Do things that don’t scale

By Mauricio Poveda February 17, 2015

Do things that don’t scale

“A lot of would-be founders believe that startups either take off or don’t. You build something, make it available, and if you’ve made a better mousetrap, people beat a path to your door as promised”

In a recent essay, Paul Graham talks about the misconceptions founders have about their startups. A lot of would-be founder believe that either startups take off or they don’t. In reality, startups don’t just takeoff on their own. They aren’t projectiles; they’re more like aircrafts. As founders, you have to gain momentum in order to lift off.  At Y Combinator, founders are told to do things that don’t scale. What does that mean?

Recruit your initial users

A very common misconception for many founders is that if you build a product/service, users will come. The most common unscalable thing founders have to do is go out and recruit the initial users manually. No level of growth hacking will help you get initial users overnight. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia of AirBnB didn’t have an overnight success. During the first initial months, they went door to door to acquire new users. Founders ignore the power of compounding growth. If you can acquire just 10% more users every week, you’ll have 14,000 users in a year and 2 million in 2 years!

Extraordinary customer service

The biggest advantage of being small is that you can provide a level of service that no big company can or ever will. We’ve all dealt with big companies and the frustrating customer service that follows. When was the last time you received a personalized thank you letter from a CEO of a brand you own at home? As a founder, you should take extraordinary measures to make your customers happy.  Your first users should feel like kings and queens when using your product/service. Doing so will help you scale faster. One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than thousands of dollars worth of advertising.

Insanely great attention to users

Focus on quality of execution to the point where it becomes pathological in nature. Make your customers the center of your startup universe. Your users should have a perfect experience with the product/service you offer. That does not mean releasing the perfect product or platform, but attention to the overall experience. Get constant feedback from users and let them know you care. This will allow you to continuously improve the product/service while delivering an unparalleled experience. Think about Apple; the entire process from selecting, buying and setting up an Apple device is flawless. It’s truly pathological in nature.

Focus on a narrow market

As Paul Graham puts it, keep the fire contained until it’s really hot before adding more logs. Start small and go big. Starting in a contained environment allows you to pivot and get to product-market fit faster. Most of the big companies you know today started off using the contained fire strategy.