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Avoiding Startup Tarpits (medium.com)
184 points by dtawfik1 on Oct 21, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments



It seems I am one of those in the tarpit.

I think the problem for us engineering types is that there is so much bullshit around marketing, that it's offputting to us. That's the case for me at least. If I spend time/money on a feature, I know how long it will take, how much it will cost and when it will be ready. Compared to this, marketing seems like burning money with voodoo rituals.

It doesn't help that marketing efforts are only meaningfully measurable on a larger scale. If you're bootstrapping something yourself, you don't have 12k to spend on marketing this month. You have $300. It's easy to burn that $300 on adwords or facebook ads and get zero signups, with no meaningful data whatsoever.

The usual advice goes: hire a marketing expert. But how do I hire a marketing expert that a) isn't full of it, b) will even listen to me if my current budgets are in the hundreds of dollars?

I think the article is right on point, but I wish it pointed me to a way to deal with the marketing problem.


Replying to myself, after 11h. There is a good number of replies, and they mostly underscore my point: I do not know how to deal with the problem and there is no defined way to go about it.

Most replies focus on "talking to your customers", validating your idea, etc. I know, you should talk to your customers. It's all good. I do. But this won't get you out of the tarpit. Talking to your customers mostly gets you new feature requests, so you end up building new features.

Also, once you have a business with a bunch of paying customers, the situation is different. You know the product can sell. If you can get 10 paying customers, you can also get 100, and probably 1000, too. That was what the original article was about.

There was precious little practical advice in the comments, apart from "content marketing" and guerilla marketing. One is something pretty much everybody does, and the other is difficult to pull out for B2B.

libertyEQ has a great point: we know so little about the whole subject that we even don't get the naming right. Sorry. For the moment I'll just keep calling all this stuff "marketing", until I understand it better.

My original point still stands: the article got it right, and the reason why we hackers build features instead of doing marketing is because marketing is hard, poorly defined, and there is so much fluff, myths and cliches around it. I'm still looking for a solution.


If talking to your clients mostly gets you new feature requests, it either means your product isn't adequate yet or you're not asking the right questions. In a nutshell you want to get of feel of:

- What was going on in your clients' heads before they found you. What precise problem were they trying to solve. This'll give you insights on whether or not your product is adequate, and on how to phrase your landing page.

- How they went about to look for you. What google search they did, whether they checked out reviews and how, etc. this is to better focus your SEO and adwords campaigns.

- What their decision process looked like. Was it a single person making the call, or were several people involved? What objections got raised? What were their key decision criteria? Raise them in your sales copy or in drip emails.

- Are they talking about your product? Would they? This is to help you spot segments with viral potential. Don't forget to politely ask for referrals if applicable.

- And, of course, feedback on the product itself. But don't spend too much time on this, and don't promise anything or build expectations.


The product is adequate, because people are paying for it. It could be better, hence the feature requests.

The most important thing I always want to know is how they found me — unfortunately, for all of them it was via a search for a specific phrase. That doesn't help me at all: I am prominently featured for that search phrase.

No viral potential, this is a niche B2B product.


I think the parent might mean that letting their customers talk, unguided by specific questions, results in feature requests. If you’re not a marketer, that’s usually how you interpret “talking to customers.” If you are a marketer, that sounds like useless nonsense. :)


Have you read the book Traction yet? It provides a very usable growth framework. More importantly, It also allows you to start thinking of marketing as a testable iterative process, and this simple change in mindset can do wonders for the engineer/hacker.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1591848369/ref=as_li_tl?ie...


Here's the thing with marketing: it is its own unique field that encompasses a large skill set. Copywriting, conversions, media buying. Product launches, if you're into that. Social media marketing or SEO/SEM. Guys who are good at it spend years learning it. Just like good engineers take years to learn their crafts.

If a marketer came to you and said hey, I can market like a champ, but I need a quick way to engineer a killer product by myself on a razor thin budget. Can't start marketing until I've got the product ready, and I also don't know much about product design or what to build. How do I do it and succeed? Same chicken-and-egg problem.

You can hire a professional who is GOOD, but then you're going to pay a lot of money for it. The better quality you want, the more you will have to pay. Or you can learn to be good YOURSELF, but then you're going to spend a lot of time to do it (and possibly still a lot of money).

In marketing, you cannot usually just hire talented marketers for low dollar amounts. If a marketer is any good, he knows how to make hundreds/thousands of dollars a day marketing any number of different things. He can affiliate market something off Clickbank, or take advantage of any of a number of other affiliate channels. Or he can debut his own product and market it himself and keep 100% of the profit. Or he can work for a beefy startup with lots of equity and high upside, or if he's risk averse take a high paying salaried job at an ad firm or mega corp.

So at the lower end, you get a bunch of aspiring marketers who are either brand new or just plain suck. (a few diamonds in the rough here and there, but they're few and far between and they don't stick around in the rough for long)

Best path if you're bootstrapping and have limited funds:

1.) Do your own marketing until you find a few okay-enough channels to get business from. This part sucks at the beginning because it's slow going and most of what you try doesn't work.

2.) Look for free ways to market until you have more cash to spend on marketing. The average paid media campaign takes somewhere between $5K and $50K of experimentation before it reaches profitability. That's $5K to $50K down the drain before you're making money. Don't go for paid until you can afford to absorb the upfront cost of creating a profitable campaign.

3.) Once you have a few okay marketing channels in place (could be search traffic, a popular presence on Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter, or maybe you have a higher dollar offer you can leverage networks and do direct sales for), you'll get more money coming in

4.) Once more money is coming in, you have a few options how you spend it. Hire professionals to boost the conversions of your sales funnel; hire professionals to experiment with new or better marketing campaigns; or hire professionals to train you on these things and make you the expert

Not fun (at first, anyway) and probably not the fast/easy way you might wish you could find. But when you don't have the skill yet, and don't have investment money or high enough sales already to pay for high skill professionals, you've got to grind it out yourself for a bit.

If you'll study marketing, I suggest you pick up a copy of Jeff Walker's Product Launch Formula. It's an effective way to get an initial burst of sales and designed for people with low/no marketing experience.


I suggest you pick up a copy of Jeff Walker's Product Launch Formula

I clicked around his site and...it's not actually a book?


Thank you — this is fantastic advice. BTW, I am in the (1) stage right now (slow and most things don't work).


In my experience (this is something I'm in the midst of and still working on), the key to early low-budget marketing is establishing a feedback cycle. More important than reaching large numbers is gauging the reaction across a reasonable cross-section of the market. Apart from figuring out what's working and what isn't, it's also critical for zeroing in on who your early adopters will be.

Ads are an anonymous and low-touch acquisition channel, making them great for growing once you've got product-market fit, and (mostly) terrible before that point. If you're really clever with AB testing, analytics, lifecycle emails, etc., you may be able to get some useful info out of an ad campaign, but I think it's unlikely to be cost effective compared to higher touch options like networking, cold emails, posting on forums, meetups, conferences, etc. where it's easier to establish a line of communication and find out what people really think.

I don't think this is something you can hire for. Honestly, while it has its moments when things are going well, overall it's just not very fun work. It's tedious, frequently discouraging, and puts you in a lot of uncomfortable situations. It takes founder-level motivation to push through. Once you've done the hard work and have the machine running, there are tons of people who will be happy to scale and optimize it for money. Before that, I think a co-founder is probably the only realistic option if you're looking for someone to completely own early-stage marketing.


The problem is that you think about marketing from the end rather than from the beginning. Spending money with FB or Google is one possible end. Another one would be inbound / content marketing. Another one would be trade shows. Etc.

However the beginning of marketing is researching how your product interacts with the market, which problem your product solves and for whom. A lot of times who you think your customers are isn't really who your customers are and why you think they buy your product isn't really why they buy it. And many times your product is capable of solving a problem for a much larger user group which however you just don't know about yet (but should definitely find out about).

Getting all these variables right is how marketing starts and besides your own time it doesn't cost you a dime. Once you have better knowledge about the market (who you target, at which price point, with what message, etc..) you will have a much better feeling on how to target that market and spending actual dollars on a marketing end (ads etc.) at that point will feel much more satisfying and less "voodoo".


I like your comment and a lot of your thoughts are common. Allow me to help alleviate some of your concerns. I think the root of the issue is that many "Startup Tarpits" are not talking to the right customers early on. I also think you have only worked with marketing people who didn't use a methodical, scientific approach to user acquisition.

Don't hire a marketing expert. This is a bad first step. You should define a very specific subset of customers and talk to them. Find out their problems after talking to 10 very targeted people that fit into a user profile. I recommend reading "The Mom Test" (it's a book about how to phrase customer development interview questions) as a basis for how you talk to potential customers.

User acquisition efforts are not only measurable on a larger scale. You may have this idea because the people you worked with may have had a big company background. For a startup, it is very necessary for your advertising campaign to define a cost per click, find a conversion rate, and then test many different advertising phrases and avenues. This helps put a direct cost per user acquisition price on each campaign and you can compare apples to apples. It takes "voodoo money burning rituals" and turns it into numbers that are measurable.

If you rely on free marketing channels without a clear focus on who is using your product, it is very likely that you have 10 customers who fit 10 completely different segments with 10 different ideas of which features will give them value.

They key is learning. When you estimate future software releases, you typically point a story using things you have learned from previous, similar stories. When you attempt a new advertising campaign, you should use past learnings to determine which ads and messaging will work for different segments - how much they will cost, and how many users you can expect to get based on past results.

In summation, startup marketing should have a focused, scientific, numbers driven, methodical approach - just like writing software. If your marketers are not doing that, you probably aren't working with the right marketers.


The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you

https://amzn.com/dp/B01H4G2J1U (2016, 4+ stars, 43 reviews, $9.99)


Hiring for marketing is incredibly tough. I’ve yet to work with a marketer I would recommend.

Re your situation I’m not sure there is much you can or should do with $300. It’s too small an amount to make a dent in any paid channels for sure.

Hire a marketing/growth coach is probably the most cost effective way to spend a budget like that imho


$300 buys a lot of gas or train rides. You could even buy a new pair of walking shoes, and get out the door to talk to customers face-to-face. It's scary out there, but actually speaking to people to get signups is cheap/free, and something really only a startup can do since you're not going to get huge numbers from it.

I'm struggling to find a single startup concept where you couldn't be served by walking through your city and finding a potential customer. If one exists, they're probably targeting the wrong customers.


There's an old idea that might work: Get a lot of business cards; always carry a stack; spread them around, e.g., in any retail location, leave a few here and there, maybe on the counter top near a cash register, maybe just drop some on the floor, maybe at a sporting event, concert, political meeting, any meeting with a lot of people, get high up and give a big side arm throw and let them flutter down. Sure, then quickly duck, hide, and get away before get accused of littering!

Or, gee, for the $300, hire some kids. Each kid gets a stack that has a promo code unique to them, and on your Web site landing page ask for the promo code and, thus, find out which kids are doing the best work! Sure, use different promo codes for your own efforts at such advertising -- basketball, football, politics, rock concerts. Uh, don't necessarily have to pay big bucks for NBA or NFL tickets; how about a college or high school sporting event?

All or nearly all of the above are from a book or article I read long ago about a guy who was trying to sell cars. He was just a salesman at a dealership run by someone else, but he wanted people to come to the dealership to see him by name, in person, as the guy with uniquely good car deals, etc. With those business cards and more such outrageous stuff, he claimed he got a lot of traffic and sold a lot of cars.

For the business cards, sure, cheat some on just what the heck such a card is and, thus, make them also have enough information, if only a tease, to get people to get to a Web landing page or some such. So, they look like business cards but, of course, are really hand bill advertising. Maybe such hand bills are illegal but just accidentally losing a stack of business cards is not?

There are many more possible gutsy, outrageous, non-standard, maybe crude, vulgar, socially awkward, embarrassing, borderline legal, original, creative, never seen before, etc. marketing approaches.

One description of such stuff is guerilla marketing.


I think the car salesman you read about is the legendary Joe Girard who once won the Guinness World's Best Salesman title. He was also mentioned more than once in Cialdini's "Influence".


I like your style of thinking and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.


I think it depends a lot on your product how effective this will be. I did a lot of this while EnvKey[1] was in beta, setting up in person interviews/meetings via my network, and while I did learn a lot from it, it didn't lead to getting many users. This was primarily an issue of timing: EnvKey is a tool for managing configuration and secrets, so the most natural time to adopt it is when you're starting a new project. It has an import feature, but convincing someone to import an existing project is just a much higher bar than convincing them to try it on something new.

The problem is: what percentage of companies happen to be starting a new project now or even in the next few weeks? There are plenty of them out there, but the odds of getting someone at the right moment when reaching out one by one in meatspace are too low to make it work. In this situation, I've found that a hybrid approach works better: use organic marketing, meetups, and conferences to cast a net that is sufficiently wide that at least some of the people that see it and like the concept are in a position to adopt it right away, then keep in touch to find out how it's going and what the blockers are. This has been effective for getting our first batch of happy production users.

1 - https://www.envkey.com


Yeah, just walking into a supermarket and expecting to find a B2B connection is unlikely, but like you said, walking into a convention where your likely customers are is a great opportunity. Even coupling that with the other guys suggestion of just taping fliers everywhere outside the convention or dropping business cards on tables in the entryway lets you skip buying tickets to the convention but still get some boost from it.

$300 will get you pretty damn far that way, enough to get a customer or two that you will hopefully be able to provide good enough first-class service that they'll help you from there.


Interesting service, you're right that timing matters since we probably would've used this when we started. Also OpsZero is my cousin, small world.


Awesome! They have been a great ally :)

Can I ask what you're using currently to deal with this issue?


We made our own small library to glue together Google Cloud's KMS and GCS while using the built-in service accounts. Fast, easy and cheap.

Option #2 here: https://cloud.google.com/kms/docs/secret-management#choosing...


The way you and your parent comment are discussing "marketing" I would think would be more accurate to discuss as promotions/promoting.

This is an example of killing the language, and it minimizes the nuance involved. Advertising and promotions are a subset of marketing.

Edit: To be clear, I work in the area of addressable market/ /go-to-market strategy/ product definition/ competitive analysis and I have never had anything to do with outbound, promotional messaging.


Not sure why this is being downvoted. Marketing involves a lot more than advertising. At my current job I mentioned my surprise that no one from marketing was embedded with our dev team and got a querulous response that “why would we someone from advertising or PR in our dev process?”

My response was that marketing encompasses both designing and selling products that meet customer needs. We needed a product manager who does the customer research to help us determine our target customers and to build the right product to meet their needs and wants, and who will design a marketing plan with the relative priorities of advertising, PR, promotions, and various sales channels (direct, reseller, etc) to most efficiently reach target customers with an always limited marketing budget.

As an aside: What can be a thousand times more efficient than Google AdWords or any advertising ever? Good PR. No one should ever spend a dime on advertising without first considering whether they have a compelling story that media outlets will publicize for free, with just the cost of a dedicated or even part time PR resource.

I spent $1,500 on a PR contractor for my 2nd app, with 3 months I had positive reviews in PC World, CBS Marketwatch, etc, and my highest sales ever. In the end I’d estimate his efforts produced at 20-40x his cost in revenues. I’m dumb enough that I never did it again.


How would one normally go about finding a freelance PR contractor?

Are there any particular online directories? I ask because from your description they seem like they've different tactics to the typical freelance marketer.


Resources are obviously a constraint, but in my opinion the "right person, right time, right message" thinking is the best thing our marketing team taught me.

We used to run paid social/adwords campaigns, but once we were able to identify segments and customize the message, we ran smaller, more targeted campaigns.

I don't think having huge campaigns is as needed as figuring out your customers and how the present your product in a way they are ready to receive it.

We initially didn't have as much data to help us understand our segments, but we got a marketer that really had amazing intuition and experience. She was able to help us develop these targeted campaigns before we had the resources to really invest in better marketing software and bigger campaign budgets.

Many months we spend less than $300 on paid adverts and we're growing our customers and revenue. We've also got many good customer who advocate for us.


Well, you can do baby steps.

There are so many ways to promote stuff.

For example content marketing. Start writing a blog, when you get the ins and outs of blogging, start to use it to promote your product.

This year I wrote a blog article almost every week. Then I started to promote some educational videos I recorded for Skillshare. Made a few bucks on the side with that.

Just focus on some "type" of marketing that is easy for your and try it.


There are many HN discussions with practical steps for startup marketing.

Side Project Marketing Checklist

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15002079 (Aug 2017, 68 comments)

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14942902 (Aug 2017, 68 comments)

Ask HN: Building a side project that makes money. Where to start?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14039135 (Apr 2017, 248 comments)

--

A couple more free resources:

Getting Real, chapter 13: Promotion (2006)

https://gettingreal.37signals.com/#ch13

Growth Hacking: How to Acquire Users (2017)

https://www.julian.com/learn/growth/intro


Half of this article could be summed up as "Validate your idea/product. Do not assume what people want."

The other half is "Marketing is not stupid". Marketing, sadly, is something that many of us are not good at. People still believe that if you build it, they will come. Myself, I have a several dead side projects that nobody came for, as do many here.

Also, maybe I've been out of the adword world for too long, so question for you folks that are living it now. Is a $70 CAC about average? I find that a bit high but I suppose if it only takes 2 months to recoup then their CLV must be good.


I can't speak for most devs with a side project, but for me specifically, market validation and marketing don't feel like real work. I know it's real work and it's necessary work, but they don't feel like it. They feel like goofing off on the internet without the fun. I don't get the immediate gratification of posting on Hacker News or the satisfaction of coding up a new feature.

Then there's the added fear of being really bad at a new skill. It doesn't help that the iteration cycle of market validation and marketing is extremely long compared to programming. You could be screwing up for months and not have enough clear data to know you're screwing up.

To clarify, this is not me complaining. I realize I need to get over everything I've listed, press forward and learn a new (lucrative!) skill. But I can't be the only dev who feels this way about marketing.


I see product/idea validation as part of the marketing process, too.

In the intro to marketing course I took in college, one of the points they really tried to ingrain in everyone was that the market research you do before you create a product or feature is one of the most important parts of marketing.


I believe the first validation of product must come regardless of marketing skills. If you built a side project and no one is using it, it is a product problem, not a marketing problem.

Actually, I believe a clever marketing tactic can be counter-productive in such an early stage, as you might lure customers to a product that doesn't deliver value.

So, your first few paying customers should come from building the product and putting it in front of few people (your personal and professional network, Show HN, Reddit).

After you have these first customers then it is time to stop underestimating the marketing effort a successful product demands.


> If you built a side project and no one is using it, it is a product problem, not a marketing problem.

If you built it but no one knows about it to come and use it, how is that a product problem?


If "no one" means exactly zero person beside yourself you would be right. To grow from exactly zero to a few dozens of potential customers you don't need marketing. You need to tell people what you built. This is not an euphemism for marketing, its exactly what it means, to tell people that you build it. The very first sale must come from yourself telling people you already know pra reaching people in online forums. I don't classify this as "marketing".

At most, you need to do sales, not marketing.


Everything you’ve described, including product design, is marketing. Yes, sales is a very narrow part of marketing to.

Marketing is knowing who you are selling to, what they want, and how best to reach them.


Average CAC in terms of dollars depends entirely on your industry/product. A good number is all relative.


For many funded startups, they have the opposite scenario — growth that wholly depends on marketing that masks the product deficiencies. As soon as you lay off the gas, product deficiencies become apparent, so you are tempted to raise more and more money.


That's an interesting point that I hadn't really considered. Our startup never got to that stage. We raised money, burnt through it and then had to figure out how to salvage the situation being gritty.


Absolutely. This is very common in consumer products where the burden of moving over to the competition is minimal (think food delivery, ridesharing, home maintenance etc.).

Additional symptoms are relatively low retention or no retention at all, and aggressive marketing tactics to the point where as a customer you're not sure how can they be possibly making money.


I'm Sed and I'm addicted to adding more features to my startup.

This article talks to my heart. I have been working on my startup for 7 years now. For all these years, I have been adding more and more features, changing the product direction twice and still not knowing if we have something valuable.

I want to start marketing right now and stop adding more features!

P.S. Anyone interested in helping me? I am willing to split the profits for the lifespan of a user if you can help me acquire new paying users!


I hear you and I'm in the same boat lol. Except that, I have been engaging potential customers prior to a launch.

I am having 30 minute conversations and asking THEM things like:-

1) What their process looks like. 2) What pain-points they have. 3) What they are actually using and paying...

We then brain storm what potential solutions could solve these pain points and move onto:

4) How much they would be willing to pay to solve these problems. i.e, if their ROI could increase by a certain % is paying the $$ a no brainer. 5) More importantly, how much time they would be saving and is the $$$ a now brainer now?

Features are great, they differentiate between yourself and your competitors. But they aren't the goal. What is the goal, is making those features part of a process flow and achieving a result that your customers want AND will be willing to pay for, compared to your competitors.

What's the point in building a feature a potential customer won't use or understand? Or even worse, is too complex and when they use it they leave frustrated?

Bottom line is, you don't know if you have something because you aren't talking to your market.

So stop what you are doing. Nowadays it's really easy. Go on Facebook, start searching for some groups. Sometimes the gold is there because people are asking questions and you can get a sense of where your product fits. Then insert yourself into the conversation and start asking questions.

Start adding people and trying to engage them directly. Say you'll send them a coupon or buy them lunch for 30 minutes of their time. You can setup a Skype conversation and then glean lots of knowledge.

I would also suggest doing this with those who are experienced and in the weeds. Because they could give you actual insights over what people THINK they need.

Best of luck! :)


You are right! Without knowing the answer to those questions I feel like I have been creating these features for myself.

I should start engaging on social medias.

Do you think Facebook is better than Twitter for this?

Thank you! :)


Yes, Facebook is so much better! Purely for the groups aspect and usually you have people engaging with competitors products and asking how to do things.

I personally don't bother with Twitter for this aspect of product validation.


Will definitely check out Facebook! Thanks again!


I can't help you with that, but since your product for programmers, I have a suggestion: show an example of the markup of a page. Doesn't have to be very complex, but not an hello world either. You've essentially built a programming language, and there's a reason why most of their sites have code examples on the homepage :)


Great idea! Thanks! :)


Interesting, I wonder if you can set that up as a marketplace connecting successful marketers to recurring revenue.


Isn't that essentially a marketplace for affiliate programs? There are a few around.


> I am willing to split the profits for the lifespan of a user if you can help me acquire new paying users!

This is what affiliate programs (and networks) are for!


I guess lots of founders forget that an early tech startup is still a small business and similar rules apply whether you're starting the next Uber or opening a new restaurant.

Marketing and sales are super important. R&D is super risky. This is true for every business. To de-risk, spend more on the former and less on the latter.


If the author of this article would try to persuade me to join his company as a techie, I would say no. The reason is simple: as experienced as he sounds (and he sounds like a total badass, by the way), the overarching conclusion that a hacker may take away from this article is "startups are little more than a lot of clever marketing".

Which is sad, in a way. We all read about how Woz was hacking logic boards during the early days of Apple, or how Sergey and Larry built their company on top of their groundbreaking PhD research. As a techie, you would dream that you can join a team where your contribution is crucial and consists of something that can't be outsourced to Ukraine. Yet, this mostly doesn't appear to be the case.

Sad.


I am the author and I do agree with what you are saying. Our story was different. I mentioned that one of the original sins of our company was how we budgeted solely into product development. The other original sin was that the idea for the company was ill conceived. We had been working on tech at another company why not release as stand alone product. The idea frankly wasn't that differentiated enough from other products out there. When you don't have a truly differentiated idea like the companies you brought up, then marketing becomes more and more important to get peoples attention. Part of what made the examples you brought up special is that what they were working was so unique. That differentiation/uniqueness makes it a lot easier to market (the virality piece is more likely). In our case because we didn't have that. The way to survive was that we had to fight it out bidding for ads on Google. I would not recommend that path for anyone. It was just the environment we were in. I would say even for those companies to focus on marketing will not be a disservice, but focus on the initial conception of the idea even more. It makes a world of difference in determining what kind of head winds you'll face.


No one would ever have heard about Woz and his logic board hacking if Jobs hadn’t decided his target market was non technical people in the home and office, insisted the products contain features targeting their needs (no kit, a working computer packaged to connect to a TV, disk drives instead of tapes, etc, etc) and then created massive awareness of Apple using great PR, advertising, and a worldwide sales network of resellers.


> We invested all of our seed funding in developing a great product. In doing so, our feature list expanded, but our actual revenue growth never changed in a meaningful way to support that development.

I think the key distinction to make here is that a "great product" is not defined by whether or not it is feature- complete, pleasant to use, etc. but whether or not your customers like using it, consequently paying you for it. Likewise, any change you make to your product should only be considered a positive delta if it makes people like it more (or pay more for it); otherwise, it's just a prettier/faster/more complicated product, not a better one.


Month 2 into building a startup and found this article very relevant. I think one of the challenges I personally face is that building more features feels safe. You can spend a whole day trying to reach out to more people to validate the problem and come away with nothing. A day of coding gives you something tangible.

Since we're B2B focused, my co-founder and I resolved this by deciding to go the consulting route to build the product. We essentially banned ourselves from writing code until we found someone willing to pay us to write the feature.


>I think one of the challenges I personally face is that building more features feels safe. You can spend a whole day trying to reach out to more people to validate the problem and come away with nothing. A day of coding gives you something tangible.

Coming away with nothing and then to keep on trying. This has been the hardest thing for me too. Coding/designing/building is way more fun and easy (in the short-term).


Features != Success, is such an important truth, I wish every new founder could somehow be made to understand it.

Build one simple feature that people are willing to pay for and start marketing and selling it is by far the path of least resistance.

(Then carefully grow your product outward from that point)


It seems that you add more features, you attract more users, but I think that if you've prioritized your features 'right', each additional one makes your product attractive to fewer and fewer marginal users.

Also, when you get really down in the weeds, I bet it's easy to have a daunting feature list that people bounce off of, especially if you don't have a clear separation between marquee/headline features and detail features, meaning you might make your product attractive to an additional 1% of users, but 5% of your existing potential users fall out of the funnel because of the word soup.


> if you've prioritized your features 'right', each additional one makes your product attractive to fewer and fewer marginal users.

Only if they are independent. Features A + B may attract a bigger public than both feature A or feature B alone.


I think the thing that affected me the most is trying to solve all of the problems with ever more code and cleverness. I actually think the less code you have as a startup the better, I suppose this is a small expansion of "Do things that don't scale". Avoid writing code.


This is a fallacy within technical circles: that the world will somehow immediately recognize the intrinsic value of a feature/addition as soon as it becomes public and that it'll therefore spread on its own merits. It's good to always keep in mind that history is littered with perfect technologies that failed miserably. Creating the perfect mouse trap without placing it where it'll catch mice is useless.

P.S.: Been there, done that.


Key word here is retention. The author was in a pretty good position to be in, where the paid users were happy enough not to churn and move to the competition. Once you're there - you have product market fit, and you should presumably move into growth mode. That means more expenses on sales and marketing, and diverting r&d resources to scale (if needed) and building features that will reduce churn or help marketing.

Another way to describe the situation here is - moving to growth mode too late, when you already have a good enough product to attack with but you're also almost out of runway.


Marketing is crucial when you have the right product. If a startup spends tons on marketing and there are product deficiencies, then users are going to come and go.


If a products target customers think it has deficiencies, you need to reemphasixe marketing. Researching and understanding your target customers needs and wants is the first, and by far most important part of marketing.


They missed `withstanding` in this classic https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/07/25/how-i-met-my-w...


One thing I don't really have much experience in doing is measuring growth. Is this something you have to figure out before avoiding the tarpits?


startup tarpit is a juicy phrase.




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