A while ago Mike and I were jokingly discussing the idea of comparing ourselves to iconic duos. Rush Hour? Dunya & Desie? We thought of a couple of clever ones but never really settled on one. Luckily the last four weeks were crazy, and inspired me to come up with the perfect duo: Beavis and Butthead. Maybe even Butthead and Butthead because it sounds more stupid. Almost as stupid as our plan going into this journey.
The last month has been quite the rollercoaster. By this time, we fully expected to work on a long term freelance project for two days each and spend the rest of our time on Podium. We were confident that it would work out. We knew we were putting all our eggs in one basket, and did it anyway. We were wrong.
In a span of one month we managed to:
All of this sounds pretty bad, yet somehow we're happier than ever. If anything, these events forced us to come to some important insights on how we want to approach things from now on. Mike and I had a long call, on a beautiful day in February that felt like summer. Apart from discussing Zelda gameplay theory, the main takeaway of the conversation was that we needed to start hedging our bets in a better way in terms of income.
So without further ado, let me introduce you to the latest addition of the 'really guys? another project?' Podium family of business attempts: Minimum
This time it's different though. Mike and I have had this idea for a while, it's just that these events made us realise there's nothing holding us back to start working on it right now. Minimum is basically what Mike and I think we are good at, as a service: quickly helping companies find out what product to build.
We really believe that it's the best way for us to deliver value while working on things we enjoy. It's also much better in terms of focus and schedule than us taking on part-time freelance jobs for the foreseeable future.
Our reasoning behind doing this is simple:
What do we want to spend our time on?
What do we need?
In an ideal world, our week would consist of working on those three things: Podium, Minimum and our Blog. Of course, we don't expect to get there in one step. That's why Mike and I are still taking on freelance jobs in the the meantime. We need a way to afford smash bros DLCs after all.
Mike and I are continuously developing ourselves inside the hyperbolic time chamber of learnings, also known as our startup. This month was no exception.
Perhaps the most confronting thought of the last period. Before we were trying to build a product, it was much easier to feel good about ourselves because of the workplace feedback loop. All we had to do is focus on doing good work.
When you're building a product for people who don't know you, that loop doesn't exist. These people don't care about how good or smart you are, or how well built you think your solution is. They care about their problems, and what you can do for them in order to progress.
Suddenly, all of that Node React Apollo GraphQL knowledge you've built up isn't worth so much. If anything, it's a detail. Building a good product is more about empathy and understanding the people you're trying to help progress on their problems better than anyone else.
We're just getting into it, but it's clear that we have much to learn and find out from scratch. We simply can't expect things to work out because we were good at something else.
We learned alot about the managers and their problems during this month. We also learned that they don't need very much to solve them, like most people. Somehow, we live in a world where accepting this fact is a controversial idea.
Most startups are obsessed with increasing engagement. 'How can we get our users to use our product more?'. We really embrace the idea of a little bit of software (sounds way better in Dutch). We're okay with the fact that the manager's life doesn't revolve around our app.
The things we are working on are not rocket science, or super advanced in terms of tech. To most people that sounds boring, especially for a hip new startup right?
Well, we're more concerned with helping the managers, and less about helping ourselves feel smart. Besides, they don't need much, a little bit is enough.
We could go from completely ecstatic about a new breakthrough to borderline depressed in a span of 24 hours. Maybe that's a bit exaggerated, but it kind of feels that way. Part of entrepreneurship is being able to deal with uncertainty, and sometimes a shitload of it at once.
I like the surfing analogy we sometimes use. You'll have waves that are challenging, but fun. You'll also experience waves that knock you off your surfboard and make you question why you like surfing. What's the difference? Nothing you can influence, just the size of the wave. If you already decided to stay in the water, the best thing you can do is keep on surfing.
Last month, we promised we were going to find out if we could build something that artist managers would find helpful enough to pay us for it. While we got really far in terms of validating the problems, sometimes even nailing them in interviews, managers were really struggling with understanding the concept of our solution based on the prototypes.
At least, until I was explaining it to a random person in a 1-minute hallway conversation as an attempt to make some smalltalk. 'Oh cool, so it's like a personal assistant?' she replied as my mind was going 'holy crap, that's it call 911'.
Without her knowing, she helped us find out how we should frame and explain our own solution to the artist managers. It really allowed us to make significant improvements to the next iteration of prototypes.
We ultimately realised managers are just really busy, so all they need is a good personal assistant. We started building exactly that.
The artist managers' personal assistant. Why Pody?
Firstly, we needed a name for our app. I think the name is cute, and quite fitting :)
Secondly, we believe most software products often lack personality. With Pody we hope not just to create something incredibly useful, but also something people can feel attached to. What is a cooler product than one that makes you a super hero in doing your work while being your friendly companion? We think it beats a clean, slick, offend-no-one, make-no-one-happy design. Of course, we are biased. The amount of hours we spent playing Nintendo games can attest to that.
One of AVC's guest posts does a fantastic job of explaining the concept of products having personality using a couple of drawings. Go check it out.
In the meantime we'll have to find out what the super serious always-busy look at my suit artist managers think of hiring Pody as their personal assistant.
Here's an early stage sneak preview what we're working on:
We're currently building the first iteration of Pody for a group of five of our 'hardcore' pilot users.
So far, everything is different than I expected it to be. Mike is somewhere out there living the hermit life in a sunny place with great food and doing most of the work building Pody. I'm running all over the place trying to meet up with artist managers and validate our product. If you would ask anyone that knows us, they would think the roles would be reversed :)
You know, I really like that comparison to Beavis and Butthead I made earlier. We're always finding ourselves in weird situations, 95% of our humour is only funny to us and somehow, there's always a next episode. I don't think plot armor is real, but I do believe you can make it feel real when you combine the right people and mindset.
Thanks for reading, see you in a month.
P.S. We're currently taking on jobs for Minimum.
Pitch us your plan, we’ll break it down to the minimum.
It's the least we can do ;)
One of the tools we use a lot is called the jobs-to-be-done framework. It's an old idea, but it can really help you find where your product fits in a persons' life. Alan Klement wrote a good book about it called 'When coffee and kale compete'.
The title might be a bit confusing, but it's exactly what JTBD is about. The framework helps you understand how people make decisions on what product to use. If you owned a local espresso bar near a train station, who would you consider your competitors? Probably other coffee shops in the area, right?
Now think of it from a consumers' perspective. You're about to get on a long train ride to visit a friend in a different city. Long train rides are boring. You decide to pick up a kale smoothie before getting on the train so you have something to do.
Why pick the smoothie over the coffee? Well, the train is really crowded around this time, so I don't want to take the risk of spilling boiling hot coffee over someone.
Also, the smoothie comes with a nice long straw. I already have a small book in my bag that I can easily hold with one hand while reading, and the smoothie is just the perfect thing to hold on to while reading as it doesn't require me to take my eyes of the page.
The job here is: 'Having something to do on this long train ride'. What you 'hire' to get the job done is a combination of products: a book, and a type of drink that complements reading the book.
Applying this concept to your product can really help you understand what you're competing against. This means you're focusing much more on learning about your customers as people and how they behave (psychographics) and less about age group the are in (demographics).