In anticipation of the 2013 Hacking Arts Hackathon, we asked Kim Gordon for some entrepreneurial advice. Gordon, an alumna of the MIT Sloan School of Management, is the CEO of Depict, a new startup venture bringing a rotating selection of cutting-edge artwork to digital screens in homes everywhere—think the iTunes of visual art. With Shambhavi Kadam, Gordon was the inaugural winner of the 2013 Creative Arts Competition, which recognizes the most innovative idea for a business with arts as a core component.
The people you choose to work with are the most important choice you will make. Finding the right people takes time and honest communication. Matthew Marx teaches a highly recommended class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management called “Dilemmas in Founding New Ventures” that goes into depth about how making good choices in early team building is critical to the survival and success of companies in their beginning stages. Choose team members who not only have the right skill sets but also share your values and vision for the overall mission. Taking the time to do this also makes work fun and exciting every day. The right team members move things forward and add energy to the culture.
2. Persistence and Vision
If you are starting a company, it is likely you have some vision of the future you want to make happen and believe needs to happen. This vision is the most important guidepost lighting your way forward. Focusing on it is critical. The first product idea, however, is not likely to be the thing you end up building. To get to the right product, or reaching what is called “product market fit,” you need to be persistent in pursuing your vision. But you will also need to be flexible in understanding the specific elements of what you will need to do in order to make that vision happen. This is usually an iterative and data-driven process.
3. Use Data and Keep Your Focus Sharp
It is going to take some time to figure out exactly what you should be building. I think of this process as the “data gathering” stage. You have an idea, you think your users will perceive it in a certain way, you make a hypothesis, and then you test it. When you test it, the rubber hits the road and you begin to figure out what exactly you need to make in order to delight users (read MIT Professor Bill Aulet’s book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup for an excellent road map to achieving product market fit). When the fit becomes clear, narrow down whatever key functionality is the most powerful to your users. Focus yourself and your team on that, and then knock it out of the park. Rinse and repeat.
We have benefited from having some amazing mentors. Mentors will help keep you on track, share incredibly useful knowledge, and keep you from making time-consuming mistakes. They will also help connect you to the right resources to accelerate your development.
5.”Keep the main thing the main thing”
Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, has this phrase written in his office. This can mean a lot of things but to me it means remembering why you are doing what you are doing — and keeping this purpose in mind a few times every day. This purpose is the shared meaning uniting everyone on the team towards building whatever it is that’s going to be an amazing new part of the world. Our product is 100% about art and bringing all of the inspiration and stimulation that art can generate into peoples’ lives in a way that is beautiful, simple, and accessible. Anything that does not add to that goal can be left behind.