"I moved to Florence, Italy from my native California nearly 15 years ago. Over the years in Italy I worked as an actor and director in theater and film, as well as a software developer, as these were both things I am passionate about. While in Florence I was asked to come to Dublin as the co-founder of Birbl (community platform where people can get inspired and book quality activities for the best price). After about a year I left Birbl to join Temptster (online service that allows restaurants to offer spontaneous deals to customer through mobile app)."
UPDATED [26/4/2014]: And you have recently got a job offer from the Dollar Shave Club folks. How did you guys find each other and what are you working on?
"I've been living abroad for many years, so I had started to think about moving back to California in the next couple of years. I put some feelers out, mostly just to test the waters, and to my great surprise was immediately offered a position doing some fun things with Dollar Shave Club. I'm not one to spend a lot of time weighing options -- it looked like an interesting and exciting opportunity, and so I took a chance and said yes."
What did you have to consider before you made up your mind to put your own startup project on hold and move back to California to work for another startup?
"Temptster is not on hold at all! There is a big pivot going on, which is exhilarating to witness. We just won an award which brought in some funds, and look to see exciting things in the coming months.
Of course my personal involvement in the project won't be 150% as it's been for the last year -- but I'm happy to still be involved."
How does it feel to work with a highly successful startup such as Dollar Shave Club? What is the secret behind their success story?
"There is no secret behind the success of any company. When you offer a service that many people want, you'll be successful. The trick is to find your niche, and that's where 90% of startups fall down.
If you are having trouble getting traction in the user side, it's probably not got anything to do with your tech, your marketing or your business plan. You need to look at your product or service and honestly ascertain why it's not selling.
I think that most startups worry too much about the tech. Often that's also a safe place to be. As long as you're locked up in your incubator cubicle iterating on your Next Great Feature(tm), you don't have to really put your idea out into the world. That's a scary thing to do. People may think your idea sucks. So rather than risk that, it's safer to keep making the tech great, and you have the excuse that you're working -- except you're really just stalling.
Now that I've been here a few weeks and have had a chance to hear the tech history here, I can tell you it wasn't the tech that got them where they are! Nowadays the tech is fairly advanced -- but they started on Magento and were successful with that. The key is a great product or service. The great tech can come later."
By joining Dollar Shave Club you have moved from an early stage to a more mature startup environment. What's the difference and how do they do things differently or better? Any early learnings or observations you would like to share with other startups?
"The major benefit to being in a more mature startup is having the resources to hire good people. The team truly is the main ingredient for success in any endeavor, and having the funds to be able to attract smart, experience people is a major advantage.
It's exciting to participate in the development process in a company that has people with, in aggregate, literally decades of experience in companies big and small.
The biggest lesson for a small startup is just to reinforce the idea that to get to this stage you need to offer something compelling to users, and then have an able team that can remove any obstacles between your offering and your potential users.
I keep coming back to this, but it's the biggest issue I see with small startups -- at Dollar Shave Club we deploy updates all the time. Small, sometimes hardly noticeable, incremental improvements. And there is a lot of testing of assumptions, which is another major pitfall for inexperienced entrepreneurs. Nothing is taken for granted, everything gets A/B tested to see if the reality matches what the assumed behavior of users regarding a particular new feature may be."
In your opinion, what does it take to push your early stage startup to the next level? When do you think is the right time and what every early-stage entrepreneur should consider prior to this?
Nobody gets to choose when they go to the next level. You either do or don't get your traction, your funding, etc. The question is, how can I make the day I move forward happen faster?
The best strategy is launch, launch, launch. Get stuff in front of users, when they don't like it, ask them why, learn and grow. Get your ego out of the way, and always remember that if someone cares enough to give you negative feedback, at least they care! Cherish every user interaction, especially the ones you can learn from.
Your users are the true value of your company, so if you haven't got any -- well, you get the point. So focus on growing a user base first and foremost."
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
the freedom that being in a startup gives. You're not tied to legacy
code frameworks, as you're always starting with a blank page. And you
get to experiment with work patterns and organizational aspects as well
-- for instance, I rarely go to the office as I find I'm much more
productive at home, and I can work an extra hour or two in the same time
that most people commute to and from work."
You have been involved in a number of interesting online projects. Would you like to share them with our community?
"One project I think will be interesting here in Dublin isn't digital -- I'm writing a play about the startup scene -- it's a one-hour long monologue that I plan to perform this spring at selected incubator / accelerator programs in Dublin. You can check my Twitter feed @aaroncraig for updates on this one."
What role(s) do you have in your business?
"CTO and lead developer."
You seem to be proud of your web design skills. Would you be happy to share some of your web usability know-how and best practices with other startups?
"Keep it simple."
If you could go back in time what would you do differently as part of your entrepeneurial journey you did back at that time?
"Stop building stuff just because it sounds cool! Recently at Temptster we've been doing a lot more market research before actually writing code, and we're finding that we're avoiding a lot of work that would otherwise be wasted by not building anything people don't really want. You'd be surprised how useful Survey Monkey and a couple of days of gathering data can be."
Do you have favourite websites or mobile apps you would recommend to other entrepreneurs?
- Trello.com (web-based project management application)
- Google Apps for business is worth the 5 bucks per user
- Wordoid.com (tool that helps you find a catchy name for your new venture)
We at InspiredStartups.com admire your active engagement with online projects aimed at social good. Could you tell us more about these initiatives of yours?
"Currently my favorite extra-curricular project are the hackathons with Geekli.st (social network for developers and the tech community). We held one recently that saw nearly 2000 developers globally donate 96,000 man hours to various charity organization to build apps and web sites. That was awesome."
Finally, what are the 5 best recommendations you could give to any aspiring startup?
"Validate your idea before you start! Do a survey. Pitch to strangers (not friends, and not your MOTHER!). Be honest when analyzing the responses. If there's nothing there, maybe you need to tweak your idea, or pursue another one."
Follow Seth Godin blog.
Never do it for the money. If your exit strategy is "sell to X in Y years", drop it and do something you do because you love it.
Don't get bogged down in business plans, term sheets, logo design, naming your product, etc. Validate, Validate, Validate. By this I mean:
1. Pitch to strangers at the next startup event or two. Try to pitch your idea to 50 or so people.
2. IF the response is overwhelmingly positive, make a Survey Monkey survey (here's a survey I'm doing for a startup idea I had for a rehearsal organizer tool). Make sure you put a question in there about your revenue stream!
3. IF the response is overwhelmingly positive, get someone on Fiverr to do a quick logo and start building a community -- you can always change the logo later when you have money. Pick a name on Wordoid and make sure the Twitter account and Facebook page are available for the name and then register your site.
4. Link your domain to KickoffLabs or LaunchRock or whatever and start collecting email addresses for when you launch.
5. Only when you have validated everything and got some likes and followers and people signing up for a pre-alpha release should you think about writing code -- also, much easier to get funding when you already have 5000 followers :)
Where can our startup community find you online?
Website: aaroncraig.com or about.me/aaron.craig
Twitter: @aaroncraig or @temptster
Finally, 3 keywords to describe yourself?
"Passionate about life."
Thank you Aaron for sharing your valuable startup experience with our startup community - let's keep in touch!