Living the life of an early stage startup has its challenges. One of the main ones has to be how to evolve and grow a product without much money.
A few months ago we had the opportunity to present our story to a group of product managers here in Melbourne. It was a great evening which gave us the opportunity to reflect on the product challenges we faced to this point. We looked back on our achievements and failures and found four areas that we believe helped define us:
“Companies deliver nice products; a startup delivers a solution.”
I read the sentence above on Twitter and it summarizes what we think about early stage companies. It’s so easy to get hung up on how perfect your product has to be before hitting the market that you end up forgetting that there are people out there with a real problem. Guess what, if you deliver a solution for it they will be happy, no matter how rough it is.
Thankfully we have had that in our mind from early on. We started the company renting a van for a few days a week and selling goods through the simplest e-commerce website possible. From day one we had revenue and could confirm that a market for our product existed.
Thankfully this approach has continued for the whole year. We still test everything that we do and deliver only in one area in Melbourne (about to open the second!), in order to test and evolve our model as much as possible one step at a time. From 20 customers in January to around 200 now, we were able to tackle and solve problems as they happened, instead of investing large sums of money to design a perfect product.
2. “Nothing is going to work”
It might sound negative at first, but the sentence about is what we say to each other when we over-plan functionalities out of plain excitement.
This is a lesson we learned the hard way. In the most iconic example, we developed a new feature for two weeks, preparing it for success, only to take it off the website in less than a day. In the rush of creating new solutions, we forgot that we had no idea how to communicate it to customers and the results that we got proved it.
Why did it take so long? Because we made sure we covered every success case. What if everyone uses it? What if our sales double because of it?
Unfortunately this is most times just waste, and realising that most ideas fail has saved us a lot of time.
3. Customers, customers, customers
This is old news, but always worth repeating: “In an early stage company, the only thing to focus on is customers.”
We knock at someone’s door to deliver groceries to them every day, so customer relationship has been at the forefront of our mind since the start. Even then, it’s easy to forget who is buying our product and just build solutions to please ourselves.
In our case, we started the business believing that we would be a great solution for young professionals (AKA ‘us’) who wanted to buy groceries online.
Only when we went to interview our best customers did we notice they were all young families with kids. Realising that has changed our vision about the business completely.
If you ever have been in a software development team working under a schedule, you might know how important it is to focus on the correct work to deliver. Coming from a consulting background where I helped people with that, I thought we had that covered.
However, the combination of a small team, lots of ideas and a flexible business model creates the perfect environment for people to pivot every day. And you might keep doing that without ever delivering anything worth paying for.
For us it’s been a great journey to understand who we were building our product for and have clear goals of what we were trying to achieve.
At the moment, we’ve looked at results every week and check them under three lenses:
- Getting more customers
- Helping customers order more each time
- Helping customers to buy more frequently (i.e. do more of their grocery shopping with us)
Only when we have clear a goal do we decide what needs improving. Then it’s time to look at the ideas we have and figure out what to work on.
Looking back, it seems that our theme has been to find people with problems and create the smallest solution that will help them.
This is much easier said than done though, so I hope these ideas help some other people out there.
Francisco is a co-founder of YourGrocer. Software developer by trade, he is usually trying to write code when not delivering groceries to great customers.