Your baby is ugly

February 22, 2017 by Lee Erickson

What was that?

It’s often hard for entrepreneurs to hear that their solution is flawed or missing the mark. But the 1st iteration of any solution rarely survives entry to market and first exposure to customers without getting some bumps and bruises. It can be hard to accept that the fruits of your labor aren’t as perfect as you think they are.

We call this, finding out your baby is ugly.

But, I worked so hard!

Of course you did. You and your team worked late nights, feel really feel passionate about what you are doing, and have so many cool things included in your product. Everyone should ooh and ah over it.

But hard work doesn’t guarantee success. You have to work smarter.

As Eric Ries says, building something on time and budget has no meaning if no one wants it.

Avoiding ugly-baby syndrome.

Successful entrepreneurs know going in that getting feedback from customers and being open to what they say is the best way to ensure that your baby avoids the “ugly” stage (or at least grows out of it quickly).

  1. Do learn from customers.
    Before you build anything, talk to at least 100 customers to better understand the problem/need they have. Lean Customer Development is a great book on this, full of actionable advice.
  2. Don’t take it personally.
    Your mission is not to prove that you are right, but to figure out where you are wrong. The more often you ask for advice the easier it gets to hear that junior may need some work.
  3. Do create a problem statement.
    Clearly articulating the problem you are solving is difficult. All startups should have a written problem statement that clearly identifies the root cause of the problem/need. A good template to use is something like this… I believe [type of people] experience [type of problem] when doing [type of task] because of [limit or constraint/root cause].
  4. Do test the market, early and often.
    Make a list of assumptions that you are making and create test to test them. Test your message with smoke screens, landing pages. and minimal viable products.
  5. Do what you can in 2-3 week sprints.
    Planning months out is a waste of time for startups. Startups are still in the process of clearly articulating the problem, the target customer, their solution, and how they will make money. So, focus on learning as much as you can as quickly as you can.
  6. Don’t do everything every customer suggests.
    It’s not about implementing and adding everything that customers say they want. It’s about finding patterns and identifying the must haves. 37 Signals has a great book on lean development. They recommend only doing the things that you hear over and over from different customers so many times that you can’t forget it.
  7. Do rinse and repeat.
    Startups are in a permanent state of reinvention which requires them to be in contact with current, past, and potential customers on a regular basis, continually test their assumptions, and build sprints to help them learn fast.

Remember, your baby can always slip back into ugly-ville if you don’t keep checking in with customers.

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