Wash, Rinse, Repeat

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There is nothing wrong with change,
if it is in the right direction –Winston Churchill

By now, bad things are happening left and right. The initial rush of finishing the prototype is starting to wear off and you’re left holding a great big bag of hard work.

Don’t give up.

Remember, you’re Sylvester Stallone from Rocky, Bruce Willis from Die Hard and Keanu Reeves from The Matrix all wrapped up in a Hawaiian shirt and slacks.

Last chapter I made you fearless, now it’s time for that lesson to start paying dividends because by now, the critics are starting to come out of the wood works, and you will need to start developing thick skin. The first thing to remember is that it’s a lot easier to criticize than to offer solutions, and even the most well-meaning of us too often find ourselves being overcritical when we could be helping to develop solutions.

Don’t take it personally.

On the other hand, blind stubbornness and unwillingness to face any criticism makes it easy to run your project in the ground. It takes a lot more courage to tell a critic that they might have a point than it does to slam the door in his face.

In order to survive and keep your sanity, you need to get into the habit of making little changes all the time.

A static product is a dead product.

Making changes should be easy though because let’s face it, at this point everything about your product is wrong. That’s OK, as long as you’re willing to fix it. Your day to day as an entrepreneur should a balancing act between accepting valid criticism and understanding when your critics are just flat out wrong.

The final score goes something like this:

You should have a working relationship with the people who like your product but you should have a love affair with those who hate it.

Speaking of hate, your product is looking a bit lonely over there, let’s turn our attention back to it.

Your Product Hates You

You know that when I hate you, it is because I love you to a point of passion that unhinges my soul. — Julie de Lespinasse

Every morning your product wakes up, stretches its legs, grabs a cup of coffee and the first thing that flits through its mind is how it can ruin your day.

If there is a bug that should have been caught, your product will make sure that it gets past QA. If there is a faulty navigation element that could have been scrubbed away, your product will make sure that no one notices it. If there is something, anything that can go wrong, your product will ensure that it does.

Knowing all of this, why do we love our products so much?

No matter how reasonable the critique or how obvious the flaw, we will look ourselves right in the eyes and say that it doesn’t exist. We will preen and coddle our products as if one ruffled hair would be enough to kill it outright.

If you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur you need to retake control of your reason.

You need to nurture a healthy contempt for everything that you do.

No, you shouldn’t deny the great strides that you make every day, you should, however, remember that these strides are only the tip of the iceberg. For every milestone you hit, for every successful feature you launch, for every problem you side-step, there are about a thousand little things that could have gone more smoothly, a thousand ways you could have done it better.

Don’t settle.

Learning to hate your product is learning to recognize that being an entrepreneur is being willing to improve. The day that you allow yourself to think things are “good enough” is the day you start missing opportunities.

Learn to hate your product, learn to hate what you do, learn to hate the entire shebang until you can’t reasonably hate it anymore and use that hate to build something wonderful.

Nurturing Your Contempt

It takes a lot of bravery to recognize that no matter how hard you’ve worked; your product is just one of a thousand other potential time sinks in a marketplace flooded with “good ideas.”

That is why you should work hard at nurturing your contempt for it.

What does hating your product get you?

  • You’ll realize that anything that you feel uncomfortable about is something your customer will hate, and you will be willing to fix it.
  • You’ll be able to take bad feedback with a grain of salt, and realize that you’re building a product to be used by people who think and feel differently than you do.
  • It’ll make it easier to tell the difference between working to improve your product and working to verify your biases.

More to the point, the more of your own hype that you choose to buy into and the stronger the love affair you have with your design the harder it’s going to be to change what’s necessary to make the relationship work.

But wait, I forgot.

While all of this, “hate your product” stuff is right, it only works for products with problems.

Your product is perfect, what changes could you possibly need to make to your great work?

Let me tell you a story.

Living In The Past You’re living in 1992, a time of antiquity, a time when great beasts roamed the verdant plains and private information was still hidden away from prying eyes (the fools). The cultural mores of your tribe of barbarians centered on individuals protecting the details of their lives, hiding them away in hovels and shanties and protecting them from an uncaring world. Your checking card number is something to be squirreled away and guarded; your little black book was to be hidden in the deepest recesses of you desk drawer, and woe to anyone who called your phone without your permission.

Now imagine a time traveler took you fifteen years into the future and introduced you to Facebook or Amazon. Then they told you about “One Click” buying and personal profiles. Other than for a quick laugh as you try to fathom what type of insane person would broadcast their most important personal information across the Internet, what use could you draw from these products?

The answer is none.

For most of us, it’s pretty clear that Amazon and Facebook are “safe.” That doesn’t matter. To someone who hasn’t lived through the changes in the way we look at privacy, who hasn’t been steeped in the culture, both of these products come in direct conflict with behaviors that have been hardwired into their psyche. If you were building Facebook in 1992, hoping to fight against that kind of tide, unwilling to see the basic flaw in your assumptions because you were madly in love with your dream, you’d quickly discover what it means to drown under the weight of your own ego.

One of the first rules of product design is that where possible, don’t try to fight sociology.

Human beings are old dogs. We can learn new tricks, but we would much rather sit around eating Kibble and playing catch. That being said, if you’re product is designed to shake things up a little, do it elegantly and listen to the people trying to help you refine it. That is the core principle behind hating your product. It helps you see beyond your initial inclination to only build things that you think are “cool,” and helps you look at your project with the eyes of your end user.

Speaking of believing unfounded things, since I have you here, these are a few more commonly held misconceptions you would do well to dispel:

  • Privacy is dead. (Despite what I pointed out earlier, real people still like to keep their information away from identity thieves and other modern bogeymen)
  • People want to move their applications onto the web. (Enterprise grade software works terribly
    on the web, ask anyone in an office job whether they like Microsoft Word or Google Docs)
  • Virtual communication is somehow more effective than “face time.” (People like to talk face
    to face for reasons that extend far beyond efficiency)
  • Social Graph, Crowdsourcing, Social Media are meaningful concepts. (If you aren’t sure what
    any of these words mean, you are well ahead of the curve)

In the valley of the blind, the Optometrist goes out of business.

If you are going to build a product that real people with real problems want to use you have to be willing to see your design for what it is, complete with all of its bruises and mosquito bites.

Now, for the lightning round.

Some Final Hurdles

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in
doing nothing.” – George Bernard Shaw

  • Communication
  • Cash flow
  • Lack of Marketing Plan
  • Lack of Funding Plan
  • Lack of technical plan
  • Inept Management
  • Inept Employees
  • Lack of Technical Resources
  • Weak product launch
  • Slow economic conditions

And so on and so on. There are dozens and dozens of problems out there waiting to capsize your project. The only thing you can do to keep your head above water is to be willing to change (you might notice a trend this chapter).

Any and all of your initial strategy might need to be thrown out.

There are hundreds of reasons why your users might not like the font you choose for the front page.

The world just might not be ready for semantic, competitive tagging for dog food.

The 50 pages of copy you wrote for your homepage might be a little much.

Time is money and the less time you can spend trying to push a broken product to market, the more time you will have to keep your product afloat.

Here are a few more common misconceptions:

Obviously, the Product Will Sell Itself

This is the problem often faced by entrepreneurs who start off as pure developers. The idea seems pretty well founded. If you have a great product, people will buy it. Isn’t that how it has always worked? Content is king and all that nonsense. This could not be any more wrong. If the web has taught us anything, it is that there are thousands of extremely talented developers out there and many of them have made amazing products. Yet, strangely, there is only one YouTube and Facebook.

What is the difference between a well developed product and a great product — implementation. Truly great entrepreneurs are able to separate themselves from their products and realize the one real truth of business, “no one cares.” Building your product is only the very first step, after that is done, it is time to get it through your head that your only job now is to work against all odds to convince the public that your product means something to them. Market, market, market. Word of mouth is fantastic, but you need to work to make certain that the right words are making it to the ears of your future user base.

What Do You Mean We Don’t Need A Private Jet?

No, I am not going to let the CFOs off the hook. Too many young startups, flush with venture funding and delusions of grandeur forget that business finance is a lot like personal finance, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Remember when you were bootstrapping and you bought all those Dell PCs wholesale for $300 a pop? Now that you have a little capital to burn why do you think every employee needs a $2,000 Mac Book Pro? Even the employees who only get around to using their computers for Excel and email?

Unless you are turning a profit, most of your early money should go towards development and marketing. I am not saying that you should work out of a closet, but wait until you have revenue before you spring for that 5th Avenue suite. Remember, there are free or cheap solutions for almost all corporate infrastructure problems. You can pick up computers, furniture, and telecommunications services at cut rates if you know how to look. More importantly, while you are operating in pre-revenue mode, most of those niceties are completely unnecessary. The only things that you should feel free to splurge on are servers and maybe enough amenities to keep your employees from mutiny.

No One Told Us People Would Actually Use This Thing

Speaking of servers.

The next most important thing to remember is that you should have a plan in place to double your infrastructure at very short notice. It is possible that your user base could go from 5,000 people to 50,000 people in a month. If you haven’t prepared for this, it won’t be long before your user base, annoyed at network failures and slow downs jumps ship and moves on to greener pastures.

This is one of those times a little forward planning can really be a life saver. Have a plan written up to tell you what type of infrastructure you would need to handle each new flood of users. Make certain that your vendors (physical infrastructure and cloud) know that your equipment needs are in flux and be certain
that you are ready to scale up well before the server room bursts into flames.

Early Adopters Aren’t Real People

I know I didn’t use a clever turn of phrase for this one, but I think it’s too important for that. What you need to understand, right now if you have not already, is that early adopters are not real people. The geeks, techies, friends and family that initially use your product are not representative of the public at large. Their opinions of your product are not representative of what the mainstream will think.

If your web service is designed to scale, be certain that your marketing machine is not only targeting the digerati. Start getting the word out through newspapers, magazines and publications in your broader field of interest. If you are making an online video recommendation service, do more than pray on the altar of TechCrunch, try to get the word out amongst movie lovers. Make certain that the same people who use Netflix can easily get their head around your product. Understand that, in general, normal people are looking for something that makes their lives easier. They don’t understand the web and social media hocus pocus.

This time around, you’re selling the steak not the sizzle.

Huh, What’s Gmail?

This should have been point number one. Products can be destroyed before they even begin if you don’t do the research. Take a look around the net and make certain that you don’t have another huge player operating in the space that you want to move into. If it turns out that there is, make sure that you can clearly define how your product is different than their offering. Also, research how services similar to yours have succeeded or failed. Some of the best advice you can get will come from the horror stories of your competition. An ounce of preparation is worth a gallon of regret.

There are a thousand mistakes big and small that can sink your startup, and the ones that I described are only a tiny subset of them. However, I daresay that these are the most important. Remember, that a web business is still a business and knowledge is your best weapon.

The Short Version

This is a chapter on accepting criticism and iteration. Here are some takeaways:

  • Like the people who like your product, love the people who hate it.
  • Learn to look at your product realistically and don’t settle for complacency.
  • Sometimes your product can be absolutely perfect but it still will be “wrong” because of external circumstances. Be willing to accept this and correct for it.


  • Make a list of ten things that you don’t like about your product. Be specific, “I wish the side-bar was yellow” is better than, “I wish my idea made money.” It doesn’t matter how minor it might seem, write your thoughts down. Every week, update that list with ten new things and cross off the ones that have been fixed.
  • Take your list from the first assignment and send it out to your friends and family to add to, compile all of their suggestions into a document and try to update that document at least once a month.
  • Use your favorite search engine to find five products that are better than yours in the same industry. Make notes on what aspects of these products you like more and compare those notes against your document from assignment two.
  • Does your product solve a problem that was not created by the Internet? If not, that is OK but remember that you are now responsible for generating need for people who are not heavy web users.
  • Take a look at your budget and see what two items you can trim. Treat it like your personal budget, if you’re spending way too much on utilities, see how you can save power. If your per diem for business trips is getting out of control, tighten a few belts.
  • Take a full day off, do nothing. If you are trying to figure out what you should be doing on your day off, you’re doing too much.

Next: Launch Day And Beyond | The fun doesn’t have to end.

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