THE BLOG
09/09/2014 04:20 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2014

The Startup Education Gap

If if doesn't feel out of control, you're not going fast enough. You often hear that in the startup community. Fail faster. Just ship. Launch early and often. These are the watchwords of the DIY and maker movement that inform startup culture, and while I admire the enthusiasm they signify, there's something missing.

Eric Ries (The Lean Startup) and Ash Maurya (Running Lean) both influential startup authors, advocate a creative approach to business development with an emphasis on learning. You launch a early-stage product for what it teaches you. You do customer interviews for what those early adopters teach you. Money matters. Sales matter. But what you learn from those sales, or lack of sales, is what really matters most.

Successful learning drives successful adaptation. Successful startups change and pivot. Their most popular iteration may not resemble how they started out. What matters is that how they learned to change along the way.

All too often I look around the co-working space in Santa Monica where I am writing this and I see startup founders head down in coding. These are lean teams, usually just two people -- a public-face founder who pitches to investors, and a technical founder who codes. Sometimes, after a seed round of funding, they'll hire a UX (user experience) person, or an application developer to get them in the iTunes Store. They don't think much about getting deep feedback from customers or about building community around their startup in a way that tells the story of their startup. They're busy building, not busy deploying their culture.

I think they have it backwards.

Startups need to understand and deploy their culture first, because that's how their customers will understand them best. There's a good reason for this: products are easily commodified. They can be copied and sold at a lower price. When a product is successful, you will always get what are known as fast followers. In contrast, your culture is yours alone. It can never be duplicated, stolen, or made cheaper.

Deploy your culture and you are, in Seth Godin's phrase, in a category of one.

There aren't enough educational resources out there for startup founders, and I'm not just talking about the prestigious incubators and accelerators. I'm talking about portable, dynamic, online resources. The startup movement is worldwide, and not every startup founder has the access to those bigtime incubators. Intensive weekend workshops and user adoption hackathons are quick fixes that do not address the long-range issues. Startup founders need an action plan that unfolds over months, a plan that is as adaptable as their own learning curve, filled with abrupt turns, stops and starts. If they can afford to bring on a community manager, that person has to have a deeper approach than just sending out some tweets.

There are a few who are moving in the right direction. Ash Maurya has Spark59. Kevin Dewalt has launched a entrepreneural networking platform called Sohelpful. Tristan Kromer is a strong startup coach.

To address the need for startups to deploy their culture sooner than later, I've started a program focused on community building called Mo'popular.

Startup founders need educational resources that are accessible, and as agile, open and willing to change as they are.