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It begins with a knock at the door.
Or perhaps a telephone call, a letter, even a newspaper headline. There may be a body. There will certainly be something hidden and unexplained. A mystery, a secret, a problem to be solved.
There follows a process of observation and investigation — clues, facts, witnesses. Hypotheses will be proposed and interrogated, answers will prove false. Eventually — preferably in a dazzling dénouement — the facts will reveal an explanation that satisfies, a solution to the problem.
If, like me, you are a fan of detective stories, this structure will be familiar. But twist it just a little — we rarely have to deal with bodies — and I think it looks rather like the way we make products at Mint. The cycle of observe > test > analyse is at the heart of our approach to product development and is, in essence, detective work.
Of course, this approach is firmly rooted in the principles of Agile development: fast, iterative, user-focused. But the detective story parallel throws up some interesting corollaries when you consider the work of the Agile agency.
We’re waiting for that knock on the door; a client with a problem, a question. That problem will throw us into an unfamiliar world. There will be interviews and evidence to be collected. We’ll probably come up with a few red herrings before arriving, eventually, at what we believe is the ‘right’ product, the right solution for that problem. All for twenty five dollars a day plus expenses. Or thereabouts.
There are two things in the world for which there is no shortage:
1. People trying to build things on the internet;
2. People giving advice on how to build things on the internet.
The internet is the modern equivalent of shipping in Victorian times or the Wild West in the 1870s. There are a lot of people speculating and a lot of people earning a living out of people speculating. There are two risks to this:
1. You get ripped off. At Mint we are very often approached by people that have gone down a track with an agency (or collection of freelancers) only to realise later on that aforementioned agency does not in fact know what it is doing. This is an easy trap to fall into. You could set up an agency on a Monday, read a bunch of stuff off the internet and be selling your expertise by Thursday afternoon;
2. You get paralysed by opinion and tasks. Many startup founders use information they find on the internet as a kind of ‘to-do’ list. Write blog post check, gather customer feedback check, do marketing experiment check. They don’t play to their own strengths. They don’t focus on the things that will determine their success, they do a bit of everything.
Before you take someone’s advice on such matters, ask them what they’ve done and assess their credibility. Let their work and people's reaction to it in the real world do the talking.
Photo by Simon Archer Hurlstone.
Last week I wrote about us putting our latest venture on Crowdcube and how important we believe it is to allow everybody to participate in investing in startups.
Since then people have asked what I meant by that or why we believe this.
Last week was a big week for Mint. We turned 10!
It’s been a remarkable 10 years. We’re incredibly proud of all the work we’ve done: from working on a whole bunch of amazing client projects, to starting a TV production company. From spinning out and selling companies originated at Mint, to collecting our very own Mint menagerie.
For most startups, the first step is to find a core group of users who love the product. This is the group of early adopters: the customers who help you develop the product, the ones you talk to frequently and the ones who will evangelise the product (if you do a good job!). With DeskBeers we were lucky in that we found this early adopter group quickly: turns out that there’s a big appetite in London for amazing beers delivered to your office at the end of the week (who knew?).
After cultivating this group of early adopters, the next step is to scale. For a while this involved cold emails and cold calls, letting companies around London know that DeskBeers existed and they could buy some beers from us, if they fancied it. This worked well but with a small team, it’s ultimately very time consuming and expensive.