How to Start a Startup. Walker Williams. Lecture 8 Summary (cont.)

Disclaimer: We know we hardly have time to sit through an hour class (even if it’s online). This is why the Innowest team has put together some summaries from Sam Altman’s How to Start a Startup video lectures. This series, initially given at Stanford in Fall 2014, covers everything we know about how to start a startup, and features some of the world’s experts. When you get the chance, watch the whole lectures here:


Lecture 8: How to Get Started, Doing Things that Don’t Scale (cont.)


In this lecture of How to Start a Startup, Walker Williams tells us why doing things that don’t scale is a startup biggest advantage. He is the CEO/Founder of Teespring, an e-commerce platform that allows entrepreneurs to launch products and apparel brands without risk, cost, or compromise.


Walker defines things that don’t scale as things that are fundamentally unsustainable, that will not last. These are growth strategies that won’t take you to million users and where they usually break is time but could be other things too.

There are three places to leverage your advantage:

1) Finding your first users:

Everyone looks for that dream solution with tremendous ROI, accelerating partnership, etc. But the reality is that for most companies, that’s not possible – those are unicorns. The reality of most companies that (from the outside) look like they’ve had a dream growth curve had first users that were probably impossibly hard to get. Getting the first users are the hardest, but as a founder, it’s your responsibility to do whatever it takes to bring them in. This can mean doing anything from sending 100 emails a day or getting on the phone and calling as many people as you can. The first is the hardest, but as you go farther and farther it gets easier. You need to make sure that users value your product (don’t offer it for free!).

When Teespring first launched (2012), it took days of meetings, offering free designs, and revisions back-and-forth before launching the product themselves. They had to do all the social media and initially it seemed like it would be best for them to give up but the amount of users began to add up.


2) Turning those users into champions:

Once you have those users, you want to turn them into champions (someone who talks about and advocates for your product). The best way to turn a user into a champion is to delight them with a memorable experience. You can get to know what users think of your product and learn what they need by talking to them both constantly and consistently.

Here are three ways you can talk to your customers:

  1. You can run customer service yourself to find out what’s not working with your product
  2. Reach out to current and *churn customers (*customers that left)
    1. Make sure your customers are having good experiences and reaching out to churn users can allow you to find out why they left in the first place
    2. Personal outreach can be the difference between leaving and staying
  3. You need to know how people are talking about your brand on social media; you’ll want to know when they’re having bad experiences and go the extra mile to make the customer happy


3) Finding product/market fit

The product you launch will almost certainly not be the product that takes you to scale. Your job is to progress and iterate as fast as possible. You’ll want to create a platform that’s beautiful, with clean code, and that scales. Optimize for speed over scalability. Only worry about the next order of magnitude; when you have your tenth user, don’t worry about how you’re going to serve one million users. You don’t want to do things that don’t scale for as long as possible so you can stay connected with users. You’ll need to move as fast as possible in development, but don’t give that up willingly.

Jan, 27, 2016