Danae Shell and Vicky Brock discuss startup culture, why startup founders have to take responsibility for deliberately creating the culture in their business, and how building balanced, consistent teams can enable startups to thrive in an uncertain, complex environment. Danae explains why setting context is a far more useful employee skill to seek than vision-setting, and why there'll be no room for rockstars or genius a***holes in her new startup.
We cover commercial validation and product market fit and why this time round neither of us will be raising angel or VC investment for our new startups until we're certain that we have it:
"One of the key lessons I have learned so far is... for the love of God do not take scale up money until you are ready to actually scale, and you know in your bones that you are actually ready to scale. Because as soon as that scale up pressure comes, if you are still trying to iterate through anything that comes before scaling, you are just creating an ulcer or worse."
Danae Shell, is a veteran startup employee about to become a founder for the first time. A native Tennessean, she is a programmer-turned-marketer who has been part of the Scottish tech scene for 15 years, working at scale-ups Barrie & Hibbert and FreeAgent before their successful exits. Most recently was Chief Marketing Officer at Care Sourcer, scaling their marketing strategy and teams.
In this episode we discuss the lessons we have both learned across multiple tech startups, and what we will and won't be doing in our latest ventures as a result. We dive into the ways we'll be flexible, keep costs to a minimum, create a very deliberate startup culture, and build teams of consistent "doers" in order to get something in front of users as quickly as possible.
The blog post mentioned is the episode is: "Startup founders. You don't need adult supervision"
Recorded in front of a live audience of Scottish business owners, Vicky Brock is interviewed by journalist David Ferguson about how and why - after the lowest point of her business career - she is now back with startup number five.
Vicky shares her process on how to start and grow a business, what she has learned across her very different companies and the 9 reasons she has discovered for why your startup may not be growing like you planned.
She explains why the first idea you have almost certainly is not the one that will become your business, why she prefers pain to delight and how her latest startup will achieve more in four months than her previous company achieved in 18 months. Because while it is relatively easy to create a product, and even fairly easy to build a product people will by once, it is actually very, very difficult to create something people will buy again and again. But that is what you need to achieve if you are going to build a business.
"I'm pleased I'm back here doing it all over again - I tried to start a bit too fast last time and we skipped over some important early steps in really finding product and solution fit. I'm not going to make that same mistake again. My whole team are focused on doing the on-paper work that means we test and validate our assumptions up front. And because we're starting in response to very specific challenges laid down by our initial paying customers, I'm starting my this new business with my customer as a full-time lodger, which is great!"
Alex Feechan, founder and CEO of outdoor clothing brand Findra, gives a masterclass on starting your own product or clothing business. From research, market validation, to knowing your customer and shrewd proto-typing of a capsule product range, she gets into the detail of how she spent a year de-risking and building customer and industry validation for her new clothing brand in its "pre-start" phase - all before spending any money. She explains why slowing down was so critical to success, because it let her really understand her customer needs, how she has learned to listen to and trust her gut instincts - and why fours years in and significant growth later, she might just be at the start line.
Building a successful startup and product or service is all about execution, but execution shouldn't be blind. This episode looks at the research and validation questions to ask, customer feedback at the product development stage, how to prioritise features and ideas in or out of scope, and what 'good enough' looks like at the early stage. Guest Stephen Budd has an unusual mix of research, data analytics, and product management skills and has brought software products to market in multiple countries, and led the product management of solutions that have been named eCommerce Innovation of the Year and Best New Product. His customer and market validation work for private and public sector clients has ensured some truly terrible product ideas have gone back to the drawing board, saving heartache and money for all involved, and has helped refine ideas with an inkling of potential into solutions with a robust market opportunity and clear value proposition.
Entrepreneur Jamie Shankland has taken products to market in 40 countries and has found problems worth solving in sectors including oil & gas, fashion and online events planning. He shares the lessons he has learned about ensuring customer meetings have meaningful outcomes, better business development, finding out what customers really, really want as he advises a founder with only 7 months cash left who is trapped having lots of conversations that have yet to convert into paying customers. "You need to reach out to people as you design and certainly before you finish the product. We're ultimately solving problems, your product is only that thing that solves the problem - it is that underlying customer problem that drives everything. Whenever you speak to a customer, it has to be linked to an outcome."
Taking a more thoughtful approach to understanding market focus was a major learning for Wendy Lea, when as an experienced CEO of a very hot, very high growth VC backed freemium software startup, her urgency to execute led to mistakes that she now recognizes were avoidable. Answering a question posed by a student startup, she references Steve Blank as someone she learns from every single time they meet and shares her thoughts on why a customer development playbook is a necessary reality check to all the BS talked around product-market fit.
Having delivered business solutions in 30 countries, Wendy brings a worldly point of view to digital innovation and her entrepreneurial pursuits - she's currently CEO of Cintrifuse and on the Board of Techstars. In 2012 and 2013, she was recognized as a Women of Influence in Silicon Valley and in San Francisco.
Back by popular demand, Mark Logan joins me to talk about why founders block their company's success if they don't learn how to manage their idea flow and communication processes. We explore how product market fit is necessary, but not sufficient, the MVP trap, how to surface bad news internally and why so many startups are in the process of failing slowly. Mark is former Skyscanner COO and IOD Director of the Year.
How do you iterate your way to product market fit without scaring your investors? And what are the best practices as your company grows to multiple locations, or your team is spread across several sites? Tom Adeyoola, CEO and Founder of fashion technology company Metail, has grown his startup to over 100 people, raised $20million in strategic investment and had offices in both London and Cambridge from day one. He joins Vicky Brock to share the very deliberate people management processes he has evolved to develop his teams and combat any feeling of us and them. He also talks about how Metail looked beyond domestic markets and use the concept of 10x improvements to ensure that the products they bring to market are positioned in a way that will deliver sufficiently disruptive change.