Startup Advice

The importance of activities that don’t scale in a successful startup’s early days

Martin Kovacs /

The dream may be to make it big in as little time as possible, but for startups finding their feet in the business world a lot of hard graft will typically be required before the results start becoming apparent.

That hard work involves doing things that, on face value, don’t scale, says Indiez founder Nitesh Agrawal.

“All successful startups started from a countable number of users and grew through repeatedly doing things that don’t scale,” Agrawal writes in a recent Medium post.

“There are no shortcuts. This is the only way to grow.”

So what are the things that don’t scale that startups should focus on? Here’s three of Agrawal’s six insights.

Attract beta users

Getting beta users on board is important for all startups because, as Agrawal observes, support from early users who will talk about the benefits of a startup’s offering will help create traction.

Agrawal points to the example of payments startup Stripe, which started out with a very simple beta sign-up page.

“When anyone agreed to try Stripe they’d say: ‘Right then, give me your laptop’ and set them up on the spot,” he writes. “This method of ‘collision installation’ helped them to get [their] first few users.”

Time to get your hands dirty

As founders, taking an active role in the initial stages of a product’s development will provide benefits, says Agrawal.

“This is the perfect time to dive into the industry and learn as much as you can by getting your hands dirty,” Agrawal says.

Agrawal recommends talking to people to understand pain points and experiencing existing solutions to discover what can be improved.

“When you’re first starting out, you should use all the channels that the big guys can’t use because they are focused on scale,” he advises.

“So focus on mailing lists, forums, online communities, offline gatherings, etc. Those are all great ways to reach people.”

What is it that you need to build?

Product development can be an ongoing process and it is important to initially focus on what is really needed.

Agrawal points to the example of social media management platform Buffer testing the waters without implementing a payment gateway.

“Your developer’s time is an important resource and the smartest way to build is to only build features that are really required,” he advises.

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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