Focus on One Thing at Startup Weekend…Winter is Coming

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The following is a guest post from Scott Kveton, CEO of Urban Airship. Urban Airship is a platinum sponsor of our November 2012 event, marking the 4th event in a row that they’ve supported. Urban Airship powers Push Notifications for mobile applications across major mobile platforms. You can learn more about their products at http://urbanairship.com.

Startup Weekend is an amazing experience that focuses aspiring entrepreneurs’ efforts on the first most important goal in any new venture—arriving at a Minimally Viable Product (MVP). At Urban Airship we are huge fans of Game of Thrones and “Winter is Coming” has become something of a mantra—indicating that busy times are ahead and that we need to remain constantly vigilant. Even if things are really good right now, there’s always a dark period coming and you have to be prepared.

Photo Courtesy of The Oregonian

It’s not just the air temperature that tells us winter is coming. Right now the public markets are experiencing a head-pounding hangover, questioning the amazing potential of superstars they once drunk from heavily, as valuations of Facebook, Zynga and Groupon are way down. This will have an impact on private financing in 2013, so you need to think hard about the type of business you are going to create.

Some of my favorite businesses are the ones that unlock constrained resources. Dropbox made sharing files stupid simple. Uber removed the hassle of getting town cars. Airbnb unlocks the resource potential of empty houses and spare rooms. Workday, and its stellar IPO, are remaking the enterprise application market known for mammoth price tags and lengthy implementations with cloud-based software. All of these super amazing, super simple businesses remove the friction from what otherwise can be complicated processes. With Uber I can request a town car and see where they are, get in and get to my destination and get out. Done. I don’t have to transact and I simply rate the driver as I walk away. The beauty of each of these businesses, some a bit more abstract than others, is that they each eliminate friction while taking a piece of every transaction.

The one thing that is key to all of this is to launch a real business from day one. Figure out how your MVP is going to make you money right now, because if you don’t do that it’s going to be tough. When we launched Urban Airship we bootstrapped the business requiring us to be capital and time efficient, failing quickly and iterating even faster. Thirty days later, we had a MVP that made money from our first customer and we haven’t looked back. We’re now are on an amazing trajectory and continue to experience phenomenal growth having reached 100 employees with offices in PDX, San Francisco and London. But it all started with a real business from day one and an MVP that made money.

In the early days, I was zero for 30 on the fundraising trail. When we launched Urban Airship, the mobile market was in its infancy and we actually had people (rightly so) telling us we were crazy. No one can tell you whether your business idea is a good one. It takes customers giving you money to indicate whether you are heading in the right direction. Your MVP may not be the exact right path to reach your end game but it will show potential investors that you know how to find your way through the toughest situations and build a product people want to pay for.

So, my advice to all of you attending Startup Weekend: dive in, ship a product quickly, listen to customers, iterate and repeat. The sooner you do that, the sooner you’ll fail or succeed. Everything else is just talk.