This is first part of the two part series of Practices for Software Startup Pluralsight Course. The course is written by Stephen Forte (Blog | Twitter). Stephen Forte is the Chief Strategy Officer of the venture backed company, Telerik, a leading vendor of developer and team productivity tools. Stephen is also a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Professional, PMP, and also speaks regularly at industry conferences around the world. He has written several books on application and database development. Stephen is also a board member of the Scrum Alliance.
Start-up companies are an important topic right now – everyone wants to start their own business. It is also important to remember that all companies were a start up at one point – from your corner store to the giants like Microsoft and Apple. Research proves that not every start-up succeeds, in fact, most will fail before their first year. There are many reasons for this, and this could be due to the fact that there are many stages to a start-up company, and stumbling at any of these stages can lead to failure. It is important to understand what makes a start-up company succeed at all its hurdles to become successful. It is even important to define success. For most start-ups this would mean becoming their own independently functioning company or to be bought out for a hefty profit by a larger company. The idea of making a hefty profit by living your dream is extremely important, and you can even think of start-ups as the new craze. That’s why studying them is so important – they are very popular, but things have changed a lot since their inception.
Beginning a start-up company used to be difficult, but now facilities and information is widely available, and it is much easier. But that means it is much easier to fail, also. Previously to start your own company, everything was planned and organized, resources were ensured and backed up before beginning; even the idea of starting your own business was a big thing. Now anybody can do it, and the steps are simple and outlines everywhere – you can get online software and easily outsource , cloud source, or crowdsource a lot of your material. But without the type of planning previously required, things can often go badly.
There are so many fantastic new products, but they don’t reach success all the time. I find start-up companies very interesting, and whenever I meet someone who is interested in the subject or already starting their own company, I always ask what they are doing, their plans, goals, market, etc. I am sorry to say that in most cases, they cannot answer my questions. It is true that many fantastic ideas fail because of bad decisions. These bad decisions were not made intentionally, but people were simply unaware of what they should be doing. This will always lead to failure. But I am happy to say that all these issues can be gone because Pluralsight is now offering a course all about start-ups by Stephen Forte. Stephen is a start up leader. He has successfully started many companies and most are still going strong, or have gone on to even bigger and better things.
I have always thought start-ups are a fascinating subject, and decided to take his course, but it is three hours long. This would be hard to fit into my busy work day all at once, so I decided to do half of his course before my daughter wakes up, and the other half after she goes to sleep. The course is divided into six modules, so this would be easy to do. I began the first chapter early in the morning, at 5 am. Stephen jumped right into the middle of the subject in the very first module – designing your business plan. The first question you will have to answer to yourself, to others, and to investors is: What is your product and when will we be able to see it? So a very important concept is a “minimal viable product.” This means setting goals for yourself and your product. We all have large dreams, but your minimal viable product doesn’t have to be your final vision at the very first. For example: Apple is a giant company, but it is still evolving. Steve Jobs didn’t envision the iPhone 6 at the very beginning. He had to start at the first iPhone and do his market research, and the idea evolved into the technology you see now. So for yourself, you should decide a beginning and stop point. Do your market research. Determine who you want to reach, what audience you want for your product. You can have a great idea that simply will not work in the market, do need, bottlenecks, lack of resources, or competition. There is a lot of research that needs to be done before you even write a business plan, and Stephen covers it in the very first chapter.
After jumping right into the subject in the very first module, I wondered what Stephen could have in store for me for the rest of the course. Chapter number two is building a team. Having a team is important regardless of what your startup is. You can be a true visionary with endless ideas and energy, but one person can still not do everything. It is important to decide from the very beginning if you will have cofounders, team leaders, and how many employees you’ll need. Even more important, you’ll need to decide what kind of team you want – what personalities, skills, and type of energy you want each of your employees to bring. Do you want to have an A+ team with a B- idea, or do you have a B- idea that needs an A+ team to sell it? Stephen asks all the hard questions! I was especially impressed by his insight on developing. You have to decide if you need developers, how many, and what their skills should be. I found this insight extremely useful for everyday usage, not just for start-up companies. I would apply this kind of information in management at any position. An amazing team will build an amazing product – and that doesn’t matter if you’re a start-up company or a small team working for a much larger business.
Chapter three was about customer development. According to Stephen, there are four different steps to develop a customer base. The first question to ask yourself is if you are envisioning a large customer base buying a few products each, or a small, dedicated base that buys a lot of your product – quantity vs. Quality. He also discusses how to earn, retain, and get more customers. He also says that each customer should be placed in a different role – some will be like investors, who regularly spend with you and invest their money in your business. It is then your job to take that investment and turn it into a better product in the future. You need to deal with their money properly – think of it is as theirs as investors, not yours as profit. At the end of this module I felt that only Stephen could provide this kind of insight, and then he listed all the resources he took his information from. I have never seen a group of people so passionate about their customers.
It was indeed a long day for me. In tomorrow’s part 2 we will discuss rest of the three module and also will see a quick video of the Practices for Software Startup Pluralsight Course.
Reference: Pinal Dave (http://blog.sqlauthority.com)