Startup Ennui

My buddy and tech podcast maven Bryan Lee asked me “how do you determine the time frame for product market fit? When do you realize that the product you are you are hacking is only ‘good to have’ for the users and not a need?”?

That’s a question that really comes close to the heart of tech entrepreneurs. Who knows? And how can you know? Most of us have never even run a business before. Who can tell what failure looks like? Not me. How can you tell that you’re not on the cusp of blazing success, just running on the spot.

The Startup Curve

But maybe we can arrive at some sort of truth by asking a sideways question. How long should you plug away at your project? That is easier to answer. Surely that depends on the individual’s context. Someone working on a project full-time with no income should approach it differently from a college student working part-time with no need for income (yet). One person should certainly quit sooner than the other.

Giving personal context as a reason isn’t very satisfying though, it’s important but also like a way to avoid the discussion rather than think deeply about it. I imagine that the most dangerous thing that can happen when you are hacking away on a product with no discernible metrics is that you become lost, with no sense of direction and progress.

Ennui as interpreted by Dustin Hoffman

To avoid the deadly sense of stagnation, I would set myself lots of small goals. No users? Set a goal of acquiring 10 new users, whether by talking to friends, or sharing in forums. No revenue? set a $100 revenue goal, to be achieved in 30 days. I would also define some rewards. For instance, if I acquire 10 users, give myself a treat by going out for Tonkotsu Ramen, with a beer! The small goals are a way to energize yourself. They are specific, achievable, and measurable. As you keep meeting small goals, your goals also scale up. Similarly, if you keep failing small goals, there is probably little chance of the project succeeding. That’s when I would give up on the startup idea in its current form.

As for the last part of that question, I don’t agree that we should worry about whether the product is a “nice-to-have” or a real need. Who would have thought that being part of a social network would be a need for hundreds of millions of people around the world today, and that companies worth billions of dollars would be built on that premise. People pay a lot of money for “nice-to-have” things.

That’s all the introspection I have time for today. Leave a comment or tweet, especially if you disagree.

comments powered by Disqus