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Notes on moving from a giant to a startup
The transition from a mature company to starting up requires founders to think differently, not just when it comes to speed but also scale.
Hello there. Happy new year. How was your break? We spent this break trying to reorient ourselves for 2023. We wanted to refresh, recharge and rejuvenate for what this year will bring. And now we’re back with some cool new ideas and ready to help founders go from 0 to 1.
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It’s time to think differently
The world changes when you move from a mature company to a startup. It doesn’t matter if you’re the founder or the first product manager. The change is not just about the change in designation. It is a full-fledged reorientation of how you need to think about the challenge in front of you.
Founders waste time, energy, and capital trying to imitate the processes in mature companies and then having to do it all over again. This could result in anything from it taking a few months longer to achieve PMF to losing a large customer at an important time. Understanding where you are and how things work are important parts of company building.
To prevent founders from making the errors of many before them we decided to reach out to someone who has been through a similar journey. Nirav Mehta has been through it all. From being part of Google, VMware, and Uber to smaller companies such as Accompany and AtoB. Nirav understands building products for different types of customers and at different scales. So, what should a founder do when they’re not on the desk at a large company, like Google?
“Be prepared for a period of decompression,” he says. And then comes a series of changes that require a founder’s complete attention. Let’s dive right in.
Think about distribution differently
Large companies have established brands and ready audiences. So for a product manager or engineer working on a new product for such a company, there will be hundreds of millions of takers right from Day 1. Google, for example, is very shy about marketing. They are used to relying on word of mouth and organic publicity. The picture is quite different in new companies. For them, more than how great the product is, it is important how the story about the product gets told. “Engineers or product managers shifting to such an environment from large companies tend to underestimate that challenge,” Nirav cautions. “They need to start thinking about how they will market and how people are going to learn about the product.”
Rewire your understanding of what is a good product
When you are in a large company, the bar on quality is very high. “Before you even get something out, you’d consider a lot of features as a must-have. The customers also expect that from a company like Google or Microsoft,” Nirav explains. At the same time, you don't often feel the level of urgency as much in a large company. You have a lot of cushion for experimentation, so you have a different kind of discipline. For example, Google may go and say I want to try three different shades of blue for Google ads, but if you’re a startup, elaborate features are not needed. You may end up building for a long time before, and actively identify the MVP before getting it into the customer's hands. “Startups don’t need the level of iteration that large companies go through to add features. They grapple with more basic things such as whether to pick an ad-supported model or a subscription model,” Nirav observes from experience. That is the kind of shift you can expect in a startup.
When I went to AtoB, we had launched a product integration where we had a discussion on a Thursday and it was in the customer’s hands by the next Tuesday.
Practise greater bias for action
There is also a difference in the bias for action. At companies the size of Google or Uber, if you have an idea or hypothesis, you typically go through a period where you socialize it, write it down and try to achieve consensus. Startups cannot afford that luxury. Their idea-to-execution procedures will be quickfire ones. “When I went to AtoB, we had launched a product integration where we had a discussion on a Thursday and it was in the customer’s hands by the next Tuesday,” says Nirav. “That is the pace at which you should aspire to execute in a smaller environment.”
Speed up every process in a small environment
Most conversations move faster in a startup environment, Nirav finds. As soon as you have paying customers, the meetings will go faster. You may be talking to five customers daily, you may have a discussion in the evening and make rapid decisions based on that. This is miles apart from a large company where the process of talking to customers is much more planned. Both for consumer products and more so for enterprise products, it takes time. You recruit customers, get a team involved, set a questionnaire, review it, conduct the interviews, and wait for responses to come back. You make product decisions that are passed on to the rest of the team.
Look to solve a burning need
The difference in the solutions offered by startups and large companies is the same as the difference between a painkiller and a vitamin. “As a startup, you have to be a painkiller, you have to be solving a burning need. The best demonstration of PMF would be when you talk to a customer and they are willing to get their credit card out and say ‘I am ready to pay, can I have my team use it?’ That is your north star as a startup,” Nirav explains. With respect to enterprise customers, startups have to evaluate whether someone will pay for the product they are building. You have a product and you provide additional value to customers. Whereas for a large company, you solve vitamin use cases as well.
Both kinds of workplaces provide interesting experiences that add value to your career. “Google was one of the best places to work at. The amount of learning was great. I knew it would be hard to find another large company that compares,” Nirav concludes. “I also knew I could leverage those learnings in a small place, and scale myself and grow myself much faster.”
The transition is tricky but it is worth it for the ride.
What Together has been up to
It was December, but that doesn’t mean we took it easy (we did a little bit). Together hosted a warm GetTogether in December to celebrate 2022 and welcome 2023.
Our SourceCode community finally has a home! If you believe you would like to build this with us, get on it, let’s find a way to help the ecosystem grow.
That’s it from us for this time. Subscribe if you haven’t and stay tuned. We have a very interesting guest and topic coming up next month. See you then.