I’m currently working on a start-up with one of my best friend’s from growing up,Matt Handler (@matthandlersux). Matt came to me with the idea in August 2010. As a developer and an artist, he’s always struggled with staying up to date with everything his favorite bands, visual artists, and actors are up to, despite the plethora of tools on the internet that can can be directed toward that very goal (Google Reader, RSS, Tumblr, etc…). So Matt came up with the idea for Starglue. Starglue puts all of this stuff in one place, allows an artist to keep her fan base updated by actually linking her fans to her content and the metadata about it. As a result, Fans and Artists finally connect in one place: Fans never miss out on an Artist’s events, and Artists manage the dissemination of information to their Fans from one platform.
We launched an alpha in December and got a tepid reaction from our friends and family. We struggled with design, marketing, and developing a core following that would be our strongest use case. We’ve since continued developing the product, but realities are slowly setting in and we’ve reached a critical stage. We struggled with adding features, forcing it down the throats of our audience, hoping one thing would stick. If you read tech community blogs like Vin Vacanti’s outlining the do’s and don’ts of launching a start-up and compared it to our situation, you’d see we focused much of our energy on the don’ts.
I’ve been using Nate Westheimer’s newest product, ohours.org, to meet interesting and helpful people in the NY tech community. Through it, I recently had the privilege of meeting Nate himself, sharing my story, and asking for his advice. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Nate, he’s NY based entrepreneur and something of an ambassador to the community here.
Nate’s advice was big picture and really hit home. “Your kid doesn’t have to go to Harvard,” he said. Pushing your kid to go to Harvard from day one likely isn’t the best way to raise him. Let him discover what he’s good at, go from there, and flourish. The same goes for a startup. Customer development is the equivalent of startup college. You launch, talk to your customers religiously, and figure out what’s useful. If you’re a Lean Startup Movement follower, your fanatically track how much learning you get for every dollar you spend.
Many consumer facing startups are products that experiment in social engineering, seeking either to manipulate and facilitate human interaction. If you push too hard on one use case and don’t get any traction, you’re likely doing something wrong. Nate’s message was one of organic growth, creating something that flourishes and sticks in one community, and then pushes out bit by bit into the world at large. Ohours is a terrific idea that grew inside the NY tech community. If Nate had launched and iterated it in a market he didn’t intimately understand and have the ability to derive feedback from, I’d bet the results would have been vastly different.