Episode 133 | The Founder Test: 11 Founder Attributes that Will Determine the Success of Your Product

Show Notes

  • For an excellent write-up of this episode, see this post by Toby Osbourn.


[00:00] Mike: This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 133.

[00:02] Music

[00:11] Mike: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

[00:19] Rob: And I’m Rob.

[00:20] Mike: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistake we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Rob?

[00:24] Rob: Well, remember last podcast how I said we were within one day of getting Drip installed on the first paying customer’s app?

[00:32] Mike: Yes.

[00:32] Rob: We are still within one day. I mean [Laughter] —

[00:34] Mike: [Laughter]

[00:35] Rob: …install paying customer — so, here’s what we did. It was actually really helpful. We got on Google Hangout with Derek, myself and customer number one and he installed it in the morning and gave us some feedback on the early kind of on-boarding. And it was – there were no surprises. I mean he had little feedback tidbits here and there but it was nothing that we didn’t know we aren’t going to work on or wouldn’t just implement right away.

[00:57] But then he hit a roadblock. A couple of things he wanted like he wanted a sync between Drip and MailChimp because he wants to use MailChimp as his core repository because he just has so much invested there and then something else dealing with actually creating e-mails. He wanted more control of images and such. And so, these were basically like show stoppers for him, you know. He was like, “With these things, I really can’t use Drip.”

[01:20] Ands so, back to coding and we are wrapping up both of those features and should hopefully, have them installed, you know, within the next 24 to 48 hours. But it was basically a 3-hour Google Hangout and it was amazingly helpful. It was amazingly helpful to hear his perspective on things like how naming was confusing, how precisely, even though I’ve had conversations with him, I’ve e-mailed with him dozen times at least about how he was going to use it. There were still, once he got in and started using it, these little nuances that you don’t pickup on and a little – the two small features I just named, they never came up before now.

[01:55] It’s a good feeling. I feel much less discourage. That day I was kind of like, “Oh, man. We’re still not on customer one.” But now that we’re getting back to installing them again tomorrow or the next day, it feels good. It’s like we’ve moved forward. We’ve made progress since last week.

[02:10] Mike: That’s really cool. I mean I noticed the same thing when I started walking some people through some of the early versions of AuditShark where there’s certain things that are named in a specific way and it just doesn’t make sense to people. And there are some of those things are still like that but they’re obviously areas that I’ve looked at and said, okay, I got to go through and make some adjustments here. But yeah, just even just naming something as trivial as that sounds, you know,it can make a big difference when the customers get in, they start looking at it because if they don’t understand what they’re looking at, then you have to either educate them or they’ll – you just kind of abandon that because they don’t understand it. They don’t get it.

[02:42] Rob: Right and I had intentionally let Derek moved forward with development and really was not in the app very much. And I did that on purpose so that there would be a fresh set of eyes once we install it on HitTail and sure enough, as soon as we got it working, I logged in and I said, “Oh, you know, we had to move this around. Change the naming, this is confusing blah, blah, blah.” And I was that first run through of just making a little more useable but now, you know, we’re what? Maybe three weeks in I would guess, three and a half weeks and it’s starting to become where I’m comfort able with the app and I don’t see those things anymore. And so, to have another set of eyes, just it gives you perspective, you know. It’s that fresh set of opinions. How about you? What’s new this week?

[03:22] Mike: Well, I’m still wrapping up a couple of things from MicroConf. I still got to get the survey out, you know, just some paperwork issues other than that and like hotel just got back to us today and said that we, “You know, you owe us another $1800,” or whatever.

[03:34] Rob: Yeah and if you’re interested in seeing some photos from MicroConf, go to MicroConfPics.com. That’s MicroConf P-I-C-S.com and that leads to a Google Plus album. We have about 50 pictures of speakers, people hanging out, Mike and I up on stage and all that kind of stuff. So, check it out if you’re interested.

[03:54] Mike: Aside from that, I’ve been doing some more customer development this week for the AuditShark, you know, just reaching out to some more people who are in the security space who already had — that I knew of, the repservers that need to be protected. And just trying to work with them to talk to them about AuditShark and get it installed with them. You know, I’ve already had some preliminary discussions with them and talk to them about pricing and everything else and that all seemed fine to them.

[04:15] So, hopefully — I got word a few minutes ago just before this podcast that the billing code was, you know, ready to go out. So, just needs to be tested a little bit and once that’s in place then I’ll start putting these people on and hopefully, it actually start charging people within the next week or two.

[04:30] Rob: And I say testing some thing [Phonetic] to your billing code —

[04:33] Mike: Yes, yes.

[04:34] Rob: Roll that…roll that baby. I’ll look at possiblyalong [Phonetic].

[04:36] Mike: Well, the thing is I’m not actually billing – like all I’m doing is I think for the first one I’ll just bill them automatically and then after that, there’s all this other stuff in place that says, “Oh, well, if your next billing date is this…” and the first charge just kind of go through and then after that, it’s a matter of targeting people for their follow up recurring billing.

[04:55] Rob: Right, right. Hey, in line with what you said on the last episode about hiring a bookkeeper, I am in the midst of that and I interviewed a bookkeeper today as well as last Friday and found some pretty good candidates. And it was funny one guy I talked to, he asked me about MicroConf. As we were talking, he said, “How’s MicroConf go?” And I was like, “Oh, you must have researched me based on my name.” I was just kind of puzzled and then he told me that he was on the waiting list for MicroConf. It was —

[05:19] Mike: Oh, oh.

[05:20] Rob: It was really funny, yeah. I was like wow. We – I guess we got around. I just wouldn’t expect, I mean, you know, he’s a remote bookkeeper but he’s just in the technology and startups and stuff. And so, he had tried to get in and haven’t got a ticket. So, that was kind of a fun conversation. It actually made me be like, “Huh, I like this bookkeeper.” It’s like if we have asimilar interest, he’s probably going to have a better understanding of my business and he works a lot of other smaller software companies and SaaS companies. So, I mean he’s on his own like he works alone. He has a home office. I’m pretty stoked about him. Hoping we can work something out but I also have a few other folks I’m looking at through oDesk.

[05:54] Mike: Very cool. I signed up for a Square account a while back and I actually gave them enough information for them to send me a Square Reader. So, I’m going to be using this hopefully when talking to people. You know, still I’m early on with AuditShark and say, “Hey, you know, is this something you’re interested in?” And you know, inevitably get the, “Yeah. That sounds great.” And of course, then there’s the question of, “Can I get your e-mail address,” or “Would you pay for it,” or “Will you pay for it?”

[06:18] And of course, the next step is actually getting their credit card information and I’ve got a Square Reader here that they mailed me over the weekend that will allow me to take payment on the spot and it was — I just thought of that as a great way to start validating ideas. So, if anyone has an idea that they’re trying to validate, you’re asking people if they will pay for it if they’re going to prepay for it, you know, using something like a Square Reader seems like a no-brainer because you’ve got it right there or you can actually ask them for money and take a credit card payment on the spot.

[06:46] Rob: Very nice. So, that would have been cool to have at MicroConf.

[06:48] Mike: I know —

[06:48] Rob: You know —

[06:49] Mike: …I thought of it after the fact.

[06:50] Rob: Yeah, you know, there’s another recommendation I can make if you don’t have a Square account is if you have a Stripe account or even you can open a Stripe account like two minutes and then there’s an iOS app called Paid and if you search for like Paid Stripe in the App Store, it’ll come up. It’s 5 bucks I think. It’s a really nice app. It looks gorgeous and it helps you monitor your Stripe account. There’s a lot of reports but then there’s also one page where you can just enter a credit card number and charge it an arbitrary amounts. So, it doesn’t have the cool swipey thing, you know, that Square gives you but it is another way just right on the spot on your mobile app to, you know, to be able to do that. You don’t have to carry around the extra hardware.

[07:29] So, John from BlueBridgeDev.com commented on episode 130 which was the episode where we talked about Unfair Advantages. And he mentioned three additional unfair advantages. The first one he said was assets like a massive savings account, website with good SEO, et cetera. And I like that. I like, you know, once you’ve built up some assets of your own, it’s definitely can be an unfair advantage to someone who doesn’t have those.

[07:54] Second one he mentioned is personal qualities. And I think I preferred to be more specific here but the examples[0:08:00] he gave were like public speaking, strong writer, ability to sell. The third he said is a business model. So, like recurring or exclusive rights or low overhead. And I would argue that. I don’t think that’s an unfair advantage because other people can take advantage, you know, unless you’re Netflix going against Blockbuster where like Netflix weren’t recurring and Blockbuster didn’t or couldn’t because they’re in trench competitor, then maybe that’s an unfair advantage because they can’t pivot quickly enough. But if it’s just two or three startups going against each other, then you’re going with recurring, your competitors can easily switch to it or you going with having low overhead, the odds are your competitors can do that to you.

[08:38] Now, something like exclusive rights to something that would be, you know, an unfair advantage that other people can’t easily duplicate, those were the comments from John and we appreciate the feedback as always.

[08:48] Music

[08:51] Mike: So, when we’re looking at for iTunes reviews, I saw a bunch of new ones out there.

[08:55] Rob: Yeah, we haven’t talked about it on a — ton of new reviews, lot of 5-star reviews. We really appreciate them. Jocelyn Krauss [Phonetic] says, “5 stars, most useful of all startup-themed podcast.” She says, “I’ve been on a startup-themed podcast listening binge and can confidently say this is the best out of two dozen or so shows I’ve sampled. If you’re looking for advice to actually build an online software product, this is the show for you. Keep it up, Mike and Rob and thank you.”

[09:22] Another is from a username that I can’t possibly pronounce because there’s a bunch of numbers and consonantsbut it says, “Actionable, practical and accessible like most other reviews here say, Rob and Mike do a fantastic job of providing not only tactical advice but also strategic advice for people who want to start their own business on the side. The icing on the cake is that they released new episodes like clockwork every week.”

[09:45] We’re looking like comments about that but you know, we have been consistently — I think we’ve released an episode every Tuesday morning for the past year even the weeks like theMicroConf week, we recorded like an extra episode and during Christmas week and New Year’s week we recorded an extra episode. And I think that’s something that we both take pretty seriously and I think it – I’m glad that it, you know, that people noticed and that we have — there’s always something to listen to on Tuesday morning.

[10:08] Mike: Yeah, it’s funny because at MicroConf we were there. I think I was talking to somebody on Monday and they’re like, “Oh, you’re going to be recording a podcast episode tomorrow?” And I’m like, “No, we’ll probably do that like Thursday or Friday.” And they seemed really disappointed and they’re like, “Oh, I’m not going to get a new episode tomorrow.” I’m like, “Oh no, you’ll get it. We recorded tomorrow’s episode last week. We do them about a week in advance.” So, yeah, there were people who were at MicroConfwho were listening to that podcast.

[10:30] Rob: Yeah and that was – on my plane flight home I listened to our Tuesday episode as well.

[10:33] Music

[10:37] Rob: Today’s episode is based on question fromStephen Rhyne. He’s from ThrowingBoulders.com. He’s a long-time Academy member and a MicroConf attendee. He e-mailed me afterwards and he had a question. He said, “Should you enter a niche based solely on opportunity? Or do you need to have passion and or industry experience with the subject matter? I’m trying to understand were keyword counts, customer development results, et cetera stop mattering as much as your passion to execute.”

[11:05] And he actually sent several questions to me via e-mail and instead of writing back with paragraphs of pros, I recorded him a screencast and kind of just talk through some stuff. And before I knew it, I had like 16 minutes of audio and at the end I said, “You know, this – there’s enough meat here that I know we need to talk about this on the podcast and share it with, you know, with the whole community because it’s just – there’s a lot of depth to that question.”

[11:28] The thing Stephen asked is, “Should you enter a niche based on opportunity or do you need to have passion?” The first thing I said is it’s not an either or question. I hate it when people say, “Oh, you should always do this,” “You should never do this,” “This never works,” “This always works.” It just doesn’t work that way, right? There was absolutes either an easy way to think, you want to think black and white but they’re not reality.

[11:49] And so, today’s episode, we’re titling “The Founder Test” and it’s – the subtitle is “11 Founder Attributes that Will Determine the Success of Your Product”. And then later on, perhaps next episode  or in a couple of weeks, we’re going to do an idea test and it’s going to be a number of attributes that determine the success of your idea. And the point of this is to say it’s not should you enter a market based on this or that, it’s to say, it’s a gradient.

[12:13] There are 10 or in this case I guess 11 attributes of you as a founder that all factor in to this decision. And the way I like to think about it, it’ll be ideal if this is a list of 10 because then you can rank each one on a scale of 1 to 10 and then add them up and based on if you add 0 or a hundred, you can say, “Well, I think I haven’t found it but you know, eventually going to succeed or not.” And you can do the same thing with an idea.

[12:37] So, we’re going to be talking again about 11 founder attributes and the first one is your knowledge of the niche or the problem to be solved. So, this is much more in line with what Stephen originally asked was, you know, should you have knowledge? Should you have passion? Should you go in solely based on opportunity? And bottom line is if you have — on a 1 to 10 scale, if you have a knowledge of your niche or the problem to be solved of a 1, then you need to educate yourself and you stand less of a chance if someone has equal founder attributes as you but they have a 10 here, right, that they are in it. They know what they’re going to build, their own customer zero, all of those things play in to how much success you’re going to have.

[13:20] So, again, it’s not – you should never enter a niche that you don’t have knowledge of but it’s definitely helpful to, you know, the more knowledge you have of that niche or the problem to be solved.

[13:30] Mike: I think this is one of those things of where you have to take this in to account. You have to when you’re looking at the competition and you’re evaluating them as to whether or not you should go in and whether you stand a chance against them head to head. This is something you definitely need to take in to consideration because if they know the niche and you don’t, you’re going to be the serious disadvantage regardless of the other resources that you may be able to bring to bear. It’s very difficult to overestimate the level of helpfulness that having that knowledge is going to give you.

[13:59] Rob: Attribute   number two is your technical/programming knowledge. And so, we’re assuming here you’re building a software product and we’re not saying that if you don’t know how to code that you can’t successful launch a software product. What we’re saying is that the more technical knowledge, the more programming skills you yourself have, the higher the chance that you’re going to be able to deliver a finished software product. This is irrespective of whether you write the code yourself or whether you hire it out. In either case, the more skill experience and knowledge you have of programming, the easier it would be for you to actually deliver a finished software product in the end.

[14:35] Mike: I think this matters a lot more if you’re the person doing the code than if you’re the one who’s got knowledge of the problem to be solved. If you have the knowledge of that problem but you don’t necessarily know how to accomplish it, I think that that’s a much easier situation than the reverse.

[14:50] Rob: I would agree because you’re right. I know a number of non-technical founders who have intimate domain knowledge and they know how to solve that problem. And hiring out code, well, it’s not trivial to do that. It’s easier to do that often than it is to learn, you know, a new domain from scratch.

[15:10] So, founder attribute number three is your skill as a project manager. And this assumes that you are going to be doing some type of outsourcing or delegation which is something we recommend and I think your ability or willingness to outsource and delegate is actually the point after that because the more you’re willing to hand off to other folks, the more likely you are to complete a finished product. But you have to be able to manage them effectively and have some type of experience or skill with that or else, you know, projects go off the rails fairly easily as we’ve discussed in, you know, the last couple episodes.

[15:45] Mike: I think that your skills as a project manager are crucial to being able to scale up a business especially when you’re trying to scale it up just past yourself or just trying to take certain pieces of it and say, “Well, you know, this is too much for me,” or “I don’t want to have to deal with this,” or “I can’t deal with this right now because I don’t have the time.”  Those are the things you have to be able to manage and if you cant, it’s going to put you to a disadvantage to anybody else but it’s critical to be able to develop those skills.

[16:09] And the key point I want to make here is that a skill, that’s a learned skill. Just because you sucked at it now, doesn’t mean that you won’t suck at it after trying it a couple of times. And you do get better at it over time. You do learn from your mistakes but the first couple of times, you try and manage a project where you don’t have somebody over the top of you who is trying to push things down to you and say, “Well, these are the things that need to get done. You know, this is the order they need to get done.” When you’re the one calling the shots and you’re the one making those decisions, it’s very difficult the first time but it does get easier over time.

[16:40] Rob: Founder attribute number four as I just mentioned is your skill with outsourcing and delegating. And I think this comes down to two points. Number one is do you have experience outsourcing and delegating? And do you have a confident person or people to outsource to that you’ve already found? Because maybe if you — let’s say it’s a 1 to 10 scale, a 1 might be you’ve never outsource, you don’t have any experience delegating and you have no one to outsource to and you’re going to start by looking on oDesk.

[17:07] And then a 9 or a 10 is someone who has several years of outsourcing experience and already has a virtual assistant or a programmer or a developer or a designer who has extra bandwidth and they are known quantity and you have a known relationship and your communication is already…already set. You know, you’ve already used them and they’re reliable and they not only do – that you understand them but they understand you like they understand your – the way you work and what your expectations are. And so that would be the, you know, the 1 to 10 that I would look at in terms of outsourcing and delegating.

[17:39] Mike: I talked to a ton of people at MicroConf who had I’ll say significant issues with – just mentally trying to do outsourcing because they’re, you know, they always have the mentality, “Well, you know, it’s hard to find somebody,” or “It takes a long time to find somebody. It would be so much easier or so much quicker if I just did it myself.” But you know, when you start compounding those things, you know, on any given project, sure, it’s going to take you a lot longer to find somebody and then implement it. But once you get to 2, 3, 4 or 5 different things that you have them do, that’s when you start seeing there is cost savings.

[18:08] It’s more like when you’re launching a new product where you look at your revenue for example and you have this deep because you’ve got this initial investment but then as that starts to rise, as you start to get more comfortable with the person that you’ve sent stuff off to or you’re gathering money from your product, that starts to rise and you go in to the block. And it’s definitely a worthwhile investment but you obviously have to do it right, you have to be using confident people who aren’t going to flake out. And it takes a lot of practice in order to get good at it. And I see it just the same as being a project manager. It takes time. It takes effort. You do make mistakes but you do learn from those mistakes over time and you get better at it.

[18:46] Rob: Founder attribute number five is your passion for the problem to be solved. And I’ve heard a lot of different arguments about this. Some people say passion is a competitive advantage. Other say passion doesn’t have much to do with it. I,like other things on this list, believe that the more passion you have to solve the problem you’re trying to solve that all of the things being equal that you will come out ahead of someone who really doesn’t care that much about it or just going in to it because the opportunity that, you know, the keyword results and the expected market size and other things looks promising.

[19:20] Mike: I think in some ways this boils down to the amount of success that somebody might foresee coming out of whatever you’re undertaking because if – as you said, I mean if the opportunity causes low and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get in to it, then people who have kind of a cursory interests are going in to it. If they start running in to hurdles or roadblocks or anything like that, they may very well just give up because, “Oh, it didn’t take much effort to try and get in to it and I don’t really feel like dealing with this,” whereas if you have the passion to solve those problems and really address the market, then you’re going to be able to push through those because you don’t care about those. You want to get through those. You want to be able to solve people’s problems.

[19:58] If you don’t care about it as much and you don’t[0:20:00] have the passion, then you’re not going to bother pushing through them. And I could definitely see how that factors in to it but I also think that it has something to do with, you know, what the potential outcome is, you know, what’s the upside to this. You might, you know, have a lot of passion for solving the problem but you might see that there is this massive upside to it where you could reach a lot of your other goals in life by solving that problem because you can reap a lot of rewards. So, I wonder how much that kind of plays in to it. You know, it’s definitely the difference between doing something because you love doing it versus doing something because you, you know, want the money from it I’ll say.

[20:33] Rob: Right and I think that’s where some people kind of go off the rails on this because just having a bunch of passion for an idea and if you ignore all those other ones, those success factors, then – and you just go, “Oh, I’m just so passionate about this idea but there is no market and it has a very long sale cycle,” and you can’t find a single a decision-maker and nobody really wanted it. It doesn’t solve the pain but like if you ignore all those other things, that’s where you run in to the overvaluing passion and thinking the passion can conquer all. And what we’re saying here is no, it can’t. It’s helpful to be passionate about it but it’s just one of what we’re saying are 11 different factors that kind of compiled to figure out whether or not you’re going to be successful with this.

[21:15] Mike: Yeah, I totally agree with all that.

[21:17] Rob: Founder attribute number six is your ability to build something people want. And to translate this, it’s kind of like are you a product person? Are you an exceptional product person? Do you build awesome UIs? Do you have lot of experience building apps? Do you have flexibility and the openness to change your idea based on someone’s feedback during customer development? If you can really focus and build something people want and you have that experience, then I put you at a 10 on this one. And if you are not a software person and you’ve never designed a software app and I don’t mean graphically designed but done user experience stuff, thought through screens and flow and naming and all of the things  that make an app easy to use, then you’re closer to a 1 on this scale.

[22:04] And so, again, this doesn’t make or break you. You’re going to have to educate yourself and or get a little lucky to build a good app if you don’t have much experience with it or you can obviously outsource that if you can find someone who’s a really good at it. They’re not going to tend to be cheap but this is a place where, you know, you can hire expertise that’s outside of your own in order to boost your number of rating on this one.

[22:27] Mike: I think that the ability to learn from your mistakes probably factors in to it a little bit more than your experience but the flexibility side of this is probably a lot more important than that as well. I mean you need to be able to change your idea based on the feedback that you’re getting from the customers. You need to be able to adapt and understand that just because you think that you have the right solution, doesn’t mean that it is the right solution that people are going to pull out their credit cards and buy.

[22:50] It’s interesting to look and hear people talk about, “Oh, well, Steve Jobs didn’t talk to customers and this and that,” but Steve Jobs is an extreme outlier. I mean he had this vision of what was going to be and what should be and what people wanted and he have, you know, the capital from Apple in order to be able to drive that marketing engine to craft a story to make it happen. Not everybody has access to that and anybody who’s listening to podcast probably doesn’t have access to that kind of resource.

[23:17] So, you really have to think about what is it that people are going to pull out their credit cards and pay for versus what it is that that you want to build for people and is that something that people will pay for?

[23:27] Rob: Yeah, that’s the thing. We’re, you know, we’re going to cover the other factors here in a second. One of them is money. And you could say, well, you know, money is on a 1 to 10 scale in terms of how much money you have to fund this startup idea but as you said, you know, Steve Jobs was worth $1 million when he was 21. $10 million when he was 22 and a hundred million dollars when he was 23.

[23:46] By that time, he’s – if you look at these founder attributes, certainly he had some of this, right? He had skill and experience and such but he had so much money that maybe he would get a hundred points like you and I would get 10 points for, you know, having a decent amount of budget. But he had so much money he could fail over and over and over and actually, he proved that with Pixar like he dumped most of his fortune in to keeping Pixar alive. And when you have such an outlier case like that, it doesn’t necessarily fit in to our model that we’re doing here. I think like you said for most of the listeners, you would fit in to that.

[24:19] So, founder attribute number seven is your skill as a marketer. And I will actually say that this is another one that we should – the weighting should be doubled because marketing is – maybe even tripled, right? Marketing is such a large part of whether your product is going to succeed and I think this falls in to a number of camps but one of them is whether you’re a creative marketing mind, someone like Seth Godin or Matthew Inman. These are people that I bet they aren’t looking at their Analytics tracking and measuring every little number and nuance and split testing and all that stuff but they’re just genius marketers.

[24:48] The other side of it is if you have high skills with Analytics, tracking, measuring, split testing, that’s more of the kinds of things that, you know, we’ve talked about of analytical marketer what myself, Patrick McKenzie, Sean Ellis, Hiten Shah, if you can really nail this part, it can absolutely – it can really tip your scales, you know. It can make it so even a mediocre idea can – it can do well.

[25:09] Now, there’s this old saying that great marketing will just make a crappy product fail faster and I wholeheartedly believe that. So, you can’t do a crappy product but if you have a decent product that you have exceptional marketing, it can make a software product at least a moderate success just by having that over weighting of the marketing jobs.

[25:28] Mike: I think that there’s two different pieces of this that you have to keep in mind. I mean because there’s the people like as you mentioned Seth Godin where he’s got a really great marketing mind and can come up with this I’ll call the most outlandish but typically brilliant ideas of how to go about crafting a story and talking to people. And then there’s the other type of marketer who is very much about the Analytics and tracking and measuring and incremental tweaking to make that story better. And they leverage what they’re learning from that to make their story better versus somebody like Seth Godin. And I would classify [0:26:00] Steve Jobs in this as well but, you know, they have this vision that they can push out there and kind of make people believe.

[26:08] So, I think that those are two different, you know, ways of approaching the marketing side and they don’t necessarily overlap a lot. There’s a spectrum there and you fall somewhere in that spectrum and it’s just how far towards one of the other do you fall and at what intensity.

[26:24] Rob: Attribute number eight is who you know and well, this may not sound like a personal attribute, it really comes down to do you naturally build a lot of relationships and do you have that rolodex where you can call on folks to help you in either give you feedback or to leverage your network to help you promote the product or help make it a better product or to integrate with. I mean there’s just so many valuable things you can do.

[26:47] This actually goes back to our unfair advantage episode where we talked about how just having that unfair advantage of a large rolodex can in fact tip the scales in your way of success. Now, you need to have reasonable ratings for the rest of this but having a really big network and knowing a lot of people, you know, can definitely be a big benefit.

[27:06] Mike: I think the area where this really comes in to as a benefit is the types of people you can go to and just ask questions. And if you’re the type of outgoing person where you can go out and meet new people, you’re in a decent situation but at the same time if you just have a large network of people who know you or you know them, you can approach them and say, “Hey, I’ve got this problem. Can you help me out,” or “You know, can you offer me some advice?” You’ve already got that built-in relationship, you know, it basically greases the wheels. It makes it easier. It makes is quicker for you to iterate through that process as opposed to having to introduce yourself to people in order to get their feedback and opinions on stuff.

[27:41] Rob: Attribute number seven is time. If you have 5 hours a week to work on your idea, give yourself a 1. If you have 80 hours a week, give yourself a 10. Time doesn’t always make people be more productive or more effective but it absolutely can make a difference all other things being [0:28:00]equal. And of course, you can tip it too far, right? And if you work 80 hours a week every week, your productivity or the long hold goes down but having the flexibility to put in longer weeks when needed versus the person who could only work 5 hours, it will tip the scales all other things being equal.

[28:15] Attribute number ten is money and I mean this comes back to the Steve Jobs thing we said a little earlier but even on a smaller scale, you know, if you have basically no money saved up to fund this app or you only have $20 a month that you can spend on it, you’re going to have to move slow and this is a disadvantage and that would be give yourself a 1 whereas if you have someone who saved up even $10,000 or 20 grand, they are definitely at an advantage. And you don’t need a ton of money to do it and we’re not talking about raising money here, we’re talking about having either a few thousand bucks saved up to help you with outsourcing, gaining of knowledge, marketing and not having to worry about little expenses like hosting and credit card fees and all that kind of stuff.

[28:57] And it also allows you just to move a lot faster. You can get an app coded and done twice as fast or more if you’re able to outsource pieces of it or if you’re able to hire a developer 20 hours a week instead of 10 hours a week or you’re able to buy out some of your time. You know, if you’re consulting and you can consult less because you have extra income coming in every month or you have a block of money that you put away, then you can just move faster and that always winds up being a success factor because not only are you able to get to market faster but the quicker you can get to real people using your app, the quicker it benefits you mentally.

[29:32] I mean we know, we talked a lot about how the psychology is a big part of launching an app and not getting discourage is a big piece of that. I don’t know if I’ve said this on the podcast before but I have this thing that said, “Funded companies go out of business because they ran out of money. Bootstrapped companies go out of business because they ran out of motivation.” The only time you’re going to close up shop is when you lose motivation because you don’t have any money coming in the first place, right? So, it’s not a matter of missing payroll. There is no payroll. So, that’s where having some money to speed along the process and get to market quicker can help keep you focused and on the rails and so you don’t just eventually kind of lose motivation and shut the thing down out of disappointment.

[30:11] Mike: You know, I think they look at the money side of this a little bit differently, I mean one of the things that I look at is how are you able to mentally justify spending the money that you do have. I think that having the money is only one piece of it but having a mentality of saying, “Okay, I’m going to pay $20 a month for this because it’s going to get me where I need to go faster,” versus the people who sit there and think, “Well, why should I pay $20 for that when I know that I could do that myself or I can hack together a solution that would do that and it wouldn’t take too much longer than I’m already spending to do that.”

[30:44] Part of it is about time management but it’s about managing your resources to be able to get things done faster and move yourself towards your goals quicker. If you’re not willing to part with some of that money and use it as an investment in your future, then chances are really good that you’re going to have trouble with that down the road and there’s going to be a huge number of roadblocks in your way that you’re putting there because you’re not willing to make that investment yourself.

[31:09] Rob: Founder attribute number eleven is focus. Do you have the ability to not chase after shiny objects and to focus on one thing long enough to bring it to market? Hopefully, that’s four to six months, then to go to the learning phase. Hopefully, that’s three to six months and then to grow that thing. And that may take another six to twelve months. So, mentally when I starta project, I always say, “The next 18 to 24 months, I have to focus on this.” And I may do other things, right? We put on MicroConf and yes, that does take a little bit of time, a lot of time over the course of a couple of months but then it’s done and now, I refocus and put all my energy in to that single project.

[31:47] You’ll notice that right now I’m not looking at releasing a second edition of my book or writing another book. I’m not looking at starting another podcast. I’m not looking at launching a different app. I really am talking most about keeping HitTail going and getting Drip launch because those are the things I’m focusing on. All the other things I just mentioned are things on my long-term to-do list. But I’m not bouncing around and trying to do all of them at once. I know that they are on my long-term road map and that I will get to them eventually. And so, like I said founder attribute number eleven, how well do you focus?

[32:21] Mike: Yeah, I mean this is one of the reasons that I cut back on some of my yearly goals. I mean I think at the very beginning of the year I said, “Oh, I want to write a book by the end of the year and I have it out late summer.” And I actually decided to completely kill that a little while ago. So, that’s one of those things that I just said, “Look, you know, I can’t concentrate on that now.” And even though it’s a long-term goal, I’ve got to push that off. I can’t even think about that right now just because it’s taking up space to my brain.

[32:44] And then I’ve got a couple of signs around my office that just say one word, it’s just FOCUS in giant letters so that when I look up from my monitor, I look around and I see that. It’s just a reminder to me that if I look around and I start to get distracted I see that and I say, “Oh, you know what? You’ve really got to focus on the things that you’re working on right now.” And whatever those happen to be, you need to be able to leverage your time effectively. And I think one of the things that people run in to when they’re trying to shift from a consulting business in to a product business is they’re thinking in the back of their minds, “Oh, well, I could spend two hours doing client and consulting work and I’ll make X dollars,” or “I could spend some time over here, you know, the same amount of time and I may or may not get a return on it.”

[33:23] And that’s not really the right way to look at it. I mean you really have to be focused on those long-term goals and understand that everything you do is an incremental improvement on the previous things that you’ve done. And if you’re not working towards that goal I mean if you’re not making those incremental improvements, it’s never going to improve. You’re never going to find this thing that where you change some text on your website, magically converts 300%. By the way, it just doesn’t happen.

[33:46] You’re going to have to continue doing these incremental improvements and tweaks in your business to try and figure out what works, what doesn’t and focusing on your products, focusing on the goals that you have and just going through the daily processes and weekly processes that you put  forward to move you towards your goals is what you need to focus on.

[34:04] Rob: When I was putting this list together, there are a couple of other factors that I had in there but I – there are almost so fundamental and so general that I didn’t want them in the list but they are honorable mentions and I’ll list two of them here.

[34:16] One is do you get things done? Like are you actually effective when you’re sitting there working? Because I know people that maybe good project manager and decent developer and they have a passion for a project or product but when they sit down to do things, they aren’t that effective. They actually don’t move the project forward and so, if you don’t do that, then that’s almost like a non-starter. That’s actually you have to figure that out or you’re never going to get this project done.

[34:41] The other one is persistence. And again, it’s like such a generality but I’ve seen people start building an idea and then at the first roadblock or the first sign of a speed bump of any kind, they just say, “Well, this isn’t going to work. Maybe this whole entrepreneur thing, you know, is just more than I want to get in to.” Yeah, you’re not persistent enough. You probably shouldn’t even get in to this game because you’re going to have a lot of failures. You’re going to have to deal with that and you’re going to have to — you kind of get over them, learn from them and get better the next time.

[35:10] So, I guess these are less honorable mentions as I’m talking about them and they’re more like fundamental attributes that you need to have sorted out before you even get to, you know, the eleven we just talked about because if you don’t haveeither one of those to get things done in the persistence, the odds of you even getting to launch are very, very low.

[35:29] Mike: So, as a follow up question and some people might be thinking to themselves, “Am I unprofessional if I draw inspiration from scratch my own itch?” What are your thoughts on that?

[35:37] Rob: Yeah, so that’s what Stephen had said. It was another question he had asked. I think the question of unprofessional is not the right one to be asking but it’s more like, “Am I making a good decision if I scratch my own itch or not?” There’s a lot to talk about this, right, about people who want to solve their own problems because 37signals did that, right? And they did it back in 2005, 2006 and then they talked about it. And they kept saying, “You should scratch your own itch and if you’re not doing that, you’re going to fail.”

[36:02] And that’s the attitude that I don’t agree with, right? Because they’re saying it’s an all or nothing thing, you will always fail if you don’t scratch your own itch. And scratching your own itch dramatically increases the chance of success. I think it does increase it, I just don’t think it’s an either or proposition. I guess it comes down to you don’t have to scratch your own itch. I do think you have a higher chance of success, however, there’s a trick here. They started doing that in 2006 and they built Basecamp and Highrise and all these other things. Well, it’s 2013 now and hundreds, if not, thousands of developers have been scratching their own itch. So, all the low-hanging itches have been scratched.

[36:36] So, you have to think at a higher level now. You can’t just go out and build a basic SaaS project management app. You have to have some unique piece to it. So, I would say, yes,scratch your own itch. Go do that. But figure out a way to scratch that itch in a way that no one else has before you. You have to have a noble approach to it. You have to have a noble way to market it. You have to have some type of value prop that will get you heard above the den rather than just saying, “Well, I have a problem. Look, I solved it,” and then trying to figure out how to market it because that’s something we see a lot, right, with entrepreneurs who come either ask for advice. They come in to the Academy, just meeting day to day.

[37:11] I know that people build the product to solve a single problem that onto itself is a problem because then it’s – you find yourself, you know, six months in and you haven’t really validated that there is a need. So, I guess it’s like scratch your own itch but validate that hundreds, if not, thousands of others also have that same itch before you write a line of code.

[37:32] Mike: I agree with you. I don’t think that it’s unprofessional in any way but, you know, as you said there is since 2006, a lot of those personal itches that people that had been scratched. And I think that if you were to look around and start asking the people who went down that road, I think you’d also find a lot of people who failed miserably because they didn’t validate that there was a market. I don’t think that scratching your own itch is in any way, shape or form going to be an indicator of success. It’s the market. Is there a market? Are there people willing to pay for it? And if you don’t take that in to account before you try scratching your own itch, before you even write that first line of code, then it doesn’t really make a difference because you’re not going to be able to turn it in to a fulltime income.

[38:11] With that said, you know, it’s fine if you take some sort of side project that, you know, was reasonably well done and you didn’t necessarily want to productize it or weren’t trying to productize it when you first built it and you know, then you look around and you say, “Huh, is this a product? Is this something people are willing to pay for?”

[38:29] And in fact, I think that that’s how Fog Creek ended up with FogBugz, I mean Joel had this piece of code laying around that he built to do bug tracking and they decided that they would ship it and they cleaned up and shipped it out and people loved it. And that turned in to their flagship product and that’s what they’re known for today. And so, it’s not to say that you can’t do something like that, it’s just that, you know, if that’s something that you did awhile back, make sure that you validate that there is a market for it.

[38:54] Music

[38:57] Rob: So, that’s what we called the Founder Test. It’s eleven founder attributes that will determine the success of your product.

[39:03] Mike: So, first founder attribute is knowledge of the niche or the problem to be solved. Number two is technical andprogramming knowledge. Number three is your skill as a project manager. Number four is your skill with outsourcing ordelegating. Number five is your passion for the problem to be solved. Number six is your ability to build something thatpeople want. Number seven is your skills as a marketer. Eight is who you know. Number nine is available time. Number ten is money and number eleven is focus.

[39:32] Rob: Oh and by the way, before we head out, we are putting on MicroConf in Europe. It’s going to be in Prague in October, October 5th and 6th. If you’re interested in hearing more as details pan out and we find more speakers, go toMicroConfEurope.com. Add your e-mail to that list and we’ll definitely be in touch. Right now Mike and I are the only confirmed speakers but we have a short list that is looking quite attractive. So, if you have any inkling about going, head toMicroConfEurope.com and give us your e-mail.

[39:59] If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690. Or e-mail us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. See you next time.



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4 Responses to “Episode 133 | The Founder Test: 11 Founder Attributes that Will Determine the Success of Your Product”

  1. Do you have these questions in a spreadsheet with the associated ideas?

  2. Absolutely fantastic episode guys, it really struck a chord with me.

    I am about to email you this link, but I will post it here as well because I would love your readers comments too – I took your 11 points and asked the question “How could I score better on them”.


    I would love feedback on it.


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