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A 4-minute playbook to building a startup


  Phạm Anh Cường

Jon Sugihara is an Operating Advisor at Monk’s HIll Ventures and has founded a number of companies in the US and Asia. Currently, he is the head of strategic partnership for the Next Billion Users group at Google. Previously, Jon held positions as Chief Product Officer at KODAKIT and RedMart. He first entered the Asian market as the founder of Perx in Singapore.

When Jon got to Singapore in 2011 and was starting Perx, the ecosystem looked a lot different than it is today. And as he mentored companies, built his own, or helped build others, he noticed that he was hearing the same issues and offering the same pieces of advice. So, he started to create a playbook to building a startup with the hope that his mistakes will help save you from making some of them yourselves and get you to your next milestone faster. BestB gives you today Jon's bullet points to buiding a startup!

What is your purpose?

As a founder, there are two important things you need to do:

  1. Be ready for the long journey.

  2. Hire great people to delegate as quickly as possible.

You’ve heard this many times: startups are hard. There will be high-highs and low-lows. Having a purpose for yourself that you truly believe in will help you get through the many times you’ll want to give up.

But that’s not enough. A lot of new founders do not spend enough time clearly articulating to their team what the company’s purpose is. Once you have identified the purpose:

  • Make sure everyone in the company knows what this is and that they all interpret it the same way.

  • Make sure you only hire people who believe in and are legitimately excited about this purpose.

  • Your progress will accelerate dramatically as soon as you start hiring people that can get the load off of your plate. If people are aligned with the goal, you can be confident that they can make good decisions on their own and will focus on the right things.

What is the problem you are solving?

Is the problem you are solving big enough? Probably 99 percent of the problems companies are trying to solve were either too small or not painful enough. What’s even worse is that their “solution” is the one looking for a problem.

When trying to identify a problem, the rule of thumb is to ask these questions:

  • How painful is the problem?

  • If you were to shut down, would your users constantly knock on your door until you reopen?

  • How big is the market?

Who are your customers?

  • Figure out at least three or four personas of people who would benefit from your product.

  • Test these personas through product features, user studies, research, or sales. 

  • Eliminate personas as they fail your tests. This may mean that they won’t convert at a high-enough rate because they don’t find the problem that compelling. This may also mean poor retention rates or that these prospects are not yet ready. You don’t have time to waste on difficult personas; they can come later.

  • Once you find your “easy-money” personas, it’s time to double down. Let the entire team focus on this customer. Plaster it everywhere in your office so everyone remembers. When everyone is aligned, you suddenly see that your product team knows what features to prioritize, your sales team knows who to sell to, and your management makes decisions much faster.

  • Don’t worry about having a narrow focus. If you create a great product for this customer and scale, you’ll find that a good portion of what you built will apply to the next persona you want to target, and so on.

What are your success metrics?

How can you tell whether you’ve picked the right customer and are working toward product-market fit? Set the right metrics.

  • Review your progress of these metrics constantly. Kill the personas and features that are not helping your success metrics.

  • Make sure to create balancing metrics. If you choose only vanity metrics, you may lose track of the more important ones, especially those that reflect retention. At RedMart, one of their success metrics was bringing down the cost of dispatch. But they also had a balancing metric, which was on-time delivery and perfect order. If they reduced their dispatch cost at the price of poor on-time delivery or perfect order rates, then would they still have a customer at the end of the day to deliver to?

With that, you should be on your way to product-market fit. The questions now is, how do you start scaling your business to put it on that hockey stick trajectory?

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