If you are open minded, I theorise you can learn something valuable from everyone you meet.
Startups are hard but fortunately there are a lot of people working on them so sooner or later, you’re bound to find a founder that you look up to. Maybe even two, or three founders that in your eyes seem to have it all under control.
This person, for me, is a certain Lewis of DIY Machines. Lewis is my startup hero, at the moment, and I’m going to tell you why. Hopefully we’ll both learn something.
DIY Machines is a YouTube channel. Lewis makes machines using a 3D printer and low-cost electronic components which he turns into instructional videos you can follow at home. For example, this CNC drawing machine.
The channel is run as a business and is Lewis’ full time occupation. Although it is not your typical software startup, I believe the business fits the definition of a startup because it creates a unique product and is doing so in an scalable way.
Lewis has been working on the channel for nearly three years. If you look at the early videos you can see it’s come a long way. Which brings me to the first quality:
Startups have an uncanny ability to create value out of thin air. They take the tiniest piece of an idea and in ten short years exit for few bill.
Key to any of this is just starting and Lewis continually does this. Because he makes different projects, each one requires you to start fresh on a new idea every month or so. Each time he ‘just starts’.
No matter how basic or rudimentary version 1 is, he knocks something up to start to see the shape of it.
Sure, there are notes and diagrams but by the end of day 1 there is always something to look at.
This is a very fine quality in my opinion. In startup land, the mindset to just start shipping something, however imperfect it may be, is absolutely critical to start getting immediate feedback.
Perfection is the enemy of progress.
The next quality you need after starting is the tenacity to keep going.
There are of course bad days when the bar robot emptied lemonade all over the carpet or the Alexa curtain opener pulled the curtain pole off the wall but he kept going.
There are always so many problems to engineer your way around and it all takes time. The key strength is to not give up to easily, well, it’s to not give up at all actually.
There are a thousand ways Lewis could earn an honest crust other than working on his startup but he continues to persevere with a clear goal in mind.
In the age of knowledge we can skill up incredibly quickly if needed. Knowledge is now pretty much on demand, however, this is distinct from proactive self improvement.
Obtaining a specific skill to solve a specific problem has its benefits but improving overall knowledge of a subject gives a greater understanding.
I was surprised by Lewis’ drive to set aside time to learn more about things I thought he was already an expert in. There is always something new to learn and a deeper understanding helps spark new ideas and solve problems faster.
It’s an investment worth making and a smart insight to have upfront.
Similarly, Lewis strives for quality in his work at every turn. While perfection is the enemy of progress, quality if the queen of longterm success.
If something can be better in a sensible time frame, he makes it so. He constantly questions the way things are and asks if they could be better in some way.
This quality isn’t publicised but it is present in everything he does and he will not compromise on it or take a shortcut. Shortcuts always come back to haunt you.
For example, the 3d printing timelapses in Lewis’ videos started out jittery and low-res. They were slow to make and labour intensive. Today, the slick operation knocks out timelapses automatically in high definition.
Overall the quality of the project video increased and people noticed. Attention to detail and striving for the best sets you apart.
Right from the outset, the channel had a clear idea of its target audience. Today, the analytics show a 95% male audience aged between 20 and 45 with interests in 3d printing and electronics.
It’s hard to overstate just how brilliantly specific this is. Advertisers are paying well (and I mean seriously well) over the average for access to this laser-focussed audience.
DIY Machines has maintained a steady course creating content for this specific niche. It does this one thing and it does it well.
The audience (also in this case the customer) is everything. Ignore them at your peril. Lewis spends time each day listening to what they have to say via comment streams and emails.
When they have questions, he answers them in an FAQ. When they spot problems, he fixes them. When they don’t understand something, he goes back and tweaks the write up to make it clearer.
He is humble and takes in audience feedback, processes it and implements the learnings into the next project.
The internet has trolls but it also has superfans. Occassionally someone reaches out asking for help, they are polite and ask intelligent questions.
Lewis spends a lot of time helping these people one at a time. They are superfans. On his wall above his desk there are photographs of students that made Lewis’ project for science fairs. There are the father and son that built the Shelf Clock together during lockdown and those that are new to 3d printing reaching out for a helping hand.
Lewis is kind and generous with his time. In return, the superfans promote Lewis’ product (the channel) in their own community.
There is a lot of data to pour through when you run a monetised YouTube channel. So much data in fact you could easily get lost down a rabit hole of naval gazing.
Lewis seems to have the ability to do the right analysis at the right times without getting bogged down in the data and over-optimising.
He measures his key metrics at set intervals so he can clearly see the results of his actions through a given month. It’s simple when you say it out loud but when you can’t see the wood for the trees in a sea of data, it’s really important to identify the key knowledge you need to obtain and work from that.
Every project video Lewis makes is like a mini-startup. He looks for popular topics in the 3d printing electronics niche, finds existing project videos, figures out what’s wrong with them and fixes that.
Sounds just like a startup to me. He does it consistently and with great results. Take the CNC drawing machine example. Plenty of people have come up with ways to fashion them out of bits of cardboard and milk bottle tops with varying degrees of ‘success’ and ‘creative editing’ that clearly hides the imperfections.
Lewis takes the concept, figures out how to add way more value and builds it. It’s a recipe for success.
I know it’s not your typical startup and I’m not sure Lewis would even call what he does a startup as such but the lessons described are just so perfectly relevant to startup companies.
Lewis is my startup hero because he doesn’t even realise he’s being a startup, yet he’s delivering outstandingly well on these principles.
Who are your start up heroes and why?