What Every Millennial Should Know Before Building a Product
My vision of Millennials is all the big girls and boys who, like myself, have learned the meaning of deadlines through renting from the local video store, responsibility via their Tamagotchi, and had their first AI encounter with the creepy but cute Furby.
Twenty years later, we are the startup generation with a bit of an inflated self-image, dreaming of becoming the next Musks, Jobs and Wojcickis – just wait ’till we get that awesome big, game-changing idea, and the world will see how special we are!
Having started coding at the age of 12 and hacking the public billboard in the center of my city in the second year of studies, I’ve always imagined that my future would inevitably carry a cool business developed from a genius new concept I somehow came up with.
Today, I’m a 25-year old startup founder, spending day and night servicing and closing customers with a team of dedicated employees. There was no overnight idea or instant success, just an average job with the average colleagues that got me started, and incremental changes and gradual improvements that got me where I am now.
Don’t break your back trying to change the world
Adult life isn’t fabulous. My first job was in a successful medium-sized IT company where we built some great software, yet there was a constant tension between front-end and back-end developer teams.
In software development companies, every once in a while the time comes when back-end and front-end devs need to cooperate, and their jobs heavily intertwine.
This is where the muddle begins – kind of like the neighbors who constantly toss “junk” over the fence into each other’s backyard, teams tended to reject assignments they were given when they felt overloaded; which resulted in bottlenecks, undone tasks and project lags.
This was a big problem, it costed a lot, and it is an issue that exists in almost any company with teams that are supposed to cooperate.
Frustrating as it is, it bugged my mind even more that everybody was aware of this, yet somehow no one seemed to be bothered enough to change anything. So I decided to give up my 9-to-5 job, gathered a group of friends, and together we began building software that would solve this problem.
The idea was to make the entire work process completely transparent, by quantifying the amount of work done by each team and individual. It would track how much time individuals spent on which websites and apps, how many hours each team worked, and how many minutes and hours were wasted.
Simply and unglamorous, that is how WorkPuls was born.
A bit later, when I learned that automated time-tracking software was already a thing, I was worried that we were reinventing the wheel.
However, it turned out we made a real difference by making a change in the approach to the problem; because we used the data we had gathered from our clients to adjust the features of our solution and meet the demands. We took an existing wooden wheel, put a tire on it, and made it more applicable and convenient for the customer.
This was the most valuable lesson for me as a young entrepreneur. It is important for my generation to understand and accept the fact that most of us can’t create billion-dollar companies, and that is ok.
More often than not, the world will keep spinning without a radical tech innovation, while at every minute it craves for better solutions to the things that are already out there in the market.
Unless you’re an artist, the best way to produce new value usually isn’t to be insanely creative and obsessively dig for a radical new idea that no one ever had before; but instead to listen closely to the signals from your surroundings, recognize the problems, identify their source, and try to come up with a different solution to it.
..And try to KISS
Keep it short and simple. This is not college, and you are not trying to impress your friends; this is the market, and your job is to make your customers satisfied. For this, your only reliable methos consist from:
- Trial and error, based on
- Obeying the metrics.
It is the hardest thing to accept – that your awesome new idea isn’t working. Raising a startup is madness sometimes, and I often catch myself feeling like a firefighter trying to halt a fire with gasoline. New possibilities emerge constantly, and the decision often need to be made based on the gut feeling and assumptions.
Once, I came up with an idea for the new feature of our software, which was supposed to compare the productivity between different groups within the company and rank them accordingly, in order to help management track productivity among departments and prevent potential disputes.
I made myself and my team work extra hard because I was so excited to put it to work as soon as possible – there was no way of knowing if it was going to work at that point, but it just seemed so great.
It failed big time.
It was new and cool, and none of our competitor had it, but it was just as well useless. Although some particular teams might have been compared (like front and back-end devs), most of our clients simply couldn’t apply it since each organizational structure was specific, and each team’s work was usually incomparable.
That feature did not bring any additional value to our product; in fact, it was very costly in terms of energy and focus, so I had to decide to cut it loose. Even though it was “my baby,” even though I thought it was innovative and interesting, the KPIs and feedback were showing that my assumptions were wrong, so I had to be accountable and say no.
Keep your Generation Y gene on the leash
My generation was raised with a strong sense of optimism and unbounded possibility, which have made us a bit more arrogant than our older colleagues. Successful entrepreneurs are always overconfident, and that is a good thing, but there also lays the core reason for many failures in the startup world. We choose to ignore the numbers and metrics when they diverge from our assumptions, hoping that things will somehow work out, simply because we’re uncomfortable to admit to ourselves how we were downright wrong in the first place.
It is hard to comprehend, and even harder to overmaster, but once you embrace the fact that your knowledge is very limited, and accept the mechanism of tracking metrics and KPIs as your most valuable feedback, you will be much more likely to move forward and succeed.
Thanks to technology, globalization and the Internet, the values and aspirations of my generation are very much alike, no matter the country or family background we were born in (the memes are probably the most beautiful and fascination proof of that). Our passion for success, a meaningful job, and individuality have brought us far, but our hunger for extraordinary and uniqueness might as well be our biggest drawback.
To all of my peers, rivals and partners alike, who are trying to create something out there, I have two things to say: Instead for the Moon, shoot for the market; and instead of your ego, listen to the feedback.