Rowing towards that “MVP” island

MVP3So, this is what I have realized in the last couple of months.  I don’t know if it’s true for everyone who have started SaaS products or is it just me.

1)  Customers want something else:  Whenever you think of starting a SaaS Product, your natural tendency is to come up with a list of features which you think is right for your customers and for the product.  Certain features excite you so much that it automatically becomes highest on your priority list.  If you wait to develop all these features to launch your product, you are probably wasting twice the amount of time because your customers probably think otherwise.  They want something else.

Lesson:  It’s best to pick one main feature and launch the product with that one main feature.  Give away a bunch of free trials.  Get feedback.  Sometimes, your customers will be nice about it and most of the times, not so much.  But, listen and note complaints.  If your goal is to come up with a Minimum Viable Product, it’s a long way to that island.

2)  Customers wont pay for your experiments:  When we launched, we launched with a pricing structure.  Looking back, this is the most crazy decision we have made.  Who is going to pay us when they know this product is not fully done.  Luckily, we realized this almost immediately and kept a free trial and extended it whenever necessary.

Lesson:  Don’t come up with pricing even before you know what your customers need.  Pricing is a gradual process.

3)  Design is key but not the way you think:  We learnt this lesson from our previous venture.  We spent lots on exceptional design.  We soon realized that customers, like yourself, get bored very soon.  The more they see in design, more things they can get bored of soon.  Customers will only see what they want to see, how much ever you try to push all your capabilities on them.

Lesson: we believe that design should be simple with less components in each page.  There should only 2-3 main call to action options for every user in every page.

4)  Bless them initial adopters:  There will be a few customers who take extra efforts in letting you know what they really think of the product.  These people are God sent.  Their feedback and suggestions are extremely important and it’s also equally important for you to give them special attention.

Lesson:  Look for these customers.  Make sure you keep them in a separate database.  Talk to them whenever you launch a new feature.  They are as important as your team.  MVP1

5)  Team, Team, Team:  Success of any product boils down to your team.  Initial success boils down to 4 departments: Developers, Support, Testers, BD.  These 4 need to work together and keep each other updated at all times.

Lesson: I realize that this is one of my most important roles in the organization.  Keep everyone updated on the proceedings.

If there are any successful SaaS product leaders reading this post, I would love your thoughts and if you have learnt anything more in your longer journey towards success.

The right amount of Pivot

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If you run a company that has n’t made it big yet, I am sure you are wondering if you should change your business plan.  If yes, there must be a ton of questions you ask yourself when you wake up and pretty much for the rest of your day.  How much to change?  What happened to the vision with which you had started?  Is focusing on something else necessarily a good thing?  Does n’t changing business plans signify uncertainty and hence, doesn’t it spoil your branding/reputation?

I have been in this race to nowhere for quite a while now.  I realize now that there is no right or wrong to anything in a business plan.  You just keep travelling.  All you need to be sure of is the final destination.  When you are lost, you ask a bunch of people for feedback and some of them point you towards the direction you want to take and some don’t.  But, the important truth is the road is full of feedback.  If you don’t ask, you won’t ever find out.  In the last few months, I have been meeting a bunch of business experts, analysts and venture capitalists to explain about my business and every single meeting or a telephonic call has helped me figure out narrow down on my execution plan.  And I know it’s got to keep improving with time and turn out great.

Hence:  When it comes to pivoting business plans frequently, it’s expected and fine to make minor tweaks in the process as long as the final goal remains the same.  Just got to keep my ears and eyes open for feedback from investors, VCs, mentors, seniors, customers, industry experts, your team and friends.

6 years of Metroplots

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This week has been an excellent week for me.  Metroplots.com completed 6 years since date of registration.  I had a really terrible NDTV interview on one of the property shows (It’s real difficult to face cameras.  I have new found respect for even bad actors now).  And, Manchester United have entered the quarter finals with an excellent victory over Olympiakos.

90% of startups fail in the first 5 years.  In that sense, we have reached a significant milestone.  We are proud to change our direction more than thrice in the last 6 years to stay profitable and afloat irrespective of seasonal factors in the Real Estate industry.   Every year, we have learnt  a few lessons and progressed step by step.  We believe we have a terrific foundation to start growing real fast from this year onwards.

We now have a great team and we will build on this in the future.  We will look for exceptional talents who have made a decision in life to work with challenging responsibilities and are willing to go that extra mile for a good career.   It’s a new year for Metroplots and one of my primary goals this year is to make everyone in the team learn more by either bringing more talent from outside or by training them by pushing them more.  I realize more now, that a company’s growth is a function of how much each employee has improved.

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How to make the next whatsapp

 

First, you need to go to Ukraine.  Then work for Yahoo for a bit and apply for jobs in twitter and hope your application gets rejected.

Kiddin.. NO!  Sorry to break the suspense to you but you can’t make the next whatsapp and you should n’t be thinking in those lines.  I am afraid even the whatsapp founders cannot make the next whatsapp.  This kind of thing just happens.   So, if you are all motivated by the whatsapp acquisition and decided to go all out on making the next whatsapp, I think you should think twice about it.  A dream of an acquisition like this could actually be a deterrent to your growth.

But what you could do is forget about the acquisition, the $19 billion and think about what made whatsapp a success.  It’s plain simple.  Engagement.  Every user of whatsapp was hooked on.  Now think of how you can increase activity in your website/mobile application  or whatever it is that you are building.  Make a list of engagement metrics that you need to track and keep building on it.  Notice how users are using it and see what works and what doesn’t.  In time, you might not create a $19billion company, but you definitely build a business that lasts long.  And that’s what your goal should be.  Build your business!

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Startups, internet and India

2013 has been an interesting year for me and for my company Metroplots.com.  For most of you who don’t know of Metroplots, we are a real estate website with a lot of stuff happening and planned.  In the last year,  things that could not have possibly gone wrong has gone wrong.  Murphy at his best, I think.  But, I must say that this is the steep learning curve pundits talk about when they advise people on starting companies.  Here’s a few lessons that I have learnt in running Metroplots so far.  (Some might be specific to an internet startup and some might be problems you will face if you do this in India.  Might not be applicable in other parts of the world.  )

1)  Recruit well.  Go through many rounds before selecting that one person.  Look for skills, passion, ethics, background, intent and the fit he/she will have with your current team.  Make it thorough.

2)  SEO optimization is no joke.  Have it under control.  The rules keep changing and you need to be on top of it.

3)  Raise funds to scale.  Don’t raise funds to experiment.

4)  When you start a company, understand very well that it is your company, your kid.  Not anyone else’s.  Many advices  come from everywhere, sometimes from important people.  But, if you are not convinced, don’t do it.

5)  Never forget your passion.  Sometimes, things like valuation and targets can take you away from your passion.  You might end up making changes to the business model to achieve these superficial goals.  Stay your course.   Stick to your passion.

6)  Raising funds is not the goal.  Making a successful and long lasting company is.  During a bad time, sit down and analyze what’s wrong.  Make a calculated decision to get the business out of the problem.  And 10/10 times, raising funds is not the solution.

7)  Bootstrap…bootstrap…bootstrap.  Spending extra bucks is not good even for a billion dollar company.  Only spend on something that can change the bottomline.  Every 3 months, look at your expenses and see for yourself if you are spending on anything that has absolutely little or no impact on your bottom line.

8)  Know what everyone does.  I read somewhere delegation is a good thing.  In India, so far, I am convinced that delegation is not a good thing.  Consider yourself very lucky if you have a colleague who is as invested in the vision of the company as you are.  It’s very rare.  If you do have them, make sure you discuss company’s next steps with them.  They are special.  Some of the best ideas of successful companies have come from their key employees.

9)  Go mobile.

10) Product management involves 5 phases a)  Detailed planning b) execution/development c) testing and big fixing until everything is fixed d) upload e) Analyse user behavior

11)  Design – keep it simple.  Don’t complicate it.  The more effort you put into design, more problems you will have.  First of all, that cost of designing is unnecessary.  Then, you have loading issues and speed issues because your page has so much design in it.  Just keep it real simple.  Users want clarity.  They don’t want beautiful designs on a website.

12)  Work continuously. Take a break when your mind is cluttered.  Even then, look for inspirations.  You never know what can inspire you. Forget long vacations or leave of absences.

If you follow all this and become a big success, gimme all your money 😛