Most people in larger companies look at the lean-startup movement and think it doesn’t apply to them (despite much of its inspiration coming from a very large company, Toyota). Well NASA ran a very successful Minimum Viable Product through the 1960’s called the Apollo program.
The Apollo program had a simple goal, put a man on the moon. Every part of the mission was dedicated to that end. So although the Saturn V rocket is the largest rocket every built it was completely disposable apart from the Command Module that returned to Earth with the astronauts. Even that was discarded once the astronauts had been recovered.
There was no attempt to design reuse for trips to other planets or reuse in the mission of space station building. They reused extensive design knowledge gained in the design of Mercury and Gemini and space missions and focussed on design simplicity and remote monitoring as opposed to onboard maitainance to resolve problems.
Most importantly, they recognized that the short duration of Apollo missions meant that the parts and sub-systems did not need to undergo the rigor of prolonged testing in the harsh environment of Space.
They wouldn’t have called it that at the time but they were engaging in lean design and adopting lean startup principles.
Minimum Viable Product: A rocket to put a man on the moon and bring him back
Reuse of standard components: Many of the sub-systems for Gemini and Mercury were carried straight across
No Over design: Design for the current mission, a short duration trip to the Moon, no a long duration flight to Mars.
Rapid Iteration: 11 Apollo missions in 8 years culminating in Apollo 11 that put a man on the moon
Failed Experiments: Apollo 1 resulted in a mission fire that killed all three astronauts, apollo
So next time someone says MVP is a the new new thing. Tell ’em about the Apollo program.
Ethernet connector for MacBook Air (so far never used but its only been a month)
US plug adaptor for Apple power block
VGA dongle for Mac (amazingly this is the first one I bought and I still have it)
USB to USB connector (male to female)
USB to printer form factor connector
USB dongle with attachment to allow it to read/write MicroSD cards
Another USB form factor convertor
Universal plug adaptor (works everywhere). Got this in Frys. Its great ‘cos it has a USB power point built in
Mac iPad Cable (also can be used to charge iPhones)
Verizon LTE MIFI (for USA)
USB extension cable
Ethernet (use to roll up but the spring is broken)
MicroUSB car charger
Not shown is my MacBook Air, my Samsung Galaxy G4 and their associated chargers. I carry all this stuff in a transparent Ziplock bag so I can easily see what I am looking for. My backpack of choice (not shown) is a Lowe Alpine computer backpack, I favour it because it comes with a slip on waterproof cover which is great for cycling in Irish weather.
Monday will mark my first day at 10gen as Director EMEA. Why leave a very successful Irish startup, FeedHenry for a new position in 10gen I hear you ask?
Well, it’s not everyday you get a opportunity to work for a company that is changing the world of Enterprise Data, Hugh McLeod famously challenged Microsoft to “Change The World or Go Home” and that’s exactly what 10gen is doing with MongoDB. With 4 million downloads and counting and enormous credibility amongst the code cutters who actually build software everyday this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Its also Open Source which is something I have been passionate about ever since installing my first GNU C compiler in 1989.
What will I be doing for 10gen? I think my boss Ron Avnur described it best: my job will be to help 10gen customers become successful using MongoDB.
I will continue to be a booster for FeedHenry and I wish everyone in that company the best of success.
Short pitching is all the rage with one, two and three minute pitches the norm at startup events. You rarely see companies given more than 10 minutes to present their company. Inevitably you are there with 10-50 other participants trying to make an impact. I have been giving this advice out to companies for a while now so it seemed a appropriate to whack it into a short blog post.
Entertain me: I’m bored. The panel has been companies trot out fomulaic pitches all day long. Tell a story, demonstrate enthusiasm, joy, laughter. Make sure you don’t sound or look bored, or disenchanted. You’d be surprised how many founders leak those emotions in pitches.
Three Messages: Think of three things you want me to remember and hit me with those. Nothing else.
Your deck: You deck is just there as an adjunct to your presence. Single words, pictures or clearly articulated, defensible killer stats that no one else has.
Finish With A Flourish: Make sure they remember you as well at the end as at the start.
What not to do:
No Financials: If you are profitable say it, if you are experiencing 200% month on month viral growth say it. Don’t drown people in spreadsheets.
No Reading: Regurgitation of blocks of on screen text is a waste of everyone’s time.
Running out of Time: Practice your timing, not hitting your mark makes you look like an idiot.
Rushing: Don’t try and do your standard 15 minute VC deck in three minutes.
Double headers: One speaker. This “and now my CTO will tell you about…” looks like insecurity and ego mania.
Demos: It will break, you will look lame.
Videos: If I wanted to watch a video, I’d be back in my hotel room.
I read the article and thought it was just about the worst advice you could ever give a person who wanted to start their own business. In essence it says “wait” and “learn from others”. Well apart from the fact that success in startup land is in no way correlated with age (so waiting to get better is a bust) the difference between running a business and working in a business is the difference between sex and pornography. Sex is hot, exciting, frantic and full of energy, pornography is well, kind of sleazy.
The best day to start your startup is today, not tomorrow.
You will learn more as a startup founder in 6 months that you will learn in ten years as an employee. Why because as a employee you are riding with stabilisers and as we all know you have to take those mothers off to really grasp how to balance on a bike. As a founder you have to do everything, which forces you to learn prioritisation, you have to do shit you never learned in college and you have to learn that stuff fast. Finally you have to do the hardest thing you can do in business which is make life changing decisions with horribly imperfect data.
I worked for a a bunch of software companies big and small after college, always as an employee. Its inherent in the level you work at that I was never involved in decision making at any level that was make or break for my employer. Basically you end up coasting in the functional discipline you learned at college (mine was computer science).
The other thing people forget about is that the salary sacrifice required for starting a company later down the line is a huge cost. If you are straight out of college you have been living on fuck all for four years. So some additional hardship to get your business up and running is no big deal.
So get out there, start, fail and start again. As Winston Churchill said:
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm