If you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide from the giant surveillance apparatus the government’s been hiding.
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome)
I’ve posted some of my apps to Hacker News for feedback in the past. I’ve also seen countless number of discussions on other people’s Show HN submissions.
While it can be very negative sometimes, HN is still a useful place to get users.
These are some tips you might find useful when you show your app next time :
1. Hide your Facebook connect button.
If you don’t have a signup method other than Facebook, for the love of God, don’t put your app on HN until you add it. HN hates Facebook with a passion, and using only FB connect will make sure you don’t get any useful feedback on the actual app.
2. Ignore most feedback on visual design.
It’s the most common trap we fall into when getting feedback. Everyone has an opinion on how things should look like, but it’s almost always useless data. People on HN are even more likely to give such superficial feedback because they are constantly surrounded by stuff like this and are generally more qualified to critique.
But unless you have a portfolio or theme site, you can ignore all of it and focus on discussing the core functionality of the app.
3. Focus on the positive feedback.
Figure out what people do like about your app and drill down. Remember, your aim is not to please everyone. Your aim is to just find some people who love your product, however crappy it may be.
4. Ignore any advice on pricing (unless it’s patio11 telling you to raise prices).
Unless you’re selling something for which HN is going to be the main target market (*shudder*), you are in serious danger of damaging your revenue by listening to complaints from people who probably won’t buy at any price.
Regardless of the pricing of any app, you can be assured that someone on HN will say “if only it were $some_arbitrary_value_less_than_current_price, then I’d totally buy it. I only need 3 foozles, so why should I pay for 5?”
5. Avoid asking for a credit card upfront
If you require a credit card upfront for signing up, you’ll get a lot of complaints. Add a coupon code specially for HN to let people sign up without a CC or give them a big discount. Either way, expect some complaints and ignore them.
PS I’d been meaning to write this post for a while, and today this post finally prompted me to just do it - “Posting to HN is like exposing yourself to the eye of Mordor”. Amen.
If you liked this post, you might also like “The funny irony of scratching your own itch”.
These are some things I’ve learned the hard way while building my startups:
1. Know the motives of people who give advice
Whenever you read advice online, ask yourself “What is this person selling? What’s their motive?”. There is almost certainly one. Not necessarily a bad one, but be sure to know what it is.
Memorise this truth. Let it burn deep into the crevices of your brain. Any time you are on social media, you’re almost certainly not working, and most probably, wasting time. The problem is that you might think you’re doing work, when you’re not.
The most productive thing you can do on social media is advertising. Pimp your shit.
Look at the people who are both very successful, and spend a lot of time on social media. They probably benefit from social media in a very direct way. If a founder spends a lot of time on social media but their startup sucks, they’re probably a sucker too. Don’t be like them. Avoid them.
3. Giving advice to other founders is the best way to find out what you’re doing wrong
Founders love giving advice to each other. It’s extremely obvious to everyone what everyone else should do with their product or business. The funny thing is that we are blind to the same things in our own business!
The best epiphanies I’ve had were when I was dishing out advice to another founder. I realised I was talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
Advice is easy to give, hard to follow. I find it most useful as a mirror.
So from time to time, go give advice. It will help you learn what you’re doing wrong in your own business.
See what I did there?
4. Your goal is to make a successful business, not to produce the Grand Unified Theory of Startup Success
There is no end to how much time you can spend reading and debating about lean startups, customer development, product/market fit, market segmentation, yada yada ya.
Leave the business theorising and pontification to the gurus, consultants and investors. Don’t get sucked into that bullshit. It’s the biggest waste of time and energy.
No one got rich by tweeting pithy startup smartisms. Not even @levie ;-)
YPlan is awesome and their team is even more awesome. Check this out -
Social media is the new TV. And it’s more lethal than old TV.
Because unlike old TV, :
- it can be consumed in much smaller chunks
- using the same physical thing that is your main tool of work
- and has a never-ending supply of fresh never-before-seen content
- which provides intermittent, variable reinforcement
- and easy ego-boosting social recognition
A lot of techies, including me, like to brag about the fact that they don’t own a TV, because it’s a drain on their productivity and social life.
Ironically, we’ve replaced it with email, Twitter, Facebook, Hacker News, Reddit, Instagram, etc. which are much worse for our productivity.
Imagine if Picasso had a Twitter feed on his canvas. I doubt he’d have got much painting done.
“Stop trying to hit me, and hit me!”
When I talk to people who are doing similar things to me, say solo startup founders who are also struggling to get their fledgling startups off the ground, I am amazed by how similar our situations and thinking processes and feelings can be.
I have been talking to Matt Mazur, comparing notes on his experience running Preceden with mine running Pretty Graph. And the parallels are just amazing. It’s really surprising at first, and somewhat comforting, when you hear your own self in another founder’s voice.
When you see such close parallels, you automatically jump to exchanging advice and trying to do what worked for them.
But, that’s a problem.
In any given area of work, different people will share similar experiences and certainly similar emotions over time.
But the things that make people unique and more or less successful than others, are the differences, not the similarities. The tiny details in between all the shared ups and downs - those details which are not exactly the same.
What worked for him may not work for me. What works for me will probably not work for him.
Pattern matching is the enemy.
The truth is in the diffs.
Scratching your own itch is one of the most popular and fun ways of coming up with startup ideas.
In 2009, Ted Roden’s wife had a baby. He was with her in the hospital when he landed a book deal. He realised that from that point onwards, he didn’t have time to do anything else, even something as small as making a phone call to make a restaurant reservation to take his wife out for dinner.
Sooooo… instead of spending those precious precious 5 minutes to make a call, he spent 9 months to build a personal assistant service, called Fancy Hands, so that someone else could make that restaurant reservation for him and he could take his wife out for dinner.
Zuck built a directory for college students because he couldn’t stand the fact that in 2004 they still just had a dead tree version of the Facebook. Of course, he had to drop out of college to fully focus on it, which meant that.. errr Facebook wasn’t that useful to him any more.
At the end of 2009, yours truly saw the horribly inefficient way in which academic researchers spent their time trying to make graphs of their data. So, I quit my job and PhD to fix this problem once and for all with a graph creation software that would give non-programmers a way to quickly generate high quality graphs in seconds, without them having to write a line of code. Of course, by quitting research, I made sure that Pretty Graph would be utterly useless for me.
So much for scratching your own itch. :-)
Once you’ve seen the Googles and the Facebooks, it’s hard to start something small.
Today, in yet another thoughtful article, Joel Gascoigne urges people to start something small, instead of trying to directly make it big. Anyone ambitious who’s tried to start big projects will immediately relate to this. It makes a lot of sense. The story of how Dale Carnegie’s classic book was born is a particularly striking example of a small thing leading to huge success.
But, it’s really really hard to actually start small. This is one of those pieces of advice, which is perfectly logical and rational, but one I simply fail to actually follow.
Inspiration is a two-edged sword
Once you see what a 19-year old college kid can achieve, it becomes impossible to think small. Once you read all those essays, inspiring you to create huge amounts of wealth in the world, it’s virtually impossible to start writing a Basic for the Altair.
It’s logical, but emotionally bewildering.
It gets harder for every new generation of entrepreneurs to start small, because the bar for success keeps getting higher. That delta is hard to stomach.
You’re just a little mouse running around in the shadows of those tall skyscrapers. You want to build something taller. But, they’re telling you to start by making molehills. Riiiight, that makes sense.
The fear of local maxima
If you can’t see how the simplest form of the idea you’re working on can scale to be big, then it’s hard to believe that somewhere along the way you will find something that will get huge. If you look at most really big successful internet companies, they got big by just making one product which had a huge market, not by making a bunch of moderately successful ones.
Google, Amazon, Dropbox, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook, Airbnb never really pivoted, but no one likes to point that out, because it hurts to acknowledge that sometimes stubborn execution of simple ideas is enough. Pivots not required.
Starting small is natural in other things in life, like learning music. When you start learning to play the drums, good teachers don’t let you touch a drum until you’ve mastered some basic patterns on a rubber pad.
The path from banging a rubber pad to becoming John Bonham may not be easy, but at least it’s imaginable.
But, jumping on a little dinghy hoping to find land just by sailing west seems a bit insane. What if you can’t handle the waves? Surely a bigger boat would be better? What if your boat breaks and you have to swim to a tiny barren island in the middle of nowhere instead of the continent of treasures you’d hoped for?
Honesty in failure
Once you’ve failed at executing an idea because you bit off more than you could chew, you get a taste of humility. You start to think maybe I should tone down my ambitions a bit. Maybe the big prize is not really worth chasing. Maybe I should just work on being a nicer person and have a more balanced life.
But that’s a cop out. You have to be honest with yourself. You still want it all, but now you know how hard it really is.
The funny thing is that when you’re starting out, you can’t actually accomplish very big things anyway. So, starting small is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But, starting small is not enough and can give you a false sense of security. You might start too small and get timid or lose motivatation.
So how does an ambitious starry-eyed wantrepreneur deal with this heart wrenching dilemma?
Contrary to popular belief, there are as many different paths to success as there are individual personalities.
The most popular one these days is Lean - start small and pivot till you hit that growth curve leading to your vision, or die trying.
An alternative one (my favourite!) is to just brute force it. Look for a simple idea that you love and believe can scale to the moon, lock down in single-minded mode, don’t pivot and make it big.
The future is unwritten.