Michael and I both became our own bosses on January 11th when we started our own business. Being a boss has its ups and downs. Lots of responsibilities but also lots of freedom. I think there is one major pro and one major con to being your own boss, and they are the same thing.
You control your own destiny.
As hard and smart as you work will be as far as you go. There are other factors, and you will need a little luck, but most things are in your control.
You control your own destiny.
If you need some downtime (like a vacation), it will impact your job and output. Your livelihood is at stake and that can be a scary thing (which in turn might make you run yourself into the ground over-working yourself).
The best and worst thing about starting and running your own business (with no employees) is just the different side of the same coin.
It is common to call the monthly progress of a startup the heartbeat of your company. What this means is that every month you want that “beep boop” sound that continues to push your product/mission/vision forward.
Usually this consists of a combination of growth, new feature/product releases, press, and fundraising, some public and some private. For Michael and I at SocialRank, we are already working on some of the biggest features that brands have been asking for to release in the next few weeks.
Keeping that heartbeat drumming is paramount to your company and traction.
Anything you ever do publicly will lead people to give feedback, whether solicited or unsolicited. Feedback is great. It makes you better and stronger. But feedback can also slow you down and make you second guess everything you are doing.
I think there is a good balance of digesting feedback from a variety of people and trying to filter by the source of feedback. For example, there is a big difference between getting feedback from a paying customer and a friend or investor that thinks you should add X, Y, and Z.
There is a quote, I’m not sure from where, that goes something like ‘every startup founder should listen to everyone and no one at the same time.’ To me this means you should stick to your convictions about where to go with your business but listen to everyone and cherry-pick things you think will help it improve.
They say timing is everything. In the case of SocialRank, they are right.
Originally we planned to launch on February 11th. Looking back, this was unrealistic, but it was the original launch date of our product. Thank goodness we didn’t launch then because during that afternoon Klout was bought. Bullet number one dodged.
The second launch date was February 19th. We ended up pushing it as we got some feedback from brands (i.e. add individual and brand filters) and wanted to implement before launch. This is where we dodged bullet number two, because on the 19th Whatsapp was bought for almost $20B. That dominated the internet for a good few days.
I’m writing this piece before we launch on Tuesday (two days ago, when I post this) not to say something big won’t come out then, but because you can’t always control all the major things going on in the world. We didn’t push our launch for anything else besides the product not being ready for primetime.
Bottom line: Timing your launch is bull. You can’t control other factors out there. Launching your product when it is ready and continuing with improvements post launch is the best you can do.
We launched our product yesterday, so now I think it’s a good time to share some of Michael and my goals for SocialRank. We have two sides to the product: one is for individuals and the other is for brands. We have different goals for each side.
On the Individual level we have three goals:
1) Have people try the tool.
2) A good percentage to share the results of their best follower on Twitter (i.e. the viral mechanic we have in place - “want to see your Top 10?”).
3) Add enough value for people to come back once a month for their new report.
Putting this in perspective it means we won’t be upset or disappointed if individuals using the platform aren’t using the product every day (I would even argue, there is not much for them to use every day…yet).
On the Brand level we have four goals:
1 + 2) Same as Individuals
3) Have the brand get enough value from the basic version to upgrade to the premium version to see more.
4) For the brands using SocialRank to engage with and reward their best followers, most valuable followers, and most engaged followers.
This is a higher order than for individuals and we are excited about the challenge.
Writing this down and putting the information out there helps us stay focused and only do things that help reach these goals.
Today is a big day. Michael and I are ready to share SocialRank with the world. I wrote a post about the product and how we got here.
You need to start somewhere and I think we built a great initial foundation to build on.
You can try the tool here.
SXSW is fast approaching. Two weeks ago I put together my yearly SXSW document, filled with tips, parties, meetups, and more. If you want access feel free to email me (Ataub24@gmail.com). But this post is more about a few tips to make in Austin.
1) Phone charging is the biggest issue at the conference. Make sure you carry around a charger at all times. On top of that, you should consider making the investment in the Dark Energy Reservoir, the best portable charger on the market.
You can buy it at Grand St. here.
2) You don’t need a SXSW conference pass. If you want to go to the panels, sure you need a pass, but if you are going on a budget, RSVP’ing to the meetups, parties, and happy hours is more than enough. I’ve been going since 2010 and I only had a pass once. I also only used it once (to go to the Jay-Z concert two years ago).
3) Don’t use automated sign-up systems. The people that get signed up through these services usually get banned by the event runner. While it takes a few minutes of your time to sign up for everything (which you should), you at least will know what events are happening.
4) Go with the flow. RSVP for everything, but make decisions when you get there. Use Foursquare to see where friends are.
5) Hydrate, bring sneakers, and yes it rains in Texas.
See you in Austin!
Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/1l1WCka.
Let me know your thoughts!
I recently set out to read a bit more about building the best homepage possible. There is a lot of psychology and thought that goes into building the perfect homepage and I read a ton of posts. One particular article stuck out, called “The Minimal Homepage,” by Mattan Griffel, founder of One Month Rails.
Read the post, as it is worth the time. The concept is that for most websites the best solution is to have very little on the homepage but enough to show your value proposition and get the person to convert to whatever it is you want (usually a sign up). People think they need to explain to you every reason why their website/offering/service is the most amazing thing since sliced bread as the first thing on their homepage. But the truth is that your homepage should pique their interest enough that they give you their information to find out more.
Even if you are not about to launch a company, it is worthwhile to read the post.
Last week I met a founder of an up and coming company. She had raised a small round of funding and was considering going out for a series A (or big seed) soon. The problem was that every investor she spoke with wanted her to go down a different path for the company. The founder wasn’t sure what to do about balancing what her vision was versus what the people that were going to give her money wanted.
I think this happens often in the early-stage company-building phase. Founders go the route of taking investor money and the investors need to obviously like the product AND vision. The problem here though is that if you ask 100 potential investors where they think the business should go, you’ll get 100 different answers (and rightfully so). Your goal as a founder is to build a company for your users, members, and customers, not for investors.
With investors you need to be able to prove to them that the direction you plan to take your business is the right one (by using data and the like). You may be tempted to follow everything they suggest to a T, but never mix up building a company for investors with building a company the way your actual customers/users/clients want it.
I feel like every time I log onto LinkedIn things regress in terms of usability and capabilities. I’ve considered going for the premium version, but I don’t think anything I want to do on LinkedIn would need a premium account.
LinkedIn is different things for different people. Recruiters (and job seekers) are the big cash cow for LinkedIn. But business professionals also (try to) use LinkedIn as a contact book, and this has become almost unusable.
I use LinkedIn for two things:
1) Dig through my personal contacts
2) Look for people I want to get connected with
I have some hacks that work for the latter. But the former is a complete, utter mess. The old contacts view was better than what we have right now. I hate that it is very difficult to pull all my contacts in SF before going on a business trip there (figuratively, no planned trip right now).
So, LinkedIn, either fix contacts (happy to give feedback on how to do this) or someone please use LinkedIn’s API to build a better contact manager for LinkedIn.
Naming your company is important. How important? I’m not so sure yet. There are plenty of dumb sounding company names that do alright. I think it depends on how consumer facing your name/brand will be.
I don’t have much experience naming companies, but here is the Modern Mast naming story:
Michael and I were thinking about names for the product we were going to put out but couldn’t agree on it when we needed to send in our incorporating documents to our lawyers. So we decided to take our initials and throw it in one of those word jumblers to see what we could get. Our initials are MS and AT. We ended up seeing the word MAST. So first we were going to be Mast Inc, or Mast Computing. But both were taken as corporations. Then when we were looking through the Mast (sailing) wikipedia page we stumbled on the history of masts and specifically “modern masts.” Thus the name was born: Modern Mast.
Now MM is only the incorporating name and we will be revealing the product name in short time, but a few things about naming a company:
1) A two year old should be able to say your company’s name. If not you’ve failed at naming your company.
2) When talking to someone on the phone, if the person needs to ask you more than twice how to spell it, you’ve failed at naming your company.
3) If someone sees your company/product name they should be able to infer what the product will do (or at least say, “Oh I get it,” once you explain). If not, you’ve failed in naming your company.
4) Domains and public handles matter when picking a name. If you can’t get the domain, handle, or at least something close you will be making your job difficult but you haven’t failed in naming your company.
These are just some thoughts I have on the topic. They are by no means the rules. Please share your thoughts about naming your company below!
For the past three years I have been running a shared Google document that includes all the best tips, events and parties at SXSW. This year will be no different. We are one month away from SXSW and I have begun adding events as they come in.
So if you want to get access just email me at Ataub24@gmail.com, request access in the document, leave a comment here with your email or find me on a platform I live on.
A few things you can do to help make the document better:
1) Add events you know about or are running in Austin during SXSW.
2) Add your name and info on the third tab if you want people to know you are attending and how to reach you.
3) Invite your friends. If you don’t have access to invite others just drop me a note with their email address and I will do the honors.
See you in Austin!
One of the best things I learned over the past five years working in the startup world was how to think. Learning how to think can be the difference between being successful and failing at your company.
There are three things I keep in mind in regards to learning how to think:
1) Ask a lot of questions
Asking questions helps you think and make decisions with more information. Only ask questions you can’t find yourself (i.e. by doing a simple google search).
2) Think about potential problems and proactively try to solve them before they arise
This is a recurring aspect to keep in mind. The best startup people anticipate problems before they come up and problem-solve so that they never become major issues (or if they do, they have a solution in place). The way to train yourself to get good at this is to map out (either on paper or in your mind) all the results you can think of about a certain scenario. For example, if you are about to launch a new product, besides figuring out how to execute the basics of the launch you ALSO need to think about unexpected scenarios you might get yourself into and figure out solutions for them.
3) Thinking correctly helps you avoid wasting time
This last one is what I see from first time founders who spend way too much time on things that aren’t important. It could be anything from spending countless time on business cards to pitching investors (before you have a product). Learning how to think correctly helps you avoid the time-suck of various un-important things one does at a startup and gets you focused on the right things.
I’ve also spoken to a few people and here are the two things that stuck with me:
1) Don’t leave money on the table
Apparently the goal is to find a price that a customer “complains” about but still ends up purchasing. This means that you didn’t leave money on the table by underpricing your product (while I hear this, I don’t 100% agree and would rather give a customer 110% and delight them than price it at the point where they are upset but still purchase- but that’s me).
2) Pricing makes something valuable (as opposed to giving it away for free)
If you don’t charge for a product, there is a perception that your product is worthless. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. People find value in something that costs something.
Bottom line: Read the articles, talk to customers and figure out what the best price for your product or service is.