A don’t-miss lesson from 10 of the best founders

As a founder, the hardest part of your job is not knowing if what you’re doing is the right thing — there’s no boss telling you what to do. You have to figure out how to move your business towards its goals, with infinite options for what you can focus on each day. And you only find out if you worked on the right thing after the result of your work is published and judged by the market.

To put together the format of Founder Thunder Round (10 founders in each episode answering 1 question), I had to interview all 10 founders within the space of two weeks. While having these conversations in quick succession, I noticed a number of patterns that kept coming up.

One of the biggest ones was to test things in small ways. This was the founders’ solution to the problem of not knowing exactly what the right thing is to work on.

The best way to combat the issue — they learned — is to run small tests before going in a little bigger. One of the companies, GitLab, even bakes this philosophy into their product. Their tool helps teams to track and reduce the “cycle time” between having an idea and getting it out in production. The philosophy is that the smaller an idea or change, the more likely it is to be successful, the less likely it is to be wildly wrong, the faster you can execute on it, the lower risk it is, and the faster you can learn from it and iterate beyond it (see “Conversational Development” on GitLab’s page here).

I even saw this in how some of these companies started. As you’ll see in this video, both Printful (born out of Startup Vitamins) and Ghost started as a webpage or blog post about a product idea that didn’t exist yet. The websites, gaining popularity, proved a lot of demand, so the teams knew to start building.

This is a lesson we can learn in designing a company and designing a product — small iterations are low-risk. Vetting one week’s worth of work in the market risks a lot less than working for 10 weeks before testing.

Similarly, testing small changes to a product’s design is lower risk, quicker to test and iterate, and is more likely to be right.

So get creative. The MVP mantra isn’t simply “how can you do this with less,” it’s “how can you find out if this is right sooner.” Because as founders, we rely on a lot of assumptions, some known and some unknown. Proving or disproving them faster is often the difference between a product or business failed or abandoned, and one that reaches $1m in revenue in under 12 months — as most of the Founder Thunder Round founders did.

Want to learn more? Subscribe at FTR.rocks.