If your company is going to be successful in the long term, it can't be an also-ran.
I know. I've fallen into that trap several times. And years ago, I made myself a promise to never do it again. So when I was first developing the MVP for my latest startup, I stuck to my vision and my guns from the get go.
And it's painful sometimes.
Solve the Problem
My vision is rooted in my mission -- to make more and better entrepreneurs by reaching more of them with more efficient help for less cost. This meant dismantling and rebuilding the traditional ways startup founders and leaders got answers and advice.
The old way -- one that I'm very familiar with, having done it for years -- is to attach oneself to a promising startup as an advisor. This method sucks for a number of reasons:
- It's economically destructive to the startup, because truly valuable expert resources are scarce, making them both expensive and time-limited.
- It's a losing proposition for the advisor, because they're never going to get compensated properly for their time and knowledge. It takes them more time to produce fewer results. So the good ones are all better off consulting for billion-dollar companies. And so they do that.
- It damages the industry. Startup advice is full of motivational hucksters and fly-by-night scheme creators when the advice startup founders and leaders need must be experiential and hands-on to be worth anything.
It's a pretty fun problem to try to solve. Big, complex, and done wrong for decades.
Bring the Innovation
I've also been a technical entrepreneur for almost 30 years. That makes me sound old, but what I do is use whatever cutting edge tech is out there to create new, more efficient, more valuable solutions to old problems.
All I did for Teaching Startup is lean on my experience as a startup advisor -- combined with my knowledge of technical entrepreneurship -- to build a new system.
- The most valuable part of any advisor relationship is answering questions based on the advisor's prior experience.
- This has only ever been done one-to-one, and so the economic disadvantages of startups make it a non-starter for them.
- Even with deep-pocketed corporations, there is a ton of waste in establishing the relationship, executing the service, and delivering in a format that's ill-equipped for value by definition.
What that last one means is: If you ask me a question critical to your business and give me a 10-minute window to think through it and give you an answer, you're going to get high-level, motivational, schemish garbage.
So the innovation equation with Teaching Startup is a lot like any innovation created by the Internet over the last 20 years: Strip out the waste, improve the UX, add value at every click for both parties (the asker and the answerer).
Stick to the Innovation
When I launched this new paradigm two years ago, it was immediately greeted with an awesome combination of gushing praise and straight-up confusion.
Promoters immediately saw the value and signed up. Detractors said it wouldn't work for the exact reasons I tore the old way down and reinvented it. But those were just the two extreme ends of the curve. The overwhelming majority in the lumpy part of the curve just didn't understand it.
I love the lumpy middle.
Those in the middle wanted it to succeed, so they immediately inundated me with requests to make Teaching Startup work more like traditional startup advising:
- Give me a list of advisors and a price menu!
- Do zoom calls and podcasts with questions and answers on the fly!
- Create a community we can all join and talk to one another!
Now, let me be very clear. Those are not bad ideas. They are not unhelpful suggestions. They are not features I'm rejecting out of hand.
I just need to make sure that I innovate instead of also-run.
- Yes, going full two-sided marketplace with Teaching Startup would definitely increase throughput, but it would destroy value. I don't want to be the cheapest option, I want to be the option with the best value.
- Zoom calls and podcasts revert back to having to think on the fly and tossing out non-sequiturs and platitudes. There's a time and place for that kind of thing, but not in my system.
- Experience tells me being a part of a shapeless community doesn't help a single entrepreneur grow a single aspect of their business. It's usually just an implied promise of making a third-degree connection to money.
Instead, I stuck to my guns and stuck to the mission-based vision. I won't bore you with how it works but you can read it for yourself if you're interested.
Now, that's not to say I don't implement customer-suggested features. I've implemented dozens. But this happens only after I've mapped out how that feature relates to my vision, and thus my mission. Doing this keeps my company from being just another, weaker signal in a sea of noise.