I recently met Shane, the CEO of Joyride.com. Six weeks ago, he found my blog about our SOMAcentral office and inquired about space there. That inquiry kicked off a camaraderie that led me to ask him today if he'd let me follow his progress as he worked to launch his business. He agreed, so here's the setup:
I am surrounded by San Francisco based startups every day. And one of the things I forget about is how different SF's "lean startup" mantra is from other parts of the country. New York may be like this as well, but I'm not sure other urban centers are (if you disagree, I'd like to hear about it in the comments). Among the big proponents of the lean startup philosophy are Dave McClure (check out his Startup Metrics for Pirates deck / video and presentation at FounderConference 2010-- 3rd video from top) and Paul Graham via his essays, among others.
Shane has been working hard to launch Joyride. When he came to SF to visit, we had a very animated discussion about how he could pare his concept down to the "MVP" to launch sooner, and then iterate quickly on his core feature set. What functionality did he really need to launch? How could he launch with less? What was the absolute core product? You can imagine what side I was on -- point #2 of the Socialize Core Values Manifesto guarantees that we launch early and then iterate quickly.
There's a strong argument to the contrary, though. In April of last year I wrote a post titled "Could the 80/20 principle be wrong?" where I speculated on the importance of focusing on a few things but doing them very well. But exactly where does the line between "MVP" and "very well" lie? How do you know when you've reached your MVP? It's a hard question to answer, but in my experience everyone always overshoots it by a mile. A great example of a business that didn't overshoot it is CloudApp. It has a very limited feature set but executes on it super well. I just checked, and I've used CloudApp 48 times today. Just unbelievable that I use it so much -- and I don't know how I survived before I had it (I had to email the screenshot as an attachment? gasp!). And everyone in our office uses CloudApp all the time as well. Just one sorely needed feature -- the ability to communicate a picture I see to someone else (via a screenshot), executed flawlessly.
So when Shane emailed me today, I was thrilled. He wrote:
Subject: JOYRIDE Shifting Into HiGear and Doing It "Lean"
I want you to know that you've been part of the inspiration for a rework of
JOYRIDE. Leaner. Smaller product. But launching in 90 days. And our offices
have been reworked since my first trip to San Fran. Our landlord knocked
down two offices to make a large co-working space (pic attached). Prior
to this we were split into 5 offices.
Thanks bro. Keep in touch.
PS Shane -- I think it's especially cool that you knocked the walls down. I'd love to hear how you feel about that decision after a few weeks -- was it the best thing to happen to your office, the worst thing, or no big change? Of course I'm hoping it leads to more collaboration, but let me know if that's not the case. I've found that Ikea sells some great, inexpensive partitions, which you can find here, if you need to restore some semblance of privacy, especially for people who need to be on the phone a lot.
I'll be following Shane's progress on Joyride as he launches, encouraging him to guest post on my blog if he wants to, and I'll be posting my own updates. I'd also love to hear about your experiences paring your product down so you can launch sooner, and if you're happy you took that approach. I'd especially like to know if you feel that you launched too early, before your product was ready.
This is all fresh in my mind as well, as we just launched the Socialize SDK for iOS and Android (see TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb coverage) and we've been iterating like crazy to get the SDK to a point where developers are excited to integrate it (the good news -- just got our first live app, an Android app, running Socialize!)
Want to see a bit more eye candy? Check out the JOYRIDE offices and many of their sweet rides they use for marketing and shooting drives around the world: Click here for a full photo gallery.
Daniel, .....I like that you are constantly asking yourself questions. There is a business axiom that states the well defined problem contains the seeds of it's solution. Re-framing those questions only happens by seeking those answers outside of ourselves through other people. We are not taught How to Succeed in "Business" but when We see it our instinctual response tells us to look closer, at least it does me .
Some of the questions you bring into play are answered at www.READABILITY dot com in it's simplicity. I am too verbose naturally to even attempt to point out the parallels or answers and leave it to your intuition.
It turns what I wish to read into a simple document not cluttered with visual noise.
I don't think SF and NYC have the "lean" concept cornered. I recently moved from SF to Honolulu after 10 years in the Silicon Valley startup world, and have discovered that pretty much *every* startup over here is lean, including my own. I'm a one-person shop and went from idea to launch in just a few months by talking with future customers, uncovering 2 or 3 critical functions, totally focusing on the MVP, and outsourcing to save money.
I've seen that same attitude from many of the local startups in Hawaii. Why? Because unless you're in SF or NYC, the typical VCs won't give you a second look, so you don't have the resources to be fat. The local tech community has adapted by focusing on being lean. Many of the tech shops here are 1- or 2-person outfits, and they're doing well. There are even new co-working spaces popping up (higreenhouse.com and theboxjelly.com) to meet the demand for office/meeting/networking space for these lean startups.
There's also a sense of togetherness here because of the seeming lack of interest from the mainland financial backers. It's as if a good idea can't be either created or executed on unless you're within a few miles of your VCs. That's obviously not true. If it were, then why are so many collaboration startups getting funding and traction? After moving away, I've realized that being in the Silicon Valley bubble actually HURTS many startups because they have so much access to capital and no reason to be lean. It's almost like a welfare state, where VCs support tons of companies who churn for years with no real traction, and essentially reward companies (with more investment) for doing poorly (because the *next* version/CxO/market will really drive revenue!).
"Lean" might be the cool new trend in the valley, but everywhere else in the country, it's reality.
Will do ... looking closely at options currently. Saw another startup move out - so thought you might be heading out too. Glad to hear you'll be around ;-)
Shane - glad to hear that ;-) Look forward to seeing you at a PHX event too - but my next one is up there (panel at Health+Tech Next Generation in SFO - Aug 12). Not kidding about sub-leasing a desk ;-)
I think that's what leading the exodus. The one we do have here isn't all that "lean" (starts with a 10% stake for $20k). Quick - let me check PHX ---> SFO schedules!
Recently, one of our investors asked me to make a short video & screencast introducing myself and my company to a group of foreign entrepreneurs that wanted to peek under the covers and see what the life of a US startup CEO is like.
Since I believe in capturing content for knowledge sharing, I decided to go a step further and write this full post about how I work, so this investor would not only have the video he requested, but also have a URL to send to these foreign entrepreneurs with specific tips.
About me & how I work:
I've written passionately about Scrum before, and how it's a great way to create an agile development environment in a startup. I've adapted a flavor of Scrum for my personal daily routine. (This isn't full-on Scrum since it's something I just use personally, but it adheres to the most important principle: At any given point in time. You should be focused on whatever is most important, regardless of any arbitrary deadlines).
I talk to entrepreneurs who have ideas, and very often they ask what they should do first.
I've had the conversation enough now that I'm going to write a blog on it to give a much more detailed answer than I can in a 5 minute convo or a quick email.
The first thing I'd say is congrats, you have an idea. Not to be too crass here, but ideas are like sperm. They're required in order to bring your startup to life, but an idea alone isn't worth much. In fact, my first big piece of feedback is that your idea is for all intents and purposes valueless. Unseasoned entrepreneurs want to protect their ideas and not tell anyone about them. What I always say is this: If you really believe your idea is so valuable, then go try to sell it to someone. See how much anyone will pay you for it. Let the market tell you how valuable your idea is. If you can get $1MM for your idea, then you've just won the startup lottery and saved yourself from the really hard part: Executing on that idea. I'd sell ideas all day long if I could, but I've never been able to sell a single one -- not even for 1 cent (literally).
So just like sperm, ideas are bountiful and required for life, but they don't accomplish much on their own, and in fact from this point onward in this post I'm going to substitute the word 'sperm' for 'idea' just to drive my point home. And just like only a few dozen sperm reach their destination from millions initially, that's how it goes with ideas as you start to execute on them.
The second thing I'd suggest is you (life)hack together a prototype of your sperm. This doesn't mean the prototype has to be software based. For example, when I started a tech-based real estate brokerage in 2003, part of my model was to use technology to be more efficient, allowing me to give rebates to home buyers. My entire business model was based on establishing strong SEO, building a lead-gen CRM, getting a data feed of the MLS homes database, and lots of other things that would take tons of dev work.