startups, User Research

Startup Lessons Learned

As background, here are some details about local news and the startup I worked on.

This was the first product I truly built. I’ve advised on many others (a combination of B2B/SaaS and consumer), but typically at a higher level, like feature prioritization based on market/user research. I was never involved with the ongoing building process before.

Here, I was the sole product owner. I was responsible for research, user interviews, product design, evaluating technology solutions and APIs, business model, GTM, growth, and ongoing development.

Lessons learned

A startup will force you to learn a lot.

For example, I learned a ton about GitHub, Sketch, natural language processing, user journey mapping, technical documentation, tradeoffs between native and hybrid mobile development, geolocation, scores of APIs, beta distribution, and much more.

And I learned some painful lessons. It was my time and money, after all.

Most lessons learned were about tools and best practices—typically by first employing the wrong tools and exercising bad practices.

My biggest takeaways, though, relate to design thinking and lean development.

Design Thinking

Lesson one: product design (which I use fairly interchangeably with design thinking) is more effective at ideation, prototyping, and validation than ever before.

In short, it offers an effective roadmap to MPV.

That is to say, you should almost definitely not write a single line of code until you go through a rigorous design thinking process. Empathy has become a bit of a buzzword, but with good reason.

Lean methodology

Lean is about speed and efficiency.

Like design thinking, Lean methodology is cyclical. I did not have a sufficient appreciation for lean (and related, agile) development when I began. Sure, I’d read the lean startup, but it was still mostly theoretical.

It wasn’t until I worked with developers to build an app that I realized—several times—that I had wasted time and money by going further than necessary before validating.

Since then, I’ve been a big advocate of lean and agile development, now implementing SCRUM for ongoing sprint planning and management.

My best, simplest advice is this

Applied together, design thinking and lean methodology offer the fastest path to the best product. Do your absolute best to understand and utilize these frameworks to minimize your investments of time and cost.