How to Start Your Start Up

Wendy Kelly
Jun 17, 2015

People have to have dreams and have to chase them. That's what makes us feel alive. - @awebox

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We're in an entrepreneurial age - Numbers are up across the board, but especially among the younger set. Being entrepreneurial is almost expected, and at least remaining flexible in your career is assumed. As Tony Deifell, serial entrepreneur and currently founder at Awesome Box said recently in conversation, "(entrepreneurship is) not much different from someone trekking to Hollywood to become an actor or director... even though the vast majority fail. People have to have dreams and have to chase them. That's what makes us feel alive.

The rise of the "Creative" as opposed to the "Artist", too, is helping to create a culture shift away from a more staid, static (but perhaps boring?) culture to one where " technology, funding and cultural developments" are stimulating entrepreneurship and creating a climate where instead of waiting for things to happen, we are now expected to make them happen - or die trying.

Enter the Product Death Cycle

Product Death Cycle

This morning I read an article by Andrew Chen called "This is the Product Death Cycle: Why it Happens and What to Do About it" and suddenly realized that there is a sinister side to all the creative entrepreneurial spirit out there. 

We encourage people, willy-nilly, to become "Creatives" and "Entrepreneurs" but at what cost? Do we really consider the implications of dumping hours, days, months - hell, years - of one's life at an entrepreneurial project with no guarantee of success?

As a person who strongly advocates for inbound and content marketing, I feel a bit culpable. Should I encourage people to become entrepreneurs when I am not one myself? How do I really know, I thought, what it feels like to launch a product when I have not actually done that?

{Complete disclosure is that I have launched a product...but that was before digital marketing was as thing. In this post-smartphone world, digital marketing and marketing, in general, has changed dramatically. I advocate for these changes but do I really know first hand what it feels like to launch?}

When in Doubt, Launch

So, of course, I came up with a brilliant idea to launch a digital product and watch myself as I went through the process to come up with a better sense of empathy for those brave souls who do this every day.

And it is sheer hell at times. Emotionally, it's a roller coaster, time-wise, it's intense, and then there are all the decisions and unforeseen issues and dilemmas that arise. Every demon I thought I had slain has raised its ugly head to ambush me at the worst possible moments. 

Today I find out, for example, that we're going to promote Martini Day on Friday. How easy it is to simply ask people we know to post an image of themselves drinking a martini with a #JustBloomin. Easy, except that by nature I'm pretty much the opposite of a person who would do that. Truthfully, so is my business partner.

It feels weird, but I can also see why it's a good idea. So we go for it.

Product Iterations

And now we enter the death cycle: Yesterday, when I was finalizing this post and thinking about how to discuss the idea of actually launching a product in order to backward engineer the process for clients, I was also simultaneously considering our product and the latest issue we were facing.

The original idea was to come up with a product and launch it quickly, as a way to literally just put something out into the world and watch what the process was.

Of course, we're human, so we (against our better judgement) fell in love with our project, with the entire idea, and with each step we took in the process. The website, though simple, was made lovingly by me. The product itself, an appointment book for summer, was made over hours and hours by my business partner. Even the name of our Twitter handle (@BloomChicaBloom) was an hours-long discussion. 

My hope is to continue this post as a bit of a series looking into the process of entrepreneurship and the pitfalls we might face.

The one I recently avoided was this death cycle:

  • No one uses our product
  • We ask customers what is wrong
  • We add features to the product

As Andrew Chen notes, this is the cycle makers enter into: They create something, and instead of looking back on their marketing tool-kit, they just keep making. They make and make and change and change and iterate and iterate.

And it is one spiralling death cycle that soon, makers and others are too tired and strung out to escape from. And the thing dies.

On a discussion in a social media group I belong to called Quibb, comments flew back and forth on this subject. It's a common issue, apparently. I know that I was just considering changing the entire way we were going about making our appointment book...which hasn't even officially launched yet...based on a vague feeling I had about how people might interact with it.

Then I read Andrew's words and stopped myself. Actually, before I stopped myself, I got into a great, long discussion with my business partner, who talked me down. And I read Andrew Chen's article.

Beware the Human Pitfalls

The thing that I think hasn't changed from time immemorial as far as entrepreneurship goes is that you are going to have to face an unknown psychological dragon (or two, or three) as you go through the process.

My dad and his wife created an awesome couples' workshop way way back which helped married couples deal with the intersection of psychology and money. She is a Jungian analyst, he was a wonderful CPA who enjoyed auditing non-profits and school districts. Together, they realized that we don't often tackle the psychology of money (this was around 25 or 30 years ago).

From that vantage point, with such a great foundation, you'd think I'd know to look for these dragons in advance. But they are sneaky little guys.

This time, this week, my dragon was the hidden fear that if I just keep changing to please, eventually I'll hit on the "right" product and all will be good. What Andrew Chen's message makes clear, however, is that if you have a strong product, you need to iterate the marketing - perhaps your price is off, or your strategy is wrong.

Get to the Root Cause

You need to get to the root cause, rather than try to keep changing "who you are" in effect -- who your product is -- to please other people. That is a bit mangled, but I think I can extract some pop psychology from his words and apply them here. It seems valid.

In this case, I was suddenly fear struck and had decided, not even based on a customer suggestion, but based on a fabricated idea I had on what a customer might think, that I should change the entire product in a fairly drastic way.

As Andrew says, (and weirdly, this was the base for my original post which I scrapped for this one) "the Product death cycle always seems like a good idea because it is based on good intentions: Ask customers what they want, and then give that to them" But unfortunately, instead of solving an actual problem then, you are simply serving lukewarm leftovers to a hungry crowd. They aren't quite sure why they're not satiated but also don't realize their choices or what the possible solution could be.sta

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