Six months ago I quit my job running the serial award winning tech for good startup Mind Of My Own. In the four years since founding it we’d launched 3 major products, won 6 awards, sold the app to over 50 local authorities and helped thousands of children be better heard by their care team.
It was quite a journey.
As the main founder I was at the centre of both product and business development most of the time. Just like other first time founders I experienced a huge amount of learning. Here’s a short introduction to 3 things I did that contributed most to our success. Each one could help you on your own tech for good startup journey.
1. I worked to the Pareto Principle
I used to be a perfectionist.
Then I decided I’d rather be a success.
See, the trouble with trying to perfect your design, products and processes is that the closer you get to perfection the less extra value your time and effort generates. That’s why MVPs and lean processes work.
Pareto’s Principle reckons that 80% of the value of an investment is achieved through 20% of the time or effort invested. This principle really works. In a startup you don’t have time to do more than 20%, and usually, to make the next step, you only need to get to 80% good enough.
Try applying the principle to all your startup activities. Create just enough value to do the job e.g. just enough user research or testing to build the next iteration, or just enough blogging and social media activity to build an audience.
The Pareto Principle fits neatly alongside agile principles too. If your development approach is agile (why wouldn’t it be?) then it will help you approach your other project functions in the same way.
Use this approach across the board and see how your team culture evolves and their decision making improves.
2. I focused on our business model from the beginning
One of the most common tech for good startup mistakes is neglecting your business model and over-prioritising your product. It’s easy to do when your mission is socially focused. And let’s face it, products are also more sexy and interesting than business models.
I’ve been there. I’ve neglected business development and lived to rue it when the money ran out. Neglect your model and you’ll be desperately playing catch up when the money runs out.
Your business model needs the same amount of research and development as your product. At MOMO I focused unrelentingly on the business model, right from the start. My discipline was forged in the furnace of past mistakes.
Don’t wait until you have a product that people want to use. You need to be researching and testing your model while your product takes shape. Just like user and social value, there’s always a point of financial value to be found. To help you find it there’s a tonne of tools and guidance available.
3. I hired specialists and learnt from them
During those four years we hired both freelance specialists and full-time specialists. We used these experiences to turn our staff team into generalists, people with a rounded skill set who were able to apply principles and practices from different roles and disciplines.
Firstly we hired the excellent Neontribe, specialists in tech for good web development. Through our work with Harry Harrold and his devs we learnt a huge amount about agile processes, feature prioritisation and product management.
At specific times, and for specific challenges we also hired specialist service design and UX people to give us short-term help. We used them to move the product forward, watched what they did, asked them why and grew our own skills in those areas.
We also made use of advice and guidance from helpful people in the Tech for Good scene. Kieran Kirkland and Dominic Campbell were particularly helpful, while six monthly conversations with Paul Miller of BGV helped me stay ahead of the learning curve. Back in 2013 I was also lucky enough to gain deep insights through writing about the progress of Comic Relief’s 7 Innovation Labs projects (this blog!).
Through all of these folk and some good reading we built up an internal experiential understanding of UX, product sales, business models, audience building, product design, and agile and lean methodology.
Then, when we’d grown enough to hire full time internal folk we targeted young, hungry staff with the intelligence and potential to learn about both product and business processes. Our new sales, product, service design and account management people quickly became generalists, comfortable working closely with external specialists and able to contribute strongly across the breadth of Mind Of My Own’s work – from internal sprint planning sessions to local authority sales pitches.
Of course there’s more. With each passing month I seem to get new insights. Next month I’ll be sharing some of these with Bethnal Green Ventures’ latest accelerator cohort. When that’s done I’ll post a summary of my talk here.