I write about software engineering, entrepreneurship, changing careers, and more.
A retrospective from a first-time founder
It’s extraordinary the amount of growth a year can provide. When Kedar first approached me, I was nervous. The unknown scared me. I didn’t know anything about startups, the culture, let alone what the heck a venture capital was? So. Many. Questions. What pulled me in was the mission of PlayLoops. We’re building a platform that revolutionizes the way advocacy groups and other progressive companies approach content creation and distribution. My initial fear was overshadowed by my excitement at building something that matters. Better still, an ethical startup from the ground up. A bit of about me, I am not a traditionally trained software engineer. While Myspace did contribute to my being a HTML/CSS pro (or did it), I didn’take software development seriously until late 2016. It’s 2018 now and I’ve become a first-time co-founder, and CTO of an early stage startup. WHOA. By all accounts, this was a huge undertaking. I was an outsider breaking into the startup game. This was my unique. These would differentiate me as a Founder. We’re still working hard to find product/market fit but I wanted to share some lessons learned thus far from year 1. Develop your mission and values This is the thesis of your startup. Why are you here? What do you care about? What drives you? Well, we didn’t start with this. In fact, we were probably 5–6 months in before we developed ours. It’s never too late! Your mission and values are the set of ideals that you expect your team, customers, and overall ecosystem to uphold. These are the ideologies that guide the way your startup grows. It’s building with intention. The best benefit of developing your mission and values is that it really aligns the team and in that same vein, it helps you attract the right kind of team. If the alignment isn’t there, and without capital as an incentive, it’s hard to keep people excited and accountable to what you’re building. Don’t build for the sake of building One mistake that I made when first starting out was going all in on tech, devops and the like without really understanding not only the business requirements, but also the customer requirements. It felt good to write that next line of code and accomplish something. Don’t do this. Take a step back and ask the hard questions. When you’re first starting out, this is your time to really get to know your customer. Go where they are. Ask them questions. Understand their motivators and pain points. Use this information-gathering time to craft your persona of the ideal [insert your startup name here] user. What do they like to do? What don’t they like to do? Once you have that understanding, develop your prototype and get more feedback. Develop your MVP, and get more feedback. Create a continuous loop of development and incorporating your users feedback. PlayLoops started with a private beta where we invited a select group of people to try out our application. The feedback was incredibly helpful with figuring our the next direction of our website. Your first solution is not always the best Be prepared to pivot. Once you start really talking to your customer you’ll find that what you initially thought was the best solution ever is really a dud — or needs to be de-prioritized. With PlayLoops, we initially were building a platform where people could combine multiple GIFs to tell a story. What we found was that, while that was a cool feature, it wasn’t the immediate need. We decided to keep it simple by focusing on giving our users the option to edit GIFs, by adding text and animations. Even that wasn’t enough. A lot of our users had video content already. So, we thought, what about converting videos into GIFs? BINGO! Our users loved that they were able to reuse their video content. In particular, sometimes organizations will produce videos for specific events, but, after that event was over — there wasn’t much use for it. Now, with our website, they could repurpose their content for future campaigns to come. Deploying the ‘ugly’ version is okay *air high five to all the perfectionists out there* Now say it with me, stop it! PlayLoops started by trying to perfect every little detail. The sizing has to be perfect, the margins perfectly aligned. Look, a pretty app is great, but what you miss here is TIME. Focus on your core features. Are your core features built out? Great, get some users to try it out! Shout out to Bryan Landers of Backstage Capital for this important piece of advice. I showed Bryan an early version of PlayLoops and he goes, ‘Cool, what do your users think?’ And I’m like, ‘Our who???’ I didn’t think the site was production ready. Our core features worked. It just wasn’t pretty. We learned that getting the minimal workable version in front of your users as soon as possible was a great practice! From there, iterate on your product to make sure you’re addressing your users needs. Take care of yourself Okay, this point is a major point of contention. A lot of the advice out there says to prioritize self-care. I agree to an extent. Yes, it’s really important to be mentally and physically okay. Take time for you when you need to. But don’t make self care an excuse not to work hard. Building a startup is not easy. If it was, everyone would do it! You’re creating something that you believe in. Don’t half ass it. Give it the attention you KNOW it deserves. The trick is finding the balance. And I’m still working on this myself. Sometimes we want to go, go, go but that is not sustainable. Find the balance that works for you. When you’re on, give it your all. But when you’re off, disable those notifications! I actually removed slack notifications from my phone and it’s given me peace of mind. Those were my top five. If you’ve shared a similar experience or have a question, please leave a comment or email me: faye[at]playloops[dot]io.