Why Tech Startups Struggle


“This code is a bit crap”, I said, as an off the cuff comment to a developer. The developer just got up and walked out of the meeting. It was the first and last time I did that.


Here’s a few other things I learnt about having too much of a tech bias in startups.

  • There’s no one as the customer advocate.

Generally, techies don’t really see things from a customer/user perspective. When it comes down to their business idea and tech stack, techies are often focussed on the code and the functionality, and not what their solution can do FOR the customer.

Techies rarely talk to customers and this abstracts them from the end user. I know there are stereotypes regarding developers but, in general, customer interaction is left to marketing and sales. Sometimes telling a techie that customers don’t like what they’ve produced is tantamount to telling a mother their child is ugly. I made this mistake myself once, “this code is a bit crap” I said as an off the cuff comment. The developer just got up and walked out of the meeting. That was the first and last time I did that.

  • They spend too much time developing Features, and not enough time solving Problems.

I spent some time with a tech led startup recently. Their roadmap was just awesome, finely tuned, detailed, and they were getting through the development of the roadmap with lightning pace.
When I asked how many customers they had…a pause…lots of fidgeting….. “One” they said.

Admittedly I beat them up in that meeting, but what’s the point of developing all of this stuff if no one’s using it ? Sadly, this is a familiar story. I’ve spent the last 4 weeks going through conversion funnels in detail with another startup, they think we’re looking at functionality, I’m constantly asking about the customer and if the customer’s actually going to convert.

  • Release Early, catch up later

Reid Hoffman’s famous quote: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” says it all.

The first iPhone was missing a whole bunch of features when it launched. More recently, Notion users were so in need of functionality that only arrived in the last few months. (You know, having more than one column!)
I’ve seen so many startups delay launch, to do just a bit more testing, add just a bit more functionality, just another sprint and then it’s done. My advice… Launch it, before your competitors do.

  • Customers want their problem solved, they don’t want to wait to fix everyone’s problem.

Know exactly who your customer is. Talk to your customers as often as possible, ask them what they need most, how many of them need it. Release the stuff that the majority need first. Adding obscure fixes in a sprint just delays everything for everyone. It’s the 80/20 rule. A happy 80% when you deliver the top 20% of features or bug fixes.

  • Get the techies to talk to customers

The thought of it. Getting out from behind those screens and actually speaking to real people…shudder ! I know, I know, I’m stereotyping, of course there are exceptions. There’s no smoke without fire though.
Do some Webinars, closed user groups, and special events that bring the techies and the marketing and sales people together. You’ll learn so much, you won’t regret it. Trust me, when the 20th person shows you that bug, you really want to stop squirming and get back to the office to fix it.

Some of you will cringe at this and tell me I’m wrong, but others will agree. I’ve seen it happen. Startups solve problems that don’t exist. Pain points that aren’t painful or scratching an itch that only you have.

Am I wrong ?

Why Tech Startups Struggle

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