Ash Maurya has been an entrepreneur for more than a decade now. He came to the U.S. on a student visa and after graduation, he worked for a large company. Later he worked for a startup in telecommunications which was a good experience for him as they had a number of false starts and number of failed products as expected from any startup.
He says that in the beginning, you make lot of mistakes so it is good to learn in other people’s time
Eventually, the company got acquired for a big round and at that point, he left to start his own company which he always wanted to do. So in 2002 he started WiredReach and immediately fell in love with the solution which he was building for his customer’s problem. He told no one about the product and launched it in stealth mode and eventually found that it was too early for its market. It did not really meet the customer need at the time. He did not want to go back working for someone else at that time so he had to figure out how to make the business model work and he somehow managed to survive and ultimately pivoted his product into something which his customers were ready to pay. He continued running the business for many years and eventually sold it in 2010. In 2009 he got exposed to some early writings of Steve Blank and Eric Ries and he realized that lot of what they were writing about were the mistakes he was making along the way and kind of learning on his own. So he decided to adopt some of those principles and found a better way to launch products. He took one of his newer product and applied a lot of lean startup techniques to it and then refined those techniques further into what is now called Running Lean and Scaling Lean methodologies. Eventually, he started another venture called Spark59 which they recently renamed to LeanStack. The mission of LeanStack is to help entrepreneurs avoid the same mistakes that he made while starting up.
Mistakes he made while running his own startup
Like many entrepreneurs both new and seasoned, he fell in love with the solution. He says that when founders get hit with an idea it is usually based on some observation about market opportunity or customer problem. But instead of going deep into the problem, they instantly jump at the solution. They keep thinking about how they can fund building the solution. In the beginning, you can bootstrap with your savings which is how he started. Eventually, you build a half finished product by the time you are low on funds and try to push it to customers. He did that for many years. In another approach, you may want to raise venture capital so you put together a team and pitch and you go and tell this awesome story to investors in the hopes of raising money and building the product out. However, your first product is almost never going to work simply because it is based on the assumptions that just will not match. You need to be very lucky to hit the product market fit in the first go and so these were the mistakes that he made. But a lot of people make the same mistake of rushing to build out the solution or rush to acquire the resources like the team and the money to go build out the solution.
A better approach is to really fall in love with the problem first. You need to study the market, customer problem. Once you understand this well, you can build simple things like mockups, demos or minimum viable products which will not require a lot of resources. The idea behind building simple things is to learn that there is really a customer demand first and then jumping in with the right solution. If the traditional approach is to build, demo, find customers and then sell, the new lean approach is to start with the demo first, test with customers and even sell a demo to customers. You need to first get a customer and then build what they bought which is a much better approach.