26 May 2018

Building conviction– how one false assumption changed my founder journey

My first 100 days as a (kind of) startup founder

Siadhal, me and Shahriar working hardSiadhal, me and Shahriar working hard

Back in February, I left my job as a design lead at Deliveroo to start something new. Two and a half years seeing the product explode in popularity and company grow about 700%, after another three and a half helping to build a bank for children, had left me with ‘the bug’. It was time to build something again.

I had two fantastic co-founders in Siadhal and Shahriar, who I’d been friends with for a couple of years and had a shared passion for tech, products and startups. We’d worked together once before and enjoyed the experience, saying one day we’d get together on something new.

This was it. Having chatted about ideas for a long time beforehand we decided to get the band together for real.

The challenge was, we didn’t yet have a problem locked down.

We had ideas, plenty of them. Ideas are cheap. But we hadn’t yet landed on the one, a problem that we all wanted to commit to. But we were undeterred, we now had plenty of time to learn, research and make that decision, and some personal savings to give us a runway.

And we had a process.

Committing to building a startup around a single problem involves building your conviction in a number of areas.

  1. First of all, you want to see that the problem exists, in some form. It may not be an incumbent inferior product — more a behaviour you’re seeing in the world. You want to chat to people exhibiting it (your future customer) and learn more about the nuance of the problem

  2. You want to size the market. How many people have this problem right now? Are there other, similar problems you could solve too?

  3. You want to know that you’re in a good place to solve that problem. Do you have domain expertise? A network? A secret bit of tech that gives you an unfair advantage?

  4. Is now the right time to try? What social or technological tailwinds might you be able to ride?

  5. You’ll want to imagine where this will lead you and make sure that this is a problem you can fall in love with, and stay in love with, for a good period of time.

Not all of these have to be a complete yes, but the last one really should be. If all else fails, it’s that that will keep you in the game. That’s why you chose this crazy, poorly paid, unpredictable life over a lovely pay check and a ping pong table. If you loved it, and tried it, you’ll have no regrets.

Now, I was given this advice by more than one very successful entrepreneur as we started.

Make sure you’re in love with the problem.

I believed that it would be possible for me to fall in love through our discovery process.

But in a complete democracy with no ‘problem’ locked down before inception, it’s that last one that seemed to be getting us. While we were very much aligned about some aspects of what we want to achieve as a company, it turned out we had subtly different areas of interest. I just couldn’t fall in love with the same problem as everyone else.

What that meant is we could all gather around an idea and riff on it for a while, even build something and iterate on it. But inevitably, when the first few experiments or data points didn’t point to a complete success, one of us may lose interest, start chatting about a different idea, take our foot off the gas. It turned out that person wasn’t totally sold on it anyway.

I’m putting it all down to a slight misalignment in our goals. I realised that, while I’m open to the idea of global scale, VC money and a monster business, it’s not my primary goal. I’m much more interested right now in finding out what kind of thing I want to work on.

So I’m taking a step back from our company to re-evaluate. I’m going to be venturing out on my own — not rushing to a problem right away but letting my mind wander, and wonder. I have a laundry list of problems I want to learn more about, and they aren’t going away. I’m ok to let one find me when it’s good and ready.

In the meantime I’m spending a bit of my week helping to build a design and product team at a fantastic startup, and am open to other *very* part time consulting. If that sounds like something for you, just get in touch.

Siadhal and Shahriar are cracking on, (I know, we still all sit together) and will undoubtedly crush it. Follow them (Siadhal) (Shahriar) on twitter for news.

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