A lot of people start out with a good idea. In fact, many of them think that with their creativity and skills set, they may just yet come up with the next best thing in the technology space.
Unfortunately, though, only a handful of these ideas will see fruition, and even fewer will become the revolutionary products that their creators envisioned.
Why? It’s all in the execution.
From idea to a product…How do you build a product from scratch?
Four years ago, I was offered to join a startup before it really started, with the task of leading the engineering organization. Until then, I've been working in few startups and some large companies as well, but I’ve never had the pleasure to start everything from scratch. It was a big challenge, but one that I gladly took on.
Four years later, I’m standing in a growing company that delivered an amazing storage product in the market. Having had this incredible experience, I felt like sharing some of the things I've learned... So how did we transformed a great idea to become the remarkable product it is today?
Principle 1 – It’s about the Culture
The company culture is derived first of all from the management and from the people it hires. One of the first things we did as a new organization was to sit down and decide what kind of a company from a culture point of view we will be. We went with the following guidelines:
- Intense and Fun – Everyone that we will hire will not just be the best technical candidate we could find, but he/she will need to have two things in common:
They will be Intense: We said to ourselves: Let's look for a person that lives their lives intensively from day to day. People that are marathon runners, martial arts specialist or just has a wall-breaker mentality. However, intensity alone is not enough. People need to have fun while they work, and they should be fun to work with as well. We pictured potential candidates as friends who we could, shortly, find ourselves having a beer, hanging out or just pure and simple, have fun with.
The combination of these two values would need to be the primary enablers for the culture of the company.
- Equality - We've chosen that we will be equal in every possible way we can. Employees will naturally differ in salaries and stock, but nothing besides that. Desks, equipment, general benefits, and everything else will be the same from the CEO to the last employee.
- Best in class -We've set a goal to be best in everything we do. We aim for excellence in not just the technology or the product, but in everything else: work environment, offices, equipment for employees, user interface, website, even fun days! If something is not the best, – we will not back down from doing it all over again from the start.
- "We all mop the floor." - At Reduxio, we follow the martial arts mentality of “everyone cleans the mats,” which means that no matter your seniority or position, everyone helps. There is no task too low for any employee.
If anyone needs help in whatever field, – everyone, from myself to the CEO, will do what we can to make it happen. It can be a technical issue, assistance in building the lab, or just cleaning up leftover pizza from a movie night.
To find individuals with these qualifications and personal values to fit and build the organization that way is probably one of the hardest things we've done. It requires a lot of effort, a strong belief in your way and the ability to let go of those candidates who may have exactly the experience and knowledge you were looking for, but do not fit the culture you are trying to build.
Principle 2 – It’s about the Customer
Now it’s time to discuss the more technical points… but not really, not yet anyway. In my entire career before this startup, my primary focus was how to solve technical problems and deliver the best product with the technology I was building.
However, when starting a new startup – you can have a great idea, but you must understand what is the most valuable product that the idea can become. Here are the key points that we considered when looking back:
- Understand the effect on the customer. Do not implement technical solutions only because they are cool or innovative. Make sure it gives real value to the customer. Ask yourself the question–how he/she is going to use our product? Go and meet potential future customers, get experienced feedback, make sure your innovative ideas have a real applicable use.
- Think big but start small. You have a big vision, and you know exactly what the customers will need, but wrong time to market can kill your startup. You must understand right at the beginning what is your MVP – Most Valuable Product. It's very tempting to dive into the most interesting technical challenges, but instead, you need to focus on the company's biggest advantages and the features that give the most significant value to the customers.
- Simplify everything to all your customers. Always keep the end user in mind and strive for the simplest solution for him. However, don't forget your other internal customers – the support organization, the sales teams and engineers in the field.
When we've started to build our product, one of our first hires was a game designer to be responsible for all the user experience. We've specifically taken a UX designer from a different industry in order to avoid wrong conceptions. We've put a lot of effort, thought and special care on how easy the product for the end customer will be, how easy the install will be on the field and how easy and compelling it will be to sell. Despite our limited resources - Our inspiration was Apple – no one needs a manual to operate a very sophisticated iOS phone. Our Enterprise Storage System should be as intuitive and easy despite the degree of complexity a product like this would entail.
Principle 3 – It’s about the Product
One of the biggest challenges in building a product is managing time and the resources that you have. You will need to remember two opposite "forces." One, developers will always use the entire time, until the last minute of every time frame you give them. Second, the last 20% will take 80% of the time. Working within both these assumptions, you will need to keep the balance of your time estimations between effective and realistic. With that in mind, these principles have helped us become successful:
- Plan ahead, deliver now. When you build your initial product (MVP), you need to imagine it being sold to or used by thousands or millions of customers and you should not do anything to break that. However, you must consider deliverables as that product begins to scale. As you keep this in mind, you may opt to develop things in a different manner considering the impact it may have or the challenges that may lie ahead.
- Set small, measurable deliveries. Don't settle for "I've finished this code piece/part of the feature." Make sure that targets can be measurable by you or other leaders personally. For example, if the feature has 4 major sub-features, delivery for each should be separately presented and tested as fully as possible.
- Commit and deliver. Do everything needed to gain credibility as a development organization. This means that when you commit to a time frame, do whatever it takes to meet it. You need everyone, in the company and outside of it, to know and feel confident in your team’s ability to deliver what has been promised. Plan, adjust early and know your progress when setting small deliverables will help you achieve that.
- Automate when possible. Assume that whatever you are doing now, you will have to do over and over again. If you think that, you will invest time and resources in infrastructure that will allow you to scale properly.
Ready? It’s About Time!
Time is crucial in everything (also in your Storage!). Getting the right product to the market at the right time is crucial to the organization’s success. You need to remember this always and bring out the best product from your great idea–and on time! You can compromise on cool things or innovative features, but make sure you have enough time to produce a complete, bullet-proof, and valuable solution.