9 Startup Lessons from Isaac Lidsky’s TEDTalk

Even after creating award-winning apps featured in Apple App Store, Oursky’s team still faces the same startup hurdles every time we create a new in-house product. In addition to our many client projects, Oursky has developed in-house products such Shotbot and MakeappIcon. Upon reflection, we realised that many of the ups and downs we faced could be addressed by Isaac Lidsky’s TEDTalk about facing your fears: “What reality are you creating for yourself?”  Here are some of our startup reflections based on his advice.

isaac lidsky tedtalk
At age 14, Isaac Lidsky was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a disease leads to sight loss and blindness.

The right type of stickler can take products further. Even though Oursky’s grown from 4 people to a team of 40 distributed in 3 countries, our founders still code and remain hands on with projects. Technical blog posts are checked by Rick, one of our co-founders. Ben, another co-founder, used to check every line of code for products until the company reached 10 people. Frank, our lead designer, “does not give client ugly things” and checks mockups, style guides, business cards and related design blog posts. Accountability means that everything relevant, no matter how small, can be checked. It also means that whoever is checking is also willing to help with improvements.

isaac lidsky tedtalk
In 1999, Lidsky co-founded an internet advertising startup.

Oursky has its share of failures and successes. Products we failed to monetize include Filesq (a collaborative prototyping tool) and right alongside hit products such as Shotbot and MakeappIcon. Nine years after Oursky developed PandaForm, we’re still venturing into new projects every day.

isaac lidsky tedtalk

Assumptions are essential to a startup. Developing a product requires humility. At Oursky, our side projects usually solve our company’s internal problems, so it’s easy to think that other people share similar issues. Often people do, but we can’t assume they solve a problem (say, retaining customers using automated e-mails) in the same way we do. To test our assumptions, we use the Lean Startup method of building based on a hypothesis, measuring, learning, and iterating.

isaac lidsky tedtalk
The company, eventually renamed , was acquired in 2015 for $230 million.
Oursky’s strengths include a passion for code, attention to quality, strong company culture. In addition to building B2C products for our clients, we tend to focus on in-house products that solve our own development problems. Our knowledge of our own pain points keeps us motivated to develop something internally useful, so that we’re not entirely dependent on how publicly successful the product is. Of course, we want to monetise our products since we’ve invested time into them, but for products like Gitlo or the reusable iOS script for Travis CI we’re happy to use these tools internally.

isaac lidsky tedtalk
Lidsky left the first company he founded after 2 years to attend Harvard Law School.

Everything is urgent and nothing goes fast enough. Every campaign could be done better; every marketing initiative could be redone. Focusing energy on filling in the gaps rather than just pointing them out is the key to the startup marathon.

isaac lidsky tedtalk
In 2011 Lidsky partnered with Zac Merriman to acquire Orlando Decorative Concrete, Inc. and created ODC Construction, LLC

Successful companies work for years before they become overnight successes. If you believe in your product, you will work hard to sell it and treat every rejection as a learning opportunity. That includes using channels such as cold calls, cold e-mails, referrals, events, and trying whatever else may work for you. Oursky’s growth team tracks open rates for emails and conversions for every channel. The numbers will almost always start slow, but they will grow with the right, systematic approaches.

isaac lidsky tedtalk
In 2011, the company was losing money. By 2015, the company made more than $80 million in revenue.

Oursky’s strength has also created a weakness: the company’s design and development strength has meant that we attract clients and always need more developers. As a result, our business development and community development teams haven’t grown as fast as we’d like. Currently, the lean teams are experimenting with engagement channels with the tech community now and develop a web presence.

isaac lidsky tedtalk

One of the things we enjoyed most about Isaac’s talk was that he reminded us that we are the creators of our own reality. We’re a medium-sized development agency that continues to build products that we love. Skygear, a secure serverless Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) is the company’s largest undertaking yet. Building the product with a lean team and holding ourselves accountable to conversion targets is extremely stressful. It’s easy to say we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, but we need to remind ourselves that our ambitions got us here in the first place. Looking around our open-office, we’ve assembled a great team to take on the challenge.

isaac lidsky tedtalk
Isaac Lidsky is the only blind person serving as a Law Clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court at the time of writing.

Skygear already had clients even before a Beta launch. However, the gap between our early adopters who got the product instantly and the general public is big. While we still have a long way to go to secure market validation, we’re taking ownership of our learnings and iterations. Oursky is in this for the long-haul, and even though it is a grind, we’re looking forward to serving the developer community that we’re a part of.

Are you also caught in startup no-man’s land and still trying to build your user base? Check out Isaac Lidsky’s original TEDTalk and keep going!

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Jane C

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