Sebastian RobertsProduct Marketing & Brand Development Strategy

Specialize in strategic positioning of young and small companies. Focused on authentic positioning articulated through product marketing, brand development, and cultural alignment.

Co-founder of B2B2C startup Tip Network and ecommerce startup Vicinity Commerce. Advisor to several venture funded and bootstrapped startups. Brand and growth strategy consultant to advertising and software development agencies.

Recent Answers

I've been through this several times with my startups. In fact, you should expect to make this choice over and over again as you build this company.

The truth is, the decision is already made for you. Either your hypothesis about the market failed to prove valid, OR the experiment you designed to validate the hypothesis failed. Either way, you can't continue "the product" in its current form.

The real choice in front of you involves three dimensions: 1) market, 2) funding, and 3) intellectual capital.

1) Do you still believe there is a latent market need involving the mechanisms you listed (food discovery, restaurants, consumers)?

2) Can you afford to keep trying (and do you have the runway to get far enough to prove the market well enough to raise more money)? Put another way, can you afford to go long enough to prove your point AND get investment to scale if you do prove it?

3) Do you have the intellectual capital on your team to start over with a new solution (MVP) and a proper market test? Can you come up with a stronger solution?

If the answer to ANY of these is 'no', then stop.
If the answer to ALL THREE is yes, then keep going.

It's really that simple. Make this decision today. You shouldn't waste any more time.

Oh, and one last point. Don't beat yourself up about this either way. Sometimes these small failures are an essential precondition for innovation. In the future, try to build as little as possible to prove your point (sometimes you can get away with building nothing but a deck or a low fidelity prototype). Then the go/no-go decision doesn't seem so weighty.

Good luck.

As a non-technical product manager who has wrestled with this exact question, I think I can add value to this conversation. Given the answers from other folks, I'll only comment on the aspects of your question that haven't been covered.

Namely, YES, you should pick up basic programming skills if you can spare the time to do so. It will help you in a number of ways, including the ones you alluded to. The more conversant you can be, the fewer instances where you will be confused in meetings with customers (where gathering requirements can get technical). Also, by being more technically competent, you'll spend less energy and time getting explanations and summaries from your tech guys.

You don't need to be a programmer to manage a technical team, especially if you are a competent product manager, who understands the user and business side of the product and roadmap. It's best to ensure you have a solid relationship and good communication with your technical people, especially your technical co-founder.

So, for the most part, learning some code will help YOU a lot. But in terms of management, you wouldn't need to know programming to lead unless your communication/relationships are not as healthy as they should be. Then it can help you cut through some obfuscation behaviors that sometimes come up when business and tech don't work in concert as well as they could.

Final point: learning some programming skills requires time. So does running a startup. It's challenging to do both without sacrificing the quality of your learning, or the outcomes of your efforts. In my opinion, setting aside time for this is only worth it if you have no other options. It seems like you have a technical cofounder that will help you. From a resource standpoint, that is far more effective and less disruptive than learning to code.

I've done fundraising for two of my own startups, and advised 4 others. The only answer to this question is "now."

As soon as you think you have product market fit, you should be getting in touch with seed investors. It takes time for these relationships to develop; and in the startup world, time is always running out. Your pitch may fluctuate and adjust while you're out there shaking hands and building presentations. But don't let that uncertainty stop you from meeting people.

You may be tempted to try and perfect your pitch before you start talking to potential investors. But nothing polishes a pitch like repeated failure and feedback. So I'd recommend starting the process as soon as you have a firm enough concept to describe it in a meaningful way.

Also, it's important to distinguish the start of a funding "campaign" and the beginning of a "round." Meeting with investors (the campaign) should be continuous activity until you exit. Once you secure your seed round, you immediately go into series A mode, and so on. The reason being that each funding round has longer and longer lead times. Each relationship gets more and more difficult to obtain.

Actually issuing shares or convertible debt (the round) should , in most cases, begin only when you have lined up more investors that have said yes than you need to complete the round. Put another way, start collecting checks when you have more commitments to than you need to reach your funding goal. That way, you can use your momentum of receiving funds to motivate investors that are on the fence.

The best case scenario is that you oversubscribe your round.

But the moral of the story is starting campaigning for investors yesterday. It always takes longer than you want. So the sooner you start, the sooner you get funded.

I have been there, and felt that doubt many times. It's an important emotion that you have to sort through before you take the leap.

Based on your description, I suspect that your hesitation is well-founded. Risk is not for everyone. Trust me when I tell you that the level of risk you feel now is minuscule compared to what you'll experience after you've invested your time and money into an idea.

It's not really about "growing a pair." It's about being mature enough to assess the business concept objectively. Everyone has "great ideas" for X or Y new product, app, service, etc. True entrepreneurs learn to discern the difference between a good idea and a viable business.

To do this, and be successful, you have to KNOW it will work. In my experience, and through the experience of my more accomplished peers, I can tell you that we all have ideas. But when that one special one comes along, it haunts you day and night. You just KNOW it.

I'd say, when you feel like that, pull the trigger. Until then, consider working for another startup to learn as much as you can about how to wade through it, and more important, how NOT to go about it. Also, consider taking your idea to an incubator mixer party and run it by a few people to help validate it.

When you feel that KNOWING, and you have the confidence that comes from having seen some of the ins and outs of startups, your balls will be plenty big enough to execute.

Good luck,


~Feel free to set up a call with me if you want to hear about how I got through this with my startup last year.

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