Here are a few samples of write ups I made for a client’s social media account. She was the founder of a Sillicon Valley consultancy company that provided marketing advice to startup founders.
- “Like ice and fire, bootstrapped startups and marketing agencies are oftentimes incompatible.”
Think of ice and fire. Do they go well together? Think of oil and water. Do they mix well with each other? Think of two estranged lovers. Are they compatible with one another? The answer to these questions is obviously no. And that describes the relationship between startups that are bootstrapped and marketing agencies. Their relationship is cold at best and heated at worse. The reason for this is that each of them often has mutually exclusive goals or opposing interests. For instance, bootstrapped startups are usually focused on developing products and bringing them to market while running the company as inexpensively as possible. Marketing agencies, on the other hand, are usually focused on a different goal, and that is to acquire new clients or accounts. In short, bootstrapped startups often don’t want to spend too much on marketing and advertising, choosing to focus instead on developing their products, while marketing agencies often want these startups to allocate a bigger budget for marketing expenses. I’ve had the privilege of seeing things from both vantage points – that is, from the perspective of a bootstrapped startup and from the perspective of a marketing agency – and I can say that these two are indeed a sour match.
I’ve worked with bootstrapped startups many times in the past. They usually ended up running out of money and folding because they only remotely considered hiring an agency for their company. There were no resources in the first place and most of the time we were only trying to reach goals that were unattainable. Marketing agencies can’t operate on small budgets. It’s better for startups to just work with interns and freelancers who may be able to get the job done.
If you have specific goals and KPIs to meet on a limited budget, then don’t hire an agency to fulfill those goals for you. Hire freelancers and interns instead.
- “The key to being the next Facebook, Tesla, or Airbnb is having a strong company mission.”
It’s still totally possible for any startup today to become the next Facebook, Tesla, or Airbnb. Yes, you and your co-founders can still be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, or Brian Chesky. It’s not wishful thinking. But it won’t come easy. It won’t work like magic, either, as if you can just pull a good business model or a great industry out of a hat and expect things to work out. What it will involve is sheer hard work and complete dedication to your mission. You can create a great business model and a whole new industry by working hard for it and giving it everything you got. But above all, you must have a powerful mission that drives you daily.
When I work with startup founders, I’d usually interview them first so that I’ll find out what their motives really are. If they try to sell me their position by saying, “Well, this is how much we are going to make with this product,” I’d run the other way. For me it’s not about the profit. What I want to understand is their business model, industry, and overall plan. But beyond all that, what I really want to understand is their mission. If the founder doesn’t have a mission, then they probably don’t have a strong business. They must figure out how they are going to position themselves in the market and where they stand among their competitors before they can even think about revenue and how much money they can make from their product. That should be the last factor.
Focus on building a sustainable product that people really want instead of a product that people are only mildly interested in. If you take the latter approach then you are going to fail in no time. Founders I work with focus first on the value of their product and not on the pricing and potential revenue.
It’s easy to focus on what a product will do – especially if you are someone who is technical – while putting off thinking about the details of how you are going to make money with the product. But it’s critical to figure out how you are going to position yourself in the market, what your business model really is, and how much you are going to charge. To illustrate what I mean, let’s think of Uber. When Uber first started out, its value proposition was to provide a “black car” service to customers in a more convenient way. So it was positioned as a premium car service and priced higher than cabs. As they evolved, they took on cabs directly with their Uber X offering (which allows drivers to use less elegant cars) and adjusted their pricing accordingly.
- “If risk is something you have an aversion for, then stick with what you’re good at.”
If you are extremely risk-averse or have a very low tolerance for unpredictability, then you probably should just stick to doing what you are already good at or familiar with. You don’t have to invent something that’s totally new to you. That would be unwise. Sure, it would be exciting to do something risky and unpredictable, but it can also be very costly to you. It’s usually a good idea to step out of your comfort zone. Sometimes, though, it’s not.
One SaaS startup I worked with removed a lot of risk by creating a complimentary service that worked together with a bigger umbrella brand. For example, Task Rabbit sold to IKEA because they complimented each other. If the product or service is needed then it is still worth building but you never have to come up with something completely new. It can actually save you lots of money and time. You have to stick with what you know and with what your domain expertise is. You can take other approaches but be aware that they are going to involve a lot of risks, because you don’t have the necessary experience just yet. You will be stepping into a whole new world and encounter lots of problems and challenges, because you will be creating something you have never created before.
I remember one time passing by this store that LOOKED exactly like a 7-Eleven. The branding and color scheme were almost exactly the same, but as I got closer and saw it more carefully, it read “7-EVEN”. This odd branding strategy worked for them and it provided them with a healthy stream of revenue every month.
You don’t have to feel stressed out about starting from scratch. You can easily have someone handle the work for you.
- “Having a clear idea of what success looks like is an indispensible ingredient to having a self-sustaining startup.”
In order to create a startup that is truly self-sustaining, one that is not merely making modest sales or breaking even but has great traction and is actually profitable, you have to have a clear idea of what success looks like. Ask yourself, do you know what success looks like? How will you know how to get there? How will you know when you have arrived if you don’t know where you’re actually going? How can you create a self-sustaining startup when you don’t even have answers to these questions?
When you are looking to make sales as a startup, you should think about what you are willing to lose to make those sales. How are you going to create a self-sustaining business? What will success look like? You need to put in place certain metrics that can tell you important things about your startup.
I remember working with one startup that expected to close high sales but didn’t have the budget to make it happen. They were seeing everything through rose-colored glasses. As a result, the scarcity effect hit them pretty hard. They wanted to grow 10x but they were only willing to pay $2,500 for a team to help them grow. It’s like walking inside a casino without knowing how much you’re able to lose. How does that work?
If you want to create sales that sustain, then focus on what success looks like first.
- “Fall in love with self-discipline and sacrifice in order to fulfill your mission.”
Self-motivation is highly overrated and ephemeral. It comes and it goes. One moment, you feel motivated, the next moment, you don’t. That’s because motivation is mainly rooted in our moods and emotions, and we all know how unreliable our feelings are. We go up, we go down, we plateau, we go up again, we sink again, and on and on and on ad infinitum. We experience a roller coaster of emotions all in a single day. We can’t keep ourselves motivated all the time. Only two things will get us to where we really want to go, and that is self-discipline and sacrifice. We must embrace discipline and hardship, and we must get comfortable in being uncomfortable. I had the opportunity to talk about this in one of my latest features in @time, along with thought leaders and influencers @garyvee and @grantcardone.
- “Focus on saving the world by serving the world.”
When you’re in business, you talk a lot about money. You dream of money. You yearn for money. You aim for money. You think of ways to maximize your time and resources so that you’ll earn more money. And so on. But pretty soon all that talk and search for money will become pretty empty. You will feel hollow sooner than you think if you don’t have a higher mission than increasing your revenue. The greatest innovators, titans, and billionaires in the world all have missions that surpassed their desire for wealth. People like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, and Elon Musk had a greater purpose – to make a dent in the universe, to create something that changes the world, and impact people’s lives for the better. That should be the purpose that drives you, too. Together with @grantcardone and other successful execs, I was asked by @businessinsider to share the best lessons I’ve learned from one of those top CEOs.
- “Be honest with yourself. Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
The only way to move forward is to take a step backward. The only way to see what’s ahead is to look at what’s behind. These may sound paradoxical and contradictory, but they’re true. The only way you can really progress in the New Year is to talk about your regressions in the previous year – that is, if you talk about your failures, weaknesses, and everything bad and ugly that happened to you that year. Only then can you move forward. Similarly, you won’t really be able to see what lies ahead of you if you won’t take time to talk with your team about what worked and what didn’t. In order to avoid repeating past mistakes, you need to identify what those mistakes are in the first place. I was privileged to discuss this recently in @incmagazine.