Startups should think big and start small

Every so often, I meet an entrepreneur who has big ideas for their startup but who never seems to get anything done. It's a pattern that I see in smart people who haven't had experience building real world products.

"It's gonna be huge! Revolutionary is only the beginning of how you would describe it."

This is when they launch into their vision. And it is a grand vision, full of moving parts and exclamations. Their excitement is contagious.

A few months later, I'll have another chat with them only to discover that they're overwhelmed and nothing concrete has happened. The problem is that they're thinking big but failing to start small.

Repeat after me: big things start small!

If you try to tackle too much in the beginning, you'll get overwhelmed. Not only that, but you'll lose precious time optimizing your product with too little data. This is, after all, the main reason you should always start with a minimum viable product.

You need to be able to shift decisively from brainstorm mode into execution mode. It's fine to pontificate about the big world changing vision. But, at some point, you need to clear the cruft and make a beeline to launch, then iterate quickly with real customers.

People are always surprised that Parse was started with a simple landing page to gather user feedback. And, when we launched the beta, it was an iOS and Android SDK that let you save structured data. There weren't user accounts, social integration, or other features that we have now.

Our goal is to be the foundational platform for all mobile apps. However, we started off small, with a focus on the core of what was valuable. We iterated with our users to add everything that you see today. If we had built all the things in the beginning, we would not have had the benefit of the wisdom we gained each step of the way.

In essence: think big and start small. Make a concrete plan with small milestones that roll up into a grander vision. Without that, you risk never shipping at all.

Posted on 18 Nov 2012

James Yu is the co-founder of Parse, lives in San Francisco, and likes to accidentally the whole stack.