When I first started what was to become IndieFin, I really didn’t know where to begin. I had been granted a tiny bit of funding – enough to last about a year – on the basis that I could figure out how to reinvent financial services for the digital generation.
The initial challenges were plentiful. My experience with technology was exclusively as a user. So, I had close to zero knowledge on how to execute anything that I dreamed up. I also was very aware that the financial services industry had a reputation for offering awful customer experiences, so the bar there was very low. And finally, having spent a good few years working on developing financial products in the industry, I realised the opportunities to improve on the industry’s products were vast.
While this sounds like a fairly ideal situation for an entrepreneur, and while I feel very grateful for the opportunity, the real challenge was that there were simply so many things that could be built, all of which would present radical improvements on the status quo.
A couple of us sat in a room and started putting ideas down on a white board. We went wild, and kept coming up with more and more great ideas. In fact, we came up with both a very compelling retail investment proposition, as well as what turned out to be our insurance proposition.
What this exercise revealed, was that ideas alone are pretty useless. And, too many ideas can paralyse you.
Our small team got stuck in that trap, which was made worse because we didn’t (yet) have the skills to bring any of those ideas to life.
We wasted a good few months (and some money) simply working on the details of multiple ideas. We were generating lots of documentation, and a few pretty pictures, and truly believed we were making progress.
In reality, we were running on the spot. Things changed with the addition of some new talent – who brought with them a completely different approach and complementary skillsets. This combination of people changed how we were doing things, for the better, and we managed to launch something into the market a few months later.
If I could take out the key lessons from this early stage of our business, they are:
- Choose one thing to do, and focus all your energy on doing it. This does not mean you throw out the other good ideas… but put them on the “not yet” pile.
- If it’s going to take you longer than three months to build and deliver your one thing to the market, it’s still too big. Strip it down to its core, until you can confidently build it and ship it within a quarter. This may feel like you are watering down your idea, and maybe you are. However, working to a longer timeline than this will stall you, with the risk of never getting anything shipped.
- Launch what’s ready. You will know what can still be done to make it better. It’s scary to launch something that is nowhere near your mental picture of what it can and will be. Do it anyway.
- Be ready to learn. The best market research you can conduct is with real people using something you’ve built in the real world. Sure, you run the risk of brutal feedback (and perhaps it’s because it was launched early), but the free lessons you learn will be priceless in developing version 1.2 and 1.3 and 1.4.
Fear is your enemy at this stage of the business. Personally, I needed others to challenge that natural fear, and push “go”. And I’m glad I did. Most of what we built in the early versions of the product releases were not even on our original roadmap. The stuff we have built since launching, and which we are still going to build, have been inspired by our customers and the lessons we have learnt in launching something incomplete.
It goes without saying that the right people on your team make all this possible. But this is a topic for another day.