This was answered by Andrew Bellay, lean startup founder, on Quora.com
First off – there is no magic to startups.
The best-kept secret about startups (especially for first-time entrepreneurs) is that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel to be successful.
It’s a secret because, in my experience, young entrepreneurs don’t want to hear that someone has already solved 98% of the problem they want to tackle — and that they should focus on the remaining 2% — to increase their odds of success.
Here are a few additional pieces of advice.
- Websites: Every startup wants a super flashy website (even if they’re not a web company), and so they invest tens or hundreds of hours into making the “perfect” website (which they typically don’t have the in-house skills to create). The end result is often a mediocre website and tens/hundreds of wasted hours — resources that could have been spent on customer development. Time and money are better spent on a $50 WordPress theme (that doesn’t even look like WordPress) and two hours to set up the site. You can launch a WordPress site on a brand new domain and get basic content on it in 20 minutes.
- Fundraising: Same tune here. Every startup’s dream is to raise money — and this is often primarily because of pride. If more startups spent their time focused on adding value to their customers, more would get funding. Investors want a return on their investment, not another cool sticker for their MacBook.
- Product: I hear this all the time: “How will I know if my customers will like it until I’ve built it?” The answer is “rapid-prototyping” (a.k.a. “just fake it”). Do you really want to invest all the time and effort it takes to make a product only to find out no one wants it? I wouldn’tinvest in that entrepreneurial process. Savvy founders find ways to demonstrate demand before they build.
- Incentivize: Manually give rewards to users of your product instead of building a complex feature with many moving parts (back-end integration, API integration, cron jobs, etc.). Sure, it’s hard work, but it’s smarter than building a feature based on your unproven hypothesis.
- Mock-ups(aka lookalikes, feels-like): Did you know that the very first Palm Pilot was a block of wood? Jeff Hawkins walked around for a full month with a hunk of wood in his pocket, literally stopping on street corners, imagining what his life would be like if he actually built one. Cost: One block of wood.
- Focus on high ROI experiments: Hypothesize, predict, test, analyze, repeat.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The best generic piece of advice I can give startup founders is to focus on adding value to their customers in such a way that the business can capture a piece of that value (monetize).
If you spend your time and energy seeking out something customers will pay for (instead of on your website, wasting your lawyer’s time, premature fundraising, over-engineering your product, etc.), you’ll learn a hell of a lot and be much more likely to be successful.