Now three weeks in and some exciting new prospects & developments! (: Amazing journey.
Failure comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it comes in digestible chunks and other times it hits you like a freight train. No matter the size the best thing to do is to look upon it as an opportunity to learn and reflect.
I say this as tonight a few thousand teams are receiving polite rejection emails from Y Combinator. I know this because I just got one in my inbox.
For me it’s still business as usual, but ever since I hit submit and the application deadline expired I knew so much more about my product and business. There’s a lot the application process forced me to look at and evaluate. Things I need to know, question, and explore as I prepare for the next opportunity. I keep that close to me so I don’t stop learning.
When it comes to failing remember one thing, the hardest part is stepping up to the plate and taking a swing. That’s more than most people do. So don’t be afraid to come back and giving it your all again.
Let’s go back to 2007 when my then co-founder and I submitted our company, Cupid’s Lab, for consideration to be a part of Y Combinator. I’m sure there were a lot of factors in us not making the first cut, but the one that sunk us the quickest was the reluctance of my co-founder to quit his job and move to Mountain View for 3 months had we the opportunity to get into Y Combinator.
Paul Graham had sent us an email to learn more about what we were doing and to address some concerns. At first I was delighted to be contacted, but then quickly realized where he was going and what he wanted to teach us.
Our last interaction from Paul Graham before we were officially rejected by the team at Y Combinator was simple and to the point:
“It seems a bad sign that your cofounder won’t quit his job even if we fund you.”
My heart sunk. We tried to make a plea to address his concern, but I knew that our chances for meeting him and the rest of the Y Combinator team was done.
We stuck it out for another year building our user-base and community. There was a lot that worked well, but there was a lot more that didn’t work. In just under a year and a half we closed up shop and my co-founder and I amicably parted ways.
It’s now 2012 and I’ve been consumed by a product that keeps me up at night, but this time I am going at it as solo founder. A few people I highly respect from the NY Tech community have been encouraging me to apply to accelerator programs with the company I am building, but I know going that route as a solo founder is going to be a steep uphill battle against popular wisdom.
Without a doubt there is too much for any one person to do when building a company and declaring yourself a solo founder will garner a lot of criticism and skepticism. As a solo founder you are expected to fail, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Here are some things I’ve learned along my journey as a solo founder:
Don’t act like a solo founder. Remember that you don’t have to do everything on your own. There are plenty of resources out there to find people to take on the tasks that don’t require your personal attention.
Don’t be afraid to hire virtual assistants, but feel comfortable to quickly fire those that underperform. I usually start with a task that takes no more than a half a days worth of work from someone. You can usually gauge the quality of that person with the work they perform and decide whether or not to continue with them or find someone else.
Keep looking for potential co-founders. Even as a solo founder I’m always looking for someone that compliments my skills and shares the same passion for the problem I am trying to solve. Even though they didn’t start with you, it doesn’t mean you can’t become co-founders.
Find first hires and keep them informed of your progress even though you can’t afford to hire them yet. The company is going to grow and when it does I’m going to need to hire a great founding team. Even though I cannot hire them now I am keeping them up to date with what I’m doing and constantly hitting them up for feedback as it relates to their expertise. When I can make them a serious offer they will already have knowledge of the company, where it’s at, and where it’s headed.
Create a support group. There’s a popular saying in the startup community: “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.” Just because someone isn’t working on the same company as you does not mean you can’t learn from them and provide valuable feedback to them. Being around other like minded people who are also taking on difficult challenges is very inspiring.
Don’t stop. It’s easy to take a break and stop, but don’t. That’s going to be what will kill your progress. Starting up after you’ve lost steam often takes more energy than starting from the beginning.
Doesn’t Hurricane Sandy sound like it’s the perfect name for a cocktail? I started with a rum base and fruit juice mix like a classic Hurricane Cocktail. Instead added apricot, lemon juice, and dark rum to give the drink a light brown sandy beach look.
- 1.5 ounce dark rum
- 4 ounces apricot juice
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1 sliced jalapeño
- Mix apricot juice, lemon juice, and honey until honey is mixed in to juice.
- Add dark rum to juice
- Serve over ice
- Garnish with slice of jalapeño flat on top of drink
Yum… photo to come later (:
Today I was listening to Justin Kan’s Mixergy interview about Exec and his experiences building Justin.TV. Justin mentioned something that has come up in my discussions with other people trying to build a product or company.
In the beginning at Justin.TV they wanted to build a platform for live streaming anything and that there was a lack of being vision driven. Justin mentions the lack of focus made them feel they weren’t building something excellent for one segment. Later when they focused on specific audiences the team was able to build products such as Twitch (for gamers) and SocialCam (mobile live streaming). From the interview you get a sense that the focus on Twitch or SocialCam led to more confidence and pride in the product they built.
Listening to this interview and hearing this specific segment was really pertinent to me. One thing I’ve learned A LOT from past projects is that having a strong vision around specific customers/users is extremely important. You may have a really grand vision that tries to solve problems for different groups of customers, but when you are small you don’t have the luxury of building something for everyone.
The focus on a specific customer segments is also extremely helpful in finding out how to connect and market to those customers. If you try to make something for everyone and market to everyone, your message is going to be confusing and no-one will get see explicitly how your solution will solve their specific problem.
For me and Jobs Nearby, I’m focusing on helping job seekers find jobs at local businesses. Mostly those with storefronts (retail, bars, restaurants, grocers, etc. ). I want to replace the “Now Hiring” sign with Jobs Nearby. Focusing on those specific job seekers and employers is helping me build a specific toolset that I feel confident they will immediately find value in.
Every now and then when someone asks me why I am limiting myself to any one specific market. The response I give them is that I’ve learned a job seeker that’s looking for a part-time retail position at a well known clothing chain conducts their job search differently than an associate lawyer trying to get a job at a prestigious law firm. Additionally the behavior of the hiring manager for the two different types of jobs is vastly different as well. I’m sure that if I tried to build a solution that satisfies everyones needs, then the results would be mediocre and confusing at best.
This past week has been pretty exciting, but also extremely tiring. I’m happy to say that I’ve been making a lot of progress. More people have been contacting me about JobsNearby.com and also referring me to people who are interested in posting a listing to the service.
As I mentioned, last week I had the opportunity to pitch at the Entrepreneurs Roundtable event. Since then I’ve spent some time refining my pitch and deck. I’ve also met with a few people from the event to give and get feedback.
One thing that keeps coming up in my meetings & discussions is how I approach local businesses. JobsNearby.com focuses on small & medium local businesses and I try to take every opportunity I can to meet a qualified prospect. When I talk to a new prospect I can tell that these business owners/operators are getting tired of being approached by the next new thing online.
The assumption that a business will want sign up for your service to help them get more customers through social media is wrong. Those businesses focus on their core operations and the activities around those operations. Anything that doesn’t have an immediate direct impact on margins is met with apprehension. Additionally the longer the business has been in operation, the more likely they are set in their ways regarding how they run their business. It’s very hard to get someone to create a new behavior for their business. At times it feels like the internet entrepreneur selling to small/local businesses is the modern equivalent to the insurance salesman that’s going door to door selling his/her policies. It gets discouraging at times, but I still find businesses that are willing to sign up.
On the product front I’ve spent more time working on the web side of things instead of the mobile apps. Specifically finishing up the listing purchase path and responsive listing views. The responsive listing views was needed to let users share listings via email, twitter, Facebook, etc. After that I’m hopping back on the iOS app to finish the first iteration and then hopefully submitting to the App Store before the holiday rush.
Introducing #FoundersLog. These entries are meant to be short posts where I reflect on work I’ve done and things I’ve learned on the road to building my company & product. I want to do these as often as possible… but lets see how long they last =D Now… the show.
Yesterday I did my first public “pitch” of Jobs Nearby at an Entrepreneurs Roundtable event. Jobs Nearby is a mobile solution that makes it easy for job seekers to find jobs at local businesses near them.
I hadn’t pitched a product in a long time. To say the least I was nervous and boy did it show! In retrospect there is a lot of stuff I feel I could have done a lot better, but the biggest thing I need to get over is talking in front of crowds. If it’s a group of 10 people or so, I’m fairly confident communicating my thoughts and ideas. However get to over 20 people, then I start to break down. It makes no sense to me since in theory presenting to 1 should be the same as presenting to 50.
Nervousness aside I felt it was a great experience! Murat is an amazing contributor to the NY Tech Community and the group he assembles for the Entrepreneurs Roundtable are very knowledgable and insightful. Walking away I had a lot more thoughts on aspects of scaling my business and challenges of how to get my product in front of users & customers. I’ll detail those more in future posts when I execute on some of the ideas.
One thing I really need to remember to do at events like this where I’m pitching is to come with questions that helps me acquire more information to help me fill in the holes I have in my business. If I am having problem scaling sales, find out about other businesses real experiences in overcoming that challenge. If it’s spreading the word of your product, what have been cost effective ways to do so. I need to think strategically about what it is I want to get from pitching at events like this. It’s not about validation or raising capital, but about getting more data to help my business.
I met so many great people last night and I can’t wait to connect with them.
On that thought I’ve been bugged by something about myself for some time…
I have HORRIBLE email etiquette! Absolutely horrible… and that’s unacceptable. It. Needs. To. Stop. The problem is not due Inbox Bankruptcy because my inbox isn’t overflowing with important emails. Instead I’ve noticed that it’s a combination of multiple bad habits.
- I’m more comfortable being in the zone coding than I am building relationships.
- My attention is spread across too many things.
- When I write emails I spend too much time perfecting them.
To change this I am going to force myself to be more outgoing with my interactions with people. While I know I can’t give every relationship and interaction the attention it deserves, I will do my best to give it what I can and let the person on the other side know when I am overloaded and/or distracted. I already time box my a lot of my work and I will add emailing into that. My biggest problem is that I am afraid I’ll look at it as a chore instead of viewing it as potential for positive interactions. Lastly, I just need to keep my emails short and to the point. I tend to get very verbose with my writing. I need to say more with less.
I will be sending emails out shortly! =D
Fellow NY techie Kevin Marshall tweeted:
Builder tip: if a consumer can forget or ignore your product/service, they will…too much other ‘average’ available to bury your stuff…— Kevin Marshall (@falicon) May 25, 2012
The tweet got me thinking about the difference between having a user forget about a product and ignoring a product.
There can be many reasons why a user may forget about a product/service. The one I find the most fundamental is the product does not deliver enough value to the user. A lack of value means the product is not providing the user with enough substance to make them come back on their own. The problem is not painful enough and/or the solution is not doing enough to solve that pain.
When users ignore a product/service it’s most often because a product is taking away value from the user. If there’s pain being created through the use of a product, then users will actively choose to ignore.
Which do you feel is more damaging?