This 99U talk is a goodie. Jason Goldberg breaks down the thinking and execution behind Fab.com’s famous pivot from gay social networking site (Fabulous) to a design-centered online marketplace. He mirrors what I hear a lot of successful entrepreneurs talk about when they finally reflect on what worked – the importance of authenticity, creating culture, maintaining focus, having a sense of purpose and creating joy and happiness for customers. I also appreciated the “go ahead and start from scratch” advice. I’m a little sick of hearing people in the start up world talk about iterating their way to success no matter what the starting point is. From where a lot of startups stand, iterating out of a crappy business model doesn’t make sense, it makes waste. There’s a message embedded in what Jason is saying, and I think it’s that the core mission has to resonate with users, and the solutions you come up with have to create delight. Without those things, you’re dead in the water.
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I watched a short Stanford entrepreneurship lecture on Udemy.com today given by Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur. In the second section, Steve comments briefly about ‘first mover advantage’ and why the difficulties of being the first mover can hinder, rather than hurt your startup. This is for reasons like having to spend a lot of time and effort creating the market and educating users, and learning hard lessons when testing assumptions that no one has ever tried before that don’t end up working (which slows you down). Instead, Steve suggests that being the first mover might not be as good as being the first best executer:
It doesn’t mean you never want to be the first mover, but the historic Stanford ‘first mover advantage’, I think, over the last decade or two, has found out to be a divide by zero problem; It’s just wrong. You don’t always want to be the first mover. In fact, you typically want to be the first fast follower. And if we take a look at all the companies that presented here this semester, you’ll find out that they were all incredibly great fast followers. Was Amazon the first mover? How about eBay? How about Google? Were they the first movers? No. None of these guys were first movers. They were first best executers, but they certainly were not first movers. – Steve Blank
I’ve heard seasoned entrepreneurs offer the advice that, as a founder, you should assume that, at any given moment, there are 2 or 3 teams out there working on something close to, or exactly what you’re working on and that execution is the real differentiator that determines success in the end, which is why execution matters so much. For a variety of reasons, I find Steve’s words very comforting.
One of the videos is a 19 minute interview with Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler about the status of the “creation economy”, and some of the misconceptions and challenges the Kickstarter team is dealing with. It’s always interesting hearing what founders are actually seeing vs. what you see in the media.
I’m admittedly starry eyed about Kickstarter and I’ve backed and followed a number of projects, which has been fun and rewarding, so getting to see a more personal and authentic side of one of the Kickstarter founders made for a great morning commute watch on my phone.
If you sell online, pay attention to the data trail your customers leave. There are golden nuggets of information about what your customers are like and what they want everywhere; Some really good stuff can be found in customer reviews, automated “customers also bought” or “you might also like” recommendations (just to name a few). Paying attention to these details can lead to great insights about what your customers actually want, how they use your product and what their other interests are. If you’re an author, what other books are they buying when they purchase yours? If you’re selling electronics, what are customers bundling their purchases with? You’ve got to ask yourself these questions. It could tell you a lot about services you should be offering, where your product might be lacking or even what partnerships and opportunities you might seek for win-win promotions.
This (above) is just one example. I’ve talked about how tons of people are hacking their Flip cameras because the company isn’t listening and offering a wide-angle lens adapter. There are a ton of blog posts and YouTube videos about how to glue-on wide angle lens adapters to make the Flip more useful…and these lenses only cost 30 bucks. If the company was listening, they’d be partnering with a lens maker (or making their own) and offering a premium version of the Flip with an adapter included. The trail of breadcrumbs around the Flip already shows that people are willing to pay for the parts and go through the extra hassle to get the improved performance, so this is a no-brainer.
What’s the trail of breadcrumbs around your product telling you about your customers?
I spent a couple of happy, quiet hours last night with my nose in Pamela Slim‘s book Escape from Cubicle Nation. She makes some powerful arguments for why passion is a necessary ingredient to a happy work life. This well worded bit of wisdom stood out:
“What many people don’t realize is that when you force yourself to do something you don’t want to do, you have to deplete the energy from your body to do it. When you make it through a week where you have forced yourself to do work you don’t enjoy, you will feel exhausted, drained, and in need of martinis, industrial-strength aspirin, and/or face-planted-in-pillow rest.”
“When you do things you love, your body generates energy naturally. You may work an equal number of hours, or more, than when doing work you don’t enjoy, but the difference is you will feel spent, not depleted.”
You can’t really say it better than that, can you?
It’s not always easy to tell who’s really leading when an entire team is just going through the motions and following procedures in a manual that they’ve all used before for similar projects. When all the variables for a project are known and the expectations and plan are clear to everyone from the very beginning, all it really takes to move things forward is keeping people motivated and on task. If everyone knows their role, and team members direct themselves to get their part done, you really only need someone to organize and report, which isn’t necessarily leading. It’s managing.
Effective leaders are the ones who take charge in a group when a task or problem is completely new, the next step isn’t obvious and there is no manual. When others hesitate and look to their peers for answers, the leaders are the ones who are busy breaking the problem down, creating structure where there is none and developing a plan that they can communicate and act on. When new problems that require novel solutions come your team’s way, take a moment and observe who everyone looks to when someone asks “what do we do now?”. Those are the people who are really leading.
Julie got this card in the mail the other day from our dry cleaner. It probably took them only a few minutes to write and send it. I think the card speaks for itself. Simple, personal, perfect. Handwritten notes still go a long way.
It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? There are a lot of people out there right now who’ve had the question thrust upon them when they weren’t ready. What would you do? Would you seek another job just like the one you had because it’s easy, familiar and safe? Or would you go and do the things that you’ve always wanted to do because they matter to you?
There’s been a strong surge in the pro-entrepreneurship movement this year urging individuals and organizations to focus on making a difference. People are starting to see how participating in the culture of entrepreneurship and doing things and working on problems that add value not only gives them a sense of fulfillment in their lives, it improves society overall. The great shaking out we’re all experiencing right now is producing new thoughts and solutions on how to go about doing what we do and finding meaning in our lives. Some call it “The New Entrepreneurship“, or “awesomeness” and some simply call it “working on stuff that matters“.
What would you do tomorrow if you were laid off today? Would you change the world?