Staying Scrappy: Part 2
Building a culture of scrappiness
In my last post, Staying Scrappy, I discussed a recent talk I gave for Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series. The full talk is available here, but I wanted to share the insights in more depth in today’s post.
In Staying Scrappy, we explored the idea of scrappiness: the ability of entrepreneurs, founders, and teams to turn setbacks into learning opportunities and use experimentation to achieve a product-market fit. I also described what I like to call “The Four Horsemen of Anti-Scrappiness”: process, vetoes, institutional memory, and failure.
But one of the biggest benefits of scrappiness comes when organizations can employ it at scale, implementing it as a part of their culture and values and rewarding experimentation instead of punishing failure. This can be what sets successful companies apart from unsuccessful ones, and when done well, it can lead to great products.
So, how can leaders develop a culture of scrappiness, and what does this look like in practice?
1. Fall in Love with the Problem
When building products, many teams and organizations approach things the wrong way. They arrive at the solution—say, an idea for a product that they really want to see built—before they’ve explored the problem they want to solve. (At Facebook, a team once pitched a product to help people meet up for Saturday brunch, the definition of a solution without a problem. You can read more about it in my article, Extrapolating from a Data Set of One or Fewer.)
The thing is, products don’t succeed just because they exist. They succeed because they solve a real-world problem for users.
A question I love asking is, “What is the why?” Why do you want to build this product? I’ll give you a hint: the answer is not to make money! When building a product, it’s critical to start by asking what problem you want to solve. This seems straightforward, but it can be easy to get tripped up, especially if you’ve identified a problem you want to solve, but you haven’t found a solution yet.
That’s why a key part of fostering a culture of scrappiness is learning to embrace the problem itself. That means falling in love with the process of trying out solutions, even if you haven’t found the perfect one yet. This is what encourages teams to continue to explore and try new things, using the problem as their guide.
It took me five years after I first pitched the idea of Facebook Marketplace before we got the green light to actually start working on the product, and it was far from smooth sailing. (When we first went live, we were even the subject of a New York Times headline: Facebook Marketplace Goes Wrong: Sex, Guns and Baby Hedgehogs.) We struggled for years to find the right product-market fit, but we kept our heads down.
I was one of the few moms at Facebook at the time, and I had seen firsthand how various mom groups were already using the platform to buy and sell no-longer-needed items. I understood that there were sellers and buyers already on Facebook, but that they lived in local groups that were hard to find. There had to be a way to connect them to one another at scale. Even though we couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong, we were convinced that this was a problem we could solve, so we continued iterating—not just for weeks, but for nearly two years—until we started to scale.
This is scrappiness in action, and so much of it comes down to recognizing the problem you want to solve and testing things until you get it right.
2. Learning to Learn
A learning mindset is a key component of scrappiness: the willingness of teams, companies, and individuals to be wrong—sometimes a lot—and to use those failures as a chance to gain new, useful information. But building a learning mindset at an organizational level means building an organization that wants to learn.
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