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Torn between two mentors with opposite viewpoints on startup process

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Overdrive

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Hi! Not sure if the general folder is the right place for this thread and sorry if this is going to be a long post. But I really need some advice, guys.

Some background first:

So I’ve been sitting on a startup idea now for almost six months (basically since I’ve been a member on this board) and so far have mostly been conceptualizing and refining the idea, which is a B2B web application that consists of 80% selling digital products and 20% lead generation model. The digital products will be created by myself and a partner and we’ve started creating some content. I’ve also just started research into my potential customers (still looking for people to interview), but am also getting a bit anxious to execute on the actual website since it feels like procrastinating without having anything concrete on my hands. Since I have no skills in programming, I would need to hire a software developer to create the website.

Through meetups and friends I’ve got in touch with two experienced entrepreneurs within the last three weeks and I’ve had the good fortune to talk to each of them in person for an hour or so about my project. They have been very supportive and I like to think of them ideally as my mentors. Although both come from a similar background, they seem to have totally opposite views on the process of executing a startup. I find merits in both views but find it really hard to reconcile both views which is what I hope to do. Although I’m very aware I will have to make this decision on my own, I’d still hope to get some input from other experienced entrepreneurs on this board.

Let me first roughly describe my two mentors, I’ll call them Mentor A and Mentor B:

Mentor A:

Entrepreneur and sometimes angel investor based in the Bay Area, aged around mid to late 40s

Background in software, has successfully created and sold a software business before (presumably in the early 2010s)

Mentor B:

Entrepreneur and sometimes angel investor based in Silicon Valley, aged early 60s

Background in software, has successfully created and sold a software business before (in the 1990s)

So much for the similarities. When I discussed my idea for a startup with both of them, they gave me what appears like radically different advice.

Mentor A’s advice is firmly grounded in Lean Startup principles (which I tend to agree with, having read the book Lean Startup). Summarized, his input is the following:

- My idea has potential for a startup (despite not being super special), but it’s impossible to say for sure without validating it first.
- Therefore, stop focusing on the product for now and focus on validating the idea through an MVP. Focus on generating sales and metrics such as customer acquisition cost, generating traffic, ads, etc. Use the MVP as a tool for learning.
- Specifically, his idea for the MVP is a “quick and dirty” landing page (basically a simple blog page made with Wordpress) that explains my solution and offers my digital products for download against payment. However, the MVP would not contain any of the other more complex features intended for the final website which includes things like customization, interactive user interface, customer service and lead generation. So it would really be just a stripped down version of my envisioned product.
- The objective of this exercise (ie, the MVP) is to test if there are customers out there who would be willing to buy the digital product in the first place (note that there are established websites who offer similar products, but usually for a different market segment, so the products even on the MVP would have a clear differentiation based on a feature). The idea is that customers who see a solution to their problem on my MVP will put up with a less than polished presentation.
- Don’t spend any money on a web developer yet until you have validated the idea through the MVP.
- Try to do all the work related to the MVP by yourself as much as possible before thinking about outsourcing.


Mentor B’s advice is almost the complete opposite. When I told him of my path based on Mentor A’s advice, he disagreed very strongly with my intended approach. His input is summarized below:

- From the beginning he likes my idea a lot, thinks there is great potential and is keen on supporting it, even considering investing in it.
- But in his view, creating an MVP for idea validation (in the form as described above) is a waste of time. It’s basically me dabbling when I should put all my heart into the idea. It shows him I don’t believe enough in my idea and in myself and am not fully committed. So I may as well not execute the idea at all.
- The MVP would not be able to achieve anything because it is not a true representation of what my product can do for the customer. It would prove nothing and would most likely not be able to generate any sales at all because people will not accept anything half-baked and pay for it.
- Instead of trying to create a “worthless” MVP, better focus on my vision and my product and work on making it different and better than anything that’s available on the market. The main selling point should be the user interface which helps customers customize the digital content for their needs. This can only be achieved through a fully functional website, not just a landing page with some downloadable content.
- The website creation is a minor problem, just hire someone to do it and focus on your vision and solution and then launch.
- Do product testing with real people once I have a functional prototype of the website.

As I’ve mentioned, I do see merits in both viewpoints. I totally get the idea of an MVP following Lean Startup principles as favored by Mentor A. But I also agree with Mentor B that working on the real solution, not a half-baked one, is what I should focus on. And just trying to learn how to create the landing page with Wordpress.com (not even the full version on .org) seems like slowing me down a lot. So I’m wondering if this is really time well spent. I’m now trying to find a way to reconcile both viewpoints, if at all possible, and decide on the right path for me.

Would really appreciate hearing viewpoints from other startup veterans that could help me in my decision-making process.

Thanks a lot!
 

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LiveEntrepreneur

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Hi! Not sure if the general folder is the right place for this thread and sorry if this is going to be a long post. But I really need some advice, guys.

Some background first:

So I’ve been sitting on a startup idea now for almost six months (basically since I’ve been a member on this board) and so far have mostly been conceptualizing and refining the idea, which is a B2B web application that consists of 80% selling digital products and 20% lead generation model. The digital products will be created by myself and a partner and we’ve started creating some content. I’ve also just started research into my potential customers (still looking for people to interview), but am also getting a bit anxious to execute on the actual website since it feels like procrastinating without having anything concrete on my hands. Since I have no skills in programming, I would need to hire a software developer to create the website.

Through meetups and friends I’ve got in touch with two experienced entrepreneurs within the last three weeks and I’ve had the good fortune to talk to each of them in person for an hour or so about my project. They have been very supportive and I like to think of them ideally as my mentors. Although both come from a similar background, they seem to have totally opposite views on the process of executing a startup. I find merits in both views but find it really hard to reconcile both views which is what I hope to do. Although I’m very aware I will have to make this decision on my own, I’d still hope to get some input from other experienced entrepreneurs on this board.

Let me first roughly describe my two mentors, I’ll call them Mentor A and Mentor B:

Mentor A:

Entrepreneur and sometimes angel investor based in the Bay Area, aged around mid to late 40s

Background in software, has successfully created and sold a software business before (presumably in the early 2010s)

Mentor B:

Entrepreneur and sometimes angel investor based in Silicon Valley, aged early 60s

Background in software, has successfully created and sold a software business before (in the 1990s)

So much for the similarities. When I discussed my idea for a startup with both of them, they gave me what appears like radically different advice.

Mentor A’s advice is firmly grounded in Lean Startup principles (which I tend to agree with, having read the book Lean Startup). Summarized, his input is the following:

- My idea has potential for a startup (despite not being super special), but it’s impossible to say for sure without validating it first.
- Therefore, stop focusing on the product for now and focus on validating the idea through an MVP. Focus on generating sales and metrics such as customer acquisition cost, generating traffic, ads, etc. Use the MVP as a tool for learning.
- Specifically, his idea for the MVP is a “quick and dirty” landing page (basically a simple blog page made with Wordpress) that explains my solution and offers my digital products for download against payment. However, the MVP would not contain any of the other more complex features intended for the final website which includes things like customization, interactive user interface, customer service and lead generation. So it would really be just a stripped down version of my envisioned product.
- The objective of this exercise (ie, the MVP) is to test if there are customers out there who would be willing to buy the digital product in the first place (note that there are established websites who offer similar products, but usually for a different market segment, so the products even on the MVP would have a clear differentiation based on a feature). The idea is that customers who see a solution to their problem on my MVP will put up with a less than polished presentation.
- Don’t spend any money on a web developer yet until you have validated the idea through the MVP.
- Try to do all the work related to the MVP by yourself as much as possible before thinking about outsourcing.


Mentor B’s advice is almost the complete opposite. When I told him of my path based on Mentor A’s advice, he disagreed very strongly with my intended approach. His input is summarized below:

- From the beginning he likes my idea a lot, thinks there is great potential and is keen on supporting it, even considering investing in it.
- But in his view, creating an MVP for idea validation (in the form as described above) is a waste of time. It’s basically me dabbling when I should put all my heart into the idea. It shows him I don’t believe enough in my idea and in myself and am not fully committed. So I may as well not execute the idea at all.
- The MVP would not be able to achieve anything because it is not a true representation of what my product can do for the customer. It would prove nothing and would most likely not be able to generate any sales at all because people will not accept anything half-baked and pay for it.
- Instead of trying to create a “worthless” MVP, better focus on my vision and my product and work on making it different and better than anything that’s available on the market. The main selling point should be the user interface which helps customers customize the digital content for their needs. This can only be achieved through a fully functional website, not just a landing page with some downloadable content.
- The website creation is a minor problem, just hire someone to do it and focus on your vision and solution and then launch.
- Do product testing with real people once I have a functional prototype of the website.

As I’ve mentioned, I do see merits in both viewpoints. I totally get the idea of an MVP following Lean Startup principles as favored by Mentor A. But I also agree with Mentor B that working on the real solution, not a half-baked one, is what I should focus on. And just trying to learn how to create the landing page with Wordpress.com (not even the full version on .org) seems like slowing me down a lot. So I’m wondering if this is really time well spent. I’m now trying to find a way to reconcile both viewpoints, if at all possible, and decide on the right path for me.

Would really appreciate hearing viewpoints from other startup veterans that could help me in my decision-making process.

Thanks a lot!
I'm probably not qualified to comment on this lol but I think your first mentor is smarter he seems more logical. The reason I say that because he is playing it safer, doing the bare minimal to see if there is a need for your product instead of spending X amount on a developer and turns out there is no demand. I think this part here is a bit silly "It’s basically me dabbling when I should put all my heart into the idea".

Just because you put your heart and soul into it doesn't mean you will get a result. It reminds me of the 'follow your passion advice'. I've heard stories of people who have gone all in, loved their idea and it failed. And remember the 1# reason that businesses fail is because of no market need. Doesn't make sense to me, to work your a$$ off for something that won't that has no need.

But I also think these guys are saying what worked for them, it worked for their specific scenario and that's why they will give you advice and recommend that strategy. Like people who say 'follow your passion' it worked for them and now they think it will work for everyone. To me it doesn't make sense.
 

B. Cole

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Just speaking from my view, I’m a physical product guy, not IT - but value proposition is universal.

Sales are king, and trump all else. You could be wasting a lot more time building a business under Mentor B’s advice, and have it fail because nobody but you and him were customers. I’d listen to Mentor A, ensure you’re not building a failure.

Mentor A is mitigating your risk. Mentor B is not. Looks like he got lucky.

Perhaps you can prove your MVP out differently than leaving it coldly up for sale if you’re afraid the quality will be a turnoff. Do a beta test where people pay less for it with the understanding it’s conceptual and in development? You just need people to commit in some form by handing you money, that’s the case-cracking proof.
 
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MitchC

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I think you may have missed one of the big points of the lean startup.

Part of the lean startup is that you pivot to what your customers want. You could spend all your time and money and find they want something different and by then have no money left to create it, or if you did, the money invested already was wasted.

It’s not necessarily about launching and validating cheaply, its about running lean and being able to adapt.

If you do your mvp and keep building upon it and adapting to what the market wants in my opinion that’s going to be much more successful.

If your product is perfect when you launch, you launched way too late. Get it out there and see what it becomes. You can still be all in without doing what mentor B is suggesting.
 
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Overdrive

Overdrive

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I'm probably not qualified to comment on this lol but I think your first mentor is smarter he seems more logical. The reason I say that because he is playing it safer, doing the bare minimal to see if there is a need for your product instead of spending X amount on a developer and turns out there is no demand. I think this part here is a bit silly "It’s basically me dabbling when I should put all my heart into the idea".

Just because you put your heart and soul into it doesn't mean you will get a result. It reminds me of the 'follow your passion advice'. I've heard stories of people who have gone all in, loved their idea and it failed. And remember the 1# reason that businesses fail is because of no market need. Doesn't make sense to me, to work your a$$ off for something that won't that has no need.

But I also think these guys are saying what worked for them, it worked for their specific scenario and that's why they will give you advice and recommend that strategy. Like people who say 'follow your passion' it worked for them and now they think it will work for everyone. To me it doesn't make sense.
LiveEntrepreneur, thanks a lot for your reply which resonates with me a lot. I also had the impression that their respective advice probably stems from what worked for them in the past. Mentor B recounted to me his success story from the mid 90s (an innovative software for language learning before there was Internet) and apparently Lean Startup in software development wasn't a thing back then. He is definitely very old school and holds the view that passion and vision and the commitment that comes with it trump everything else when you're an entrepreneur. He clearly viewed any attempt at launching any kind of MVP as indicative of a lack of passion and belief in one's idea and vision. Though I disagreed at first I can still see there is also truth in what he said. Knowingly creating a reduced, almost "sloppy" version, of my product for the MVP in order to validate a need on the market does feel like I'm compromising my idea and second-guessing myself. And his harsh rebuke of my MVP did cause me to look for that fire inside me again and it gave me additional motivation to move forward faster.

It's quite interesting that both mentors were very direct in their language and not pulling any punches when they discussed my idea, so much that they both at times even apologized for being "harsh" on me. But I do appreciate them telling me their true opinion without a filter and I believe it's a sign of a good mentor. For example. Mentor A said things like "forget about your other features, that's simply you dreaming and wasting mental energy, as long as you haven't sold one piece of your most basic product. Stop dreaming!" Mentor B said things like "if you try to avoid risks by using a minimum product for testing first, then you can forget about your startup right now because any startup is inherently risky and trying to do an MVP means you probably don't have what it takes to succeed." And "You don't have to first test the market with an MVP, because great products such as the iPad or iPhone just create a market for themselves."

I'm thinking now maybe my understanding of what constitutes an MVP is really off and I should think deeper about what my MVP and my unique value proposition is. If my current idea of an MVP does not cover the core of my UVP, then I should probably redefine my idea for an MVP.
 

WealthyMarketer

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Wow, thanks so much for starting this thread! Good reminder for me to focus more on the needs and wants of the market than just my product itself.
 
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Overdrive

Overdrive

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Just speaking from my view, I’m a physical product guy, not IT - but value proposition is universal.

Sales are king, and trump all else. You could be wasting a lot more time building a business under Mentor B’s advice, and have it fail because nobody but you and him were customers. I’d listen to Mentor A, ensure you’re not building a failure.

Mentor A is mitigating your risk. Mentor B is not. Looks like he got lucky.

Perhaps you can prove your MVP out differently than leaving it coldly up for sale if you’re afraid the quality will be a turnoff. Do a beta test where people pay less for it with the understanding it’s conceptual and in development? You just need people to commit in some form by handing you money, that’s the case-cracking proof.
B.Cole, thanks a lot for your feedback. It also crossed my mind that Mentor B kind of got lucky with his approach and is an exception to the rule that 9 out of 10 startups fail, although he did tell me that his big success only came after he failed miserably with this first software company. Definitely a proponent of going all-in fueled by passion and vision (he told me he even sold his house to realize his second project which fortunately struck gold).

Mentor A on the other hand is definitely more of a realist and he said from the start "you've got to hustle, hustle, hustle, because it's gonna be hard". And he probably also helped more Internet startups in recent times, so his view of using Lean Startup principles is validated by more recent experience.

I'll definitely rethink my approach to the MVP though and try to take the best from both worlds.
 
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Overdrive

Overdrive

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I think you may have missed one of the big points of the lean startup.

Part of the lean startup is that you pivot to what your customers want. You could spend all your time and money and find they want something different and by then have no money left to create it, or if you did, the money invested already was wasted.

It’s not necessarily about launching and validating cheaply, its about running lean and being able to adapt.

If you do your mvp and keep building upon it and adapting to what the market wants in my opinion that’s going to be much more successful.

If your product is perfect when you launch, you launched way too late. Get it out there and see what it becomes. You can still be all in without doing what mentor B is suggesting.
BookwormMitch, thanks so much for clarifying what the Lean Startup is about. I've only read Eric Ries' book (and only the chapters relevant at my stage) and have no first-hand experience yet. I've also just started learning from another book called Running Lean which puts the Lean Startup principles in more practical context.

I do understand what you're saying though and agree that running lean and pivoting is the ideal way to proceed, especially if you have the necessary programming skills, which I don't have. In my case, the most I could do on my own is create a simple Wordpress landing page that will be buried once its objective of validating the idea has been reached. But as I said in a reply to another poster here, I'll probably need to rethink what MVP means in my case and come up with a different solution.

My original impression from my talk with Mentor A was that an MVP is only around 20% of the final product (but responsible for as much as 80% of the effect of the final product, as per the 80/20 rule), while a prototype should be closer to 80% of the final envisioned product. But I may be completely wrong on this.
 

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