Don't Build Too Much: Find What You're Best At and Double Down.

One startup's story of an evolving product that's now exciting users.

BY ELLIOTT HAUSER@hauspoor5.16.14
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Filed Under: NEWS: Startups

Elliott Hauser is the founder of trinket, a group of university and online educators building open teaching tools. trinket was winner of Triangle Startup Weekend - EDU in March 2013 and completed The Startup Factory accelerator in December 2013.

This is the in-progress story of our new embeddable Python Trinkets and how we realized that making our best technology more accessible for our users can be a way to turn our competition into allies.

Finding our core.

In taking our product to market, we've found that the cohesive vision we had of what it is and how it provides value has unbundled into several pieces. Our users did this for us—they find different value in each piece of what we've built. This has helped us identify the key areas where we beat the competition and figure out how to make those parts of our product more visible and more accessible. In particular, it's led us to break out our interactive technology and let our users embed it on competing platforms. By finding the core of what we're good at and making it as accessible as possible, we've turned our competition into unwitting distribution partners. And our users love it too. Thousands have used our embeddable Python Trinkets in just over a week.

You're building too much.

The Pareto principle predicts that 80% of the value your users get from your product comes from just 20% of the features. If this is true, that means you're building too much, especially in the early stages. Looking back, I can see that's definitely true for us. Like many startups we feel invigorated by hard problems. We set ourselves to the hard problem of building a lightweight and beautiful teaching platform, and trinket.io is ia better product that what else is out there. The interactive technology for teaching Python we built was comparatively simple: just putting together some open source javascript libraries. It seemed natural to build our marketing message around the most difficult part to get right: the teaching platform. So that's what we did in the beginning.

Play where you will win.

But, as one of our investors recently pointed out to us, we had pointed ourselves straight into the most competitive part of our market: teaching platforms. We placed ourselves between heavy duty learning management systems like Blackboard and lightweight but usable website makers like Weebly. The one thing that we offer that no one else does is easily customizable interactive Python. To get that value, users had to switch their entire teaching platform. When we released our embeddable Trinkets, the barrier to using our project suddenly got drastically lower. Subsequently our traffic, engagement, and coverage in social media has gone way up. We've seen our product start to be used in classrooms here and across the country. There's no substitute for finding the game your startup is best at and playing it.

Our core value and our company's mission.

Our startup has evolved over time. But our mission of more people teaching more often with free, open materials has not. Originally we built a platform for sharing and reuse. Then we refined that into a beautiful and lightweight teaching platform. And most recently we've let our users embed our interactive technology in any page on the web so they can teach wherever and however they like. At each stage our product was designed to acheive our mission and as we've refined our product we've learned more from our users on what the best way to do that is.

I hope this account of our evolving product vision was an interesting read and proves useful as you build your own businesses. Comments? Tweet at me and let's chat!

p.s. To give you a more hands-on idea of what our new technology is about (and pictured above), I've written a little Python love letter to our favorite local tech blog.



Please feel free to customize and share!

Companies We Mentioned In This Post

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