Most startup founders tell me they learn more from failure than they do from success. The reason primarily seems to be because you can point to one (or many) things that directly affected your failure, but success tends to have multiple factors contributing to it.
Then there’s the age old “I got lucky”. Which is interesting in itself, because the most successful people I know attribute their success to luck more than to anything else.
Success does have its challenges though in terms of being a good teacher. Most often we are told that what got you to a certain point wont get you to the next “level” and that you need to change your processes, systems, people and technology stack.
I had the chance to talk to 3 founders in consumer internet companies, over the last few weeks about their pilots and how their initial MVP’s are going – most of them had “successful” beta products with engaged users and many referrals. The one thing though they all felt was that they did not learn what made their products stick.
The superficial learning – about features in the product or the instant gratification a user got from their product was mentioned often, but that’s not enough.
To truly go from Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to Product Market Fit (PMF) the most important thing I have learned is that you need to know what made your product a “success” for your customers.
Let me give you one personal example and one professional one.
When I set out to lose weight and get fit (I lost 50 lbs in 25 weeks), I thought the key was to eat less and exercise more. In fact I thought they were equally important. I also believed a calorie lost was a calorie gained. Not true actually.
“A calorie lost is worth at least 2-3 calories gained”.
I learned this the hard way.
When I started, I put my data into MyFitnessPal (MFP) and it said I needed to eat 1650 calories each day or less. MFP, also tracks your exercise (automated via API from MapMyRun and FitBit). So the first few weeks I tracked what I ate and also automatically tracked when I exercised.
I would eat about 2000 calories and workout for about an hour to burn 550 calories and assume that it would turn my weight in the right direction. Turns out that was an incorrect assumption. My weight was flat.
When I truly started to eat less than 1650 calories, and still keep up the workout regiment was the only time I lost weight.
Then I experimented with my workouts and my eating. I tried eating 1500, then 1400 and finally 1300 calories or less each day for 3-4 weeks. My exercise regiment was constant. I lost a lot more weight than I anticipated.
I tweaked it further (because of travel) and reduced my workout to 45 min and still tweaked my eating for 3 weeks from 1500 to 1400, and finally to 1300 calories a day for 3 weeks. I lost the same amount of weight as I did when I worked out for 1 hour.
So the key to success was portion control and food, not exercise as much. That was something l learned. Now, that may work for my body type and may not for all, but it is important to experiment the key to ensure you understand the contours of your success.
Now for a more professional example.
I used to write more often that I do now, but over the last 8 years I have written about 800+ posts to average about 100 per year. Many are forgettable, so there.
I tried to experiment with writing short posts, then longer ones, then ones about current technology (newsworthy and topical) and finally about humor and self learning.
The ones about technology and news generate the most page views. Which, I know I am not supposed to care about, but I do.
The ones where I talk about what I learned from entrepreneurs generate the most comments, which I love again.
The blog posts which are short generate more likes on Facebook and the longer posts tend to get more shared overall.
I experimented more with length of my posts, the topic, the category, the sharing options, and the titles, but I don’t think I have found the formula for “success”.
The only thing I know is that if I write often, I tend to get more emails from entrepreneurs, talking about their own experiences, which I love the most.
So what happens when you don’t know what makes you successful – you tend to make more mistakes, but you tend to also learn a lot more.
If learning is your objective and constant learning at that, then I suggest you dont find out what makes you successful.
I learned that blog posts about my reflection tend to generate more interest than those written dispassionately about the world and its affairs.
I still have to find out what makes a successful blogger and have to define success first. Until I do that I have to be content with the assumption that I will learn more and make more mistakes, not knowing what made a post a “success”.