Don’t Forget Common Sense

Smitty is both technical and goal driven. He’s an all-star products person. At today’s mentoring session, he kicked off with a talk to helped JFDI teams focus on two things: 1) create an emotional connection with customers, and 2) make hard decisions early on.

Be funny

Most startups were battling the online noise vs signal problem. Smitty stressed the importance of striking up a relationship early on with the customers—as soon as they signed up.

He referenced Derek Sivers’s “most successful emails” and drew on his own experience building product at, where they crafted quirky characters to engage users. He recalled, immediately after applying this approach, their emails were inciting reactions, both good and bad from users. This made their product memorable.

This approach created a dialogue. He was also religious about getting back to each customer on every feedback. Screening Twitter, Facebook, Google Play, review sites, he made a point to respond to everyone—especially the ones that bad-mouthed the product.

Online anonymity empowered users to exaggerate in order to get attention. Smitty recalled, most users employed harsh tones only to get attention, and he often won them over in follow up conversations.

Cut, and take responsibility

Smitty was very upfront with the founders about not “caring” too much about metrics—they were the means to an end. Rather, he paid painstaking attention to the goals the team wanted to achieve.

The goals for his product were, to have increased acquisition, activation, and engagement. Metrics around those were fairly straightforward, and he watched the numbers carefully, retroactively. He did not lead any products decision based solely on the numbers.

As a product person, he had to take responsibility and owned up to cutting features that were not contributing to these goals. Everything that wasn’t directly impacting those goals was superfluous, and he had to be honest with himself and his team.

This was a great point—sometimes we tended to over think decisions by drawing on too many evidences. Entrepreneurs, taken into the account of the risks, needed to trust their instincts and make best educated guesses.


In my interaction with Lean advocates, Kevin Dewalt, Justin Wilcox, Tristan Kromer, this topic came up occasionally.

There were a lot of emphasis on listening to customers and making informed and evident based decisions, but Kevin, Justin, and Tristan would all agree that pragmatism and entrepreneurial instinct should also not be discounted. I agreed. This was what differentiated entrepreneurs.

Smitty also warned the startup teams, “don’t forget common sense.” He blogs at


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