Stand on the shoulders of giants. That’s a motto that we live by at Digsy. Whenever we run into a problem, we first look to the pros to see how they’ve handled similar issues. Chances are, another company had the same issue, tested dozens of solutions, and chose the best one. Why should we spend our valuable time and resources going through that pain, when we can ride on someone else’s coattails, so to speak?

With that in mind, we read. A lot. There’s the usual suspects: books, articles, and blog posts. But Quora and podcasts (such as Justin Jackson’s excellent Product People) have also made it into our regular rotation. To celebrate the new year, I dove into our Slack archives, email threads and bookmarks to find the stories that we talked about the most.

2014 was a big year for Digsy. We officially launched Digsy in April, and have gone through a few cycles of iteration on the idea, finally stumbling on a model that works. Most importantly, we made the commitment at the end of the year to shut down our original product, BrokerRoster, in order to go all in on Digsy. 2015 will be an even bigger year for us.

We wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for startup thought-leaders sharing their thoughts and experiences for all the world to see. The following seven posts are those that struck a chord with us. These posts made us think about what we were doing, how we were approaching our product and how we could be a better company overall.

The Technology
Paul Buccheit

Paul Buccheit (creator of Gmail) spoke at Startup School Europe last year about applying the concepts of technology to our own minds to make us better entrepreneurs, creators and people. It inspired me (and the rest of the team) to find more ways to optimize the commercial real estate industry — both with and without technology.

“[S]tartups are more than just a clever way to make money. They are machines for harnessing the fire of human self-interest, creating a self-sustaining reaction capable of rapidly transforming the world.”

How To Establish a Culture of “Everyone Does Support”
Tim Wu

The concept of “everyone does support” is something that we’ve been working very hard to integrate into our company culture in recent months. We realized a few months ago that we were relying too heavily on one or two people to handle support. When they became overwhelmed or otherwise couldn’t handle a request, the entire support pipeline got clogged.

We realized we had a problem, and the solution was to have everyone on the team jump in on support. The initial goal was just to help the support staff out, but we quickly discovered a huge benefit: everyone on the team now had their fingers on the product’s pulse. We are now able to quickly uncover product problems, iterate on them and get immediate feedback.

Talking to customers is not a chore, nor is it somebody else’s problem.

Customer Development for Startups: What I Learned Talking to 500 Customers in 4 Weeks
Alex Turnbull

This post (also from Groove) relates to the previous post. We have been making concerted efforts to really understand our customers and their experiences with our product. Reading about things like what Alex at Groove (and many other founders) do to really systematize the process of talking to customers was inspiring.

Taking the time to talk to our customers… has changed our product, our business and the way we think.

No, Your Problem isn’t Product / Market Fit
Lincoln Murphy

This one was a bit controversial for us (which it was obviously meant to be), but it does beg the question: is our problem product/market fit? In our case, we do have issues with product/market fit, but we also have issues with marketing.

The problem isn’t ever as cut-and-dry as Lincoln tries to make it out to be. In my experience, the problems a startup has tend to toggle between product and marketing: you can find product/market fit in a narrow segment of the market, then scale up. Once you hit scale, your new market will have new product needs. And the cycle continues.

“When the founders of a failed company say they didn’t reach Product / Market Fit, it’s not generally to take the blame; rather, it’s to put the blame on that market that ‘just didn’t get it.’”

Real growth hacking is really about communication hacking
Vanessa Camones

“Growth hacking” is a bit of a loaded phrase here at Digsy. At least half the team feels like the term is thrown around without a well-defined meaning, which allows people to think there’s a button you can press to grow. In reality, the only true trigger for sustainable growth is to build a good product that people want to use and share with friends and colleagues.

Vanessa argues in this post that the true engine of growth is communication, both internal and external. Communicating about data allows companies to understand how users are behaving. Communicating with users allows companies to understand how they are feeling. In both cases, you gain valuable insights to make your product better.

No amount of growth hacking can help a poor product – and if it’s that bad, any ‘hacked’ growth will soon get undermined by people complaining about it in social media.”

Super successful companies
Sam Altman

This serves as a good checklist for a startup founder. While it’s obviously biased by Sam Altman’s personal and professional views, it’s definitely a good blueprint. We as founders can take a look at this list of traits, see what we excel at, and come up with a list of things to improve on.

This list can (and should) change on a daily basis, but introspection and self-examination are (in my opinion) critical to being a successful founder and leader.

Mediocre founders spend a lot of time talking about grand plans ; the best founders may be working on things that seem small but get them done extraordinarily quickly”

How Important is UX to Your Product’s Growth?
Sean Ellis

This post from Sean Ellis (Full Disclosure: Sean is an investor in Digsy) echoes themes we’ve already talked about: a great product is the best growth driver you have. Remember: a 1% decrease in churn is exactly the same as a 1% increase in conversion rate, and let’s be honest — you have a hell of a lot more control over your churn than your conversion rate.

“Tapping into your ideal market—those users who will engage with and love your product or service—is the key to authentic growth”

We’ve got a big year ahead of us

As you can see, most of what influenced us last year was focused on making our product better. Now that we feel really comfortable with our product direction, we are doubling-down on customer development.

With the foundation we laid last year, we’re planning some big things for 2015. Make sure to subscribe to get weekly insights as we grow.

What did you read that inspired you last year? Let us know in the comments section!

Written by Alex Bloore

Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Digsy. Husband to Ashly. Father to Odin and Leo. Spends his days empowering tenants searching for Commercial Real Estate, and spends his evenings enjoying his family, cooking and reading blogs and books of all types.