there is never enough time to do all the things, and the key to success is focusing on the most strategic priorities
We’re here in the thoughtbot Incubator reporting to you live with the latest updates. Curious how we got here? Check out last week’s post about Week 3. Don’t forget to check out the [founder’s journal] for more insights from our startup CEO, Agnes Malatinszky.
Target customer segment, capturing assumptions, and building a test plan
As we move through the program, we add new activities while keeping the previous ones running. It ends up feeling a little like this:
We continue to establish and nurture channels for gauging customer interest in our value proposition. As we honed in on our highest performing market segments, we’ve converged on target customers, solutions, and assumptions. Now it’s time to put those assumptions to the test in upcoming product experiments!
We continue to track and evaluate for success in social media channels, including Discord. We’ve also reviewed our current ad and campaign performance and increased our ad reach to focus on other prioritized market segments.
To better track our interventions and what’s resonating with customers, we created a changelog in Trello as a lightweight way of tracking success (or failure) of high level initiatives.
Product Experiments – where are they now?
As we mentioned in our last update, we are beginning to develop some product experiments to run and validate (or invalidate!) our assumptions about the market and product opportunities.
We’ve started an assumptions table to capture the assumptions we’re making about the target market and opportunities.
Early-stage assumptions can almost always fit into three main categories: Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability. How do each of those things feed into a successful product? What do failure modes in each case look like?
Senga as currently conceived is straightforward Consumer Saas, so we’re focused primarily on Desirability because that is the biggest challenge with this type of product. Feasibility is easy to assume given the maturity of web technology, and Viability will come later, once we’ve established traction with customers.
An assumptions table helps the team align around our goals, KPIs, and priorities by revealing misalignments. For each assumption, a conversation often unfolds that looks something like this:
Team Member 1: I don’t think it’s important for us to test this right now because it’s pretty self-evidently true.
Team Member 2: That surprises me to hear – I was going to say the exact opposite. I feel like it’s clearly false!
Team Member 3: So apparently this isn’t a settled debate, but now we gotta ask ourselves whether the answer matters to us right now…
If we decide it is important for us to test this right now, the next question becomes: How? Possible answers are through user surveys, customer interviews, or experiments in the product itself. More on that next week!
Strategic Time Management for Founders
Another important topic we covered this week is time management. Being an early stage founder is an exercise in executive function. Of the thousands of things that need to be done in a given week, which ones are actually important right now and how do we make sure to complete those things first?
Each of us has things we like to do and things we don’t, so merely figuring out what’s important isn’t enough. We then have to actually get ourselves to do what’s important, even when it’s annoying, boring, or difficult.
But it doesn’t stop there! Once we get ourselves to start that important-but-annoying task, we have to make sure we finish it with enough time to do all of the other things. It’s easy to get so focused on something that we don’t realize how much time is passing. It’s also easy to get into a perfectionist mindset where we never finish the task because we never feel like it’s good enough.
The tactics we covered for getting around these internal hurdles sound basic, but they are very powerful.
First, set aside time at the beginning of each day and at the beginning of each week to plan. This doesn’t have to be a ton of time – daily planning can be 10-15 minutes, weekly planning is usually 30 minutes.
- Look at what got done yesterday, what needs to be done this week, and what the upcoming calendar looks like
- Decide what the top 3-5 things are that need to be done
- Schedule when you’re going to START them and when you’re going to FINISH them
That last part is something we call time-boxing. If you know you need to get a task done by the end of today and you know you’ve got a day full of meetings with a single hour free in the middle then it’s clear: You must both start and finish this most-important task during that hour. Whatever you’ve gotten done on it by then is shippable.
This can be really uncomfortable for people, but there are a few things to remind yourself:
- Shipped is better than perfect. You’ve probably heard “perfect is the enemy of good enough”, but for founders, “good enough” might even be too much! Just get the thing out there and then iterate towards “good”.
- If I felt good about it when I shipped it, I shipped it too late. Again, this is an early-stage mindset and will not serve you once you’re growing or scaling – the time when quality control and stability becomes important. But at this early stage when there’s everything to do, very little time, and the value of your project is as yet totally unknown? You have to find ways to keep yourself in a mindset of fast, iterative experimentation.
As we reach the halfway mark of the incubator, the work streams and to-do lists just keep growing! This week I spent a lot of time thinking about how to prioritize all the ideas we’ve come up with. Other founders I’ve talked to – both at thoughtbot and outside the incubator – have driven home the point that there is never enough time to do all the things, and the key to success is focusing on the most strategic priorities. I have good momentum now, while the thoughtbot team is working alongside me, but I want to make sure this continues once I’m back to working solo.
Building an audience and a community is a priority. I decided to test out what kind of engagement we get on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, funneling users into a Discord community. We set up the Discord server (Senga Freelancers – check it out!), customized a couple channels, and even got our first few freelancers to sign up. I’m inviting experts from various backgrounds to join and stay on standby in case community members have specific operational questions. Getting this community up and running will create a group I can draw on for ongoing interviews and user testing, as well as a potential customer pool.
Finally, this week we set up a more formal assumptions table. The table includes possible ways of testing each assumption, and hypotheses about what would validate or invalidate each entry. This exercise turned out to be a really impactful one for the whole team – we came away from it with a sense of having unblocked next steps and new ideas.
For the next week, Agnes and the thoughtbot team will continue with some Design Sprint exercises to converge on the assumptions to be tested through qualitative interviews and prototype testing. We’ll source candidates in userinterviews.com based on the criteria for our target group. We’ll gather feedback, synthesize our findings, and iterate on the prototype and test plan as we go.
If you are going through a business validation process, or hope to in the future, this programming can be a resource for you as well. We are also doing weekly LinkedIN Live broadcasts with the incubator team to dig even deeper into what’s being uncovered as it happens. Follow thoughtbot on LinkedIN to catch us live or watch the recordings.