“Working with him isn’t a comfortable experience, he is never satisfied with himself so he is never really satisfied with anyone around him. He pushes himself harder and harder and he pushes others around him the exact same way. The challenge is that he is a machine and the rest of us aren’t. So if you work for Elon you have to accept the discomfort. But in that discomfort is the kind of growth you can’t get anywhere else, and worth every ounce of blood and sweat.”—
Dolly Singh, 5-year SpaceX employee, on what it is like to work with Elon Musk. Fascinating glimpse into what it takes to be great and how to lead/inspire people to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
“Life is often compared to a marathon, but I think it is more like being a sprinter; long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments in which we are given the opportunity to perform at our best.”—Michael Johnson
I was a slacker growing up. In fact, I prided myself on it.
Great standardized test scores and shitty grades? That must mean only one thing (I thought) - I was a genius who chose not to apply himself. Imagine how good my grades would be if I tried.
Didn’t study, but solid SAT scores? Imagine (I thought) if I had only studied, my scores would be off the charts.
Out partying the night before a big hockey game and still played a decent game? Imagine (I thought) how amazing I would be if I only got a good night sleep like everyone else.
At the time, I legitimately believed this bullshit. I thought I was some wonderkid, as I measured my success not based on what I was able to achieve, but on what I was able to achieve without applying myself.
In hindsight (and I suspect, I knew deep down at the time, as well), I knew this was bullshit. Did I really know for sure that I would be amazing if I applied myself? Certainly not. Was I terrified about what would happen if I applied myself and was not exceptional? You bet. I was afraid to fail, and used my slacking off as a built-in excuse and safety net - if I failed, I could always blame it on the fact that I didn’t try.
This is an awful trap. Somewhere along the way I thankfully broke out of this, and started measuring myself on absolute success, versus “success based on minimal effort”. It is essential to do so if you want to achieve great things. And I’ve been infinitely better off for it. Every once in a while I fall into the trap yet again - like with my Boston Marathon training this year. But I’ve got a much better pulse on it, and am watching it constantly.
I know I’m not the smartest in the room, or the most talented. But I try to make sure I outwork anyone else out there - hard work is my superpower. Now I’ve got the opposite problem, which is that nothing I ever achieve is good enough. But I’ll save that post for another day.
Our phones have become an extension of ourselves, so much that we get anxiety when we leave them at home. Nearly 84% of people worldwide said they couldn’t go a single day without their phone, according to Time. But fewer of us consciously think about the potential for our phones to get to know us, just by virtue of being on us all the time.
Now, wearable technologies like Pebble and Google Glass are changing the way we interact with our phones and how our phones interact with us. With these innovations come big opportunities to transform how we go about our lives. But in order for phones and wearables to be truly transformative, the apps that run on them will need to become invisible.
Wave one of the app revolution has been a great first step. Now you can keep track of your daily calorie intake, your personal spending against budget, find driving directions to your destination, and many other functions that help make our lives easier. But each of these apps still requires a fair bit of work, and as a result, many people aren’t sticking with them over time. This problem is compounded as more apps proliferate, and as people’s overburdened schedules continue to get crazier. A shining example is email. It is engrained in our business culture as an efficiency-driver, but increasingly bogs people down with more and more required actions that disrupt the flow of their workday. Lots of companies are out trying to tackle the email challenge and make the technology more invisible, before people declare email bankruptcy and throw in the towel altogether.
The second wave of the app revolution will be the quest for invisibility. Invisible apps run passively in the background, meaning they are always on collecting data, with no action needed to enable them. The information that they surface is proactive and timely, without you, the consumer, needing to look for it. They leverage many data sources, including other apps, and the more they know about you, the smarter they become. As the technology fades into the background and these apps get better at solving everyday problems effectively, they will become indispensable across more and more aspects of our lives.
This quest for invisibility is already in progress. Google Now, for instance, not only prompts you when it is time to leave for your next meeting, but it tells you which route to take given current traffic patterns—without you having to ask. Uber doesn’t just let you book a taxi from your phone, it shows where the car is in real-time as it approaches, how many minutes away it is, and prompts you as it is arriving so you can head outside just in time. Square doesn’t just enable merchants to accept credit cards via their phones, but also lets you place an order just by saying your name while inside the store.
While these examples may seem like magic, it’s only the beginning. As your phone has more sensors in it, and more access to integrated external sensors, it will continue to know more about you and your surroundings. As this occurs, the friction involved in using apps will continue to decrease, and the proactive insight and value that these apps provide will increase exponentially over time.
I’m not claiming the robots will take over quite yet, but as apps become more invisible, we can start to live more productively and get closer to reaching our fullest potential.
When I was younger, I had a motorcycle. In fact, I LOVED that motorcycle (see pic below). Learning how to ride it was interesting, to say the least. I have quite a few embarrassing stories I could share that I’ll save for another day.
One of the most non-intuitive things about learning how to ride a motorcycle is how to handle turning. When you are going around a turn, in order to turn left, you need to countersteer and turn the front wheel to the right. And if you are turning right, vice versa. This is the opposite of what you would intuitively expect, as on a bicycle (for example), it works in the reverse.
Even when you think you get the hang of this on a motorcycle, it is put to the test the first time you don’t lean quite hard enough into a turn and realize you aren’t going to make it. Instinctively, you want to hit the brakes and stop leaning so hard, but doing so will only make the situation worse and pretty much guarantee you won’t make it. The best approach is rather to stay off the brakes, push the front wheel harder in the direction it is already going, and lean harder into the turn. This is not initially intuitive, but it becomes second nature as you get more comfortable on the bike.
There is a similar phenomenon that occurs when scaling high-growth companies. In the early days, everyday issues get resolved by rolling up your sleeves and addressing them directly. This is the intuitive way to solve problems. But the larger your company gets, the more you need to get yourself out of the weeds of everyday issues and trust/empower your team to address them effectively on your behalf.
You’ll think you’ve got this down as you navigate different issues, until a tough one comes out of nowhere and you need to think fast on your feet. You will intuitively want to revert to addressing tactical issues yourself, but it is important to resist this tendency. Like turning while on a motorcycle, the best way to make it is to stay off the brakes, lean harder into your team, and trust that they will come through for you. While this may not be intuitive at first, it becomes second nature as you get more comfortable on the bike.
I’ve been busy the last several weeks training for my 3rd Boston Marathon! This one is more daunting, as with a 10 month old son at home, I am far from in “game shape”.
Thrilled to be running as part of Team CampInteractive, which is a year-round program that introduces inner-city, at-risk youth to the creative power of technology. There are 4 of us on the squad, and combined, we are on the hook for raising $20K for CampInteractive (gulp)! 2 sponsors, Spark Capital (our lead investor) and Gunderson Dettmer (our law firm), have also committed to matching what we raise dollar-for-dollar up to an additional $20K donation (thanks guys!).
In addition to the challenge of training, the fundraising is going to be a huge challenge as well! Hoping through the commitment we’re making to train for this grueling race, the terrific cause that we are running on behalf of, and the power of social media, we can bang out this fundraising goal in no time!
Any help would be appreciated, both by me and the team at CampInteractive! And most importantly, by the kids that go through their programs. Our team fundraising page is here….
When i was at University in the early 90s, i ran every night. The technology i used was… a Sony Walkman. I’d shove in a well worn tape cassette of New Order’s “Technique”, put the headphones on, hit play and start running. That album is just shy of 40 minutes. I’d run… get half way through……
Tobias nails it once again. It is not just fitness data that matters, your motion throughout the day, nutrition, etc are also key pieces of the puzzle. Will take time for all of these to tie together in a cohesive way, but is is all coming. Once they do, there are some incredibly exciting possibilities in terms of correlations and making meaning of the data. Such an exciting time to be innovating in this category.
“There are a bunch of aggressive, ivy-league-educated, high IQ people working in Bentonville whose careers are going nowhere because they never learned how to connect with other people.”— Lee Scott, (now former) CEO of Walmart, circa 2008
It’s been a while since I’ve done any blogging. Between trying to scale a company and adjusting to being a new dad, the past few months have been the craziest of my life so far. When I read Dave McClure’s blog post today about being a late bloomer, I couldn’t resist taking a quick break from real work to crank out a post of my own.
Dave’s post resonated with me on several levels. I too am a late bloomer, and I too feel like I haven’t proven shit (and to be clear, I have proven way less than Dave has). I remember in first grade when my teacher used to call me gifted due the scores I got on some stupid standardized test. I was the fifth grader who went door-to-door to every local business selling sponsorships for our local hockey tournament. The kid who organized the other neighborhood kids into a snow shoveling business. The kid who was so proud of the job he got at the local sporting goods store when he was 15, especially because he got it all on his own.
But somewhere along the way, I started caring less about achievement and more about partying and having fun. I started skipping classes, not doing my homework, and gliding through school with as little effort as possible. I went to a good college, but only because the hockey coach said he could get me in. I was actually pretty sure before I went there that I wouldn’t like it, and sure enough, that was pretty much the case. I took the easiest classes I could find, and barely applied myself at all for 4 years straight.
Then I got into the real world. While I worked hard in every job I had, in 10 years of working I never spent more than 2 years at the same company. I would follow a similar pattern at every job… get in, be thrilled about drinking from a fire hose and bust my hump working non-stop for the first year or so. At about the year mark, I’d start to feel like I wasn’t drinking from a fire hose as much, and I’d start to get the itch to do something different. And 3-6 months later, I usually did.
The entire time I was going through this journey, all I wanted was to ‘find my thing’. I was hugely impatient, and when I couldn’t find it, it frustrated the hell out of me. It got to the point where I wasn’t sure if I truly hadn’t found the right thing, or if maybe there was no right thing and I was just destined to be a slacker that never did anything exceptional in his career.
Then, at 31 years old, I finally found something I cared about deeply enough to set out and build a company around. When I did, I just knew it was the right thing for me, and from that moment forward I set out aggressively to make my dream a reality. Just like every other new journey I had set out on in the past, I came out of the gates drinking from a fire hose and working around the clock. But this time was different. It wasn’t practice before the big game any longer, the big game was finally here. 4.5 years have gone by and I am still drinking from a fire hose each and every day. Each new milestone that the company gets through brings a whole new set of challenges, and continuing to take it through new milestones in the future is about the most exciting and rewarding thing I could ever imagine doing.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I feel very fortunate to have finally ‘found my thing’. It has all of the ingredients that should hold my interest over a long, long period of time, and honestly, I don’t know if there is anything else out there that could do the same. While there may be, why would I ever chance it? This is my shot.
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
How Boston Can Step Up Our Game (hint: we are so close!)
It wasn’t too long ago that the Boston startup scene seemed to be panicking a bit. Lots of discussions started to form around how to step up our game and get our groove back. There were talks of rebranding, convincing newly-minted college graduates to stay in the area, and about the sting we felt every time another young company headed out to the west coast to follow their dreams.
It seems we have come a long way since those days, and they weren’t that long ago. TechStars is booming. Amazing programs like Founder Mentors and DartBoston have been established to support young entrepreneurs in their quest to build companies. And it doesn’t stop there, Dogpatch Labs emerged, Microsoft NERD stepped up to host/sponsor all kinds of great events, and most importantly, there is a heck of a lot of new startup activity here in Boston. Not that I have been around for THAT long, but I am seeing far more activity than I’ve ever seen before.
Increasing startup activity and the framework to nurture these startups is a big piece of the puzzle. Not all of them will be successful, but more and more are emerging with strong founders, seed funding, great products, real user traction, solid revenue models, and some good hype and media attention around them. This just wasn’t the case when I quit my job to start RunKeeper in 2008, and we should feel really good about the strides that we’ve taken.
While this is all amazing progress, we are still missing a critical piece of the puzzle. The first step may be to get these vibrant startups with real momentum off the ground, but at some point, large corporate acquirers start knocking. If you keep executing, they keep knocking and the knocks start getting louder. At a certain point, without much invested capital in the business, it may be tempting to sell. While the outcomes in these instances may not be ‘home runs’, in many cases, selling the company at this point is not the wrong move. Some wealth is created, the founders get a ‘win’ under their belts, and they can move on to the next one. Only next time, they can swing for the fences with a proven team, an established track record, and without having to worry as much about how to put food on the table along the way.
The problem is that most of these large acquirers are based out west. The implication is that, in many cases, the founding team moves to the west coast as part of the deal. Lock-up is maybe a year, then they’re itching to break free and go do it again, this time going even bigger. In most cases, when they do head out for the next one, they stay out west and don’t return to Boston. The most notable recent example of this is Quattro Wireless - A terrific founding team, a great exit to Apple, and a CEO that relocated out west as part of the deal. He stays for a time at the acquiring company, quits to go do the next big thing, and then joins Highland Capital Partners (which has a big Boston office), but will be working out of Menlo Park. Ouch! I am not close to that situation at all, and by no means mean to single Andy out. His decision may be for reasons that have nothing to do with any of this. But it seems that our promising young companies getting acquired by companies in other regions is a primary cause for the continued talent drain of some of the brightest entrepreneurs from Boston into other parts of the country. Until we stop the bleeding, Boston will continue to stunt it’s own growth.
What Boston needs is for more of these promising young companies to break out and grow into the kinds of large scale Internet powerhouses that become acquirers themselves. This will give the people that are along for the ride a phenomenal education and skillset, and the resources and network to go out on their own when the time is right (think PayPal mafia, or Xooglers). It also means that when these promising young companies get acquired for ‘base hits’, the acquirers will be other Boston companies that will keep this talent in Boston.
There are some local companies poised to go in that direction, such as Hubspot and Gemvara. And I would be lying if I said that RunKeeper doesn’t have similar aspirations and ambitions. But getting more of these emerging startups over the hump and on the path to build the next Amazon, Salesforce.com, or Facebook is the missing link to shift the pendulum dramatically in Boston’s favor. Not only would it stop the bleeding, but it would quickly turn the tide so that Boston can begin acquiring companies (and therefore talent) from other regions as well, thus dramatically shifting momentum as this plays out over a longer period of time.
The exciting part is that we have all of the pieces we need to make this happen! We have tons of large military/defense contractors and financial institutions stifling and underemploying a generation of ambitious, impatient, highly capable young engineers. We have more resources, both formal and informal, to provide mentorship and guidance than ever before. We have deep pocketed institutional investors that are terrified of letting the next Google or Facebook emerge out of Boston and head west. We have what we need, now we just need to go and do it.
We are in an age where everything is accelerating and nothing is immune to the seeds of disruption and change. It is happening with individual company growth (i.e. Zynga, Groupon, etc.), and it is happening with the shifting balance of power between countries at the macro level. There is no reason why it can’t happen in terms of regional technology hubs, and no reason why Boston can’t emerge as the next major technology mecca. Let’s make it happen!
Many people talk about the importance of recruiting in building a startup. What most people mean by that is that attracting and retaining key talent is incredibly valuable. Here at RunKeeper, we agree. But our recruiting process is important to us for another reason beyond who we end up hiring – the actual process we go through to identify key hires is as valuable as the end result.
I’ll give you an example. Now that we launched the Health Graph API, we are currently searching for a head of platform evangelism. This is a key hire for the company, as building out the Health Graph ecosystem is a cornerstone of our future direction and success. We need to make sure that we get the right person to come in and be the face of the company to the developer community.
When we started looking for this person, the first step was to calibrate internally on a job description. The next step was to start socializing it with thought leaders in the industry. This includes platform evangelists, people who have built teams of platform evangelists, product managers and heads of business development from web platform companies who have worked closely with platform evangelists, and so on.
This socializing process does few things. First, it enables us to get feedback on how we are thinking about the role from people who have been doing it for a long time. This helps us refine the profile of the person we are looking for, and get a better sense of how we want to go about building out the developer community. It also enables us to start building up a rolodex and credibility in the platform evangelism world. The more platform evangelists that know about our efforts and think highly of what we are doing, the easier it will be to establish credibility once we identify the person we ultimately want to hire.
As we start to cover more ground, word starts to spread and when these platform evangelists come across others in their peer group who may be thinking about making a career change, we will be top-of-mind and the first person they put that person in touch with. Before long, interesting candidates start bubbling up. And when they do, we have a clearer idea of what we are after from the discussions we have had with other platform evangelists along the way. We then narrow the process down to a short-list of candidates who we like and feel good about, check references, and from there, hopefully choose the one that is the best fit and move forward with a shiny new head of platform evangelism! The process we use to narrow down the candidates probably merits a separate post altogether, so I won’t even try.
Along the way, all of the seeds we have planted with other thought leaders from the industry are not wasted effort. These then serve as the foundation for a rolodex we can leverage as we then seek to hire product managers, heads of business development, and other key hires as we grow. These conversations and relationships can also lead to additional unintended benefits, such as partnership opportunities, introductions to key investors/advisors, and general buzz/excitement around our company and the market opportunity that is in front of us.
So as you can see, while our main objective is to hire a star, we get a lot of additional benefits out of the recruiting process beyond the person we end up hiring. I have been meaning to write this post for a while, in order to share some of the tips and best practices that we try to follow when building out our team. I would love to hear from others about the approaches you have found success with, as I am sure that we can learn a lot from what all of you are doing as well.
If you are a first-time startup founder, then like mine was, your instinct when starting out may be to try to go out and raise money right away. After all, it is scary starting a company that is funded entirely out of your own pocket. You want desperately to find a team to build your product, and paying salaries feels like a distant dream. You see clearly how much needs to be done, and can’t wait to head down the path even faster. Plus, funded companies seem to get so much more visibility and exposure. What better way to accomplish all of these things than to go out and raise your very own round of funding, right? WRONG!
The last thing that a startup should be thinking about in the earliest phases of development is raising money. The further you can get a business without outside capital, the more value you are creating along the way. While it may seem like building relationships with investors early on “for the future” is strategic, in reality, your time is much better spent building product, buidling a team, talking to potential customers and thought leaders from your target market, and getting mentorship from serial entrepreneurs with relevant startup experience. What will get investors most excited is the team you assemble, a real product with real users and real traction/momentum, and clear direction on how the product and model will evolve over time. None of these aspects can be furthered by having early discussions with investors, and the only thing those discussions will accomplish is to distract you from doing the things that will ultimately make your company an attractive investment.
Even if you are able to raise money successfully early on, I would argue that you still may not want it. Operating a startup without capital may be the most stressful phase of the business, but it is also the most fun. You have no one to answer to other than your co-founders. You can take your time to tune the model, experiment in fun and important ways, and really push the envelope in terms of the product and business decisions that you make. It isn’t that you can’t still do these things once you get the right investors involved, but getting those investors will take a lot of time that could have been better spent building the business. Plus the longer you wait and the more value you create in the meantime, the more efficient your fundraising process will be, the higher the caliber of the investor group you will assemble, and the less of your company you will need to give up in the process.
I’m not saying that there aren’t times/places in a company’s lifecycle where it makes sense to raise outside capital - there absolutely are, and at those points, not raising capital may be the wrong move. But many first-time entrepreneurs seem to fall into the trap of thinking the time to raise capital has come well before it should.
“Realize that a startup puts you on an emotional roller-coaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You will flip rapidly from a day in which you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. Over and over and over.”—
As our little company nears our third birthday, our proudest accomplishment thus far is the team that we’ve built. We’re up to ten people now (eleventh starts today), and while headcount in itself is not a good measure of success, the caliber of that headcount certainly is.
This team is as committed as any team I’ve ever worked with; We work hard, have fun, and all share a common vision for what we collectively can accomplish. And this team that we’ve assembled is no accident! It has taken a lot of thought and hard work to get the team that we’ve got in place, and given that, I figured I’d pass along some lessons that we’ve learned along the way.
Lesson 1: Always be recruiting.
We never view hiring as a transaction, but as an ongoing process that never stops. As a result, while we may have a specific role in mind, we are always making an effort to get to know the smartest people we can find with relevant skillsets and mindsets, even if they are not in the job market at all. The best people are rarely out actively looking, and if we don’t get them now, we figure we may get them eventually. Not to mention, if we build relationships with them and make them fans of what we are doing, it helps build our local brand (see more below), we get to know more smart people who can be valuable sounding boards as questions arise, and it becomes more likely that inbound referrals will come of qualified people for the roles we are looking to fill.
Lesson 2: Build your brand locally and globally.
As a consumer service with a global userbase, of course building our global brand is important to us. But what may be less intuitive is that building our local brand is just as important, for different reasons. We’ve made a point to invest in this area from the beginning by getting to know local thought leaders, serving on panels, speaking to classes at local universities, and otherwise investing time/energy in the local startup scene. This was especially helpful early on, to get us a loyal following of advocates who could help evangelize our brand on the social web (globally), and also really helps for hiring by positioning RunKeeper as a cool place to work in the local startup scene.
Lesson 3: It’s not about convincing, it’s about fit.
There have been a few instances along the way where it felt like we were dragging people kicking/screaming over the goal line, and in those cases, we’ve done a good job of not chasing too hard. While we absolutely need to work hard to convince people to join our growing squad, if it is truly a good fit, they should want us as much as we want them. Otherwise we will constantly be convincing them along the way that they really do want to be here, and we have WAY too much to do to be spending time doing that week in and week out.
Lesson 4: Process is over-rated.
Especially as an early stage company, we don’t have time to put people through four rounds of interviews and a personality test (for example). We try to identify people that we like, get them in front of the right people on our team, dig into their relevant functional skills, get to know them as people, peel back the onion to get to the root of their underlying drivers, motivations, timing, etc. and make a decision. When we know, we know. And if we aren’t sure, bringing people in for round after round of interviews because we don’t have the guts to pull the trigger or let them go wouldn’t do anyone any good. We try to trust our instincts, and to be thorough without slowing down.
Lesson 5: Don’t play games.
Once we know we like someone, we don’t play games. First, we try to get all of the facts on their current situation, timing, compensation, skillset, etc. Then, we look at the role we are bringing them in for, the depth and breadth of their experience, internal parity, etc. And last, we present an offer that we truly believe is fair for all involved. We try to avoid (and have avoided thus far) lengthy negotiations, once we mutually decide that someone is a fit, we try to get things done as quickly and fairly as possible for all involved.
Lesson 6: Create an environment where people want to work.
Our most effective recruiting tool of all has simply been to build a company where people like to work. We have tried to hire self-starters, give them the tools and support to be successful, cool stuff to work on and hard problems to solve, and then get out of their way. In doing so, it becomes easier to attract others as they peek inside and see these bright, ambitious people working on interesting things and having a blast doing it, and they want to be part of it too. Almost (but not) all of our hiring thus far has been from people that work here recommending their friends and former colleagues.
To be clear, we are only eleven people and this is my first startup. We still have a lot to learn about scaling a business through all of these next phases of growth. But for anyone who is trying to navigate through the earliest stages of team building, I hope this post can be helpful by shedding some light on one company’s process.
What other tips can you share from your team building experiences? What did I miss?
I studied liberal arts in college, and was never much of a student. I didn’t apply myself, and I wasn’t passionate about or interested in the things that I was learning (or not learning). I was filled with pent up ambition and nowhere to channel it, and found myself partying in a futile search for excitement and fulfillment.
As I neared graduation, I had increasing thoughts of becoming an entrepreneur. I had business ideas racing through my head and was constantly coming up with the next one. Yet a fundamental problem existed - I bounced from idea to idea and I never tried any of them.
Fast forward ten years, and all of my experience since college was working in small, fast growing VC-backed startups: first in recruiting, then in sales, then in business development, then as a headhunter, helping VCs hire CEOs to run their technology portfolio companies. It was all great experience, and I always viewed it as ‘practice before the big game.’ I ALWAYS planned on being an entrepreneur. But my ideas were never ‘good enough’ and I never though I ‘was ready’. As I liked to say at the time, I was a serial entrepreneur who was batting O for O, since I had yet to have a single at-bat.
Finally, the stars aligned for me. I found an idea that I couldn’t stop thinking about, in an area that I was very passionate about and had a lot of experience (and frustration) with as a user. It was also a large market that I believed was ripe for innovation in the years to come. So I went for it 2.5 years ago and started my first company. It has been hands down the best professional decision I have ever made, and I’ve never looked back.
As I sat (on this 7 hour flight with no wi-fi) and reflected on the last 2.5 years (and the last 34 years), I found myself thinking about what advice I would give to a 21 year-old me if I could go back in time. Here is what I’ve come up with so far:
Do what you love
Life is too short to toil away doing things that you don’t love and aren’t passionate about. If you aren’t feeling it, stop trying to force yourself to fit into a mold that clearly doesn’t fit. Instead, focus on putting yourself in a situation where you can be more excited and fulfilled. What are you most passionate about? What aspects of your experience around that thing you are so passionate about are frustrating to you as a user, and how could your experience be improved? I spent a lot of time focused on market opportunities rather than passion. While market opportunities and timing are important, there is nothing more important than passion.
Once you have figured out what you are most passionate about, don’t wait, do something! I spent years bouncing through idea after idea, and operationalized none of them. In hindsight, the most important learning doesn’t come from waiting for the perfect idea, it comes from the entrepreneurial process of taking an idea and working towards making it a reality. And the only way it will ever become a reality is if you try! As Wayne Gretzky likes to say, you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. Plus, even if you fail, you will learn more from the process of trying than you ever would from a ‘job’.
When you find an idea, your instinct may be to keep it under wraps so other people don’t copy it. I fell victim to this along the way, partially since I didn’t want people to copy my ideas, but more so because I wasn’t confident enough about them or about myself as an entrepreneur to share them with the world. When I look back, I realize that the difference between the one that caused me to ultimately take the leap and the others is that I flipped a switch; for the first time, I told EVERYONE what I was planning to do. Just the act of sharing it served as a powerful form of accountability, since now other people were watching. Plus, the day I started talking about it was the day it started transforming from ‘idea’ to something more. As I look back, if I had talked about more of my ideas along the way, real traction would have materialized more quickly, as would my skillset and confidence as an entrepreneur.
Listen to your gut
Along the way you will come across a tremendous amount of skeptics, who will insist that your idea is doomed. This will be true of any idea that you ever have, no matter how compelling it is. My advice is to listen to everyone, as feedback can provide powerful learning, but make sure to trust your gut. As long as your gut tells you that you are heading down the right path, then block out the noise and persevere. If along the way your gut starts telling you otherwise, only then is it time to take action. Just remember that every single billion dollar plus company that has EVER been built had just as many skeptics as you when they were starting out. The bigger the idea, the less people are going to get it during the early phases of development.
It’s OK to fail
I mostly covered this in the ‘get moving’ section above, but needed to re-emphasize again. IT IS OK TO FAIL. In fact, the faster you fail, the faster you will learn how to ultimately succeed. You can take all of the learnings from your failed venture and apply them to the next one. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try with all of your might to succeed, but you better not let fear of failure stand in the way of going for it. For me, not going for it would have been a massive failure, so I knew there was no other way.
Don’t go it alone
Birthing a company from nothing is really freaking hard. If you can avoid it, don’t try to go it alone. That being said, be extra careful about who you select for partners, as your team is a hugely important success criteria. When I quit my job I didn’t yet have a team, but my #1 priority once I left (and the reason I did so) was to focus full-time on finding the right team, since I knew how important it was to do so.
I will leave you with one final quote that I had hanging on my wall for many years before I finally quit my job to start a company:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I think that is all for now, young Jason. Now go out and get in the arena! And if you can avoid it, don’t wait ten more years to get started.
“Zynga, a global social-gaming company based in San Francisco and founded four years ago, has raised a great deal of capital yet the company’s founder and CEO, Mark Pincus, has yet to use most of it. He raised that money in order to bring in strong board members who could help him build his gaming empire. The capital those investors bring to the table is just insurance.”—Reid Hoffman, from his ‘Five Lessons for Entrepreneurs’ article in today’s WSJ
I read this article this morning about Facebook employees splitting off to start their own companies, and it really got me thinking. Everyone talks about the PayPal mafia, the Google mafia, etc. These consist of employees of these companies who built them together from the earliest formative stages through their lifecycles into large, successful, world-changing entities.
Once they get there, some of these early employees make the transition and stay on for many years at this bigger, much more established corporation. Others branch off and do a whole host of really interesting things, from starting other companies to investing in other companies to running for political office, etc. These former employees or mafia members share a very powerful common experience, and many have grown to trust each other’s capabilities, integrity, and ability to execute in a way that is incredibly hard to find. As a result, many of these people come to work together and support each other’s subsequent ventures again and again in a variety of capacities.
There are all different metrics that can be used to define success. Revenues, number of employees, low attrition rates, brand recognition, etc. For me, one critical metric for success of the company we are building is simple: one day, I want there to be a RunKeeper mafia.
Great post on angel investing from one of our investors, Will Herman. I have not done any angel investing yet, and probably won’t be in a position to do so for some time, but I feel better equipped for how to think about doing so after reading this post. Thanks Will! You are a great example setter for the Boston startup community, and while your words say volumes, your actions speak even louder.
“…we’re a two-year old company and we have this bright spotlight on us and one of my concerns is that we end up like one of those child actors who found success early but then grew up all weird. I want to be more like Ron Howard, who was a child actor and now a really successful director.”—Biz Stone, in his recent interview with Runner’s World - http://runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-243-410—13497-0,00.html
Great post from Ben Horowitz on why Andreessen Horowitz prefers to fund companies whose founder will run the company as its CEO. Particularly refreshing, given how many times I’ve heard people say that there is no way a first-time founder will be able to remain CEO if they decide to take venture funding.
As a first-time entrepreneur, I have been drinking from a firehose for two years now. I still have a tremendous amount to learn, but I was thinking the other day about one thing that I have done since the beginning that has served me very well so far. Since I know that there are many aspiring entrepreneurs thinking about heading down the same path, I figured I’d pass it along in case it is helpful to anyone.
It is a surprisingly simple piece of advice —- reach out to anyone and everyone that could be helpful to you. I know this sounds like common sense, but I think the distinction is that it doesn’t matter if you know that person or not. It doesn’t matter if you get a warm introduction or not. And it doesn’t matter if they are a junior marketing person or the CEO of a Fortune 100 company.
If you are passionate about what you are doing (and of course you are if you are starting a company around it), go out and let people know! In our case, this could be the head of a major marathon; a partner at a tier one venture capital firm; an anchor on a major news network; the CEO of a major running shoe company; or the best software engineer in town. If there is someone we want to talk to, we go talk to them. Period. And we do it relentlessly across all aspects of building the business.
Now, if you can get a warm intro, definitely take it! And there is something to be said sometimes for laying low until you can put your best foot forward. But the message of the day is simple —- keep moving! And don’t let anyone stand in your way. There are a whole lot of additional benefits that go along with getting out and having these discussions, but I’ll save those for another post.
I haven’t met Esther Dyson, but I’d sure like to after reading this article! She does a masterful job of getting to the root of the health issues facing our country and the best ways to solve them. By spending more energy on preventing people from becoming patients rather than treating them once they are patients, it will dramatically reduce the number of patients who need treatment in the first place. To do so, we need to provide people tools to access their health data and remove the friction from using them, we need to help them make sense of their data and gain ‘actionable intelligence’ so they can drive ongoing improvements, and we need to incorporate game mechanics into these systems to make improving these metrics more fun. Sound familiar?
This article advocates shame/embarrassment as effective deterrents to eating the wrong foods.
With RunKeeper, many of our users have told us that auto-posting their runs/bike rides/etc. to twitter and Facebook has served as a powerful positive motivator, since they want their social graph to be impressed with how far they ran, their pace per mile/KM, etc.
I guess the question is whether negative social accountability would be equally as effective. For example, what if there was a post to my Facebook page every time I ate a cookie? Or every time I drank a beer, if I was a recovering alcoholic?
Withings, the maker of a wi-fi scale, has started down this path by enabling your weight to be auto-tweeted every time you step on a scale. And I heard of another company that tweets every time you make a credit card purchase (is that Blippy?).
It will be very interesting to see where all of this goes. To me, it seems that both can be effective, but I have a personal bias towards more positive motivators, as they ultimately will make your success more rewarding and fun. But the negative motivators could be a powerful complement that you may not want to ignore.
I enjoyed this post by Tom Loverro, nice contrast to the ‘no place for an MBA in a startup’ rhetoric that I’ve heard so much about. No doubt engineers are the critical lifeblood of an early stage company, but as a non-technical founder (w/ an MBA), I like to think that our roles are important too.