We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.
We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.
There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).
This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!
Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.
Quality over Quantity
by Andy Smith
Andy is the co-founder and CEO of DailyBurn, the premier fitness social network for detailed tracking, online account- ability, and motivation. DailyBurn raised $500,000 from angel investors after com- pleting TechStars in 2008. They were acquired by IAC in 2010.
Feature creep. The sound of those words should scare you to death. If you are a technical founder, please listen carefully: You don’t need to build a bunch of new features to make your startup successful.
Trust me, I know. Both of the founders of DailyBurn (we were called Gyminee while we were at TechStars) are technology geeks. Naturally, our instinct is to always look at our product, see what is missing, and then try to quickly build the next killer feature that will magically get all of our users to convert to paying users. It’s a problem facing all startups, but especially startups that are filled with developers.
Most technical founders have the skills to quickly build a ton of features. It isn’t hard for us to bang out some code and get the thing up and running on the web site within hours. But many of these features don’t matter and often detract from the product.
So what is the secret behind building useful, meaningful features?
First, focus on ease of use. Your site and your new features have to be very easy to use and graphically appealing. If you try to rush out a ton of features, it will not look good and will result in an unpolished, and hard to use product. One of the things we are most proud of about DailyBurn is that we’ve made the product look good while being very easy to use. We realize that a site to track your workouts and food intake isn’t an earth-shattering idea and that there are a lot of sites out there trying to do the same thing we do. The reason we have been able to grow is because we make it as easy as possible for users to track their fitness on our site.
Next, build one thing well. If you try to build every feature that comes to mind, the result will be an unfocused product with no chance of success. When we started DailyBurn we focused on one thing and one thing only—a social workout tracking tool that lets you track actual results. We did that one thing well, got an audi- ence, and then listened to our users. User after user screamed for food and nutrition tracking, so we took our time and built high quality nutrition tracking. Now our food-tracking tool is even more popular than our workout tracking tools because we focused on quality.
Finally, listen to some, but not all, of your users. User feedback is good, but don’t listen to all of it. We had so many early requests for features (and we still get hundreds a day) that we would have drowned if we tried to implement a fraction of them. You have to be willing to say no to your users.
Want to know a secret? The next new big feature you are working on will only convert a marginal number of new users to paying users and not be your big ticket to acquisition next week. In fact, that big feature you are working on right now might be a com- plete bust and you could lose users. Measure the impact of every new feature so you’ll know for sure what kind of effect each of them has.
Focus on quality—not just quantity. And make something that makes you proud (not just your mom).
The quality over quantity approach has governed TechStars’ expansion to other cities. When TechStars started in Boulder, we didn’t know if it would work. After the first year, we had lots of inquiries from other entrepreneurs and angel investors about starting up a TechStars program in other cities in the United States. We considered this, decided we had a lot to get right about the program before we were ready to expand, and decided only to do a Boulder program in Year Two.
While the first year of TechStars was great, the second year was phenomenal. Once again, we received many inbound inquiries about starting TechStars in other cities. We en- couraged other folks to do this themselves, open sourced the TechStars program by sharing our ideas, documents, and approach, but decided to stay focused on Boulder.
Along the way, we were approached by Bill Warner about doing a TechStars program in Boston. Given Brad’s long history in Boston, this was a lot more comfortable than trying to start up a program in a city we didn’t know. And Bill was the definition of quality—we knew that if he were involved, our effort would be serious and well executed. So we decided to branch out and opened the second TechStars program in Boston in our third year.
After the third Boulder program and the first Boston program, we were inundated with requests for programs in additional cities. We thought hard about this, realizing that if we wanted to expand faster, it was conceivable that there was the demand for at least 50 TechStars programs in just the United States. While we saw many other programs getting started, we were really concerned about quality. As a result, we decided that it was always going to be more important to us to do a high quality job and help create a high percentage of great startups than it would be to go after quantity. At that point we made a decision that the core TechStars program could be at most four cities.
This focus on quality has generated other interesting opportunities for TechStars, some of which—such as the TechStars Global Affiliate program—are starting to roll out. By continuing to focus on quality, we say no to a lot of opportunities but when we decide to go after something, we are confident we can do it well. We think all startups should think this way.
-David and Brad
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