A startup is about managing chaos

This week has been the calmest I have ever been since Preetam and I started delightchat.io 6 months ago. 

All our deadlines for the week have been met, good quality code got shipped, the first set of customers using our app are happy.

I attribute all of this to the fact that Preetam and I got on a call every single day between 9:45 am to 10:15 am to talk about 2 primary things.

  1. What did we do yesterday?
  2. What will we be doing today

Once these questions were answered, we came up with a plan as to which team member would be working on what feature and ended up doing individual calls with those teammates and explaining to them their task.

This took up quite a bit of time but as a result, everybody in the team knew exactly what they needed to do that day and therefore, stuff got done.

Why weekly stand ups may not be enough

We have a standup call with our team every Monday where we plan the roadmap for the entire week and assign tasks to individual people.

This is great and I would recommend all founders to do this, but this may not always be enough in an early stage startup and here is why:

We are rapidly iterating on our product based on customer feedback which means that whatever was decided yesterday may no longer be a priority today because a customer reported something which was a higher priority.

So, there is a good chance that whatever you planned for that week might have to be thrown out the window. This can be tricky because your employees are now confused as to what to work on because there are 10 things and they don't know which ones are priority.

This does not mean that you should not plan your week in advance. It only means that it has to be revisited every single day to fit the needs of customer feedback from the previous day.

What causes the chaos?

In a startup, one typically works on the following things.

  1. New features that were planned based on some assumptions about what customers want.
  2. Fixing bugs in existing features.
  3. Features requested by customers after using your product and finding something that does not fit their workflow or would enhance it further.

The problem is, that all of these things have to be done simultaneously and this is what causes chaos. I mean, should a developer fix bugs or build features or iterate based on customer feedback? The answer is to do all of these. At the same time.

If all of this has to be done at the same time, there needs to be a clear distinction regarding priority. We prioritise our work based on the answers to the following questions.

  1. Is this bug hampering usability of the product right now?
  2. Is this feature something a customer explicitly asked for or are we making an assumption based on experience? 

We give the highest priority to bugs or features that are preventing our customers to use the existing product efficiently. 

Second priority is given to features that they have requested for explicitly and the last priority is given to features that were decided based on our own assumptions.

This helped us reduce the chaos to an extent but like I said before, this process needs to be repeated every single day.

Have a strong customer feedback loop

We have now scheduled weekly calls with our top customers and told them to vomit all of their frustrations of the week on us during this call.

This does two things. First, it helps us identify new problems that they are facing which we can solve and deliver immediate value and second, it helps us gauge if our product is getting better every week or not.

If the frequency of issues that they report reduces with every week's call, it means we are doing something right. 

At the same time, if they request a new feature that would make their life even more easy which they themselves did not realise before, that is also a huge win. Because this means that our product helps them identify a new problem which they did not know existed.

Existing customers >> potential new customers

Startups tend to get obsessed with growth. Get as many customers as you possibly can and you should be fine right?

I beg to differ. If you can't keep your existing customers happy and they end up leaving your product, what chance do you have of making new ones happy? 

On the other hand, if you deliver superb value to folks who are already using your tool, fix bugs and add new features the moment they report them to you, it will blow their mind and they will start recommending your product to others.

From that point on, your product has the potential to spread like wildfire.

Maintain your sanity

Running a startup can be taxing on your mental health. It definitely helps if you are not alone in this journey, but it isn't usually enough.

Meditate, run, exercise. Do whatever it takes but do not let it consume you.