Sleepless in the City
Suffice it to say, this previous week has been one of my most sleepless. From Monday–Friday, I was taking Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad class and immediately after jumped on a bus to my last PennApps. Few notes and thoughts below.
Essentially a 5-day intensive block course teaching the most important ideas out of Steve’s book, this class aimed to combine students from Columbia Business School and Engineering and throw them head-first into the world of starting a company (“startup” I guess would be the buzzword). It was essentially a practicum in Steve’s customer development methodology, and most of the class didn’t evolve around refining an idea into a business, but rather “getting out of the building,” talking to potential customers, and learning from them. Don’t know the answer to a question? Talk to customers to find it. This makes a lot of sense, but even in just a weeklong course, it was easy to see how personal beliefs and passion can be distracting to this purpose and lead to discussions that weren’t necessarily founded in fact or what the customer wanted.
Products vs. Businesses
As an engineer, being in a class with a bunch of BSchool students was definitely… an experience. When presenting our idea on the first day (essentially listening off a bunch product features), Steve stopped us dead in our tracks and asked, “Who in the team are engineers?” We all raised our hands. It was that easy to tell.
A big realization I had is that as an engineer, I would be totally happy building a product (NB: not necessarily a “business” or “company”) even if there’s no hope of it making money—I don’t necessarily think many of my BSchool peers would necessarily have the same level of satisfaction as me. I’ve been so focused on products and users that it was a useful exercise for me to start thinking of things in terms of businesses and customers. There’s a very fine line here, and the whole topic may very well be just a large grey area with no black and white, but I do think there is a distinction. It boils down to something like this, a variant of which I told Steve was one of the biggest things I learned: Everybody on the planet can love a product, but if no one’s willing to pay for it, it’s not a business.
Breadth vs. Depth
As a team, we struggled a lot with the issue of “breadth vs. depth.” Should we make our product appeal to a large audience or introduce specific features to cater towards a niche market? The answer seems obvious now, but the answer is the latter. Catering to a specific market may destroy your schemes for world domination, but in the end, you’ll serve your customers better. And it’s hard enough as it is to get that right.
A scant hour or two after finishing up our team’s final presentation for LaunchPad, I hopped in a Greyhound to Philly to my last PennApps (I bought tickets too late and couldn’t get a Bolt. Never again.) There was an insane amount of people there: three entire floors were occupied with hackers making everything from a backpack inventory tracker to an app that removes dirty things from your Facebook. Our team hacked together a way to visualize your Snapchat network (obligatory plug to check it out and show your friends). My personal favorite was dead simple but made me giggle for a while: Big Data.
Although the nights were sleepless, I can’t complain that much because my waking hours were spent with awesome people. Gotta give so much props to John, Angel, Ken, Mikey (LaunchPad) and Jasdev and Nishant (PennApps) for sticking it through beside me.
Now what am I gonna do with all this free time?