Most of the time, you hear founders of startups talking about their great idea that is sweeping in scale and scope. But last night I went to a meetup where the exact opposite was proposed: an idea that will take you exactly 10 hours to put together: or, as the presenter Dylan Hassinger tells it, “one long night of coding.”
It bears further thought. Because as you flesh out your idea, you find out that it is going to take you a lot longer to really pull everything together. As an example, consider last week’s subject, Juristat. It took them the better part of a weekend to formulate the kernel of the company, and now, many months’ later, they are just seeing an actual product.
But the 10 hour idea is a good goal to keep in mind. The current term is “minimum value proposition” but this really strips things to the barest, most essential part of your startup. What is it that you are trying to get across? If you can figure something out in 10 hours, you have your elevator pitch, your have the essence of what you are trying to do. You have your hook for hiring new help. It gives you a lot of leverage.
At last night’s meetup, Hassinger boiled his own presentation on the “bulletproof startup” into a sound bite: “”Use your skills to build a tiny product with real value for a growing market that excites you.” That I like. He told us that he originally started out by saying an idea should take three months, then one month, then a weekend. I like that he arrived at 10 hours. One all-nighter. That has some appeal (although lately I value my sleep higher and higher).
Too often I see startups that are all over the place. They are trying to do too much too soon. They have multiple great ideas, and flip from one to the next, trying to satisfy the whims of their last mentor or last customer or the defects that they uncovered at their last coding session. Sure, there are a lot of blind alleys that you have go down as part of the startup process: that is to be expected. But if you have this laser focus, you can strip away everything else that isn’t essential for your actual business.
Sometimes, the 10 hour idea also means that you drop features from your product, because they are taking you away from what is that essential essence. It is easy to get into the feature war: just one more feature, really, I promise. I see this all the time in the software products that I review for major publications. They add and add and add features until you can’t find your way out of a menu tree. In review sessions where I face down developers and marketing folks (often the first time that they are actually in the same room together, which is sad and should be the subject for another column), they see how complex they have made their product and where they went astray. “But our biggest customer asked for that feature!” Sure thing. Then you add another. Resist the temptation to add complexity.