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How scrappy should early stage founders be?

I'm a big believer in the lean startup process, but there's always lots of different perspectives on what lean means in practice. A couple questions for my fellow early stage founders (or those who have been and are now funded/established founders).

1) Who are the first people you seek feedback from on an idea? Friends/family vs. strangers? Where do you find them?

2) How do you make ends meet while bootstrapping? Have you taken part-time jobs like driving for Uber?

3) (and this is relevant for anyone -- founders or advisors or engineers) Would you consider driving a stranger to the airport in exchange for getting 15-20 minutes of their genuine feedback?

That's the idea behind www.farefeedback.com, a crazy concept around ridesharing + feedback that I came up with yesterday. I hope this post does not come off as overly promotional, but feel free to check out the landing page I just threw together, and am very interested to hear people's thoughts on the three questions above.

13 Replies

Irwin Stein
1
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Irwin Stein Advisor
Very experienced (40 years) corporate,securities and real estate attorney.
You have been a developer for 9 weeks and you want feedback? I admire your moxie. Feedback is important but you don't necessarily want it from your barber unless your barber is a potential customer for what you are developing. You are offering a ride to the airport and one hour of your time to get feedback. What is an hour of your time worth? Is the feedback worth at least that much? Could your time be better spent writing up a business plan to get real funding? Whatever you do, don't tell people "here is a landing page that I threw together". If you can't present yourself to the world s a serious professional you are going to have a very difficult time being taken seriously.
Dimitry Rotstein
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Dimitry Rotstein Entrepreneur
Head of R&D at SafeZone
>1) Who are the first people you seek feedback from on an idea?

Basically, anyone who'd listen, but the most informative and important feedback always comes from potential clients, particularly potential early adopters.

> Where do you find them?

Now that is the million (or rather billion) dollar question. The answers vary greatly depending on the product and the target market/segment. You have to know your market in order to succeed, and this question is the most important one that tells you whether you know the market or not.

2) How do you make ends meet while bootstrapping? Have you taken part-time jobs like driving for Uber?

There are several ways to make it work. Here's one method I'm using right now:
I got a part-time job cleaning apartment buildings, 2 full days per week, mostly for the physical exercise and a way not to burn out programming. The fact that it makes me enough money to pay rent is a nice bonus. I prefer to think of it as a gym that PAYS ME rather than the other way around.

> 3) (and this is relevant for anyone -- founders or advisors or engineers) Would you consider driving a stranger to the airport in exchange for getting 15-20 minutes of their genuine feedback?

In my case, it's probably irrelevant, since I don't have a car, and prefer to drive as little as possible due to poor eyesight. But in theory, sounds intriguing, assuming there is at least a considerable chance that such a person would be a prospective client (within the targeted market segment). Otherwise, it's probably not worth my time. Also, the feedback process has to be simple and mobile-friendly, in particular one that doesn't create much distraction (that would be unsafe), and doesn't require heavy use of the Internet or devices that cannot be used in a car (e.g. training equipment). The thing is that I'm mostly interested in practical feedback to using my apps/websites, and the feedback should be more than verbal, i.e. I want to watch the user actually using my software - that would give me more information than words can describe. If all I can do is to describe my idea and listen to an improvised opinion, then it's not worth my time either, unless that person is a world-class expert on the subject, but even then it's of limited use (I don't care much about expert opinions, to be honest).
Dan Dascalescu
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Dan Dascalescu Entrepreneur
Developer Advocate at Google
Not a bad idea! Especially if the driver solicits feedback from knowledgeable people - fellow entrepreneurs, small business owners.
Sydney Wong
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Sydney Wong Entrepreneur
Founder at VenturX
For my startup, my friends are not the target market so they will give me 'feedback/encouragement/etc.' Are your friends and family within the customer target that you are aiming for?

For farefeedback, I don't know if the anticipation of getting a survey for a free ride would skew a certain % of the riders' opinions....because they know they are getting a ride out of whether it be free or discounted than a taxi where no one is expecting anything.
Shardul Mehta
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Shardul Mehta Advisor
Serial Product Guy, Entrepreneur, Product Management Executive
1. The first and only people to seek feedback from on an idea are your target customers.

2. Part-time or full-time job. And/or you can "pre-sell" your idea to early customers. You want to do this anyway, because no sense in building something no one will pay you for.

3. Only if that stranger was in my target customer profile, and even then I'd prefer not to do it in a car, because I don't have an opportunity to take notes.
Sam McAfee
4
0
Sam McAfee Advisor
Building Popup Incubators for Corporate Innovation Programs
@Shardul nails it, as do @Irwin and @Dimitry. Customers, customers, customers.

And I love the "I like Lean Startup, but..." comments you see so frequently. The only reservations people really have about the method is how raw and unpolished an initial product can safely be. And I think that hair-splitting argument totally misses the point.

If you read "4 Steps to the Epiphany", or listen to anything Steve Blank or Eric Ries have said over the last 5 or 6 years that this methodology has been developed, the main point is always this: test your idea on real customers, and validate that you actually have something worth paying for before you invest time, money, and other resources into building a real product. Everything else people agonize over with Lean Startup is just background noise next to this fundamental approach. Keep that in mind, and the rest are just tactics you can look up on a million blogs (like mine).

Good luck!
Brian Bensch
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Brian Bensch Entrepreneur
Founder & CEO at Snow Schoolers
Thanks all for the responses so far.
@Irwin Stein- Any early stage founder (or advisor) is a potential customer for this idea. Hence posing the question. If it proves unviable I won't be heart-broken, but I definitely think talking to potential customers is a better use of time than first writing a business plan.

@Dimitry Rotstein- great stuff. The current idea is that as a founder/driver, you get to "accept" proposed rides just like you would as an Uber driver, except that you also get to see their anonymized profile and can determine how relevant their background is to your needs (i.e. VP of Bus Dev @ XYZ startup).

@Dan Dascalescu- The founder can be at any stage in their MVP, and ideally if they have a live app/site available, then their passenger gets to play with it and test it out in the car with them.

Shardul Mehta-Understandably the driver can't be looking over their shoulder or taking notes, but verbal feedback while someone's clicking through an app or site can still be super helpful.

As a follow-up for anyone, would you use such an app as a passenger? We all use Uber/Lyft/etc. today, so the value prop for a consumer is simple: would you trade your genuine attention in exchange for a cheaper ride?
Shardul Mehta
0
0
Shardul Mehta Advisor
Serial Product Guy, Entrepreneur, Product Management Executive
Brian, verbal is nice, but I'm likely to forget key learnings. That's why I like to take notes to refer to later. In any case,my preference would always be to watch the user use the app.
Dimitry Rotstein
1
0
Dimitry Rotstein Entrepreneur
Head of R&D at SafeZone
>you also get to see their anonymized profile and can determine how relevant
>their background is to your needs

Lean Startup also means starting from a very narrow target segment and surgically tailor your product to that segment. The chances that a random Uber passenger belongs to my chosen segment are too slim (unless my target group ARE Uber users), plus it's not likely that some generic profile will allow me to determine whether that person is in my target audience in the general case.

>would you use such an app as a passenger?

Probably not. I get motion sickness if I use a phone or even try to read something during a ride. That may be true for a lot of people, by the way.

>We all use Uber/Lyft/etc. today

I've never used any of those. I use public transportation, if I have to, though I prefer to walk as much as possible. Admittedly,I might be an atypical case.

>verbal feedback while someone's clicking through an app or site can still be super helpful.

It can also be very distracting and dangerous. This isn't a casual conversation about the weather.

Joseph Wang
0
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Joseph Wang Entrepreneur
Chief Science Officer at Bitquant Research Laboratories
1) It really depends on my mood. Sometimes I need/want a cheerleader. Sometimes, I need/want someone to tell me what to totally stupid idiot I am. It turns out that I've got a group of people that can get me specific types of feedback.

2) Whatever you can do. I have savings, but it's burning, and so I try to take as many odd jobs as I can to reduce my burn rate.

3) I don't think this is going to work. The problem is that in exchange for 15 minutes of feedback, you have to do about a hour of prep work. The other thing is that sometimes when dealing with strangers, it becomes obvious in 5 seconds that you don't want to continue the conversation. Also, driving a car during a very intense conversation strikes me as a bad idea.
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