From September 2020 until almost mid January 2021, I participated in a jam-packed program called Form from the highly coveted EF (https://www.joinef.com/). For a person like who had never been exposed to the commercial side of things, this period led me through like-never-before personal growth. And oh boy, it challenged every nook and corner of every single myth I have been carrying since I don’t know when. Here is the list of my main takeaways:
- Mom test: Perhaps the most common rookie mistake entrepreneurs do is seek validation instead of trying to understand the customer problem. It could be surprising to realize how easy it could be to fall into this trap. I wouldn’t have realized it if it weren’t for EF screaming it on my face like a 1000 times (metaphorically obviously). The golden rule of the Mom test is you are not allowed to tell the problem to the customer and the customer is not allowed to tell you the solution.
- Being lean in not just customer discovery but in everything, be it finding out the minimum viable detail, creating a minimum viable team, minimal expenses, minimalist time expense. For me, this was a bit easy to imbibe as I had always been a fan of a minimalistic lifestyle.
- Don’t try to push a solution, instead solve a problem: Another common problem that a person who has majorly worn only tech hats all their lives is believing that their solution is a panacea. I can’t emphasize more on the fact that no one cares about it, literally not even a single soul unless it improves massively on these three things – time, money, safety. When would you know you really figured out the problem – when you will hear out the same problem from many customers.
- The pyramid communication structure: A communication style that most tech people often falter at is going bottom-up in their answers. In the startup world no one has the time to go into all the details. So it is always advisable to practise structuring answer with broad, layman answer and go deep one level at a time only when deemed necessary. Trust me, this will make your investors adore you.
- Any piece of advice, even from a so-called expert should be taken with a pinch of salt: It is not uncommon to get an advice that is nothing short of shooting your foot ( almost always unintentionally). Think critically to all the pieces of information, persist if you think it doesn’t apply to you and prove it with traction. Note that it doesn’t mean you should not be humble even when you prove someone wrong. Also, remember that, at EF, chances are high that the person imparting the advice might know something that you don’t.
- The more hard conversations you do (respectfully), the better it is: We all know startups are hard and there always are innumerable spikes along the way. They test every co-founder relationship, and can bring about bad disagreements. Hence it is always a good practise to not ignore any elephant in the room, as soon as it gets sensed. This will only help you as an entrepreneur to develop a company-culture which tackles all such inevitable problems head-on instead of sweeping them under the carpet.
- Any answer to any question even if it is technical should always finish with a compelling so-what commercial impact. If it doesn’t, then you need to rethink or do more background work. All startups are fraught with uncertainty. Forcing yourself to always think of commercial impact of your product would de-risk greatly. This would only help you stay on the right track and make necessary course corrections whenever need be.
This post would be incomplete in spirit if I don’t mention the innumerable soft skills I am secretively learning by observing Tom, who is now our CEO. It includes but is not limited to his skills of managing people, understanding expectations, rigorous commercial analysis and handling day to day activities.