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Stuff I said at Kansas City Startup Weekend that sounded smart (2011) (apenwarr.ca)
81 points by Tomte 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments



I don't disagree with the spirit of doing user research before building things, which is sort of the rage now, but I really think that if people are reading this they should hear the counterpoint loud and clear:

Do not mislead your users.

Really, I can't imagine it makes such a difference to have coming soon. I doubt -- though I don't know for sure -- that simply telling people you already have the product is going to give you a company changing amount of information.

In any case we should have benchmarks that will help. (Example: Perhaps the "coming soon" tag costs you 50% of your signups, so just double the amount you receive as an estimate, and then remove the tag after you build it).


the idea behind telling people you have a product is it gets them into a presale funnel or at least mailing list which you can use as traction to raise money

if you are bootstrapping, you don’t need to do this, but you do need to compete with people who do this


His MVP argument confuses me. I short, he suggests lying to your visitors, by making a lead capture page that looks like the product already works. He does not address the ethics, the karma or simply the bad business reputation of lying about minor details such as "it works". This surprises me.


This blog post was written in 2011, when the book “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” was a best seller. The book was a guide to convincing your boss to let you work from home so you could have more time to build a side hustle business.

One of the main premises of the book was to validate your side hustle with fake Google ads to see how many people clicked on your product. This was a very trendy idea at the time.

I knew several people who tried this trick, and it backfired for most of them. In the real world, customers are very averse to potential scams on the internet. They quickly notice if a company is pretending to be something it’s not, and they remember that the company was misleading for a long, long time.

The modern equivalent is a landing page that captures the user’s email to wait for an invite to the “current private beta”. Making a webpage that pretends to crash on checkout as this blog author suggests, is a terrible way to retain user interest and build confidence in your brand.


> customers are very averse to potential scams on the internet. They quickly notice if a company is pretending to be something it’s not, and they remember that the company was misleading for a long, long time.

You mean all 30 people who clicked on your ad? It's not like you're throwing $30K in AdWords for this...


I believe the post is satirical, although with some of the points it’s a bit hard to tell.


It's pretty well executed satire, if it is.

That said I thought the "is there a conference for it" is a pretty nice definition of what a niche is (at least in B2B land).


I worked on a project in 2000 where I was using third-party simulation software to demo some of the capabilities of our product. It looked pretty cool. I couldn't figure out why Powerpoint slides wouldn't cut it, but whatever, it was fun work. I was green, and the entire business side was a mystery to me.

Then the Harvard MBA who initiated the project showed me what he had done. He had used a Windows binary editor to rebrand the third-party simulation software to make it look like ours. "If the product is successful we'll contact them and work out something." Product? He didn't outright tell me, but he said enough for me to realize he was going to present it as a GUI management tool for our software to a company they were trying to make a sale to.

I was already on my way out the door at that company, so I just kept my head down. I do know the demo never happened, so maybe somebody with better sense reigned him in.


Not too dissimilar to how Bill Gates "created" and sold DOS before it existed. Clearly misrepresentative and unethical, but not idiotic from a ruthless business perspective.


> but not idiotic from a ruthless business perspective.

What the hell kind of excuse is that?


Right. I get that is is good to gauge customer interest before investing the time to build the product, but be honest about if it works yet. This may be unfair but it sounds like something out of the Theranos playbook.


Yeah this piece really hit the peak of "lie to everybody and just keep pushing forward on bullshit" startup sentiment that was really big 10 years.

It was a really dark time, we're still cleaning up those messes today.


What makes you think that sort of BS ever really stopped?


Yes I’d personally prefer to talk face to face with some people, be honest and try to get a pre order for the thing I’m building. No need to lie and still this is technically a minimal viable proposition


It's a common tactic and very sensible. Figure out if you can sell first, if you can't, don't bother. If that bothers you, you probably shouldn't be in the game of running a business at all. If absolute truth is more important to you than a few fibs or a little half-truth, you'll find it difficult to run a successful business.

It's the difference between spending $10,000s making something to find out you're incapable of selling anything, or not.

I've made this mistake, twice too, getting too wrapped up in the dev.

It's stupid to do it that way round. I wasted a lot of money, and have got burnt by a business partner that simply couldn't sell what we made despite making all the right noises.


"If absolute truth is more important to you than a few fibs or a little half-truth, you'll find it difficult to run a successful business."

Another example of free advice being worth what you pay for it. As someone that buys things, I don't recommend this advice. (Maybe if the person that posted it had some evidence beyond a short story it would be different.)

"I wasted a lot of money, and have got burnt by a business partner that simply couldn't sell what we made despite making all the right noises."

Just throwing this out - maybe the inability to sell is correlated with the first part of your post.


I don't have the reference now - I think it was mentioned in The Economist - but I remember reading that the inability to sell is pretty strongly correlated with honesty. Unfortunately, selling your product is still an unavoidable part of any side hustle, if one wants to make a go of it and is also highly honest, I think the amount of effort spent on sales simply has to go up. Some people whose honesty I admire have been successful in that field, but it seems like a tough road.


Sure, go waste your money speculatively building a product.

You don't have to do this of course if your price point is $10,000+, you could go get agreement in principles if it's a bigger product.

But for smaller products that are online only signup? Getting all dewey eyed over someone not getting their $10 p/m new to-do app, and go spend months building it instead and then finding there's no market?

You're making the wrong call there. Test the market, prove you can sell it, then make it. A couple of people not getting their $10 p/m app vs you losing $10,000s on wasted time is worth that.

To be honest, as a professor what have you ever had to do business-wise? You've never left academia apparantly. It must be nice to critize but I have no respect for your advice.


I think there may be a difference between ethical market research to determine demand, and "little lies" to potential customers that an application is ready to sell.


> If absolute truth is more important to you than a few fibs or a little half-truth, you'll find it difficult to run a successful business.

To be frank, we're doing quite well so far.


I guess the question is: if your leading point is that lying is OK and necessary, why should we believe anything in this comment at all?

edit: which is why it's critical to be honest with your customers at all times.


Pragmatically, I recognize that you are right. Businesses and business people do, in fact, operate this way, and anyone who finds this distasteful should not go into business.

My question is: Does it really need to be this way? Certainly humans will try to "game" the system like you're describing, but is it possible to design an economy, through regulations or otherwise, where this strategy of lying to customers won't succeed? Is business this way because we allow it to be, because the people in charge of business decisions want to maintain their ill-gained power?


In economics, you can examine the information people to use to make decisions: signalling. A classic example is a species of antelope that leaps into the air to (possibly) signal its health to predators: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stotting

An important problem in human societies, which become complex enough to examine 'memes' as elements of culture (in the original, Dawkins sense, not just the 'familiar pictures with text' sense), is that people learn 'signals' without verifying their accuracy.

Making business more honest is about getting society to use more accurate signals, which comes from, basically, work, but also awareness of the necessity of doing that work.

Defining where, exactly, the boundary between honest and dishonest is can be difficult. Is it dishonest to sell a pair of shoes that costs $2 to make for $200?

The way that more accurate signalling can fix this is that people would not assume that the $200 pair of shoes is better. Or they would not assume that someone who owns the $200 pair of shoes has some beneficial quality that they would currently associate with it.

Will not get into how to improve signal accuracy, as there's no chance my explanation would lead to the solution being used.


I think that makes sense if 0 people sign up or 10,000 do and you can now work to deliver the product.

But what happens if only one person signs up?

You've proved it doesn't work, and yet you have to deliver your app to this one person, right?


I think the part about "fibs" includes not delivering.


So, it's a kickstarter, without the kickstart if you only have 1 person sign up. Theres plenty of successful kickstarter projects, also plenty that did not deliver, so I wonder about the harm of being up front about intentions? In open source a lot do it for the passion of the work. They accept donations, some move to a paid model, but usually they are honest with their users and those users are retained more often than not. It depends on what is driving the company. Profits or passion.


Is there a big tech startup scene in the Kansas City area?


Not really, but they do exist, and I've exclusively worked for startups or small companies for 8 years now.

We only have a handful of large corp companies to supplement startup growth (Garmin, Cerner, etc). Another commenter lamented about wages, but I've never had an issue with that. The key is to position yourself as a big fish in the small pond that is KC. To maximize your wage growth: The usual strategy of "being an expert in X hottest sexy technology" doesn't work here, you have to respond to the market wants.

The main benefit of KC is the extraordinarily low cost of living, easy commute, and low population density. If you're an urbanite, you'll likely find it too small. The benefits though are low taxes, low housing costs, little government involvement in your personal life, quiet living, and the best barbecue on planet earth.


Great Mexican food, too, and our fine dining is surprisingly decent, considering. The rest of our food scene’s kinda overpriced and hit-or-miss on quality but those are good.

Outdoors life’s shit unless your into hunting or fishing. Worst part about living here, easily.


What would you like to see outdoors that you don't currently?


Nice set of mountains would be cool. Or move the Lake of the Ozarks two hours closer.


No. They lied to everyone and failed to deliver.


KC isn't really a place for startups. In my experience there's only demand for a handful of "Senior Staff / Principal Staff" engineers. Having worked with a few out in Kansas, they have the skills experience of a "Senior Engineer" in SV or less.

Not a lot of upward mobility. Hard to hire young talent. Great barbecue and 4 seasons if you're so inclined.


Big for a city like Kansas City I guess. But not really, no. If you’re here and want to work in startups you can find one, probably. Pay’s usually bad even by local standards, but it’s also all over the place so some do pay (local) market.


Apart from a small point I think this is excellent. In particular I am disappointed by how easily people slip into thinking the name of the thing is the thing.

The small point (more than a nit) is on “making a fake web site that appears to crash.” But indeed, be as minimal as possible so you can do a lot of rapid experimentation.


Wait. I was there. That was you?


I was there too!


And you know what they said? Some of it was true!




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