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How to Stop Wasting Time & Money on Startup Product Development

How to stop wasting time and money on startup product development

Every time I travel, I bring a number of books. The selections often consist of about 50-75% fiction, while the rest are business books. I’ll be honest that Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days didn’t seem like a pool read to me (I often prefer “whodunit” type mysteries, suspense and other related books that my mom reads and passes along to me), but it was a fast and engaging read. Let’s dig in!

As stated in the title, Sprint is all about how to build models and test startup product development ideas quickly so as not to waste time and money developing products and/or features that your customers don’t want. Sprint was authored by a few people who seem like they may have learned this lesson the hard way a time or two (anyone that works with startups has): Jake Knapp (who developed the Sprint process), John Zeratsky who joined Google Ventures after his startup (Feedburner) was acquired, and Braden Kowitz, also from Google Ventures, who has apparently advised over 200 startups.


The Sprint process: build and test in 5 days

This is a quick and dirty overview, so keep in mind that there are many details that go into each step. The book does an excellent job of providing different strategies to test with your team, and weaves in stories that help the reader understand each strategy. The process below is fully accomplished in one business week:

  1. Time: Set aside five full days to scope, prototype, test and measures your product. Five full days during which every participant must be fully available and engaged.
  2. Team: Put together a team of stakeholders—no more than 7 people—to work on the project.
  3. Goal: Agree on the ultimate goal of the company/product. Your company should already have this one down, but from working with startups and reading Sprint, I know that this isn’t a given.
  4. Solution: What solution can be tested and measured in a week that will help the company make substantial progress toward that goal? Every contributor sketches solutions.
  5. Plan: Vote on the best option (key stakeholder still has veto power) and create a plan of attack. At this time you’re already on day 3, so the team must work quickly to put together a plan without the continuous second-guessing and endless iterations that often come with product scoping.
  6. Prototype: Build a prototype in one day. Yes, I said one day! This will include some smoke, mirrors and duct tape and your team must be comfortable with testing this product versus spending a ton of time on startup product development.
  7. Test: On the final day, the team interviews a handful of people to get their reactions. Does the prototype make sense? What does the interviewee think about messaging, usability, etc.?


After the sprint: what do startups do next?

After this process, the team ends the day with a desire to move forward and tweak, scrap large parts of the project or start over. The good thing is, instead of “wasting months on a hunch,” the startup team has spent only five days building, testing and measuring a product or feature.

I see the mistakes discussed in Sprint made often by Accelity’s startup clients. Launching features without a clear customer need, buy-in and without testing features. Following the process outlined in Sprint helps startups make smarter, faster decisions, better allocate investor money and ultimately bring a stronger product to market.


How I used the lessons from Sprint

In the third quarter of 2016, Accelity started 10% time. Essentially, this means that the team used 10% of their time (approximately 4 hours per week) and worked on a business-related project outside of their day-to-day duties. A few members of the Accelity team worked on new services in our same marketing for startups realm, another developed other types of content that we can offer clients. After reading Sprint, I decided to scope and begin building a startup marketing-related product.

Disclaimer: the Sprint process is really not meant to be run alone. As I outlined above, to run a true sprint, you need a team, a block of time, etc. However, I found that a handful of strategies from the book helped make my 10% time project more fun and more successful.

Here are my main takeaways and how I applied these Sprint strategies:


First, select a BHAG, even if it’s scary.

A BHAG is a big, hairy, audacious goal. These are the most terrifying goals to set and work toward, but the Sprint process allows startups to bite off and test pieces, building confidence along the way.

While working with my business coach, (shoutout to Rebecca Heidepriem, she’s the best in the business), I’ve realized that almost all agencies suffer from a problem: we’re only as good as the hours we bill. Therefore, my goal as an agency owner to diversify Accelity’s revenue sources and build passive income by selling a marketing for startups product in addition to services.


Second, know that time is of the essence (so move fast).

Scoping the end-product must be completed quickly. That means there’s no time for second-guessing and input from a million sources. This part of the process was relatively easy for me—working alone helped me make quick decisions that I could then test later.


Third, build the product with the skills you have.

So many startups require a million external resources to build a product in order to test. In Sprint, companies must work with the resources they have and essentially fake the rest. Since I didn’t have startup product development resources in my solo 10% time project, but do have Wordpress knowledge, a front-of-funnel website was the solution. The key in the build was to optimize the site for conversion to encourage a completely hands-off sale (which I haven’t completely figured out yet, but in less than 50 hours I am well on my way).


Shameless plug: after I ran my baby sprint, team Accelity chose to work on this project together in the beginning of 2017. Keep an eye out for a mid-2017 marketing for startups product launch! We’re excited to help startups get their marketing off the ground without tons of money, marketing knowledge, or an agency.

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