Photo by Pixaby from Pexels
Photo by Pixaby from Pexels

Building a Zero to One Product

Devesh Kumar

Devesh Kumar

Mon Jan 03 2022
5 Min Read

Having been part of so many early-stage startups, this post encompasses my experience of having been part of building 0 to 1 startups and the challenges and good parts that come with it.

I have been part of tech startups, so this post is going to focus on that mainly.

Everything Is Urgent

Unlike a bigger company, where there is a spread-out timeline for each feature that you work on and a lot of resources and people to assist you. Everything you do in a zero to one startup has to be done ASAP!

There are no timelines, it all depends on how much you can push it to release something as fast as possible, because chances are, in today's world, if you're working on a product, someone else out there with more resources than you is working on something very similar, and as a zero to one startup, the biggest advantage you can have is to release something faster than someone else.

Inferior products that are sticky tend to win over every other product that might have been better but was released much later.

This can be a good and a bad thing, good because of what I said above. And bad because faster doesn't always mean more efficient, there are going to be corners you'll have to cut to get something done. This will be discussed more in this post as we go on.

Your work is more important than ever

When you're working for a bigger company, your changes or the features you build will, most likely, not be a game-changer for the company, if it will be, you'll most likely not be working on it alone and then someone else will be in charge of the feature. In an early-stage product though, you'll be doing the bulk of the work and will inevitably be the person whom the company will rely on, call in sick one day and boom, the next day you have a backlog of almost 3 days worth of work.

Moreover, any changes you make to the product will be served to customers immediately since, at this point, there can't be quality assurance guys who will come and look for bugs or deficits in the quality of the product. So the work you put out and your confidence in it is going to be more important than ever in your life.

Scalability is a premium, not a given

Scalability is the ability of a product to accommodate more and more users as they come in. Bigger companies build their products from the ground up with scale in mind, given they already have a critical mass of users waiting for those products, as well as their reputation, would be on the line if they failed to deliver a polished product that works like butter.

However, in a zero to one product, scalability is a premium. You're not building for millions of users, you're building for hundreds or at max thousands of users. This is different from startups that have millions of customers on their waitlist even before their first version is launched because:

If you have to build a product for more than a thousand users, you're not building a zero to one product.

Startups that have millions of customers on their waitlist before their first release already have product-market fit, I.E: People willing to use their service. A zero to one startup doesn't have that luxury because it's still experimenting with what people are going to like and not like.

At this point, moving fast and building things that can accommodate the number of users you're targeting without bleeding you dry of cash (Which is very difficult to do for an early-stage startup in today's Cloud-based pay-as-you-go economy).

"Just get it to work for tomorrow!" is a thing

Being part of an early-stage product means you're constantly showing potential customers around the product, a product that might not necessarily be the finished version and might have lots of bugs. As a result, many times you'll be told to "Just get this to work for tomorrow's demo" and make the long-term fixes after that.

In a larger company, delays are expected and hence the demos are usually called off if the product isn't fully ready yet, not in your case because the moment you call off a demo, the people you were supposed to demo to won't come back later.

The first adopters shape your product the most

The people who use your product first are the ones that give the most valuable feedback, the whole point of your product's first iteration is to give users what they want (But not always, sometimes users themselves don't know what they want and hence we are in an economy of demand-creation). Listening to the feedback from the first ten users is a lot more important than listening to feedback from your thousandth user.

Work-Life Balance is Non-Existent

You'll quickly notice that maintaining a balance between your work and your life is pretty difficult, and at this stage of the company and the product, it is fairly expected, in fact, it's a litmus test for people who would not accept that you will be busy 25 hours a day since as mentioned before, speed is the biggest asset you have.

The experience is eye-opening and life-fulfilling

Working on a zero to one product opens up your mind to a lot of things. Because no 0 to 1 product is ever built with a firm and closed mind just following instructions, you have to constantly take inputs from all places and make the best decision for the product based on that.

And if the product does go big, or is even marginally successful, the experience itself can be life-fulfilling and something you can be proud of for life! And at the end of the day, that's essentially all that matters!