Assumptions, eating pizza and startups


There we were, at the end of a long day, huddled together at a pizza place, debating the intentions of “circular-pizza-sliced-perforations” on the top of a pizza box.

Let’s quickly add context to “we” here. There’s the founder, the designer and I. Back to that evening.

“It’s meant to keep the pizza fresh,” prompted the founder, to which the designer agreed without hesitation. Not satisfied with the logic I interrupted, held up the pizza box and pointed it toward the cashier from across the store. “What are these perforations for?” I asked to which the cashier replied…

“Dip! It’s for our dip!”

That was our moment of epiphany and the cause of this blog.

Allow me to explain.

Prior to our whole-wheat, tandoori chicken pizza perforation debacle, the founder and I were at a cafe ideating over a startup name. Most parts involved fleshing out a brand persona, characteristics, values and belief systems and zeroing on a vision.

We had spent nearly 2 hours debating, discussing and collecting our thoughts (which if you ask me, having worked and conducted strategy workshops for over 10 years) being unfair to the process and a complete disregard for everything we know about creating successful, transformative brands. Essentially, not allowing time for research, perspectives, insight and fact-finding and so on.

In walked the designer friend who glanced over our shoulders heard our banter and dropped the lean bomb. No, it’s not a type of fart. He was referring to Lean Startup or Running Lean, books which talk about validating your idea and focusing on the customer or user.

Having customers become a part of your product development cycle and being cash-positive from day one can be a source of encouragement and learning real insights. These books champion a great idea which should be a part of your toolkit but at the same time, I wouldn’t get carried away.

If you knew anything about the art of talking to people in public or read any books on subjects related to influencing people or winning them etc. etc. they’d draw upon a similar landscape. Approach first, calibrate after. Make it about them and be genuinely interested. Assumptions and fears of how the other person may react before triggering a conversation is where shit goes down.

In all fairness, the founder just wanted a name. Sound familiar? But we just want a name right now… or we just want a logo or we just need a website with all the functions of Airbnb and Uber… and so on. Get the drift? It’s so easy to fall into this hole right of the gate when you’re trying to start a business or company.

And it comes from a simple place. We look at successful brands around us and see the cosmetics and connect those symbols with success. It’s what goes on behind the stage that makes them great. Ever imagined the hours Audi puts into perfecting the sound of a car door closing. Yea, exactly. To the untrained eye, the four circles are what the brand is but look closely and there’s engineering, people, logistics, design, art and so much more.

Have assumptions about your product and the customer? Well, what do we know about the aforementioned assumptions? In my terms, assumptions are when you speak out of your ass and assume the shit to be true. Looking like an ass for winging it has its own perks. Don’t judge, we’ve all been there. But we’re not here to debate the perks of assimilating naive fantasies. That’s a lot of ass right there.

Great brand and product strategy are based on real insights and understating of the customer/user needs, and not fucking assumptions. It’s where most of us fail. Focusing entirely on the cosmetics. This quickly turns into a conversation of lack of money, poor talent and immature market being the root cause of failure. This is when the client wants to make the logo bigger or the button more yellow.

It’s cause and effect.

Successful brands and products are not only different but relevant, credible and sustainable over time. Let me add here, that we should factor in what your objectives and goals are. Are you trying to scale an idea, find investors with an exit strategy or aim to be cash-positive from day one with intentions of running the company? Again, there’s no sure shot way to success but a school of thought you adopt. It’s the underlying pattern that helps manage and steer a project.

More on that in a future blog.

For now, let’s keep the focus on what you should do before anything else. Start with a great product and your customer. “Building 100 loyal customers who love you over 100000 who kind of like you,” is the most appropriate nugget some important person said that one time. Again, roll with me here on the analogy.

The name, logo and website, like the Lean Startup and Running Lean methodologies are tools to convey, engage, differentiate and drive your brand and not the lipstick on a gorilla.