Building early-stage products require a big leap of faith on the ideas/products which don’t exist. In fact, I think there is some level of “stupidity” needed to build products at a very early stage. Of course, building products at any stage comes with its own challenges. It isn’t like the early stage is the hardest and life is super easy after you achieve product-market fit.
But the main difference is that there is no need to believe in the imaginary “light at the end of the tunnel” once you achieve product-market fit. In fact, the product-market fit is THE light at the end of the tunnel. Once you achieve product-market fit, then comes the challenges of scaling, aggressive growth, and so on.
I’ve been in the stage of “stupidness” thrice so far in my professional career. Of course, I’ve tried multiple experiments with various degrees of success during college (the ideal place to learn and do all these experiments). But in professional life, I’ve been “stupid” enough to try this thrice.
The very first one was building Interviewstreet, a mock interview platform for getting your dream job. When we were building this, I truly believed this was a great game-changing idea and worked hard on this. We worked all hours we were awake and didn’t even know about the terms like work-life balance, burnout and so. The idea was to keep building something unless something works.
The actual idea never worked. But one of the side projects we worked on during that time was an assessment platform to take tests along with the interview. This got some initial traction. We decided to build an assessment platform and stop the mock interview idea.
Stupidity Result: Success – 0, Failure – 1
We started working on the assessment platform post the first failure. Again, the same amount of energy, passion, and a stupid belief that the idea is the BEST idea in the world. This time, things worked out better and we were able to build something out of nothing. The result – www.hackerrank.com.
Stupidity Result: Success – 1, Failure – 1
Again, after building many exciting things at hackerrank.com, I’m super excited and nervous about starting something new. I’m pleasantly surprised that I have the same amount of energy, passion, and stupidity. And I’m happy to have people with the same energy & stupidity levels around me. Of course, the results of this third experiment might end in a failure too.
One of the aspects of building a product at a very early stage is that you will have a good number of friends and colleagues who might not understand the potential of the idea at the early stage. There are two ways to overcome this hurdle. The first method is to think like a true visionary, predict the future and double down on the product you are working on. In the end, you could use the quote from Walk Disney saying “It is kind of fun to do the impossible”. The second method is to think like a super stupid person, ignore the doubters, and double down on the product you are working on.
It is easy to notice that both of them have one core step – “double down on the product you are working on”. I find it very easy to be stupid and work on whatever I like (even at the risk of failing). I know I’m no visionary, but I love building products. So, the second path of being super stupid works well for me.
As I introspect about the success and failure of the past, a question I ask myself was “If given a time machine, would you skip the first idea which failed and jump to the second idea directly?“. The answer is a clear “No”. I don’t think we gained monetarily from the first experiment, but that was a great learning platform for both of us. We were naive and didn’t know a thing about running a company. Sticking together during the first failed experiment gave us a level of trust and confidence in each other which is hard to achieve. While the other startups around us had a bunch of co-founder issues, we didn’t have any time to fight about who should be the CEO or who should get a bigger option. Both of us knew that 99% of zero is still zero. So, there is no point in fighting about the 99% part, and were focused on moving the zero to a hundred.
Oh yeah, the last bit of excitement about starting the new experiment is that I get to write code. While I’m not contributing as much as I want to, it is always fun to build an application you care about pixel by pixel.
Of course, this post will not be complete without this quote from Steve Jobs which I’ve appreciate so much. You need something to anchor your leap of faith.