Leading into the Unknown
Every startup CEO should focus on what needs to be right rather than worrying about what is wrong. One of the most difficult challenges is keeping your mind in check. You need to move aggressively and decisively without appearing out of control.
To calm your nerves, find someone you can talk to who understands what you’re going through. Put your ideas, challenges, and fears on paper to better focus on where you are going.
When the business is struggling, you should avoid lying to your employees by pretending everything is fine. Employees are not stupid and by being truthful you can create honest conversations that will help your team overcome these hard things.
Keeping a Strong Team
When things go poorly at a company, all the great aspects of a job evaporate and become reasons for employees to leave. The only thing that keeps an employee at a company when things go wrong is liking their job. Despite the hardships, people still enjoy where they work and what they do.
With this in mind, some tips for expanding your team:
1. Hire for personal strength rather than lack of weakness.
2. Have clear expectations of who you are hiring, and realise there is something wrong with every employee in your company (including you). Nobody is perfect.
3. Involve multiple people in brainstorming but make the final decision solo. Consensus-based decisions tend to sway the process away from strength and towards weakness.
Growth Hacking: Get your PMF Right.
Successful growth hacking can only come about from a successful product. Product-Market-Fit is where growth hacking begins. This means shaping your product so it fits with market needs, and the only way to do that is to test what works.
To get something that’s likely to work don’t start with the product, start with something even simpler like a Press Release. This ensures you have a market focus, rather than a company or product focus. Don't waste time building products nobody will want, start by testing the market directly.
Then build a prototype, test, optimise and test again. For example AirBnB went though many rounds of hack-and-test iterations before it hit on a winning solution (people wanted just the bed, not the breakfast).
Growth Hacking 101
A growth hacker is a results-focused marketer with an obsessive fixation for growth. More concerned with achieving their growth objective than following prescribed processes, growth hackers ‘hack’ (experiment, adapt, modify) products and campaigns in pursuit of growth.
Growth hackers learn by testing; a hack is only a good hack when it works - in the real world. Much marketing is been buried under a mountain of brand - brand fit, brand awareness, brand recall, brand lift. Marketers need to balance this approach with practical experimentation & data-centric growth.
Growth Hacking argues that only with a test-and-learn approach to delivering growth can marketing reclaim its sanity, utility and purpose. We need to forget ‘vanity metrics’, set growth as our true north and use the power of proof as our guiding light.
Priorities: Take Care of the People, The Products, and the Profits
It is crucial to create a positive work environment. People spend most of their waking life at work, which is why work environments are so important. Offering benefits like this to your employees will help you further down the line. Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well.
That said, it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong. When things are going well, offering a healthy working environment means your employees will experience:
1) Career growth as the company grows. Attractive jobs naturally open up. 2) They will impress their friends and family. 3) Their résumé gets stronger by working at a blue-chip company in its . 4) They will become rich.
This Time With Feeling
Learn by Failing. Sometimes the only way to survive is to purposely go out and fall on your face. You do this so that you can learn fast and know what is needed to succeed. This attitude must be instilled through an entire organisation; otherwise, you will experience delays.
Create What the Customer Needs. Customers have limited understanding of what they want. Their current wants are based on their experience of current products. So, finding the right product is your innovator’s job. Do not place the responsibility of innovation on the customers.
The benefit of prioritising your innovator’s view is they can account for everything possible. Your innovators must adopt a combination of knowledge, skill and courage. Sometimes the things you’re not doing are the things you should be focused on.
I Will Survive
Running a startup is associated with two emotions: euphoria and terror.
You need to have friends in your life who can help you through both of these extreme emotions. There are two types of friends you can search for: One you can call when something good happens, and they’ll be excited for you. One you can call when things go horribly wrong.
If you want to keep these friends, you then have to treat them well. That said, if your friends leave you, you must still treat them well. You should treat the people who leave fairly, or the people who stay will never trust you again.
Quest for Knowledge
Until you make an effort to get to know someone or something, you don’t know anything. There are no shortcuts to knowledge, and most knowledge is gained through personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all.
You must learn to separate facts from perception. You need to search for alternative narratives and explanations coming from radically different perspectives. Searching for these contrasting perspectives has the potential to breathe life back into you and your workforce.
This is the same approach Ben Horowitz adopted after being brought up in a communist family. Instead of accepting this worldview, he searched for a radically different perspective. This was the start of his journey towards becoming a venture capitalist.
Target User Inflection Point
Great products take off by targeting a specific life inflection point, when the urgency to solve a problem is most acute. Facebook: Starting at a school, LinkedIn: Getting your 1st job and Slack: Starting a company.
Audiences that exhibit obsessive behaviour tend to be the best beachhead for new products - such as gamers, teens, and hobbyists. You need this obsessive engagement at the beginning to get the flywheel spinning.
The number of social products that took off among older audiences can be counted on 1 finger. Our habits become immutable as we exit our formative years.
Cold Start Problem
A reproducible testing process is more valuable than any one idea. Innovate here first. All things equal, a team with more shots at bat will win against a team with an audacious vision. Most product ideas are Dead On Arrival because the conditions to derive value are impossible to orchestrate.
Getting 7 adult friends to install an app on a reproducible basis is non-trivial. If you can figure out how to do that, that's a bigger idea than your original concept. Don't be embarrassed to have a narrow target audience.
All big things grow from small wedges in the market. If you need to launch nationwide to test your product, it's not a good test. You will prematurely exhaust your audience's attention and limit future shots. If your product works in one community (like a high school), it should work in all of them.
The Lens of User Experience
Designer Jesse Schell asks several questions in the process building an app, website or game: "What experience do I want the user to have?", "What is essential to the experience?" and "How can my design capture that essence?"
Always be sure you don't just consider your design in abstract and objective terms, be sure to consider how it makes the user feel.
If there is there a big difference between the experience you want to create and the one you are actually creating, your design needs to change. You need to clearly state the essential experience you desire, and find as many ways as possible to instill this essence into your design.
Social Consumer App Rules
Habit formation requires recurring organic exposure on other networks. Said another way: after people install your app, they need to see your content elsewhere to remind them that your app exists (e.g., Instagram photos on Facebook, TikTok videos on Instagram).
If you can't use your app from the toilet or while distracted - like driving - your users will have few opportunities to form a habit. There is a graveyard of live video apps that didn't make it because of the attention they require.
All good things start somewhere.
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