The absolute worst thing you can do as a founder or as a member of a startup’s management team is think you can do everything. Unless a founder and their team have relentless focus on doing one thing really well they will not get enough traction to be successful.
How does a founder or the management team go down this path of trying to do too many things?
Well, it is usually a mix of a few things but all stem from the ‘shiny things disease’. This is the theory around distractions that arise at startups that take away your focus on what’s important (i.e. a big cool splashy name company reaches out because they want to do something with you but it will make you spend the next two months building custom features and delay your big new product that will bring on 10x usage/users).
Maybe you tell yourself and your team that you don’t want to bet all your money on one horse or put your eggs in one basket. You rationalize that putting pieces of your team on a bunch of things rather than everyone on one thing will let you have more to show at the next board meeting or when raising your next fundraising you’ll be able to show multiple use cases.
But this mindset will sink you because you don’t have infinite developer resources or personnel to devote to focusing on multiple initiatives AND do them well.
So how do you avoid the feeling that you can do everything?
Focus on one thing and do that one thing really well! The good part of the “worst thing you can do as a founder” is that it is usually easily fixable. It might not feel good to cut off companies/partners/features to focus on one thing but it is very necessary.
At Aviary, Avi the founder became the king of focusing on one thing. But he (and the company) didn’t start off that way. When I joined Aviary they had a suite of web-based editing tools and a website called Worth1000 (for photoshop contests). The tools were great but they weren’t in-line with the future of mobile and on-the-go, lightweight tools (i.e. the suite was flash based and web only). Long story short, Avi (and the board) made the executive decision to focus on one thing and do it well. The team rallied around building a light-weight photo editing API for web and mobile and the suite of tools and photoshop contest website became secondary products. As the API began to gain traction the team slowly shut down the other products (even with a ton of users and usage). Flash-forward to this year and Worth1000 was sold off, Aviary heavy tools are, I believe, being worked on by a different team and Aviary the company and API have 75 million MAUs.
So as you can clearly see, it is very possible to right the ship even if you first struggle with the worst thing you can do as a founder.
Everyone wants help. But not everyone knows how to get it.
I think most people in the world want to be helpful to others. The problem is that it is always easier to be unhelpful than helpful. This is why it’s important to figure out exactly how to make helping you the easiest thing possible for the other person.
This means if you are looking for an introduction to a potential partner, investor, or something else you need to give that person an easy forward-able email so they can get the green light from the person you want to be connected with.
The same goes with helping you get a job, networking in a new industry, or anything else that involves getting people to help you. Spell out every step for the other side to make it as easy as clicking a button to help.
Cut out all the barriers that would hinder someone from helping you and you’ll be surprised how many people respond positively to requests for help.
h/t to Nicola (an email thread with her inspired this post)
Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/1eaFjL9.
Let me know your thoughts!
It is very hard to build a successful satellite office. While technology is getting better there are still tons of internet/bandwidth problems when it comes to communicating with multiple offices (i.e. Skype, hangouts are delayed or buggy). I’ve run a satellite office for two companies now and while I definitely got better as time went on, it was still very hard to move at startup speed when decision makers are all across the country or world. If you do need to have a satellite office, here a few tips to make it work.
Tip #1 Over-communicate
One of the things I didn’t do that well when I was the only employee in the US for Media/And and made sure to improve when I joined Dwolla, was to over-communicate with my superiors. This meant having a shared document with our COO and writing up all meeting summaries on a daily basis. This was a lot of work but it allowed my superiors the ability to know what was up.
In BD and Partnerships things take time early on. You need to talk to prospective partners, understand their needs. Maybe you have what they want/need. Maybe you don’t. If you do, great, deals might happen quickly. If you don’t, you need to go back and build it. Then deals will begin to come in. Long story short, it is very easy for your superiors to think you aren’t making progress early on, so over-communicate as much as possible to show them that you are.
Tip #2 Have A Full Team At Each Location
If you are going to have a remote team, make sure you have a complete team at the location. This allows you to move a lot quicker than if you have pieces of your specific team (i.e. API team, Design team, etc.) spread out.
Tip #3 Travel To HQ Often
Building a company is sort of like building an army. If you want to build a good team, you need to spend copious amounts of time with the team to build a deep bond. This is why if you are a remote team member, you need to travel to the mothership for a minimum of a week every 6 weeks. It doesn’t matter what your role is at your company; spending that time in the trenches with your teammates is priceless.
One last thought: Now that I’m a founder, I think I will be very hesitant to add any satellite members to our team for a long time. It’s not that it never works, it is more that it makes your job harder, and with all the difficult things that come with startups this just stacks another odd against you.
There are the lovers. There are the haters. Then there are the ignorers.
Lovers are great. Haters can hurt. But ignorers, these are the worst.
What is an “ignorer?”
Before defining an ignorer let’s define the lovers and haters in this context. A lover is someone who shows love to you and your business. They share, like, fave, retweet, pin your posts. They are your fans and express their love publicly.
The haters on the other hand also share your stuff, or at least comment on it publicly but the tone is negative and they hate on it. While haters can make people uncomfortable they are better than the ignorers, because at least they make people have an emotional response to what they are doing.
The ignorers are the third bucket and they are people who ignore what you are doing. It could be when you want a reporter to cover you, a potential investor to meet with you, want to recruit a phenomenal iOS developer. The ignorers are the worst because they make you feel like you don’t matter. They don’t even hate on you, they don’t feel any emotion towards you and that sucks.
This is why, I believe, some people purposefully try to get people to hate them and their companies, because it is a lot easier to deal with haters than ignorers (think of someone you hated in a TV show, like Sawyer from LOST- in the first season you hated Sawyer, but by the end of the show he was everyone’s favorite character).
There is only one solution for turning ignorers into lovers or haters and that is to build something that makes them notice you. If you build something that makes them have an emotional reaction, you win.
One of the things Michael and I decided once we started building our own company is that we would do our very best to become something we are calling “founder profitable,” as soon as possible.
What is founder profitable?
What founder profitable means is that we will work on bringing in enough revenue to cover the (livable) salaries of the founders (us) and associated costs.
Considering that it is only Michael and I right now and on top of that we have all the pieces to build a company (mainly a “builder” and a “seller”) this allows us to do a few things:
Build the right product
Having enough money in the bank to cover the founders at such an early stage will allow us to build the right product. By covering our basic living and operating expenses through bringing in enough revenue from our initial product will not only help validate our initial product but it will allow us to take our time in building the right features and offering without the pressure of hyper growth or managing a big team.
Not accept the first money offered to us
One of the most frequent things I see with startup founders is them taking the first money thrown at them because they need to. They don’t get the terms they want, they don’t get the investors they want, all because they won’t have enough money in the bank to cover the team’s expenses and payroll if they don’t accept the terms in front of them.
By becoming founder profitable you can control your own destiny.
The biggest regret I hear from startup founders is that they wish they had more time. More time to find product/market fit. More time to build more features to make their product more attractive. More time to make their business successful. If they would have gone for founder profitability, they would create more time for themselves. This breathing room gives a team more time to be successful.
These are just a few reasons why becoming founder profitable is a smart path to take, if your product/offering/service allows for it.
This week’s article is a no-brainer. Marc Andreessen wrote a post for the New York Times that finally helped the masses understand the power of bitcoin. It might go down as a tipping point in merchant adoption of bitcoin.
You can find the full article here.
There are a million things you can do wrong when pitching a person, company, or organization. These 3, I believe, are the biggest no-nos.
Mistake #1: You make your pitch via email
We all do it early on in our careers. We are sending an email to someone (sometimes to someone we don’t know) and write a wall of text expecting them to read an email that would take 5-10 minutes to process and then respond to us with interest. It is the classic rookie mistake. The mistake being that the initial email to someone, whether you know them or not, should be short and should pique their interest to find out more. The goal is to grab their attention in five sentences of less, not to close a deal via email.
Mistake #2: You don’t ask for next steps in a meeting
One of the biggest mistakes BD people make when pitching is to not ask for or lay out next steps at the end of a meeting. If you go through an awesome presentation but you don’t seal the deal (or at least lay out the plans to seal the deal), well I hate to tell you, but you just wasted your last hour. Make sure you ALWAYS end a meeting with all the next steps (even if that means the person you were pitching needs to go back to their team to talk). After you get back from your meeting (usually next day), make sure to send these next steps via email to solidify them. If you don’t do this, the deal will, almost always, fall by the wayside.
Mistake #3: Assume you know what the other side cares about
This mistake is the ultimate BD/Partnership blunder. Every BD person does this at some point in their career. You head into the meeting with someone you want to work with and make a ton of assumptions (the worst being you know what they care about). This is why at every meeting I go to, I make sure that one of the first questions I ask is, “What do you folks care about right now?” (or, “What’s important to you?”) Another good question to ask is “What are you working on?” as usually whatever a company is working on at that moment is not public information and there is no way to know the answer unless you ask.
While these three mistakes might be the biggest, they are by no means the only mistakes BD people make. By, at least, identifying these you may be able to avoid them and be on your way to closing more deals.
The most common mistake by Twitter users is putting a handle (@) to start a tweet. By starting off with someone’s handle that means only people that follow both you and that handle (whether it is an individual or brand) will see the tweet. Sometimes this is done on purpose but most times it is not intended.
@baconseason is an awesome guy - you all should follow him
.@baconseason is an awesome guy- you all should follow him
In the first example, only people following @baconseaon and I would see that, making it irrelevant because they all follow him already! The second would be seen by everyone following me, making it relevant.
Without making any changes to how the regular twitter feed works, Twitter should take the Fiverr approach. Fiverr, the #1 marketplace for $5 (and up) services, has text pop up when you are doing something wrong (or in this case, against their TOS) while communicating with members fulfilling services.
See the below screenshot:
The first is before I begin communicating with the seller. The second is after I do something wrong (in this case, telling them to email me).
So how can Twitter solve this problem?
Easy. When someone starts a tweet with a handle as the first word, Twitter should pop up (not as an overlay but like Fiverr) some text that says “By starting with someone’s handle, the only people that will see this will be the people that follow you and that handle. Are you sure you want to do that?” This would only be done when composing a new tweet and not replying to someone else’s tweet.
Solved. Done. Over. Next.
I have two 3rd row tix to Knicks/Oklahoma for tomorrow at 2:00PM that I can’t use. Holler of you want at face…— Jordan Cooper (@jordancooper)December 24, 2013
I DM’d Jordan and asked him how much they were. He told me $300 a ticket and that they are three rows behind the basket. I told him it was a little too rich for me and would pass. Jordan responded that he would like to sell them to a Knicks fan who would enjoy the game and told me to pay what I want. I ended up paying $500 for both seats.
Now this is where it gets interesting. I decided to pay Jordan in bitcoin. If you don’t know what bitcoin is, read this post. We agreed that I would pay him $500 in bitcoin, at the time about 0.7688 of one bitcoin as the price of bitcoin on coinbase at that moment was $650. Now flash-forward almost a month and bitcoin is $950 on the Mt. Gox exchange (making my tickets already worth over $650).
Two thoughts I have:
1) How can bitcoin become a legitimate way to buy something when the price fluctuates like this? (I know it should eventually calm down, but then the allure of “making money” by holding bitcoin goes away and so does the care from regular people).
2) I’m wondering if I just bought, what will become, the most expensive Knicks tickets of all time.
The week before bringing back my personal blog, I had a few friends and industry folks do guest posts from Monday to Friday on this blog. There were some really good posts and I’m thinking of doing a few each month.
What do you think? What would you like people to contribute? If you are interested in contributing yourself, hit me up at Ataub24@gmail.com
Here is my latest Forbes piece: http://onforb.es/1arWYaI.
Let me know your thoughts!
Every year we see predictions for the next year. I think that is all good fun, but I’m more interested in predictions for the next 10 years. This is why I’m going to make some (bold) predictions for 2024. Five specific predictions to be exact. Here we go:
1. Travel will be disrupted, majorly
I think over the next ten years travel will speed up and companies will be built that disrupt the way we currently move from A to B. Things like the Hyperloop interest me, but I hope within ten years humankind can move a few more steps into the future. I’d like to believe that we will be very close to individual air travel. Think the Jetsons. There is much to do to make this a reality, the first being building the vehicles that can travel in the air, at a level that is under planes but above ground-level. On top of that there needs to be infrastructure built, rules and regulations that come into play around air traffic controlling of individual planes and more. It’s a major undertaking and I think we will see some of the first steps by 2024.
I’d like to also believe that by 2024 we will be closer to quantum teleportation. There have been some breakthroughs recently as scientists transported light particles in 2011. In 2024 I think we will have some variation of teleportation. Getting to teleporting packages, gifts, etc will be a huge step. If it gets to a point where people can be teleported, this will be a game-changer and trillion dollar industry overnight. The opportunities around docking stations, teleportation support, etc. could be amazing. Teleportation- let’s do this!
2. Food will have major breakthroughs
I think the food industry will also have major breakthroughs in the next ten years. I think some company will release a food product that tastes like whatever you’d like without putting on the weight. Think space food in its compactness but Manna from the desert.
3. Robots: one in every home
I think within the next ten years a charismatic founder will proclaim that his goal is to put a robot in every home (think of Microsoft’s computer-in-every-home mantra). The charismatic founder might just be Google founder Larry Page. These robots may start off doing the dishes and cleaning up, but I think they will get smarter and smarter and while never having A.I., they will be the next push of in-home hardware to become mainstream.
4. Wearables will be unnoticeable
Right now wearables are a hot industry. I think this will continue but the noticeability of these products will shrink and shrink and shrink, until they will not be noticeable with the naked eye. Think Google Glass in your contact or in a normal looking eye glasses. Wearables are here to stay, you just won’t notice them in ten years because they will be baked into whatever it is you already have that looks “normal.”
5. Retail will be more like Minority Report
The last prediction for 2024 is that retail will continue to get more and more personalized. This is a mix of in-store experience through your phone (push notifications) and in-store billboards that will be able to identify you by some marker (let’s hope not your eyeball!). I think some of this stuff is happening right now, I just think by 2024 whatever is happening right now will be on major steroids. It will be interactive and numbers will show it does a better job at selling than salespeople do. Maybe this is some sort of in-store robot. Combining Predictions 3 and 5!
These are just some of my ideas for 2024. Add your predictions below!
Now that the cat is out of the bag about my next steps, I have a question that I want to bring up on my blog.
But first a few thoughts. I think Twitter is the most interesting consumer company of our time. I have met some great people, contacts, and eventual friends on Twitter (it’s also a dark-horse professional network). I think Twitter does a poor job of telling me more about the people who follow me. I know very little. I think it would be very interesting to find out more information about my followers. I personally have a long list of things that interest me in finding out (it was one of the reasons Michael and I built MVF way back when). But I’d like to hear from all of you.
What do you want to know about the people who follow you on Twitter? It could be anything from what country they are from to what industry they are in (some of this is covered in twitter ads analytics but not everyone has access to this). It could be to find out who RT’s you the most and who is your most engaged follower. Whatever interests you.
I can’t guarantee that the thing you want to know will be in the final product. We’ll definitely have people’s MVF’s plus a few tangential data points. But if it is something cool we might just knock it out and share it with you.
Hit me up in the comments section or email me at Ataub24@gmail.com.
This past Friday was my last day at Dwolla. The past two years have been nothing short of amazing but it was time to start on my own journey. Well actually not on my own. Michael Schonfeld, better known as @baconseason and I are starting our own company as of today.
Michael and I met back in May 2011 on Ohours. Michael was living in LA and doing freelance development. I was working at Aviary but thinking about fun side projects to work on. I convinced Michael to leave LA and move to NYC. He got a job at Nerve Dating and we started to collaborate on a little project focused on online debating. We built the app and had a few investment offers to run it full-time, but decided to decline them as it wasn’t something we were ready to work on for the next 5 years. At the same time I had been introduced to Ben Milne, the founder of Dwolla. Ben mentioned that Dwolla was also looking for a developer evangelist and next thing we knew Michael and I had both joined Dwolla to open its New York office and run the API platform (the business side by me and technology side by Michael).
Fast-forward 22 months and it is time for us to set sail.
So what will we be working on?
That’s a great question. Before answering, here’s a story: While Michael and I were thinking of side projects together in 2011 and 2012 we built an app called MVF, which stood for Most Valuable Follower. The premise of MVF was to find out who, out of all your followers on Twitter, was your most valuable. Michael and I put together a formula, built the hack, and put it out there a few days later. Within a week we had over 50k people and brands trying the application. We had everyone from the tech crew usuals to the band The Smashing Pumpkins and former NBA player Jamal “Monster Mash” Mashburn trying out the tool. It was fun. But we both had full-time jobs and eventually needed to shut it off because it was taking up too much time. Even though we shut MVF off, every few months we’ve had a brand reach out to us asking if we could turn it back on to find out more about the people who follow them.
The first thing we will be doing at Newco is spinning back up MVF and layering some good stuff on top of it. Things that people and brands might find interesting about those who follow them (If there is something you are especially interested in, as a person or brand, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
The reason we are bringing MVF back is that it is very much connected to the business Michael and I are building. It’s still too early to jump deep into that (not stealth, but not fully baked), but we can say it has to do with social media, commerce, next-gen advertising tools, and something we know very well: APIs.
We’re very excited about this opportunity to build a business and will have more to share within the next month (we work fast). Oh, and the name of our company (not the product we will be launching) is Modern MAST (MAST = Michael, Alex, Schonfeld, Taub).
Check out our website: ModernMast.com
Follow us on Twitter: @ModernMastCo
Here is our logo, just built over the weekend: