When I interviewed for an open position at MarketSmart I made it very clear to the CEO that I was passionate for entrepreneurship. I was hired as a web developer, and since then I have spent most of my time writing code. But, I have on occasion sat in on sales calls, made cold calls to potential clients, and received lessons from Greg, the CEO in startup financing.
At MarketSmart I have been given the opportunity to learn how nearly all aspects of the business function. I leave work every evening with the same feeling I used to get when I would walk out of a calculus class. I take in a lot of important information throughout the day.
About a month ago Greg approached me with an idea for a new product. For the past thirty days I have been working side by side with him to develop our plan of attack. I have learned a lot, actually more than a lot.
I am in an extremely fortunate position to be working with an experienced entrepreneur in a real world setting. I am playing a major role in a project that could generate millions of dollars of revenue and be extremely beneficial for nonprofits.
I have a rare opportunity to “build” a meaningful business with no financial risk. This is the type of experience that will pay off dividends when I found a company five or ten years from now.
Having started up a “company” when I was a freshman in college I thought I had experience in developing a business. As I have learned over the past month, that experience is not nearly as practical as I thought.
At MarketSmart we are developing this new product while also growing a multi-million dollar business.
Here is what I have learned so far. These notes are for my own reference in a few years when I attempt to found something of my own.
Ideas are worthless. Execution is priceless.
This mantra has become overwhelmingly clear to me. An idea is awesome, it can be cool, it can even be great. But an idea is exactly that, it is in a idea. A business, a real revenue generating machine needs to be more than just an idea.
To build a business you need a plan. Keep in mind this does not mean you need to write a standard business plan, rather I’m suggesting that you need to have every thought laid out before you begin spending money.
Working with Greg on this new product has required hours of note taking, organizing and editing. We have taken the original idea, spun it around in every possible direction and then spent hours writing down every thought that came up in discussion.
Next we (I) took these notes and developed a scope document. In this case it is simply a power-point with 30 slides that outline every single far-reaching idea we touched on in our discussions.
The scope document is our plan. It serves as the blueprint for the products foundation.
Don’t build an MVP, build a MFFP.
Like many people I have read Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup. Reis preaches to the reader that they should develop a Minimum Viable Product before investing heavily in building their business.
Greg brought this up in one of our earliest meetings. He agrees with Reis that the concept of an MVP is powerful and important but counters with his own acronym. He suggests building a Minimum Functional Flexible Product.
The distinction between viable and functional is moot, but the idea of flexibility has been ingrained in my mind.
The goal of a MFFP is to spend the necessary money (not the least, not the most) to develop a product that provides the the base functionality to the end user while also having the capacity to easily be extended upon.
For example, the software that MarketSmart currently sells to some of the largest nonprofits in the world was developed so that a developer like myself (one that is not an expert) could come in and develop meaningful upgrades. I could not have created the MarketSmart software, but I sure as hell can build on top of it.
That is the idea. Build a product that provides the must have functionalities while also keeping in mind that the product needs to be flexible enough to support the “nice to have” features down the road.
Get other stakeholders involved.
So far I have not played much of a role in this area of the products development. I have recognized though that it is very important to develop strategic relationships with people who hold power in the marketplace.
I need to learn more about this.
Identify influential people who will help market what it is you are selling.
The previous note piggy-backs into this one. This is more of a coming to market strategy, but it is something I have identified as important thus far.
You don’t want everybody to have access to your product at once. Greg has devised a really simple plan to get influential fundraisers excited about our new product before we even build it.
He did the work here, but the principle will need to replicated in any future situation. When developing a new product you need to align with people who have influence over the market.
More to come
I will be adding to this list in future blog posts. I want to create a repository that I can reference a few years from now. Stay tuned.