- The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually.
- There are two reasons founders resist going out and recruiting users individually. One is a combination of shyness and laziness. They'd rather sit at home writing code than go out and talk to a bunch of strangers and probably be rejected by most of them. The other reason founders ignore this path is that the absolute numbers seem so small at first.
- If you have 100 users, you need to get 10 more next week to grow 10% a week. And while 110 may not seem much better than 100, if you keep growing at 10% a week you'll be surprised how big the numbers get. After a year you'll have 14,000 users, and after 2 years you'll have 2 million.
- Marketplaces are so hard to get rolling that you should expect to take heroic measures at first. In Airbnb's case, these consisted of going door to door in New York, recruiting new users and helping existing ones improve their listings.
- It's harmless if reporters and know-it-alls dismiss your startup. They always get things wrong. It's even ok if investors dismiss your startup; they'll change their minds when they see growth. The big danger is that you'll dismiss your startup yourself.
- Microsoft can't have seemed very impressive when it was just a couple guys in Albuquerque writing Basic interpreters for a market of a few thousand hobbyists (as they were then called), but in retrospect that was the optimal path to dominating microcomputer software.
- How do you find users to recruit manually? If you build something to solve your own problems, then you only have to find your peers, which is usually straightforward.
- Otherwise you'll have to make a more deliberate effort to locate the most promising vein of users. For example, Ben Silbermann noticed that a lot of the earliest Pinterest users were interested in design, so he went to a conference of design bloggers to recruit users, and that worked well.
- You should take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users, but also to make them happy. For as long as they could (which turned out to be surprisingly long), Wufoo sent each new user a hand-written thank you note.
- A lot of of startup founders are trained as engineers, and customer service is not part of the training of engineers. You're supposed to build things that are robust and elegant, not be slavishly attentive to individual users like some kind of salesperson.
- I have never once seen a startup lured down a blind alley by trying too hard to make their initial users happy.
- But perhaps the biggest thing preventing founders from realizing how attentive they could be to their users is that they've never experienced such attention themselves. Their standards for customer service have been set by the companies they've been customers of, which are mostly big ones.
- Steve Jobs wasn't just using "insanely" as a synonym for "very." He meant it more literally—that one should focus on quality of execution to a degree that in everyday life would be considered pathological.
- It's not the product that should be insanely great, but the experience of being your user. But you can and should give users an insanely great experience with an early, incomplete, buggy product, if you make up the difference with attentiveness.
- In software, especially, it usually works best to get something in front of users as soon as it has a quantum of utility, and then see what they do with it. Perfectionism is often an excuse for procrastination, and in any case your initial model of users is always inaccurate, even if you're one of them.
- Sometimes the right unscalable trick is to focus on a deliberately narrow market. That's what Facebook did for Harvard students.
- Any startup that could be described as a marketplace usually has to start in a subset of the market. It's always worth asking if there's a subset of the market in which you can get a critical mass of users quickly.
- Most startups that use the contained fire strategy do it unconsciously. They build something for themselves and their friends, who happen to be the early adopters, and only realize later that they could offer it to a broader market. The strategy works just as well if you do it unconsciously.
- Among companies, the best early adopters are usually other startups. They're more open to new things both by nature and because, having just been started, they haven't made all their choices yet. Plus when they succeed they grow fast, and you with them.
- Pick a single user and act as if they were consultants building something just for that one user. The initial user serves as the form for your mold; keep tweaking till you fit their needs perfectly, and you'll usually find you've made something other users want too. Even if there aren't many of them, there are probably adjacent territories that have more.
- Use your software yourselves on customers’ behalf. Viaweb: Some merchants don’t want to make an online store with our software, but they'd let us make one for them. It taught us how it would feel to merchants to use our software. Sometimes the feedback loop was near instantaneous.
- When you only have a small number of users, you can sometimes get away with doing by hand things that you plan to automate later. This lets you launch faster, and when you do finally automate yourself out of the loop, you'll know exactly what to build because you'll have muscle memory from doing it yourself.
- If you can find someone with a problem that needs solving and you can solve it manually, go ahead and do that for as long as you can, and then gradually automate the bottlenecks. It would be a little frightening to be solving users' problems in a way that wasn't yet automatic, but less frightening than the far more common case of having something automatic that doesn't yet solve anyone's problems.
- The Big Launch don’ usually work. All you need from a launch is some initial core of users. How well you're doing a few months later will depend more on how happy you made those users than how many there were of them.
- So why do founders think launches matter? A combination of solipsism and laziness. They think what they're building is so great that everyone who hears about it will immediately sign up. Plus it would be so much less work if you could get users merely by broadcasting your existence, rather than recruiting them one at a time. But even if what you're building really is great, getting users will be always be a gradual process—partly because great things are usually also novel, but mainly because users have other things to think about.
- Partnerships too usually don't work. They don't work for startups in general, but they especially don't work as a way to get growth started.
- The need to do something unscalably laborious to get started is so nearly universal that it might be a good idea to stop thinking of startup ideas as scalars. Instead we should try thinking of them as pairs of what you're going to build, plus the unscalable thing(s) you're going to do initially to get the company going.
A Shorter SummarySometimes conventional wisdom (even in the startup world) could be wrong, or wrongly interpreted and practiced. When we are small and have no users, there is a lot of non-scalable manual work need to be done to attract users, keep them happy until we reach a tipping point. The side effects is that we could learn a lot while doing the manual work, better understand the user's need, and how to optimize the process better. After that, perhaps we could scale, or not. No everyone needs to scale like Google.
A local angel investor reminded me that sometimes it’s good to go local and do something which don’t scale, as it makes it harder for the “scaling” foreign player to enter the market. It’s more work with more “hardware” problems, but it’s also more defensible. Market too small? The VC might not be interested with 10 million dollar market, but I am.
Perhaps it’s not a matter of scaling or not, but doing whatever is required.