Product-Customer Fit

In the odyssey of your startup, numerous factors will undoubtedly come into play. The list can be endless, and more than often, beyond inundating. It’s easy to be assailed with idle coffee meetings, vain pitches at meetups, foolish preparations for these pitches, despairingly gauging the fundraising climate, or naively worrying about extraneous factors that are just beyond your control.

Your time is limited. It’s vital for you to move swiftly, to test the riskiest assumptions you’re making, and compulsively validate whether your hypothesis even has legs. The best entrepreneurs have this uncanny ability to sift through the noise and discern for something I call the “limiting-factor” tasks. The term was inspired from my exposure to the hard-sciences in undergrad, and its definition can best be understood as the reactant in a chemical reaction that limits the amount of product that can be formed.

Within the chaotic, vast sphere of your startup, there will be certain undertakings that you just can’t move forward without, and they ultimately “limit” your ability to progress. These tasks are subjective and unique to each; it’s up to you to be due diligent. Competition is unforgiving in today’s brisk tech cycles, and you absolutely can’t afford for your team to work on something that no one will use, or on tasks that yield only marginal returns.

There is a popularized term in our industry that stems from the classic lean-startup school of thought called “Product-Market” fit. I personally think this term’s scope is a bit opaque, and prefer the word “Product-Customer” fit. I’ve opted for this because it places a substantial, dramatic focus on the only variable that truly matters — your customers.

The decisive limiting-factor is reaching this celestial destination of “Product-Customer” fit. If you’re not there, get there. You must ask the question– does this product I’m creating solve the problem of my customers? Do they like it? Even better, are they willing to pay for it? If not, you need to iterate on your product and fit it around your customers. Some of the best insight I can give is to get your customers involved as soon as possible.

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else”

Lovaash has two customers. First, we have Creatives. Some of the best painters, artisans, calligraphers, typographers, and cartographers from all over the world are creating Lovaash Online Stores by the hundreds every week in our private alpha. Second, we have consumers who own spaces— home-owners in the outskirts of cities, students with dorms, young professionals across San Francisco and Miami, owners of Italian to Korean restaurants, interior designers liable to enterprise clientele, and the list goes on.

My team and I are creating technology to solve the issues in selling the work of our Creatives through a SaaS (Software-as-Service) dashboard that manages transactions, real-time promotions, analytics, and more. And as a Consumer, you’ll be able to find exactly what you want through the lens of your personal space. The solution will be a 2-sided global marketplace with its foundation etched in inspiration, simplicity, and affordability.

Lovaash is where you “Enhance your Space”.

Validation

It is appreciably easy to start a company in 2013. The product development cycle is the shortest it has ever been. You and your roommate can whip something up overnight with little or no cost given today’s technology. This change has upped the supply of startups considerably. Logically, one would expect the demand of startups to decrease, but it hasn’t. Problems don’t just go away on their own, markets are still fragmented, and a better solution always exists.

In truth, the supply of startups destined for failure has increased. I firmly believe whilst there has never been a better time to start a business, there has never been a more difficult time to grow one. There is no silver-bullet to customer acquisition. The term “customer acquisition” is in a sense misleading. Customers aren’t just picked up somewhere, they’re developed into ones. They evolve from doubting visitors to zealous referrals. It’s incumbent on the leadership of a startup to engross their potential customers in as many encouraging ways as possible.

Early-stage validation is really the chasm most startups fail to span. Every startup must build a foundation in its larval-stage that will slowly generate growth through the aptitude of compound interest. It is better to have a 100 people who can’t live without your product than a 1,000 people who are some-what interested. These 100 people will work with, fight for, and stay loyal to you despite all the mistakes you make. I encourage the CEO’s of companies to get into the mindset that they are really recruiting an army. The culture, drive, and passion of this army is completely sourced through you. Your extended network is in fact larger than you actually think it is, and the network of your 100-person army is exponentially larger. The secret of growth lay within the density of these connections.

No one demographic is completely the same. If you constantly try to exhort one demographic over the other, your discrimination will eventually cap growth as you mistakenly focus on differences rather than consolidating similarities. Instead, seek for a unifying thread between your potential customers. Look for a raw, captivating nerve that fastens your startup’s diversifying community. This connection can’t be faked, and you must do your due diligence in understanding the authentic behaviors of your customers. For Lovaash it’s creativity. We’ve come to understand that all our early adopters have an insane appreciation and curiosity for it– whether you’re a student with a dorm, a young professional who just signed a lease in the city, or a first-time suburban home-owner.

This indescribable pursuit of creativity and its originality is the heartbeat of Lovaash.

– Mayer

Trends

Startups are a full-contact sport. Lets face it — it’s not easy to disrupt, change, and challenge markets. The hours are long. The path is uncertain. Passion runs deep. Mistakes will be made. It takes a certain breed. As I meet more entrepreneurs, I keep seeing a common trait. These people who are diving head-first into building something from scratch are some of the gutsiest, stubborn, and most driven beings on the planet. They see things before the rest of us. Spend a week in the Bay Area and you’ll feel it. They’re wired to be risk-takers. They’ll forgo salaries and quitting is never an option. Ask yourself if you’re the type to go all in.

A new trend exists in our age. In our parent’s generation, there were only really two options after you graduated from college. One, go work for someone. Two, go to grad school. Now, there’s a third– create a company. Young graduates are craving the edge, are looking down below, and eyeing the dive.

2013 is a great time to start a company. Technology is at its finest. The cost of creating a startup is 1% of what it used to be. The product development cycle is real short, and you can test your business model and all its assumptions with remarkable speed, ultimately minimizing your risk.

So fuck the safe path. Swing for the fences.

A New Crest of E-Commerce

E-commerce is evolving. Over the past decade we’ve seen two real crests of e-commerce. In the beginning, commodities provided the initial spark. Jeff Bezos and co. perfected the art as Amazon began bringing products from titans like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Costco onto the uncharted frontier of the internet. Selection, speed, varying price-points and transparent payments were the hallmark consumer value propositions. The bigger the catalogs, the larger the inventory, the better it was. Jason Goldberg, CEO of Fab, calls this age Commodity Commerce. With every crest, there is a trough, but its important to remember that these lows have hidden gems buried within them– they tacitly signal the next trend, the next big opportunity.

There soon came a time where digital media increasingly became more ubiquitous. Youtube, Netflix, Google and Apple began pursuing original content in the form of books, movies, music and more. The archaic traditions of purchasing hard-covers, DVD’s, MP3 CD’s from your local mall venues were soon cast away. This idea of Digital Commerce broadened the purchasing lexicon of your typical consumer. It was an experience elated and unseen. This era shed fears of brandishing your credit card to online venues and encouraged people to experiment with their purchasing habits. Most began owning intangible products at a remarkable velocity, and soon companies like Dropbox began offering cloud computing as a consumer solution for the first time.

The third crest will be something that industry leaders are calling Emotional Commerce. We are on the fast-track to this destination. Every person brings with them a unique background, a distinct taste and an exclusive niche. Marketplaces online will truly be defined by the products they choose to house. These products need to be exciting, riveting, and touching. Ultimately, this means that brand power will be of the utmost importance. Companies should be very meticulous about their marketing strategies. First impressions are everything. Your curation will define you.

Furthermore, this entails a purchasing experience at the other end of the spectrum. Before, in the bland-commodity era, speed was the pursued ideal, encouraging customers to be in and out of online marketplaces. In this 3rd wave, your platform should do the exact opposite. You want your customers to stay and spend time on your platform. You want them to explore it and make personal, intimate connections with your products. These bonds will enrich the word-of–mouth marketing strategy behind your platform creating a respectable viral loop engineered into your customer segments.

I think the most important and thrilling opportunity lay with merchants. The unspoken truth is that the creators of products are the only ones that can truly lead this emotional connection with consumers. It is only natural to allow merchants to sell, distribute, and adhere to their respective networks better. This is the fundamental obligation  of any marketplace. Thus today’s marketplaces have a burning responsibility to offer an unmatchable trove of merchant tools through developing technology. Allow your merchants to drive up sales and traction to your platform with original, heart-felt content only they can provide. Give them credit. As creators, they rightfully deserve it.

This is exactly the plan for Lovaash. We are Empowering Artists.

Mayer Zahid

“Luck”

2 years. 100K. Drop out of school.

The Thiel Fellowship really is unlike any other experience. For those of us who don’t know, Peter Thiel was one of the first investors in Facebook. You can see his character subtlety played out in the Social Network, where in reality he famously dropped in 500k, turning that same angel investment into more than a billion.

He went onto create the Thiel Fellowship. The program launches a vicious campaign to find the world’s youngest and brightest. You must be under 20, and if you’re selected, you’re given a cool 100k, are told to drop out of school, and given rare, discrete access to an elite group of investors, scientists, visionary thinkers, and proven entrepreneurs.

Today I went to an event hosted by the Thiel Fellowship people and UC Berkeley, and saw some spectacular presentations by students hoping to be selected this coming spring. Gizmos, gadgets, SaaS, and TaaS platforms, all from people far more intelligent than I. One student frankly voiced his ambition of eliminating standardized-testing, casually showcasing an inspiring platform that he whipped up in a week that now partners with Khan Academy. Another gave a segment bare-footed, literally in front of venture capitalists with no shoes on, about his new “Netflix for music” that has over 50,000 users.

I began thinking. I realized that you only need two really important things on your path to success. One is balls of steel. You can never underestimate confidence, and that trait alone has undoubtedly taken people far in life. However, it has its limits. You’ll eventually hit a wall. The other, arguably more important facet, is simply intelligence.

I know it sounds cliche, but I really want you to think about this. Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linked-in, attributes his success to “luck”. What does that even really mean? It’s too ambiguous. No one wants to come off as being arrogant. No one will blatantly tell you that the reason they became successful was because they’re untouchably smart. It’s taboo to say so, and I believe that our society is using the concept of “luck” as a playful mask for intelligence, and as a testament to this, watch a video of Reid Hoffman’s drop-in lectures at Stanford and you’ll readily admit that he’s amongst the brightest in the Valley, and that it’s no coincidence that he’s the mind behind this world’s new, revolutionary professional network that has changed the job hunt entirely.

There is a direct, linear relationship between how much you know, and how much you can do. Push yourself to learn everything about everything. Curb the chances of you not noticing opportunity. Mesh it with confidence, and you’ll see your “luck” exponentially increase.

“Skip school, Google your education” Sean Parker

– Ekram | @ekramjan

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the Thiel Fellowship, here’s a short video: