Jevon MacDonald

co-founder of Startupnorth.ca

Products are Lines, not Dots

I see a lot of founders and startups struggling with explaining what they are trying to accomplish. Many are just focused on how they are going to do the next thing. The next release, the next pitch, the next campaign.

Releasing a product is not an accomplishment in and of itself. Launching isn’t either. Getting a feedback and signs of traction never quite feels like enough.

Why are you doing all this?

Mark Suster wrote an important blog post in 2010: Invest in Lines, Not Dots.

The tl;dr: Relationships are important.

It’s easy to think that when you meet someone once, you’ve MET them. It just isn’t true. A relationship is that line that is formed across a series of encounters.

Products are no different and the sins that we commit are the same as those Mark describes.

Mark says:

“[ . . ] I tell entrepreneurs the following: Meet your potential investors early.  Tell them you’re not raising money yet but that you will be in the next 6 months or so.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 1.01.31 PMIn a world of fast iteration and Running Lean, it’s easy to think of products as the entire picture. It’s one big giant dot that we hope brings us success and a mass of users.

It’s never like that though.

Your Product  is a relationship with your users. Like Mark (and the rest of us), Users invest in Lines, not Dots.

When you have that first meeting you need to not only make a good impression, but you have to tell everyone where you are going. We call it Vision.

Release Early, Then Release With Purpose

Fast product iteration is important: You listen to users, you monitor and assess metrics and you make changes that bring your product closer to perfection.

Perfection is not what you need: Purpose is. Why are you releasing and why should users and customers continue to invest in you and your product with their time, money and feedback?

In looking for perfection (product/market fit?) it’s easy to think it is something that *just happens* and then you are instantly successful. It’s never like that. It takes work and focus, and a vision for how the future is going to be different for your customers because of it.

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Vision is what defines the future you see for you and your customers. It’s why they try things for the first time and it’s why they will stick around even when you don’t quite get things right.

It’s easy to miss and it’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day, but if you have it and if you can articulate a vision, then you have a better business plan than you could ever put in a doc or deck.

When you iterate on your product and deliver releases, it should be about taking the customer closer to your vision for your product and why it’s important.

 

 

 

We Should Be Building Empires

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Last chance to get your tickets to this incredible event!

We don’t build a lot of empires around here.

Empires are big, they grow fast, and they use momentum to determine where to apply resources. Empires don’t respond, they set the new rules.

Carnegie. Rockefeller. Gates. Zuckerberg.

Lutke. McDerment. Baker.

We’ve had empires come and go, but we haven’t built the sort that stick around for 100 or 1,000 years.

We need to startup building empires.

In 2008 we held a conference in Toronto. Some of you might remember it. We were going to call it something like StartupNation, StartupConf or something else,. but we decided to call it StartupEmpire. Why?

We thought it was important to put a stake in the ground about the kinds of companies Toronto startups needed to think about building: Bigger, badder and more resilient.

Next week we are re-doing it. StartupEmpire is taking place in Halifax this time, a startup community that is in much the state that Toronto’s was 5+ years ago. It’s time to focus our gaze out in to the world and to say ‘”I’m coming for you.”

You can hear from some of the most ambitious and experienced entrepreneurs in Canada right now including April Dunford, John Baker, Dan Martell, Bala Kamallakharan and a lot more.

Get your tickets now, there are only about a dozen left!

You are supposed to break the rules

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Great entrepreneurs truly do not care about the rules.

If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of rules.

Some come and go with the times, others never seem to go away:

  • You are supposed to dress a certain way
  • Finance your company this way
  • You pitch deck should look like THIS
  • You, in your industry, with your product, it’s not the way it’s done

And there are the big rules, the regulations:

Great companies are built by breaking rules. We call them ‘norms’ but they are rigid and they feel real until someone destroys our idea about ‘how it’s done’.

  • Marc Benioff decided to sell software as a service when everyone believed they had to install software on premise
  • Steve Jobs built expensive but beautiful machines when every other hardware company believed they had to be cheap.

and so many more.

And it’s happening, there are more great stories of breaking the rules and the amazing companies that result:

  • Figure1 is breaking the rules in Healthcare
  • Wattpad has done away with not only publishers, but with most of the old creative process

Who else comes to mind?

Sometimes a pure rethinking of technology can completely rewrite the rulebook. Bitcoin is readily looked at as an alternative to fiat currency, something that was unthinkable before a purely electronic currency was conceived.

Breaking the rules goes by many different names like ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’ but they all start with someone rethinking an old way of doing business. When we look back on what they’ve accomplished we often like to call these rule breakers ‘clever’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘strategic’. The truth is that they didn’t get ahead by adding complexity, or navigating what existed. Most of the time they were able to get ahead by pushing aside the rules and focusing on the opportunity.

The rules almost always come to mind later.

As the world becomes more and more ‘wired’ I believe that startups will run in to regulatory hurdles more and more often. Like uber, AirBnB, Lyft and others, the rules sometimes represent a massive opportunity to create efficiencies in a place everyone else thought was off limits.

There are little rules, and there a big rules. No matter which stage a company is at, it’s the rule breakers who get noticed, they are the ones who crack a market open and feed off the the plump center.