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Listen, Fail, Learn, Repeat.

5 things I’ve learnt so far as a founder on the Collider Adtech Startup Accelerator.

· Advertising,Ad Tech,Accelerator

Following the official launch party of the 2017 Collider cohort this week, I thought it might be a good time to take stock, think about the lessons we’re learning on the Collider program and reflect on how this experience is starting to shape our business.

So here’s the top 5 lessons the Collider Adtech Startup Accelerator program has taught me so far.

1. Assume you know nothing. Test everything.

We had a session last week with digital consultancy agency Mighty Sharp and they showed us how they use the Lean Startup methodology (brain child of serial entrepreneur Eric Ries) to help their clients to launch and grow. I was vaguely familiar with The Lean Startup, but seeing it in action in some frankly glorious spreadsheets gave it so much more weight.

A core component of Lean Startup methodology is the build-measure-learn loop in which you’re constantly testing fundamental hypothesis about your customers, product, strategy and engine of growth. Being able to fail, learn and adapt quickly is one of the biggest advantages we have as a small early-stage company so it’s great to be able to implement a structure around this crucial feedback loop.

However one of the toughest parts of putting these concepts into practice is how brutally honest you have to be about how little of a clue you have and how much of what you’re doing is guesswork. For me anyway, that’s a scary thing to face. But nevertheless I’ve started to compile a list of all our Good-Loop hypotheses and now begins the challenge of seeing how many of them fail… 

2. Stop thinking about yourself and talking about your business

I’m so incredibly guilty of this one. If someone asks me about Good-Loop I jump into pitching mode and start talking, a lot. I think this is partly because I’ve spent so long perfecting my elevator pitch that it sometimes can roll off the tongue completely detached from meaning or context, much like my French GCSE exam in fact (‘Je suis allé au cinéma’… still got it). And partly I think this is because it’s just really nice to see people nodding along. It’s nice to receive affirmation that I’m doing something people get and like and care about. But I’ve realised that I need to stop looking for confirmation that Good-Loop is the right thing for me and start thinking about how I can create Good-Loop in a way that ensures it’s the right thing for my customers and users.

Rose, one of the Collider coaches put it very succinctly when she said that every conversation is an opportunity to learn. Every time you talk to a potential customer, client, user etc you have the chance to better understand their perspective, their motivations and their problems. So rather than shoving my pitch into their ear drums, if I instead ask them thoughtful, insightful questions and properly listen to their responses I will have a much better chance of building a product that helps them.

3. Be transparent, stand for something and tell your story.

People react to people and behind Good-Loop there are two people; myself and my co-founder Daniel. We’re two people who don’t have all the answers right now and don’t fully know what the future looks like but one thing that the marketing sessions at Collider have been really nailing home to me is that it’s ok to be honest about that. It’s ok to show the human side of our business and to tell our unsure story as it unfolds.

It’s also ok to have an opinion. Better than ok in fact, as having a point of view is what is going to give our story some flavour. And it’s very easy to have an opinion when working on Good-Loop because we have a very clear purpose; we exist to make the internet a more positive place. We exist to stop annoying, disrespectful online advertising, to ensure content creators get paid fairly for their hard work, to make internet users feel respected and rewarded online and most importantly to use online advertising money to fund sustainable social change.

So our journey may be unsure but our destination is extremely clear.

4. Put it all on Post-its. Put them up on the wall. Then move all the Post-its.

We were lucky enough to have a session this week with Devin Hunt from Founder Centric who took us through the basics of business model prototyping, using the Business Canvas tool. The Business Canvas is great because it distils everything into what you sell, to who and how. I find it an extremely helpful tool for summarising the big picture in a very visual way and it’s something I’ve used fairly often in the past.

However, what was really great about Devin’s approach was that everything was on Post-it notes, which is genius because they can move around…there’s a possibility that I’m giving him way too much credit here and he actually used them entirely to cut printing costs… Either way, for me, being able to pick up a concept or idea, to feel it, think about it and move it was a great way of forcing myself to think in a more dynamic and flexible way. The session taught me not to be too precious about these tools and to use them to play around and experiment. What happens if you take out this bit or add this, or change the resources you have available here – and how do these experiments impact the rest of the business?

 

It’s an exercise I intend to repeat regularly as the business grows as a way to break my thinking patterns and find new undiscovered potential.

However, what was really great about Devin’s approach was that everything was on Post-it notes, which is genius because they can move around…there’s a possibility that I’m giving him way too much credit here and he actually used them entirely to cut printing costs… Either way, for me, being able to pick up a concept or idea, to feel it, think about it and move it was a great way of forcing myself to think in a more dynamic and flexible way. The session taught me not to be too precious about these tools and to use them to play around and experiment. What happens if you take out this bit or add this, or change the resources you have available here – and how do these experiments impact the rest of the business?

5. Stop being too optimistic. Stop thinking it’ll get easier.

And finally, something I’ve really noticed working with the Collider team these past few weeks is how good they are at grounding me. As a young fresh-faced entrepreneur I’m full of ideas and enthusiasm but the Collider coaches have seen it all before. That’s not to say they are negative or unsupportive but at the end of the day they’ve seen and often also personally been through the struggles, the disappointments and the failures that are an inevitable part of this journey. So it’s great to have that very honest and grounding perspective within the picture.  

They’ve also told us all to read ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz which will apparently put the nail in the coffin of any notions this entrepreneurship lark will get easier with time….

So in summary Collider are teaching us how to put the structures and tools in place that will allows us to listen, fail, learn and repeat as quickly and efficiently as possible.  There’s been some tough home truths, some exciting conversations and some ridiculously named technologies (the other day I learned that Amazon sells a service called an Elastic Transcoder - a name I swear they stole from Back to the Furture?!) and I’m looking forwards to the next action-packed couple of months ahead of us.  

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