Episode 9 of HBO’s Silicon Valley Season 3 was a pretty shocking one for the Pied Piper team. I have been rooting for the team throughout and now that they’ve managed to overcome internal challenges and aggressive takeovers, they’re failing on something they can’t blame anybody for: their own product. This isn’t because their engineering capabilities are weak or their compression software isn’t revolutionary, but because they’ve made the ultimate techie sin — failure to test their service on non-techies, a.k.a. users.
A lot of the cutting-edge technology concepts that make Pied Piper an engineering breakthrough remains abstract and elusive to the end users. The team has always been so engrossed in their own creation that they can’t understand how someone else might struggle with it. A lot of lessons can be learnt from this episode of Silicon Valley. Here are seven of them:
1 You cannot business-model your way out of a shitty product
The importance of validation of your idea to make sure it solves a problem people have cannot be overemphasised enough. This is the one biggest factor for success of your company. Its not ‘how much’ you work but ‘what’ you work on most critical. Make sure you gather data from a diversified dataset that can prove that people are willing to use your product in some way or the other and at some point pay for it as well.
2 Don’t obsess over funding and be frugal
Many founders think that raising VC money is a measure of success. The entire fundraising process can be so consuming for a lot of founders when it shouldn’t be at an early stage. VCs have their own objectives and ethos, it’s not their money and they are expecting to get a significant return and this puts a lot of constraints on the company. The only thing that ultimately matters is building a viable, growing and profitable business.
3 Build a real product, for real customers solving a real problem
Its pretty easy to get dissuaded these days because of all the noise around. Everyone wants to build the next Snapchat and Uber. Try to move away from what you think would make a “cool product” in the “hot space.” Instead, concentrate on solving a real problem, even if it has already been attacked by somebody before.
4 If you build it, they will not use
Almost every young Founder I’ve met takes sales for granted initially getting inspired from the likes of Whatsapp. The truth is 99.9% of products don’t magically get viral through word of mouth. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. are glaring exceptions. To believe their model is the correct one to follow for entrepreneurship is a huge mistake.
5 Team composition is critical
Diversity in the founding team is very important. It is never recommended to hire early team members that are a carbon copy of yourself. Innovation is the lifeblood of a startup. You’re always going to need somebody who focuses on the business stuff while the engineers get to code all day and worry about the product. Someone else needs to worry about driving users to that product.
What I’ve noticed is when you bring people together from varying backgrounds and experiences, it creates a fertile ground for innovation, developing innovative ideas, and finding creative solutions to complex problems.
6 Shed your arrogance
I hate to break it to you, but the startup ecosystem has a vanity problem. Many entrepreneurs who raise money and attract investor’s attention very early find themselves the object of affection even before they’ve thought about their first dollar, let alone earn it. It’s actually not their fault entirely — the tech ecosystem globally is a gas chamber of praise for unproven ideas. This is why it’s absolutely important to stay humble and keep learning all the time. Focus on building a meaningful company and stay grounded.
7 Listen to current (or future) customers
I’m always surprised at how scared some founders are to get on the freakin’ phone and talk to their customers or potential customers. I don’t care how much of an introvert you are or if you aren’t great at starting a conversation. Get over this fear and have a chat with other humans.
Stop what you’re doing and go email ten of your customers right now and get feedback.
Are you a fan of the series Silicon Valley yourself? What have you learnt watching the show so far? Comment below to share your thoughts.
Bharat Sethi is a start-up enthusiast with a lot of interest in building marketplaces, e-commerce, and retail design. He started selling art on Ebay at age 16 while still in school. He founded PosterGully in early 2012 as a side project to continue with his interest in solving the monetisation problem for artists & designers. Since then, he’s played an integral part in building a cult brand within its target audience, getting over 6 million users to the unique marketplace. He has been published in Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, TNW, Quartz, Business Insider including many other business magazines. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him on LinkedIn: https://in.linkedin.com/in/sethibharat