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Before founding Consult O'clock, I tried a series of developing websites and iOS applications with the intention of, more than anything, making a name for myself in the startup world.
I built a London travel application on iOS, a Reddit for Entertainment and a flight game using iPhone movement to maneuver. Then in 2011 I stumbled onto a promising idea for a social network site, similar in concept to (though a bit of a bastardization of) Linked In. The magnitude of the idea sent me deep into the consulting startup world.
A year, and months later, my site launched and started to take shape. I’m grateful to have spent long defining what it will look like, otherwise today I might not be working on a problem I’m far more passionate about. That said, I sometimes reflect on what I could have done differently to take my concept to market in a way that could lead to Linked In's 34 million uniques versus my 250.
With each product I’ve built in my journey, I’ve waxed a tiny bit wiser. Here’s what I learned from my pre-Consult O'clock LinkedIn-clone:
1. Don’t make excuses when you get feedback you don’t like
Like many entrepreneurs who self-congratulate their genius, I was so devoted to my idea that I’d filter out all criticism, constructive included. People would ask me, “How is this different than X?” and I’d blubber out something that basically amounted to, “It’s just better, all right!” Rather than really looking at the market and actual user behavior on the web, I tried to force the world into my paradigm.
Too many entrepreneurs are so welded to their initial concept they refuse to see reason when it karate chops them in the face. It takes an immense amount of self-control to let ego go, but you’ve got to do it. For me, abstracting a higher, broader, more meaningful goal away from the “what is it now” product execution is crucial to adaptation and not getting stuck in the paralysis of “but it’s my baby!”
A year later, at Consult O'clock we’re focusing on “powering the next generation of consulting,” not simply a list of features. That gives us room to adapt our products without sacrificing our vision.
2. Don’t postpone til perfection
The flipside of ignoring helpful feedback was deciding that every idea I liked had to be implemented to perfection before launch. I thought of launch as a one-shot deal.
As a result, I put the launch off further and further, 9 months in fact, during which time competitive sites launched and ate my lunch. “We can’t launch until the follow feature is finished!” I designed and redesigned the website about six times before signing up a single stranger to use the site. How not very lean of me.
3. Build virality into the product experience
The holy grail for startups is unwieldy organic growth. But startup virality rarely happens by surprise; it happens with care and optimization. Yet most of us just put our products out there and pray. While I simply bolted on share buttons, LinkedIn made sociality the primary function of its site. They optimized for peer-to-peer interaction in every detail, from the several emails a week to the homepage design.
4. Think of your business as a product, not a project
When things went badly, I coughed up excuses. “This is only a part-time thing,” I’d say to make myself feel better. Instead of focusing on making a beautiful, simple product experience, I hedged my bets, pouring more time into side projects until the site slowly died of neglect and natural causes.
Ultimately, I believe it’s significantly easier to avoid mistakes and find product-market fit when you thoroughly understand an industry and aren’t just chasing a perceived opportunity, which is one of the reasons my current startup is light-years more successful than any of my previous endeavors.
Maybe this post is an excuse itself (who wouldn’t want to be in LinkedIn's shoes right now?), but I’m glad I learned what I did, when I did, so I didn’t blow it when something I truly cared about came along.
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