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The naked truth to scale

Updated: Jul 24, 2019


Wednesday 9 May 2018, 4:00 am, San Francisco.


Awake. Cold sweat. Scared. Confused.

This was an unsettling short-lived temporary moment of anxiety. I believe this was due to our current development phase at Emptytrips… A critical phase of our innovation journey to unlock millions of tonnes of commodity cargo per annum; a game-changer.

I might have a good poker-face in the boardroom; but similar to many insecure-overachieving-at-risk founders; I suffer from “vulnerability anxiety”, “decision reflux”, and “pre-pilot jitters”.


Simply said, I felt pretty naked.


Firstly, my “vulnerability anxiety” is linked to my inpatient nature chasing break-even, and an inability to code...

- Patience is a virtue, blah blah blah. But this is survival and I’m working on it.

- Regarding tech development or coding; this would have been a very useful skill to possess prior to risking my career, and life-savings to launch a tech start-up. (My coding capability can be compared to a monkeys’ ability to open a can of Pepsi).

- Outcome? Our rockstar Chief Technology Officer (CTO) has his hands full; not only do I expect him to translate an ambitious product strategy into reality, but to deliver the same under intense time pressure. (@Herman – you know you are the best, thank you).

Secondly, "decision reflux". As a young CEO, I humbly recognise I do not have all the answers. Sometimes I second-guess strategic moves made, or hypotheses formed to develop features for clients.

CB Insights have found that the number one reason why start-ups fail, accounting for 42% of failed companies, is because there is no market need for the product/service/ feature developed. This is why I thank my team (army), for being closely aligned with our customers informing our hypotheses on their needs. It enables a culture where we can quickly agree (or disagree) on a pivot when needed, or to persevere when we see progress.

Lastly, "pre-pilot jitters". Soon before launching a new product, or upgraded feature, you can feel exposed and/or vulnerable… Disappointing trusting, adoring customers you’ve fought hard to acquire, is simply not an option. Yet, customers are your most valued currency – you cannot stagnate or become outdated. Nothing innovative about that.

So, considering these three notions of anxiety - I wanted to share some thoughts to help calm the nerves (if you can relate):

1. Trust that the team shares your urgency

Each team member brings a dynamic skill that enriches the products’ accelerated development. Trust in your people and the process. In the early days, it is important to build the basics on a strong foundation – internally and technically. Trusting the team to get the baseline out there a.s.a.p. is all you can push for. Emphasising that the sooner the product is in the hands of your customers (early adopters) the better. The reason why early adopters are so crucial to the success or failure of any start-up, is because they provide the roadmap for the evolution of your product. What you learn from your customers through engagement and experimentation of any, and all features, is that it informs how you will iterate or optimise your product. 2. Know your problem, know your customer

You may know your customer, and be scared of disappointing them. However, helping your customer means knowing your problem (KYP). Paul Graham, Co-founder of Y Combinator, is a firm believer that the best start-up ideas are “not found by looking for start-up ideas”, but rather, the best start-up ideas are found by looking for problems. Ensure you are always fixing a problem. Therefore, if you are testing it, you can fix it.

Broadly speaking, you can learn from your customers in two ways, and at EmptyTrips we certainly try do both: a) We constantly ask our users what they love and hate about us

b) We actively monitor how our customers are using our platform (what they are, and what they are NOT doing). A good balance of questioning and observation provides insights to improve the product offering.

3. Go for addictive love

Reid Hoffman, Co-founder and Chairman of LinkedIn, is renowned for his #1 principle of disruption: In order to scale, you need to do things that don’t scale. What is meant by this? Take detailed steps to build a product that your customers can’t do without… Find a way to create such significant value to your customers, that it is unparalleled by anything in the market. In the beginning don’t think about how you’ll scale the solution… Just come up with the solution and make it work. Make them love it!

As per another great mind, Brian Chesky (Co-founder and CEO of Airbnb) “Build something 100 people love, not something 1 million people kind of like.”

So go on, get naked. It could get exciting.


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