It’s Easier to Answer to Your Code Than Your Customers

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in startups that I’ve been covering: menial work. Put another way, procrastination by being focused on things that don’t matter. I’ve identified several ways I’ve seen it manifest in startups. I’ve also discovered why it’s such a common problem for startups.

Here are the two most frequent forms of menial work I’ve seen in recent weeks:

1. Pre-optimization:

Every startup likes to think that on day one they’ll be mentioned in TechCrunch, and the onslaught of high volume traffic and subsequent millions of users will bring their server to its knees. I’ve heard of startups that delay launching for a month or two to pre-optimize everything. Sure, it’s important to have a server that won’t fall over, but it is far more important that people want your service (which you won’t know for sure until you launch).

Solution: Launch sooner. What you’ve initially built and what people actually want are almost always different things.

The most common reason I’ve discovered is…

2. It’s easier to answer to your code than your customers

Talking to your customers can be scary. The technical founders (that inspired this article) love to hack away at their codebase but hated talking to their customers. “That’s a job for my (nontechnical) cofounder” he said. He then spent a week developing a feature that their customers didn’t want and never used.

Although nontechnical founders should spend more time with customers, technical founders are missing out on huge learning opportunities if they only sit in their house and code.

Solution: Realize your customers don’t care about your code (assuming it works and is secure).

Menial work feels really good. It feels like you’re making huge strides forward but all you’re really doing is procrastinating. Don’t fall into this trap. Answer to your customers.

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  • Anonymous

    I’ve seen way too many startups focus on building a highly scalable system right out of the gate rather than focusing on what is the difference with 99.99% of startups: launching quickly, finding a profitable market and direction, and finding customers. It’s almost laughable to see companies spending months or even years building these monstrous systems and then launch with no a dozen users that can easily be hosted on GoDaddy’s cheapest plan. Even though its less fun for developers: you’ll realize that 99% of the success in the startup world is based on who you know (for media access) and what type of marketing/business plan you can do. A lot of companies used to focus more on SEO efforts but are now focusing on social media where results are more immediately visible. There’s no reason why any startup can’t use one of the services listed at and can’t start with thousands of social media followers right off of the bat. Engineers like to focus on technical solutions using the latest technologies but most of the time using the latest NoSQL solution or crazy untested framework is the wrong choice because the vast majority of startups never gain users and never have any need to scale. This is why a lot of developers should join a startup as soon out of school as they can so they can see these mistakes being made and learn what to avoid on somebody else’s dime if they have any interest on building up a successful company. Once you have a successful company you can play around with any new technology you want but doing that before you have users and a profitable business model illustrates questionable judgement.

  • Admin

    I actually worked at a company that spent over 3 years optimizing with no customers. Thank goodness I csme in during year 3.

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