Software. You could learn something from Hardware.

How do you decide what to focus on? How do you say no? How do you figure out where to spend your day? How do you deliver an amazing experience? These are questions that all entrepreneurs do (read: should) be thinking about. But not every company and entrepreneur are created equal.

Last week I met with two entrepreneurs in the span of two hours – one was trying to solve a consumer problem with a software solution and the other was trying to solve a consumer problem with a hardware solution. Both were solid people tackling interesting problems. And in many ways, the meetings were exactly the same: customer feedback, MVP, designing experiments, team dynamics, fundraising, etc. etc. Lots of what we do are the same no matter what the company does.

But I was struck by one difference that was making the software guy look lost, struggle with focus and be unwilling to make choices, while making the hardware guy appear disciplined, cognizant of limits and thoughtful:

Product Constraints

Yes, I’ve heard most every founder/startupper say things like “we’re a startup, so we’ve got to focus,” or “we have limited resources,” or best of all, “start small.” But the reality of software is that it is in many cases unconstrained. Angry Birds could be played in Detroit or Damascus. Salesforce works in Tucson or Tanzania. That’s what’s amazing about software.

Hardware’s Natural Constraints
I was struck in meeting with these two entrepreneurs how the limitations of building a tangible product forced focus on the hardware entrepreneur. He had just received his prototype and was thinking about how to deploy the first twenty ‘beta versions’ he’d be ordering in the next month. Like incredibly thoughtful – setting up a curriculum for each users, thinking about each test and each experiment and using exclusivity as a hook to sell the next hundred products. He was going to sell and wanted to be sure each sale was making the next phase of the company more successful.

Each product he received was like gold to him – and his care about each customer, user, demonstration, etc. was palpable.

Twenty. That’s it. He literally was going to only make his first order run of 20 so that he could personally call each customer every week. He was building in time so that he could go to their home or office and fix anything. And he was building up a pipeline to do the same for the next 99.

Software’s Lack of Constraints
In its purest form, software doesn’t have the same constraints as a tangible hardware product. Add more instances in the cloud and you’re fine to scale to infinity.

And that’s the rub. The software engineer flailed about as he looked into the vast ocean of the internet and had no faces, no names and very little focus. Sure, maybe he doesn’t need it, but it was clear in our meeting he didn’t have it. It’s not to say that the software guy isn’t thinking about constraints, but he wasn’t forced to account for it – making his limitations and constraints appear less important.

Create Your Own Constraints
If you are in the process of creating an app, developing a website or starting any business imagine that you can only deliver your product to 20 people. What sort of care would you give to those first 20? Would you visit them? How would you choose who these 20 are? What do you do to make these people have an experience that they’d rave about you to their friends?

As you think about your company, design something amazing for just a few people. Uber was originally designed to provide on-demand black cars just for Travis and his friends. Pinterest was a custom-designed bookmarking tool for Ben’s mom. And funny enough, our very first, incredibly hacky version of Zaarly was designed as a 5 day tool to be used only for a small audience at SXSW.

How are you building constraints into your business?


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