5 Startup Strategy Lessons

Sarah Hutchinson12 Dec 17

It’s (fast!) coming to the end of the year, and I’ve started reflecting on what I’ve learnt in the past year about how to build and execute a successful startup strategy.

I’ve been part of a startup for almost 2 years now and we’ve gone through a lot together, from spending 6 months building a product we’re fairly sure no-one wants, to interviewing nearly 100 people to try and work out what they do want to now just getting out of the MVP stage of our latest product, which is going significantly better than anything we’ve done before.

I’m also part of a lot of amazing support networks for startups and so I’ve also been asking them the same question:

“What have you learnt in the past year about creating a successful strategy for your startup?”

I strongly believe it’s not only the likes of Elon Musk who can give advice, we can learn a lot from our own community. And in fact, collecting together the wisdom of people who aren’t such outliers is probably more useful.

Startup Strategy Lesson One:

This lesson comes from a conversation with Jodi Lasky, founder of The Pride, a startup that empowers women against unwanted male attention.

“Never claim you don’t have competitors — but also be sure to differentiate yourself in a way that’s important to your USERS, not just to yourself.”   This really resonated with me. Over the past two years, I’ve realised one of the most worrying things a startup can say is “we don’t have any competitors”. It shows complete naivety and, very often, that you’re building a product no one will want.

We at Mindiply also fell initially into the trap of only finding very small, niche competitors doing very similar things to us. We realize now that it’s also important to find HUGE competitors. As Jodi says, “you want direct competitors, but also “what people who don’t use those do instead”. For example, if you’re designing a period monitoring app, don’t just look at Clue, also look at how people use Google Calendar or Notes to track their period.

Finding the other products people are using to solve the problem “More competition is a good thing, in some ways: it shows that a lot of people are aware of the issue and are working on it.” If you’re building a product that only had a few small direct competitors or none at all, are you sure you’re solving a real problem?

Startup Strategy Lesson Two:

This lesson comes from Pooja S, Head of Acquisition at Tentrr, a startup that helps you discover unusual places to camp luxuriously.

“It’s the hardest thing for founders to hear but customers don’t care about your product. They care about how it affects them and their problems. Growth doesn’t come from delivering a new feature or a new design. It comes from solving your customer’s problem. Your strategy should communicate how you do that.”

We get this. You care about your product SO MUCH, but most of the time your customers care SO LITTLE. One way we try to tackle this at Mindiply is to build a product we’d use, even if we weren’t working on it. In 5 years time, can you honestly see yourself using your app? 

You have so much extra activation energy for your own product, spending an extra 5 minutes faffing around with the settings seems like nothing. But we’re all also users of other products, and if we can access that mindset, where we stop using a tool after more than a few seconds of frustration, we’d have a more realistic expectation of how people can use our own app.

Startup Strategy Lesson Three:

This lesson comes from Lara Littlefield, founder of Simmer, a recipe plug-in for Wordpress.

“Forming a long-term technology strategy is the only way to achieve and build on sales milestones. Learning how to set and stick to multi-year schedules for new technology is really important to our immediate revenue generation.”

Speaking to Lara further, she explained that setting overarching goals for all tech releases not only helped her in the most difficult area of her business, the sales, but she finds that “defining a clear competitive advantage…gives meaning and purpose to people making products”. So, a long-term tech strategy helps with sales and employee satisfaction? Sounds like a winner to me!

Startup Strategy Lesson Four:

This lesson comes from Fahad Siraj, Head of Business Development at Onebyte, a design and development company that works closely with startups.

“Start with shadow testing. Let’s say you have an idea of an amazing product, instead of jumping right in to develop it first, find out how many people are interested in buying it and would actually pay for it.”

At Mindiply, we couldn’t agree more. That’s what we really learnt in the first year of being a startup when we built a product no one really wanted. As Fahad says, talking people through the product, perhaps showing them a prototype, and then asking, ‘So, would you pay £10 for this?’ is a very revealing process that “will give you an insight that no other information can give. Once you have that information, and you can be sure that there is a market for it, only then you should start building your project.”

Startup Strategy Lesson Five:

This lesson comes from yours truly, Sarah Hutchinson, part of the founding team at Mindiply, a startup that uses insights from cognitive psychology to build better tools for business.

“Play to your strength, but push your boundaries.”

As a startup, we know we love building products, more than finding people to actually use them. We spent a lot of time this year getting out of our comfort zone and talking to almost 100 people to establish what sort of product they needed. This was amazing, but it was also important to recognise in the middle of the year we needed to get back to what we were good at and build something — only by having something tangible to offer can you really know if people will use it. Talking to people is hugely important, but so it designing a building something you’re proud of. We now finish the year with a product we’re proud of, I Am Why, a strategy mapping application and one that I look forward to use 5 years from now when I start my own startup!

What have you learnt in the past year about creating a successful strategy for your startup? We’d love to add your answers to the pot, please send us an email to hello@mindiply.com! And have a lovely 2018!

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