Startup Best Practices Spread Quickly

One of the not-so-secret secrets of the startup world is that everyone copies everyone else. UI/UX, marketing, product — everything is “fair” game and almost nothing is off limits. The “rocket ships” are the ones who get copied the most, and for good reason. They have the resources to aggressively test tons of experiments, so if they decide to make something the default experience, it’s a safe assumption that it moved the needle in the right direction. Not to mention, they’ve demonstrated explosive growth for a reason.

This creates an interesting side effect, because when something becomes a “best practice,” you’ll quickly see it spread across TONS of companies. This is one of the reasons so many products and sites in the startup world seem so similar, and while this a bit unimaginative and can have some negative side effects, it can also be really powerful when leveraged correctly. Once a user has experienced a certain UX flow they’re more likely to understand and respond positively to it in the future. Conversely, marketing tactics likely lose their effectiveness as they become more pervasive.

A few examples of this that I’ve noticed emerging over the last year+ are:

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Startup Prerequisite: Tech Know How 101

Recently it seems the pendulum is swinging back on “everyone needs to learn to code” mantra that’s been so prevalent. I’ve seen several articles in the vein of, “why learning to code is probably a waste of your time”. Now if you actually read the articles, most articulated that while knowing to code is probably unnecessary, understanding from a high level how a modern application works is not. Hopefully, the link-baity titles won’t convince those looking to get into startups that technical know-how is optional. That would be a mistake — knowing basic technical skills is super important for anyone interested in getting involved with startups.

Technology is the engine that is powering the recent startup explosion, so If you want to work in startups today than you need at least a basic understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes. This is true regardless of the industry you want to work in; fundamentally all B2B, B2C, SaaS, eCommerce, Hardware, Marketplaces etc. companies today are technology companies. Now I’m not talking about possessing enough knowledge to be a junior developer or even remotely close to that much. But you should be able to write basic HTML/CSS, have played around with an OOP (object oriented-programming) language like Ruby or Python, have some knowledge of how databases work and possesses a basic understanding of how all those pieces come together to form a full-stack application. In my opinion, these should be considered table stakes for any startup job applicant, but it’s particularly important if you’re looking to join an earlier stage company.
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Virtual Reality – The Next Frontier

I’ve always been a huge gamer, and one of my earliest memories of playing video games is using the Nintendo Virtual Boy to play Mario Tennis when I was around six years old. The childlike wonder at being immersed in this alternate world is something I still remember incredibly vividly. Ever since then I’ve been obsessed with virtual reality and the idea of being transported without even moving. Unfortunately, as I got older I was less easily impressed and my future run-ins with virtual reality failed to wow me in the same way that Virtual Boy had. That was until I tried an Occulus Rift.

When the developer versions first came out, a friend of mine had been one of the original backers on Kickstarter and so got his very early on. I was incredibly excited to give it a try… to say that it was amazing would be an understatement. At the time, the go-to demo was the roller coaster, and you truly felt as if you were riding one, to the point where you actually got a bit sick (an issue I understand has since been improved). It was the first time that a virtual reality experience made me feel completely immersed and forgetful of my actual surroundings since my first experience with Virtual Boy so many years ago.
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Should You Join a Startup?

Startups are in vogue. It seems like everybody is working on their own startup, working at a startup, looking to join a startup or at the very least, has an idea for a startup. If you’re a recent or soon to be graduate, you might be trying to decide if you should join a startup or take a job at a more established company. Unfortunately, there’s no “right” answer, so rather than give you a blanket answer, I’ll discuss the positives and negatives I’ve experienced during my time working at startups. And while I wish I could offer an apples to apples comparison to working at a larger company, I have only worked at startups and my internships were at very small companies.

It’s important to note when I refer to a startup, I’m talking about something very early stage, as in less than 50 employees, as well as a company that is looking to achieve massive growth and so will likely take on venture funding. And while I believe that companies with more than 50 employees or which are not looking to achieve massive growth or take on venture funding can still very well still be considered startups (I talked about it here), for the purposes of this post that is what I’ll be focusing on, as those are the types of companies I have experience working at.
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Don’t Forget About Customer Support

There has been a lot of discussion around the increasingly important role of strong design at early stage startups, particularly for consumer facing companies. It seems like not long ago being a startup was a valid excuse for lackluster design. This is no longer the case. Now it’s rare to see a startup with poor design get much traction: good design has become table stakes. Obviously there are some massively popular services that buck this trend; I don’t think Twitter or Reddit are going to win any design or UI rewards. Despite their simple design — or perhaps, in part because of it — both have obviously amassed huge user bases. That being said, in general most new services are being released with a higher level of polish than ever before.

There is another equally important aspect of startups that doesn’t get the same fanfare – Customer Support. In fact, you could make the case that customer support is even more important than design and possibly even engineering in your earliest days. When you’re in the early stages your users are typically going to be your most fervent. The ones whose problem you’re most closely solving. Because of this, they’re going to be less demanding when it comes to your design and product, assuming the business model solves their core problem. However, what can be hugely beneficial to accelerating your growth is to turn these early users into evangelists. The best way to do this is to make them feel a sense of community with your product, and the foundation of your community is your customer support.
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