3 Business Ideas: Experiment Often, Carefully, and Singly

by Jill Foster on December 2, 2009

Experiments with Water

I started CareerCup to solve one part of software engineering interviews: preparation. Candidates who are interviewing with Microsoft, Google, Amazon, or other companies are historically under-prepared and consequently struggle to get hired. This hurts not only the candidates, but companies as well who can’t distinguish between bad candidates and poorly prepared candidates.

After launching CareerCup’s first (revenue generating) product in 2008, I spent the past year improving its products and services. In doing so, I’ve learned the following insights:

1. Be careful about your time is spent.
We all want to believe that we’re the best at anything, but sometimes we’re not. And, even if we are, not all jobs are worth our time. I recognize more and more that the old saying “if you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself” just isn’t true.

I now have some fantastic people working for me in the Philippines, India and in the US to write, manage customer support, and do development. With their help, I’ve managed to finish a technical interviewing book, software engineering interview video, and a technical recruiting service. I couldn’t do it without them!

2. Experiment often, carefully, and singly.

Image Experiments with Water by HPK, Creative Commons.

While I fully encourage people to research ideas thoroughly, research is only going to sell you so much. Sometimes, you just have to make the leap and experiment with an idea. Experiment often.

That said, look closely at how you’re judging the results of an experiment. Are you looking at revenue, or conversions? Depending on your approach to sales, this could be a big difference. Experiment carefully.

When experimenting, only run one experiment at a time. Yes, yes, I know you have a million ideas and you want to dive into all at once, but patience here will pay off. If you run three experiments at once, how will you ever know which one made the difference, and how much? Experiment singly.

And, if you want to be super advanced, look into standard error. A little bit of a statistics can help you understand what’s random and what’s real.

3. Be organized.

I feel like entrepreneurs are inherently disorganized – we’re always in such a rush to jump into things that we can get overwhelmed.

A bit of organization can reduce your stress by clearly outlining what you have to do. It gets rid of the nagging “Oh my god I have so much to do” feeling and lets you react properly. Maybe you’ll realize that you don’t have quite as much work as you thought, or maybe you’ll realize that you simply have to reassign some of the work.

Either way, you’ll feel better.

I maintain a to-do list with what I have to do (I use Remember The Milk, or whatever works for you). For paperwork, little details, filing expenses and such, I let the “forward” button handle that (that is, I forward things to my assistants to handle). And, I try to respond to emails instantly – you’ll have to do it eventually anyway, so the sooner you get it out of the way, the less time for which it’ll be hanging over your head.

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Guest contributor Gayle Laakmann is an entrepreneur and engineer who has previously worked for Google, Microsoft and Apple. She is founder and CEO of CareerCup, which offers services to help candidates prepare for technical interviews with preparation tools. And she’s currently a Wharton MBA student and an advisor, plus former VP of Engineering, to EmptySpaceAds which creates a tool enabling websites to monetize their empty space. Gayle can be reached at her blog http://www.technologywoman.com or http://twitter.com/techwoman.

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