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>If you are in these meetings and they ask you about features, please do not succumb to the temptation of implementing these features. I've been in so many meetings where they'll ask me about a feature. A naïve approach is to think they will buy if that feature was in the product and go implement it. We knew better and we always asked probing questions that made it clear that they didn't really need that feature. If you don't have that discipline, you will waste a lot of time, and then you'll have internal problems because some on your team will be convinced that this feature must make it into the product to get you that client. Heck, it may as well get you that client, but how many conversations and how many features will you have to implement like that? So, we ask questions to pin-point the actual problem, compare it with our problems and the problems of other companies, and see if there's a pattern there and if it's valid, and if we can abstract it and solve for a family of issues instead of that particular one.
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That is, be very careful when you're in a conversation that goes like "what you're doing is really cool, if only it had X". Dig deeper. Find out if X is the problem, or if it's an instance of an XY problem. Ask what they're doing to solve it right now. Ask about actuality, not eventuality or hypotheticals. Does X matter at all? Is it an actual problem or one from their imagination?
>Interested to know how long it took other founders to acquire their first users, paid or unpaid.
We make a product we need, so we were our first customers. We use it for our projects. Very early on, one of our PhD colleagues also was teaching a machine learning course at a university. We onboarded her students to the platform to do their final year projects and graduate on time, given that they lived in the town that was hit hard by COVID-19 early on, their university closed, and they didn't have powerful workstations to train models.
Getting users is not that hard. Getting the right users is trickier. For example, you can have people sign up because you're offering a free tier, but these people don't really need the product, so you won't have relevant feedback.
>For a bit more context, we’re working on something that solves a problem that one of us had in a past role, and we hear the typical feedback of “yeah that’s cool, would use it if it had X”. So we feel like we’re solving something real and we’re just not sure whether it’s the product that needs more development or the problem just isn’t big enough, or something else entirely.
What did the person in your group who had that problem in a past role do to solve that problem? What were the consequences of that problem?
For us, these problems had disastrous consequences: hiring was really complicated because we either needed to hire people who could do it all or hire specialized roles. Given that we are a consultancy company, that put pressure on getting more clients and doing more projects to be able to pay people, which meant people working on several projects at a time, which meant burn out and frustration.
We were unable to answer the most basic questions: what approach gave the best model in that project 5 months ago? I don't know. Where's the result of all that work? Here, search for it in this bunch of notebooks and files.
We needed very skilled people, and a variety of skills. Our colleagues with a more academic background needed to tap on some shoulders to get their environment fixed, or their model deployed.
So, for us, having our platform is a matter of survival and sanity. It is not a startup idea and we're not making a product for users we know little about to solve a problem in a field we have no experience in. We've been doing that for large organizations for many, many, years, and we've accumulated a list of all the things that sucked and almost killed the company or drove people insane or cost a lot of money. There either were no alternatives, or using the existing products was unacceptable for a variety of reasons.
Again, when people tell us that product X has that feature Y, the answer is a nicer version of: And yet here we are, why are neither of us using it?