. In response to this opinion, Dave McClure emphasizes that you need to look at a similar situation from the opposite side, asking for the opinions of potential customers (not investors, namely customers).

    The advantage of which of these approaches to working with ideas could you point out among the Russian teams that you have already worked with? Have you noticed any myths developed by beginners regarding the generation and subsequent implementation of ideas?

    There is no contradiction. In any case, the startup in the course of work will test 100 hypotheses that will not work due to ideas about the world, the market, customers and potentially working solutions - something will go wrong. Only those who are fanatically devoted to their work can do this for 1-2 years. If “not rushing” - it’s better not to do this: there isn’t enough energy, and you will drop everything when faced with the first difficulties.

    But the answer to the question of how to solve the problem depends on the market and users, since the product or service is aimed at solving the problems of other people, and not just the founder alone. The first thing is to go to other people and check as quickly as possibleon them: what worked and what didn’t. Accelerators FRII, Yandex and others show that you can test the hypothesis, implement the MVP of the product and benefit the client in a matter of hours.

    For example, the team came up with a startup: the user pre-orders food in the dining room or restaurant, so as not to wait for its preparation, and decided to develop a mobile application for this. We have seen this idea more than once and the key question with it is how much such a service is needed.

    While someone was in doubt, the team made a landing page and received 100 registrations - people were clearly ready to try the service in business. After that, the team created the first version of their product in a couple of hours and served about 20 customers.

    Usually, startupers do what they can: draw designs and program, program, program - that is, they don’t do business. But companies go bankrupt not because they could not make a product, but because they do not have users of this product.

    How did the team get their first customers? The essence of their product is not in the mobile application. The guys went down to the nearest dining room, copied the menu, using the Google form made a digital analog of the menu and sent it to early subscribers, in particular to me.

    It was one of the best user experiences in my life. Opening the digital menu, I calmly read it and picked up what I wanted to order for lunch, and not what I usually have time to see while the line is moving. I had time to look at the prices. When I went down to the dining room, my table was already waiting for me with a served tray of food.

    My colleague and I had enough time for both food and communication. When I returned to the computer, a message was already waiting for me on Facebook: your account was 223 rubles, follow the link to pay. Usually, connecting a payment system takes 2 weeks or more, but this is not necessary for customer service - the team connected the Yandex.Money widget in 20 minutes. In complete delight, I left a tip in a third of the order.

    Another question is how to arrange a restaurant. On the evening of the first day, the canteen administrator approached the children with a question about cooperation. Total time to create a product is a couple of hours. The time before receiving the first money for the real work of the system is 2 days.

    Manual sales and MVPs are required of all teams in almost all accelerators, and the matter is not so much in money - the point is to prove that the team can solve the real problem of people for which they are willing to pay.

    Of course, this is not a scalable process, but teams do not need to do things that scale., the project in question, for example, had “jambs”, but the demand for the service was confirmed. This does not mean that the guys will succeed in business, but they proved that the problem exists, and they have a non-scalable (at this stage) solution to this problem.

    On dismissal from the main job

    Sam and Dave believe that implementing a good idea can take many years, and the organization itself can grow even further. It is necessary to understand one’s readiness for such work and to weigh selected ideas also from this point of view.

    Do you agree with such statements? Based on this logic, what would you advise those wishing to do their startup in parallel with the main work? Do you consider this option possible at the time of checking and clarifying the idea of ​​a startup?

    The main thing in this case is to understand that at the first stage the main task is the opposite: to learn how to create value for your customers as quickly as possible. For many years, it may take a product to create and scale it to the entire market. But the Customer Development approach allowsoften in a week to check the viability of an idea, look at actual demand, solve a problem and take the first money for it.

    At this stage, the product essentially constitutes a “stick and rope system”, but can really solve the client’s problems. The value of this approach is the low cost of checking ideas, business models, and solutions. The project has not yet spent money on development, but it can already manually create value for the user. Many guys combine this stage with the main work, and after checking the MVP, they start working in a full-time startup. The minus of the 50/50 format (regular work / startup) is the lack of intensity and speed.

    About liability

    Dustin Moskowitz notes the fact that people in any profession have a fear of failure, but if you are an entrepreneur, your fear of failure lies entirely on your shoulders and on the shoulders of everyone who decided to follow you. He emphasizes the really strong pressure and responsibility of the startup founder.

    Have you ever found yourself in situations that are ambiguous from the point of view of psychological stress that you somehow did not foresee before working in a startup? How would you appreciate the difference in understanding of responsibilities between employees and startup founders working in Russia?

    Of course, more than once in my career I personally invested, for example, in client projects, when we were engaged in custom development in order to get a significant result. Such stories happen all the time.

    Entrepreneurship is a solution to problems with low certainty; no one will come and say what needs to be done.

    Much goes against you: ideas turn out to be raw and wrong, deadlines optimistic, promises hard to fulfill, and there is no one to look for new opportunities where everyone but you sees a dead end. On the other hand, work in an established company is usually fairly well defined. Income will arrive on time before the 10th day of each month, even if you did not do the work on time.

    I saw how the leaders of the companies were mistaken, and they had nothing to pay wages. The most disgusting situation, in my opinion, that can only arise. And they had to invent something, solve issues, make sales under tremendous pressure. But what is the market good for?He is honest, and very quickly breaks down fantasies and leads to reality. It does not allow you to soar in the clouds and encourages you to do things that are valuable to the work and life of specific people.

    I work with a large number of startups, and I have never seen in a business plan that a team will work hard for a year, and then will close due to lack of money, although statistics predict exactly this outcome. If you ask the team how it happened, you often get my favorite answer: “Something went wrong.” Business is when something always goes wrong.

    About the manual

    Phil Libin says that there is a certain myth when it seems to people that if they are the founders and CEO of the company, then they are at the top of the pyramid. It motivates someone, but reality is not at all like that. Phil notes that in reality, everything in a row becomes your bosses: all your employees, customers, partners, users, the media, all of them are your bosses.

    Do you consider it possible to work as the leading founder of a person who is not quite ready to “report” to everyone around?

    You can look at it from the other side. In WoW raids, there is a separation of team members: tanks protect the raid from boss attacks, damage attackers and inflict the main damage, healers restore team strength. CEO is most often a tank, it protects the team from all the vicissitudes that pour on it and screens employees from unnecessary uncertainties, focuses them on achieving the goal. It is good when the CEO or one of the team can fulfill the role of a healer, establishing a microclimate in the team.

    The real leaders are those who will bring the soup to the developer and think through the system in advance so that the team does not storm.

    The point is not so much who the CEO reports to, but how much any miscalculation of a team is a miscalculation of it. He is the chief in putting out everything that is burning in the company.

    About the daily routine

    Sam Altman continues the logic of Dustin and Phil, saying that the founders do not get anything for trying to do anything. You earn points only when you do what the market wants. Many entrepreneurs form a series of small goals that cover all the business of the company, which all team members are aware of.

    How to understand what to focus on every day? What approaches could you suggest?

    I like the following idea: the main point is to create any products - to benefit people and do what works. And while earning enough and a little more. I know many owners who are focusing on money. The charter of each company states that the main goal of the company is to make money today and in the future. Here as in the third "Heroes": if you want, you don’t want, but you need 10,000 gold to build the capitol. It is important to remember that money is not valuable in itself; it is another resource.

    But the main resource of the team is time. The only way to do everything is to not do 80% of the extra work that does not lead to the achievement of goals. So, everyone in the team should know the goals.

    Artists in startups need less. It takes those who see the global picture and understand how to win on their sector of the front. There is no time and effort to double-check the activity or to constant disputes and desynchronization. Each in its own area is an independent combat unit. If there is no such understanding, the situation in the style of “swan, cancer and pike” is provided.

    Managing goals, not tasks, is one of the CEO’s most important skills, which saves you from micro-management and allows you to get a team you can rely on. Big things alone can not be done. The next step is to focus the team on the immediate task, giving multiple, significant progress and leading to the achievement of a larger goal.

    Every week, we as a whole team start planning with the main goal for the next 3-4 months, remember the next task on the way to this goal and discuss what needs to be done to achieve it. This is not always easy for the team, there were conversations in the spirit: "You are offering the soldiers to start planning military operations." But the soldier is not in the team, there are independent combat units - they need to see the whole picture of the battle and understand how their actions affect the team and common goals.

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