Why Startups Should Start Small (And Think Big)

in Perspective by

According to a study, nine out of ten startups are doomed to fail. These startups didn’t have the chance to work out what I’ve had seven years to learn firsthand: build the smallest thing, release it fast, and keep doing it in the right order.

When Theis Søndergaard and I founded Vivino in 2010, we weren’t sommeliers, vintners or oenophiles. In fact, I struggled with going to the store and picking out a decent bottle of wine. That personal frustration combined with the increasing popularity of crowd-sourced reviews – which worked remarkably well for the movie, book and music industries – were the inspiration for Vivino.

Vivino is becoming the world’s largest online wine marketplace, powered by a community of 26 million wine drinkers who use the Vivino app to scan and rate more than 500,000 wines every single day.

My strategy with Vivino has always been, “Build the smallest thing, release it fast, and keep doing it in the right order.” Many companies pour their time and money into fine-tuning a product when it’s actually best to give the product a fast and dirty launch and react to the consumer response.

Build the Smallest Possible Thing

Reid Hoffman says it really well:”If You’re Not Embarrassed By The First Version Of Your Product, You’ve Launched Too Late.” The first version of Vivino cost $300 to build. At the time, we weren’t looking to launch the world’s largest online wine marketplace or most downloaded wine app. All we wanted was to untangle the world of wine for people like us, who couldn’t tell a good wine from a bad one just by looking at the label.

It didn’t have to be the next big thing. It didn’t have to make waves. It just had to work.

Even startup giants like Airbnb started out very differently. In 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia designed a simple website called “AirBed And Breakfast.” Their aim was to produce a quick and easy site that would help them afford rent on their San Francisco loft, and refine it as needed. The first three users of what would become Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodations provider, paid $80 each for a home-cooked breakfast and an airbed on the floor of Chesky and Gebbia’s loft. We all know what happened next.

Release It Fast

Although it’s easy to fixate on launching a perfect product from the start, in my opinion, this isn’t the most effective approach. The cost of building a polished, well-designed product is grossly underestimated. It is an expensive and unwise strategy to adopt before you know if it is a product people want, also known as getting the product/market fit. It makes more sense to release a product quickly – rough edges and all – then gauge consumer interest and allow your community to guide product growth.

We uploaded Vivino 1.0 to the App Store without a lot of fanfare. By listening to consumer comments and suggestions, we were able to design features and functions that our community genuinely needed and were prepared to use. This process saved us a great deal of time, money and heartache, and ensured the Vivino user experience was as straightforward and positive as possible.

Remember, a premium, polished product isn’t guaranteed success. Juicero learned this valuable lesson shortly after they released the world’s first at-home, cold-press juicer. The company received $120 million in investments to create and launch their product, only to discover that there wasn’t an audience for it. Consumers liked Juicero’s cold-pressed juice bags, but didn’t need the $400 Wi-Fi connected “Juicero Press.” Why spend $400 when the juice could be squeezed out by hand?

Start small. Release fast. Make sure there’s an audience and an interest in your product before you break the bank.

Keep Doing It in the Right Order

Once you’ve built the smallest thing and released it, where do you go from there? What’s your next move?

Consumer feedback is an invaluable asset for any startup. Over time you’ll acquire a certain level of knowledge and become an expert in your own right, but you need your community to get there. Once you engage consumers and involve them in an open dialogue, it’s important to keep that line of communication clear.

Feedback needs to be unbiased. Your friends are great and they love you. But because of that, they won’t give you candid feedback about your product. Releasing it to the public results in feedback that is much more reflective of what users really want, experience and think. When it comes right down to it, people will only use products – in our case, an app – they truly believe will enhance their lives.

When we started to build the product in a small way in 2010, we always had a vision for what 2020 would look like – and that’s big. In the next few years, Vivino will be the marketplace where people spend billions of dollars on wine. So again, start small and think big.

There’s no secret formula for startups. Everyone is bound to make mistakes. Everyone fields their share of complaints. Everyone heard the word “no” from investors, advisers, employees and friends alike. I have yet to come across a company that perfected it on the first try so when those obstacles arise and doubt creeps in, remember: all you need to do is build the smallest thing, release it fast, and keep doing it in the right order.

This article was originally published here.

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Heini Zachariassen is the founder and CEO of Vivino, which provides users with any wine's rating, review and average price. Vivino is also the world’s largest wine community, claiming more than 15 Mn users. Zachariassen continues to drive Vivino’s global expansion, via users now in 227 countries and on every continent around the world. Having co-founded several startups, including antivirus software company BullGuard, Zachariassen has a varied background in software development and mobile innovation and a track record for building successful global businesses. He leads the team from Vivino’s headquarters in San Francisco.