This article is a continuation of sorts from one on my other blog, The Economics Of … Read the first article here.
Starting up a startup has been nothing like I thought it would be. I thought that I would be doing lots of work on my own in marketing, finance, and other functions. That’s hardly been the case. I’m only now on the cusp of having a product to market and I still have no money to speak of. Instead, I spend most of my time managing a small team of interns. I’ve been able to engage a small but growing team of motivated undergraduate and graduate students that also believe in the need for better access to transportation in lesser developed countries.
On a weekly basis I meet with my team of four undergraduate Computer Science majors for sprint meetings. Four months into working with them, one of them said, “If four months ago we had known everything we know now this would have been much easier.” Hearing that just confirms something I had been thinking: I should have forced them to slow down at the beginning in order to conduct more research. I know that we are not designing anything novel. The innovation is in the data we want to make accessible to travelers. In this context, research is important because you can learn from the mistakes and advancements that others have made.
Hearing them say that also makes me think that we overshot the ‘minimum’ in MVP. They felt confident that they could implement mapping and route optimization, so I let them go ahead and integrate those features. However, the product would have been viable with just text results. I let my own aspirations get ahead of me and my knowledge of best practices in development went to the wayside.
I also recall over the summer speaking with a friend who does UX out in San Francisco. He cautioned me to engage a UX designer sooner rather than later. I wanted to heed his warning, but having no money, I could not hire anyone, and I had trouble finding someone at school that was interested in UX. We forged ahead and did the UX on our own. Fast forward four months, and I was literally banging my head on the white board in a sprint meeting because we could not figure out the best way to collect bus route names. We were beguiled by something that seems so easy to the uninitiated. I’ve learned my lesson there too.
One aspect of the startup where I think I’ve had a lot of success is culture and inclusion. This summer was the height of the diversity & inclusion imbroglio in tech. I wanted to make a conscious effort to avoid the same problems in ChickenBus. I’m very careful with how I communicate with the team and how the way that I carry myself creates a culture. I’m now proud to be working with a multi-racial, multi-national team, multi-gender team that respects each other’s ideas and openly and freely communicates. We even seem to be getting along despite team members from both UNC & Duke!
More than anything, starting up a startup has been a crash course in product management. I still do not know what will come of the ChickenBus. I’ll certainly keep working with my team for the foreseeable future. I want it to succeed, particularly for the positive impact it can have for people around the world, but I see no shame in ChickenBus one day no longer existing. More than anything, it’s been a fun and hands on way for me to learn a lot about tech, entrepreneurship, product management, and team management. My plan is to take these skills, bring them to a tech company, and learn as much more as I can about creating great products for users.