It's not easy to build a great Web application. While open-source tools, readily available APIs, social platforms and cloud hosting providers have made it easier in many ways, being a Web entrepreneur is still not for the faint of heart. It's challenging to design, build and deploy software. It's also challenging to attract and retain a loyal community of customers and users.
This is one of the reasons that it's so important to have a good co-founder. Although you certainly can make the case for a single-person startup, it's so much easier to have a co-founder and we've covered in the past tips on finding a good one. In this post, I'll focus on a few keys to helping co-founders work together to build a better product. A quick note, while I primarily talk about co-founders, the same principals should also be applied to interacting with all early employees as you really are partners on the mission to build a great product.
Use Solid Agile Process for Estimating Development Timeline
Almost every software engineer I've ever worked with is irrational in how fast they believe they can build software. While the optimism is a great trait in many ways, it can be a huge cause of frustration between co-founders when the technology takes longer to develop than originally estimated. It also can cause problems when critical deadlines or scheduled opportunities are missed.
At my last startup we eventually started using a process called "scrum," which is basically a framework for managing agile engineering projects. Obviously, you need to figure out what process works for you. However, one of the great things about scrum is that you are always estimating forward the amount of work remaining in a given task.
In other words, say you have a widget that you think will take three days to build. At the end of the first day you would have two days left to meet the deadline. In scrum, however, after the first day you would say, "How much time do I think it will take to finish this widget?" If new complexities have become obvious and it will actually take four days, that is fine. Over time you begin to have a sense of the average decrease in estimates (called "velocity"), which allows everyone to accurately project deadlines from what often are very optimistic estimates.
I'm a huge fan of scrum and would encourage any startup to explore it. One fast way to explore its principals is to check out the hour-long video below from Ken Schwaber (the de facto grandfather of scrum) at Google where he reviews all the key principals.
Never Minimize the Value of Your Co-Founder
A few years ago at SxSW, Jason Fried gave a presentation on "Stuff We've Learned at 37 Signals." This is a talk that has really stuck with me over the years. One of Jason's 14 lessons was to "watch out for red flags," which he defined as words or phrases causing problems in communications. Specifically, try to avoid the following words: need, can't easy, only, fast. These end up being words that often minimize the value of a partner's work. So for example, don't say, "It must be easy to add those two features fast ." I should also point out that a technical co-founder shouldn't do the same thing and say, "It must be easy to get more users fast."
Clarify What You're Building Up Front
In my last post, I touched on five tools to improve your idea upfront. An overarching point is to figure out what people want right up front and then build that. The techniques discussed in that post also eliminate a related problem: a lack of clarity between founders about what they are actually building. You want to tap into the creativity of everyone on the team, and miscommunications about what you're building can minimize a partner's ability to contribute and also lead to frustrations later when misunderstandings are discovered.
As a serial entrepreneur, I love startups and want everyone to succeed. Hopefully the tips above will make it easier for you and your co-founders to build a great product. Let me know in the comments below other techniques you've come up with to work together.
Working Together Lead Image from lumaxart