Guest Post: Key Takeaways from Seedcamp Academy Session with Marty Cagan – by Les Cochrane of BorrowMyDoggy

Seedcamp Academy is our structured learning program for founders joining Seedcamp to help them achieve and scale product market fit faster and smarter. To date we’ve run 20 full weeks of Seedcamp Academy sessions with some of the most successful entrepreneurs, product builders and investors worldwide. We were thrilled to have Marty Cagan of the Silicon Valley Product group join us this week for a morning of startup insights gleaned from his 30+ years of experience. 
Les Cochrane, co-founder and “Tech Puppy” of BorrowMyDoggy, a Seedcamp startup that matches dog owners with local borrowers who love dogs but are unable to own one, wrote this guest post following the session with Marty.
How to create products customers love with Marty Cagan
This week at Seedcamp we were treated to a guest session by Marty Cagan, a passionate product guy with fantastic experience spanning over the great days at HP, and the early days of Netscape and eBay.  He now heads up the Silicon Valley Product Group, and mentors a number of startups. The session was really inspiring, and although it’d be great to reiterate everything that he passed on to us, I’m going to cover some of the points that really jumped out at me.
The key to building a successful startup? It’s all about the product!
Obviously as a product guy, Marty confessed to being biased, but he was really clear that at any given moment in a startups’ life, the product should be the main focus. It’s easy as a startup to be distracted by advice & guidance from friends, investors, other startups, and what we read online, but if you focus on the product, then you’re reducing the risk of failure.
Revenue? Acquisition? Activation? Referrals? They all come from having a great product.
Vision and passion
One of the co-founders should be a product person. No exceptions. You can’t out-source product management, as it’s a sure fire way to fail.  If they’re not a product person, then one of you should be learning it & getting excited about it now. Your mission is the reason why you exist, but your vision is what you’re aiming for. You cant fake the passion needed for a startup. Anyone you hire should understand your vision and passion, and be along for the ride because they care.  People want to join a cause, but remember, making money is a cause that is doomed to fail.
Know what you can’t know
There are two inconvenient truths in the world of product design; At least *half* of our ideas will not work, and for the ideas that are good, it will take several iterations before those work to their full potential. Don’t fall in love with your ideas.  If you go more than 2 weeks working on an idea without either testing it or launching it, then that idea is probably doomed.  The faster you get used to the idea that your ideas are not as precious as you think, then the faster you will work.  Test your ideas often; build prototypes, MVPs, and talk to your customers more than you do right now. We’ve all got a limited amount of resources and time, so the faster and cheaper you work, the more you’re able to achieve.  Iterate from your MVP and build a product your customers love.
Know what your customers can’t know
Marty quoted someone as saying “The biggest mistake you can make is not listening to customers, the second biggest mistake you can make is to listen to them.” Customers don’t really know what’s possible – they have problems that need solving, but it’s the role of the team to come up with solutions that the customers wouldn’t have dreamed of. We bring the technical & domain knowledge to the table to solve customers problems, very often in a way that amazes them. The iPhone wouldn’t have existed in its current form if Apple hs asked their customers what they wanted in a phone.  In Marty’s view Apple makes more prototypes of their products than any other company he’s seen. Customers are a startups oxygen, we should be speaking with them every week, and in some cases every day.  Stay away from focus groups or surveys – they don’t help, and very often distract you from the real issues. Pick up the phone or go and meet them at their work or house for really valuable insights.
Managing by objectives
Stay away from roadmaps, they can become handcuffs and very often are a list of features to build, not what you’re focussed on as a business at any time. And as Marty mentioned early, we know that over half of our ideas will fail, so that means our roadmaps are works of fiction. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have ideas, but put them in an “opportunity backlog” – to be looked at when coming up with a solution to a customers problem. Understand your key metrics (or KPIs), and focus your product efforts around them.
The role of design & dedicated teams
Too many startups get caught up with their technology, and don’t appreciate what benefits design brings to the success of their product. A team should contain a product person, a designer, and an engineer, and true collaboration between team members is vital. Product culture is as important as company culture, and they’re very different things. The list for the top 10 companies people want to work for is not the same as the list of the top 10 companies that innovate and create great products. A great deal of Marty’s talk resonated with me and my co-founder, and it was encouraging to hear that the ideas we have for BorrowMyDoggy and our passion for the product can be improved by his advice.

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