Applying the way we learn to the way we build our products, companies, and investments


How do we learn something new?  Think about it.  We start with small manageable goals, steadily increasing the complexity and difficulty until we reach a certain level of proficiency.  It takes time, dedication, and a level of discipline to stay focused.

Now think of all the most well known websites, mobile apps, and companies. They all share one thing in common.  They started with small managable goals, steadily increasing the complexity and difficulty of their products until they reached a certain level of proficiency.  It took them time, dedication, and a level of disciplline to stay focused.  

Think about your product.  The one you started, or are starting, or have yet to begin.  How will it learn?  How will you learn from it?

As entrepreneurs, business owners, product managers and investors, we have been conditioned to idealize players like Facebook, Rovio, 37signals, Amazon, and Apple.  We cite their warchest of feature sets, product lines, and relationships but we forget that each one of these companies got to where they are today because they were willing to slow down and learn one small step at a time.  The same way WE all learn, naturally.

"With Open Source technologies now enabling us to add more features faster with less capital, the discipline needed to stay focused has never been more important."

We are continually helping companies in Chicago start from the ground up.  One of the biggest challenges we face is where to begin their product's learning process. What is the SINGLE feature their product needs so that we can begin learning from it's users and refining it's offering.  There is a stigma that if we don't out-feature our competitors, users will not be attracted to our products.  In reality, it's the most well-thought-out products that end up being the thing that users flock to most.  With Open Source technologies now enabling us to add more features faster with less capital, the disciplline needed to stay focused has never been more important.  

There are several great resources available to help you start thinking differently about the way you build your product. One worth checking out was written by Eric Ries entitled, The Lean Startup.  He's known most for an approach to product development he calls the "minimum viable product" or MVP.  The MVP approach prioritizes prototyping and deployment as soon as a piece of functionality is ready, instead of releasing a product when a series of features are complete.  His philosophy has been adopted from Silicon Valley, to top-tier business schools and now startups around the world. 

So the next time you begin your approach, or work on your next iteration, or consider your next investment opportunity, remember this: Just like us, if what your building isn't being raised to learn from itself, it's going to have a tough time ever growing up to be great.

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