…answered my call to post his wisdom on his blog, and I missed it (!) because I was off in my book-writing cocoon. He addresses a classic tech-entrepreneur mantra, “Release Early & Release Often,” in the context of his most recent project, Googview, where he put the conventional wisdom to the test. “The result,” he concludes, “was a significantly better website design, users participation and a lot of fun.” He (characteristically) lists three powerful lessons, but you’ll have to go to his site to get the good stuff.
I know his advice is spot-on because it synchs closely with two points in (legendary programmer and venture capitalist) Paul Graham’s latest essay:
Start with Something Minimal
Lots of founders mentioned how important it was to launch with the simplest possible thing. By this point everyone knows you should release fast and iterate. It’s practically a mantra at YC. But even so a lot of people seem to have been burned by not doing it:
Build the absolute smallest thing that can be considered a complete application and ship it.
Why do people take too long on the first version? Pride, mostly. They hate to release something that could be better. They worry what people will say about them. But you have to overcome this:
Doing something “simple” at first glance does not mean you aren’t doing something meaningful, defensible, or valuable.
Don’t worry what people will say. If your first version is so impressive that trolls don’t make fun of it, you waited too long to launch.
One founder said this should be your approach to all programming, not just startups, and I tend to agree.
Now, when coding, I try to think “How can I write this such that if people saw my code, they’d be amazed at how little there is and how little it does?”
Over-engineering is poison. It’s not like doing extra work for extra credit. It’s more like telling a lie that you then have to remember so you don’t contradict it.
Change Your Idea
To benefit from engaging with users you have to be willing to change your idea. We’ve always encouraged founders to see a startup idea as a hypothesis rather than a blueprint. And yet they’re still surprised how well it works to change the idea.
Normally if you complain about something being hard, the general advice is to work harder. With a startup, I think you should find a problem that’s easy for you to solve. Optimizing in solution-space is familiar and straightforward, but you can make enormous gains playing around in problem-space.
Whereas mere determination, without flexibility, is a greedy algorithm that may get you nothing more than a mediocre local maximum:
When someone is determined, there’s still a danger that they’ll follow a long, hard path that ultimately leads nowhere.
You want to push forward, but at the same time twist and turn to find the most promising path. One founder put it very succinctly:
Fast iteration is the key to success.
One reason this advice is so hard to follow is that people don’t realize how hard it is to judge startup ideas, particularly their own. Experienced founders learn to keep an open mind:
Now I don’t laugh at ideas anymore, because I realized how terrible I was at knowing if they were good or not.
You can never tell what will work. You just have to do whatever seems best at each point. We do this with YC itself. We still don’t know if it will work, but it seems like a decent hypothesis.
It sounds like Erol Toker is on his way to being the next Paul Graham. Just one of many reasons why he’s my favorite entrepreneur.