1. Consider a “full-stack” approach
Conventional business wisdom dictates that companies should focus on their “one thing”. The trouble is that it’s really difficult for a startup like ours to identify just one core competency. Our full-stack model was a necessity at first – it was a pet-project so there was no one to outsource anything to. However, it proved a very exciting and very efficient model for us. Our personal and commercial aspirations – to have 100% ownership of the customer journey – dictated that model.
We have to be highly creative, hugely customer-focused, able to develop sophisticated technical algorithms, and all whilst managing highly complex global operations and distribution. To attempt to outsource any of these functions would be to place the entire fate of the company in the hands of external parties.
2. Be focused on your proposition
Taking a full-stack approach is extremely challenging and has only been possible because we have been so clear on our proposition. We may have a large number of core competencies, but we only have one product – personalised children’s books. Even if we expand our product range, we are crystal clear on the brand pillars under which they will fall. It’s about keeping that proposition as clear and focused as possible.
3. Create a culture of constant improvement
We came from a startup background and therefore everything is always about “betterness”. Nothing is ever complete. There will never be a single moment in time where any department can sit back and think they’ve found all the answers. Every day is an opportunity to make things better.
4. Listen to your audience
In order to make these daily improvements, we need to pay constant attention to the views and behaviour of our audience. This begins of course with our own children – what do they like or dislike about the books – and continues through to various other forms of qualitative and quantitative data. What are people saying about us on social media? How are they moving through the website? Are we losing people at a particular point on their path to purchase?
This constant feedback loop is essential if we are to make smart future decisions about both new and existing products.
5. Develop a clear MVP (minimum viable product) process
We’re now at a stage where we have a strong enough brand to begin releasing other products. However, there is a danger when you diversify, to lose touch with the very thing that made your first product a success. You therefore need to be crystal clear on what that special thing was, and ensure future products sit right under these same brand pillars. Furthermore, it should be released quickly and in a simple form to a targeted group that can tell you whether or not you’re on the right track. This is not about releasing a product to prove yourself correct, but rather to find out where you were wrong so that you can iterate rapidly.
6. Before you seek investment, bootstrap and validate
I have no doubt that had we tried to seek investment at the start, no one would have even entertained investing in us. Even if by some miracle somebody had said yes, it would have been for a fraction of the money and on far less favourable terms. As it was, we only went after investment once we had already proven the concept and were making traction.
Nowadays, with all the online tools available, there is simply no reason not to test your concept first. That way you have something to present to investors. So unless your concept is really complicated, like robotics, then I would always advise to bootstrap as much as you can. That way you can show traction and enter the negotiation room in a far stronger position.