I’ve started listening to the Startup School Radio and one of my favorite episodes is this interview with Jeffrey Byun:
Lesson 1: Build things that initially don’t scale
(and don’t begin premature optimization):
They start the show talking about Kickin.it, an earlier startup that Jeffrey and his partner Henry were building:
(Starting at 7:20):
Aaron: So, how’d that go?
Jeffrey: Absolutely terribly! We made every possible mistake that you could think of. It took us 4 or 5 months to build a product and then when we were ready to ship Henry had a thought: “well what if we get 100,000 users after we launch we’d need to make sure that our servers can handle that. So we spent another month making sure that we had the right capacity so that our servers wouldn’t explode.
Aaron: So here’s a good lesson for everyone: theres really no need to build for scale right at the start. You kind of have to build just to attract the first person. We have a mantra [at Y Combinator] about building things that don’t scale, that includes your code for servers.
Lesson 2: First, get sales:
Fast forward to where Jeffrey begins to talk about the nucleus of OrderAhead, his current company that allows ordering food ahead of time – skipping the line.
(Starting at 18:00):
Aaron: How do you start convincing restaurant owners that this is a thing that they want. Do they pay for it?
Jeffrey: <<edited for brevity>> …I just wrote up a contract in Microsoft Word and I basically drove to University Avenue downtown Palo Alto and spent the next 2 weeks walking up and down University for 8 hours a day trying to signup every local business. It was a pretty interesting experience.
Aaron: How many of the restaurants did you sign up?
Jeffrey: About 30.
To put that into context, Jeffrey estimates he talked to 100 restaurants during that period, giving him a 30% close rate. Keep in mind he wasn’t just signing restaurants up, they were committing to pay a $100 setup fee and pay OrderAhead a commission on every order that came through their system.
He did all of this without a single line of code, wireframes, or product.
His trick? He cites persistence — saying he visited some restaurant owners 8 times throughout the 2 week period.