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Startups: the importance of momentum

By on June 12, 2013
Tsumanga's game Sirenix
Tsumanga's game Sirenix

This is a guest post by Iain Hunter of Tsumanga Studios, crossposted from his blog


I’ve been working in my present job in a mobile games studio for about 6 months.  It’s been pretty intense, but we just shipped our first game.  I produced it, I’ve got my name in the credits, and it got 500 downloads within 24 hours of being launched, so I’m very pleased, and I expect things to only get better :-)  Not bad for a bunch of guys with limited experience in the gaming industry.

I wanted to blog some thoughts about lessons I’ve drawn as we’ve gone along, before the nervous breakdown hits.  First up – The Importance of Momentum.

The technology industry attracts a lot of smart people, which can be pretty intimidating when you’re starting out.  How can we compete with EA, how can we compete with Microsoft, but you can – as long as you keep moving quickly and get your products into the marketplace.

Here’s the top 10 ways and rationale for acting like a shark, and keeping on swimming:

1.  Stick to the Plan – At least once a day one of the team will say “Stick to the Plan”.  You can only move fast if you have a good idea of where you’re heading.  Plans need enough detail so you can spot when things are starting to wobble.  When things are moving at 90 miles per hour, as they do in a startup, there are all sorts of variables that will be thrown at you.  If you have a plan you can easily say No – we’re sticking to the plan.

2.  React – The corollary to Stick to the Plan is – don’t always stick to the plan.  Over time you’ll inevitably be presented with evidence that your plan isn’t working.  Feature X is bogged down, Team Member Y is struggling with task Z etc etc.  React to this evidence and change your plan, make a new better plan and hit the accelerator again.

3.  There’s a fine line between order and chaos – The corollary to the corollary is being sensible enough to hit the brakes and drive within your limits (to push the metaphor).  Don’t change everything at once, prioritise problems and learn to live with uncertainty.

4.  You ain’t going to get it right first time – Most startups will probably have 3 years, or less, to demonstrate they can make money, so the earlier you can get some traction in the marketplace the better.  Spending 2 years in development, is a big risk, much better to ship 4-6 products or significant updates in that time (see the MVP).

5.  If in doubt, keep it simple – When faced with a choice, the safest bet is to go for the simplest solution.  If you’re wrong at least you’ll find out sooner, and in my experience simplest is best 9 times out of 10.  Large estimates and complex solutions have red flags all over them. (see YAGNI)

6.  Shipping teaches tough lessons – A feature we spent a number of weeks developing was rejected by Apple.  If we hadn’t shipped early we’d have wasted additional man-hours on a feature that we had to remove.

7.  Perfect is the enemy of good-enough – It’s comforting to gold-plate features, nail another bug, spend another few days in QA, optimise a bit more.  But if your product is good-enough, ship it, then react to real-world data, rather than second guess.  We went live with 20 known issues, but they were all issues we could live with.  If no-one downloads it, you’re much better to know after 3 months, rather than 6, as you could have spent the previous 3 months doing something different.

8.  Play to your strengths – It’s important to recognise where the strengths and weaknesses of your team lie.  Over time what you thought was a strength may prove to be a weakness, so change your plan.  Where you have gaps, either hire, or better, partner and use freelance resource until you can demonstrate you have the need/resource for a full time employee.

 9.  Don’t wish for what you don’t have – Don’t waste time on toying with the latest fads.  If you have a team of PHP programmers just write PHP as much as you might wish for a team of hipster Rubyists (see play to your strengths).

10.  My rushed site got 30,000 views – One of the first things we did was launch a website which we’d be the first to admit isn’t going to win any design awards.  However, we’re working on an updated design that addresses some of the original’s shortcomings.  In the time version 1’s been live we got 30,000 visitors and 3000 sign-ups, a 10% conversion rate that gave us some confidence we had a market.  If we’d waited until everything was addressed we wouldn’t have the confidence or the numbers (see perfect is the enemy of good enough).

10.1 Investors like momentum – If you can show your investors something tangible that they can see and play with, their confidence and happiness will increase (and you WANT happy/confident investors).  They can’t take a burndown chart to the bank.

So in summary, ship early, be agile in the truest sense, and keep moving.

About Iain Hunter

Iain Hunter is a developer and agile team lead specialising in delivering web, and social media, applications built on the Microsoft .Net stack.