Seven Best Insights From StartupLJackson on Startups

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, 5 Scaling Up Stage, Quotes, skmurphy, Startups

StartupLJackson was the alter ego of Parker Thompson (@pt) who tweeted insights for entrepreneurs from 2011-2016. Here are my pick for his seven best with some additional commentary.

Seven Insights From StartupLJackson on Startups

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

Thompson was inspired by idea of Jules, the profane but deeply religious hit man in Pulp Fiction played by Samuel L. Jackson, giving advice to startup entrepreneurs. And in August 2011 @StartupLJackson  was born. A number of writers have used fictional characters to tell the truth and I believe Thompson was no exception.

10X Teams

“Stop trying to find 10x engineers and start trying to engineer a 10x team.”
Startup L. Jackson (@StartupLJackson)

The search for ninjas, rock stars, gurus, Jedi Knights, and the like ignores the need to build teams of people with complementary strengths and weaknesses and systems to support them.

What Will Kill You This Month?

“Effectiveness is knowing 10 things will kill your startup this year and being able to block out all but the one that will kill it this month.”
Startup L. Jackson (@StartupLJackson)

There are so many things you have to do that you have to minimize work in progress and complete tasks. I originally quoted this by John August  Focus requires buffers and free time:

“At any given moment there may be one monster that looms larger than all of the others, who clearly needs to be attacked. Before you strike, look around for injured monsters–the half finished tasks that probably only need a few more minutes to complete. If you don’t deal with them now, they will be a constant distraction, and may eventually come back stronger.”
John August in “Seven Things I learned from World of WarCraft.

Competition Proves There is a Market

“Imitation is the sincerest form of market validation.”
Startup L. Jackson (@StartupLJackson)

This is a clever restatement of no competition no market.

Success is Everybody Wins: Founders, Employees, Customers, Investors

“I don’t know about you, but doing great work takes all my energy. I don’t have any left to watch my back, regardless of the potential upside. I need a team that defines success as everybody winning (founders, employees, customers, etc), and when things get tough–which they almost always do at some point–does the right thing.”
Startup L. Jackson (@StartupLJackson) in “Choose Your People Wisely

Character and shared values matter more than expertise; a lack of expertise can be remedied by experience and a willingness to learn and improve.

Code is Easy, People are Hard

“Code is easy, people are hard. It often takes the best engineers the longest to realize this.”
Startup L. Jackson (@StartupLJackson)

Technology changes fast, people not so much, you need a plan to continually renew your technical skills and those of your team. People skills–soft skills–have a much longer lifetime.  A small but continual investment in developing your speaking and presentation ability will pay dividends for a long time. Becoming a more thoughtful and encouraging listener never hurts either–although I find it hard work.

He elaborates on the value of listening and customer development in “The Counterintuitive Things About Counterintuitive Things” (bolding added)

“If your goal is to build a startup, you need a more proactive strategy; a way to develop a novel thesis and amass the information you will need to execute against it. Think about your worldview—the thing which drives your intuition—as a framework or ruleset which is never fully complete. Intuition is how you apply this ruleset to new sets of facts.

The best way to develop a better framework than others is to approach the task consciously, and to work constantly at it. While others will often suggest the best thing you can do as a founder is learn to code, this is in fact one of the worst uses of your time (unless you enjoy puzzles, in which case it’s great). Most important software startups in 2014 are fundamentally about solving big human problems within the context of human systems with boring technology. If you accept this premise, your time is best spent developing insights into human needs and behaviors that existing frameworks (conventional wisdom) do not account for.

Everybody knows something you don’t. Take it. By approaching every conversation as an opportunity to learn about the world, you’ll not only develop a better model of the world and therefore better intuition, but people will probably like you a lot more. “He was really interested in me and my perspective. What a good guy!” […]

The driver of these innovations is an uncommon understanding of what the customer (aka humans) wants or how to deliver an understood solution it in a better way. Note that the latter is typically a business model rather than technical innovation (aka creating win-win situations for participants in a transaction). While it may be unintuitive to outsiders, it’s intuitive to the founders because they developed a better way of thinking about their corner of the world.”

Startup L. Jackson (@StartupLJackson) in in “The Counterintuitive Things About Counterintuitive Things

Better is 10X Better

“Many a startup has failed selling ‘better’ products. While 10x better almost always wins, marginally better almost never beats good enough.

  • 10x better = hard to build, easy to sell.
  • Marginally better = easy to build, hard to sell.”

Startup L. Jackson (@StartupLJackson)

You have to promise enough of an improvement to overcome the both the real and perceived risks of working with your startup. Small improvements are rarely enough.

Lack of Demand Kills

“The existential threat to early-stage startups is almost always lack of demand. There’ll be infinite VC to fix tech if you clear that hurdle”
Startup L. Jackson (@StartupLJackson)

Picking the right problems to solve determines the demand and the quality of the demand determines the value of your solution. Where value intersects your costs then determines if you can make a profit. But it’s substantially easier to lower the cost of something firms want than to get them to want what you have built working from you capabilities instead of from the problem.

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