February 15, 2013

The 13 Pieces of Advice that Saved our Company

“You suck, your product sucks, your market sucks but we like the team”-  Jason Bailey, Founder – East Side Games

At the time I heard this, I didn’t appreciate what this actually meant.  It was also tough to take seriously because Jason had just got done mooning someone four minutes after I met him.  When I asked Jason about why they chose us to be apart of Growlab, that was his response.  We changed our product, idea and direction but not the team.  The founders are the only constant in a place where there is no stability.  It’s why investors put so much weight on this and why it’s so critical, more than anything, to have the next guy on your team be the best guy on your team.


“Why don’t you guys focus on where messaging is happening?” –  Len Brody, Co-Founder – NowPublic

This may sound too esoteric for application to your own industry but what this meant to us was to channel our focus on a big problem with a huge market, currently not being solved, a problem we had ourselves and in a space we knew intimately.  This was on the first call we ever had with Len when we were explaining the feedback we were getting as to why our current product wasn’t selling fast enough.


“All we have is our looks”Lane Becker, Co-Founder of GetSatisfaction and author of Get Lucky 

Lane just said this to me last week.  It was eye opening.  Among the many other things that Lane has helped with, this point resonated at the perfect time for us.  The point being was to take care of yourself.  Everyone else’s agenda is secondary to yourself, your health and own well-being.


“Just don’t fail”Dan Martell, Founder, Clarity.FM

The context of this was when I was explaining to Dan that everyone was giving us shit for the way we wanted to run our business.  He confidently looked at me and said, “you can do whatever you want, just don’t fail”.  That was the perfect thing for me to hear.  It gave us confidence to be ourselves and the exact way we needed to evaluate criticism – listen to it and improve from it if you can but don’t think you ever have to compromise yourself.


“Release that Shit.” – Michael Tippett, NowPublic & Ayoudo

When Tal was in the first stages of releasing an MVP, he demoed what he had for Mike.  Mike, was expecting to see something not working or just a glorified keynote simulation of a product.  Ecquire had a very basic functionality that worked and while we thought it was too early for the light of day, Mike saw it, snapped his head up in almost disbelief and said, “release that shit”.  We say this more than anything when we’re talking about product.  It’s just too much to try to think of everything you missed.   Tal regularly cites the creators at Pixar who cringe when they watch their own films because all they see is the things they didn’t have a chance to do – or their famous saying, “Movies aren’t finished, they’re just released.”


“You haven’t done shit yet.” – Andrew Wilkinson, Founder, Metalab

The first time I met Andrew, he actually recognized me at the Grow conference and told me he checked out what we were doing and was impressed.  That sentence is not to infer that I’m anyone that’s recognizable but rather that Andrew is someone who’d show up to a place and know the background on everyone there.  He asked a question that I can’t remember but I went into how we were gonna raise money and how we would be a good acquisition target for an exit and literally the second thing he ever said to me was, “But you haven’t done shit yet”.   He was right. We hadn’t proven or built anything and my focus was on raising money or how we’d liquidate.  The funny thing is, I hate raising money and we’re not interested in an exit, I was just talking about what I thought people wanted to hear.  I was so caught up in the hype of raising money and I didn’t even want to be.  This gave us the confidence to bear down on the product and to focus on what mattered.


“The best companies seem to focus on one thing.  Focus on being the best in the World at one thing.” – Kevin Swan, Principal, iNovia Capital

Much like any founder, they can’t shut up about all the things they’re gonna do.  Much like any successful founder, they focus on one thing because in order to make it, you should be the best in the World at one thing and if you’re gonna be the best in the World at one thing, it will take all of your focus and energy.  We focused on getting the right data to the right places.  Two years after that comment we still have a ton of work to do and are still improving that one thing.  I was lucky enough to have a call with Kevin every Friday morning for an hour for 10 weeks and there was still plenty to talk about about even though the topic was how well we were doing at our one thing.


“How can I be sure that 40K gets me a return?” – Gabe Weinberg, DuckDuckGo

Gabe’s the founder of duckduckgo and a very underrated angel investor.  His advice is usually in the form of a question that takes him two seconds to conjure up but sets me back a month… in a good way.  When we had our first version of the product, it worked well but looked like hell.  I made plans to meet him to go over a potential investment in us for just $40k.  It’s what I guessed the cost to be for a great interface and experience over what we had built.  His question was how he could be sure that the 40k would get him a return on his investment.  In other words, if we got exactly what we wanted out of the 40k, was that all that was keeping us from significant returns?  If you’re planning on raising money, consider what a significant distraction it is and that your product’s improvements will come to a halt.  If you cannot show and answer with data on why an investment in your company will generate at least a 20x return, your time is best spent on the product until you can show that.  When you can show that, don’t leave the office until you have 3 meetings/day booked for a month solid with potential investors.


“Your best feature is that button that gets you your next customer otherwise each customer is just as hard to get as the last one.” – David Barrett, CEO, Expensify

Think about your product and how easy it is for a customer to sign up their friend or colleague.  If it’s not as easy as a button then your biz dev efforts should start here.  David’s one of the most creative mind’s in customer acquisition, cost and pricing and each time I speak with him, he regularly brings up how much more difficult it is to get customers than it is to built a product.  It’s very hard.  The least you can do is to allow the customers that love you to tell their friends or add their team with the least resistance possible.

“LTV (Life time value) to COCA (cost of customer acquisition) only needs to be $1.01 to $1.00”  – David Cancel, Performable (acquired by HubSpot).

David will give credit to Brian Halligan (CEO at HubSpot) for drilling this idea into the culture at HubSpot but David did a great job at articulating what it really meant if you could get to this state.  David explained that your focus on how you acquire customers should have in mind that you just need to make one more cent than you spend.  In concept, this seems easy to grasp but it’s difficult to execute.  Making this a focus creates a very cash conscious and efficient company.  If you are making just one cent more than you’re spending to acquire a customer, you’re essentially printing money.

“The most successful companies I see seem to have between 1 and 3 metrics they have pasted or constantly displayed at their offices so everyone can see “- Roy Rosin, Intuit’s first innovation leader

Roy was an investor and advisor at my previous company and he mentioned this in a board meeting.  It says two things:  You can’t track much more than 3 things and the best companies have a common characteristic of constantly measuring so they can improve.

“Double it.”- Matt Mickiewicz, 99Designs, Developer Auction, Flippa, SitePoint

When people ask me about Matt I tell them, I’m not interested in ever being at another company where Matt isn’t an advisor.  Matt is one of the most successful entrepreneurs you’ll ever meet and he’s one of the best, if not thee best at bringing liquidity to illiquid markets.  When Matt came to visit us in Tofino, we showed him everything that was going on with us and then told him what we charged.  His response was double it.  We didn’t want to double it but we did.  Then he told us again months later, “double it”.  We didn’t want to but we did.  If you like our software, thank Matt.  We would not be around if we did not double our price given our structure and what kind of company we wanted to have.

“Double check the routing number you gave me” – Mike Kane, Founder, Kestrel Investments


It’s true that picking the right mentors can make or break your company. We’re truly indebted to all of our mentors and advisors who seem to know the right thing to say right when we needed to hear it. The most we can hope to do is pay it forward on their behalf.

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