groupme, etsy, stamped, bart j stein, leeland rechis[Image via Studio Akko]

Maybe the most useful session at Internet Week for me was a panel about incorporating design into your lean/agile/scantly populated startup. The panel was moderated by Ron Goldin, the Founding Principal & Creative Director of Studio Akko, and the panelists were Steve Martocci, the Co-Founder of GroupMe, Leland Rechis, the Director of Product at Etsy, and Bart Stein, the Co-founder of Stamped. In about thirty minutes, they covered everything from creating your founding team (no project managers!) to eating your dogfood (do it. Whenever you can).

As an employee at a nascent, communication-focused mobile startup, I could not have asked for a better group of speakers. A few tips that really resonated:

1) Use the product away from work. The Groupme guys used their app to meet up with each other outside work, and when they were coordinating meetings with VCs, they got some of the to use it too, which was huge, because then these VCs used it during a Vegas trip and found it so handy that they ended up investing in the company.

2) Make your product work for both sides of the equation. Etsy's app was designed to work for sellers and buyers, because their analytics revealed that some of the most-visited pages from mobile devices were seller pages. (This also speaks to the importance of looking at your analytics.)

3) Leverage your local communities. Stamped, which is a really quick approval app for physical services, decided to target the restaurant industry when they were getting started, because restaurants are one of NYC's main industries, and, since the ascendence of Yelp, they've been very aware of the power of user reviews. This is also why there are so many fashion-tech startups in New York, and so many life-sciences ones in Boston. (And why there should be more hospitality-tech startups in Miami--get on it, Miami!)

4) Spend--and keep spending--a long time making your onboarding process really efficient and idiot-proof. Groupme still spends a significant amount of dev work on onboarding, because in the mobile world, that's where a lot of potential users will leave if the experience isn't pleasing. I would say this applies in the desktop world as well, though my patience does seem to increase in proportion with my screen size.

5) Sometimes, figuring out your brand and identity before you nail down your product can be a strategic advantage. Mobile is crowded, and nailing who you are first can set you apart from companies doing similar things. Stamped had a name and a working self-portrait before they started prototyping.

6) Early investors usually care more about your team and team's network than your product. Bart said that during Stamped's first meetings with Bain Capital, (their eventual investors) no one even mentioned a product--instead, Bain cared (I know, how often do you get to see that SV pairing?!) about what the team had done before, and how they worked together, and who they knew.

Are you working at a mobile or web-tech startup? Do any of these tips resonate with you? If you have more, pile'em on in the comments!

 

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