SuccessValley https://www.successvalley.tech Creating a Valley of Successful Entrepreneurs Thu, 24 May 2018 21:29:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Jessica Livingston: Why Startups Need to Focus on Sales, Not Marketing https://www.successvalley.tech/jessica-livingston-startups-need-focus-sales-not-marketing/ https://www.successvalley.tech/jessica-livingston-startups-need-focus-sales-not-marketing/#respond Tue, 06 Mar 2018 13:02:41 +0000 https://www.successvalley.tech/?p=10385   The most important thing an early-stage startup should know about marketing is rather counterintuitive: that you probably shouldn’t be doing anything you’d use the term “marketing” to describe. Sales and marketing are two ends of a continuum. At the sales end your outreach is narrow and deep. At the marketing end it is broad and shallow. And for an early […]

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The most important thing an early-stage startup should know about marketing is rather counterintuitive: that you probably shouldn’t be doing anything you’d use the term “marketing” to describe. Sales and marketing are two ends of a continuum. At the sales end your outreach is narrow and deep. At the marketing end it is broad and shallow. And for an early stage startup, narrow and deep is what you want — not just in the way you appeal to users, but in the type of product you build. Which means the kind of marketing you should be doing should be indistinguishable from sales: you should be talking to a small number of users who are seriously interested in what you’re making, not a broad audience who are on the whole indifferent.

Successful startups almost always start narrow and deep. Apple started with a computer Steve Wozniak made to impress his friends at the Homebrew Computer Club. There weren’t a lot of them, but they were really interested. Facebook started out just for Harvard University students. Again, not a lot of potential users, but they really wanted it. Successful startups start narrow and deep partly because they don’t have the power to reach a big audience, so they have to choose a very interested one. But also because the product is still being defined. The conversation with initial users is also market research.

At Y Combinator, we advise most startups to begin by seeking out some core group of early adopters and then engaging with individual users to convince them to sign up.

For example, the early adopters of Airbnb were hosts and guests in New York City (Y Combinator funded Airbnb in Winter of 2009). To grow, Airbnb needed to get more hosts and also help existing hosts convert better. So Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia flew to New York every week to meet with hosts — teaching them how to price their listings, take better photos, and so on. They also asked hosts for introductions to potential new hosts, who they then met in person.

Stripe (YC S09) was particularly aggressive about signing up users manually at first. The YC alumni network are a good source of early adopters for a service like Stripe. Co-founders Patrick and John Collison worked their way methodically through it, and when someone agreed to try Stripe, the brothers would install it for them on the spot rather than email a link. We now call their technique “Collison installation.”

Many guest speakers at Y Combinator offer stories about how manual the initial process of getting users was. Pinterest is a mass consumer product, but Ben Silbermann said even he began by recruiting users manually. Ben would literally walk into cafes in Palo Alto and ask random people to try out Pinterest while he gathered feedback over their shoulders.

The danger of the term “marketing” is that it implies the opposite end of the sales/marketing spectrum from the one startups should be focusing on. And just as focusing on the right end has a double benefit — you acquire users and define the product — focusing on the wrong end is doubly dangerous, because you not only fail to grow, but you can remain in denial about your product’s lameness.

All too often, I’ve seen founders build some initially mediocre product, announce it to the world, find that users never show up, and not know what to do next. As well as not getting any users, the startup never gets the feedback it needs to improve the product.

So why wouldn’t all founders start by engaging with users individually? Because it’s hard and demoralizing. Sales gives you a kind of harsh feedback that “marketing” doesn’t. You try to convince someone to use what you’ve built, and they won’t. These conversations are painful, but necessary. I suspect from my experience that founders who want to remain in denial about the inadequacy of their product and/or the difficulty of starting a startup subconsciously prefer the broad and shallow “marketing” approach precisely because they can’t face the work and unpleasant truths they’ll find if they talk to users.

How should you measure if your manual efforts are effective? Focus on growth rate rather than absolute numbers. Then you won’t be dismayed if the absolute numbers are small at first. If you have 20 users, you only need two more this week to grow 10%. And while two users is a small number for most products, 10% a week is a great growth rate. If you keep growing at 10% a week, the absolute numbers will eventually become impressive.

Our advice at Y Combinator is always to make a really good product and go out and get users manually. The two work hand-in-hand: you need to talk individually to early adopters to make a really good product. So focusing on the narrow and deep end of the sales/marketing continuum is not just the most effective way to get users. Your startup will die if you don’t.

Source: Genius.com

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Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s Early Days: Go Hard or Go Home https://www.successvalley.tech/mark-zuckerberg-facebooks-early-days-go-hard-go-home/ https://www.successvalley.tech/mark-zuckerberg-facebooks-early-days-go-hard-go-home/#respond Tue, 06 Mar 2018 12:14:13 +0000 https://www.successvalley.tech/?p=10381   Like any young start-up, the early days of Facebook were thin and scrappy. Its very first server back in 2004 cost $85 to rent. They didn’t spend more than they had in the bank. They were small, tight and still had everything to prove. To do that, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, the company needed to test its mettle against […]

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Like any young start-up, the early days of Facebook were thin and scrappy. Its very first server back in 2004 cost $85 to rent. They didn’t spend more than they had in the bank. They were small, tight and still had everything to prove.

To do that, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, the company needed to test its mettle against its existing competitors. And back then, those weren’t MySpace or Friendster, but the existing social networks inside U.S. universities.

“We first went to schools that were hardest to succeed at,” Zuckerberg said on Saturday morning, kicking off the Y Combinator Startup School event in Palo Alto, California. “If we had a product that was better than others, it would be worth investing in.”

Zuckerberg spoke to a packed house in the Stanford Memorial Hall auditorium, with an audience mostly composed of twentysomethings, the veritable next wave of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The conference is geared toward the young and idealistic, those who may build the Facebooks or Twitters of tomorrow. Hence, Zuckerberg focused on the challenges of turning a rough-and-tumble outfit into the 1-billion-user-strong social giant it is today.

So if you’ll hearken back to 2004, Facebook’s first days were limited to college students alone, those who had verified university email addresses. It was a play for an early conception of true online identity; unlike other existing networks, you were supposed to be yourself on Facebook.

After first growing Facebook inside of Harvard’s network, then, the plan was essentially to go hard or go home — to launch the network at universities like Columbia, Stanford and Yale. These were the schools, Zuckerberg said, that had the most integrated social networks campus-wide. If Facebook caught on here, it’d be safer to assume that scaling to less-integrated schools would be a downhill battle.

That’s exactly what happened. Facebook spread from school to school, moving slowly to cope with the early scaling issues that popular services often face (Twitter and the Fail Whale, anyone?).

Much of the other advice Zuckerberg offered to the young crowd was the usual platitudes — listen to your users, stay simple, be reliable.

But his most important point was clear: Punch above your weight class. If your product is better than anything out there, the users will let you know it.

Source: AllThingsD.com

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How To Get Startup Ideas https://www.successvalley.tech/get-startup-ideas/ https://www.successvalley.tech/get-startup-ideas/#respond Mon, 05 Mar 2018 14:02:33 +0000 https://www.successvalley.tech/?p=10377   The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, […]

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The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way.

Problems

Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.

I made it myself. In 1995 I started a company to put art galleries online. But galleries didn’t want to be online. It’s not how the art business works. So why did I spend 6 months working on this stupid idea? Because I didn’t pay attention to users. I invented a model of the world that didn’t correspond to reality, and worked from that. I didn’t notice my model was wrong until I tried to convince users to pay for what we’d built. Even then I took embarrassingly long to catch on. I was attached to my model of the world, and I’d spent a lot of time on the software. They had to want it!Why do so many founders build things no one wants? Because they begin by trying to think of startup ideas. That m.o. is doubly dangerous: it doesn’t merely yield few good ideas; it yields bad ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them.

At YC we call these “made-up” or “sitcom” startup ideas. Imagine one of the characters on a TV show was starting a startup. The writers would have to invent something for it to do. But coming up with good startup ideas is hard. It’s not something you can do for the asking. So (unless they got amazingly lucky) the writers would come up with an idea that sounded plausible, but was actually bad.

For example, a social network for pet owners. It doesn’t sound obviously mistaken. Millions of people have pets. Often they care a lot about their pets and spend a lot of money on them. Surely many of these people would like a site where they could talk to other pet owners. Not all of them perhaps, but if just 2 or 3 percent were regular visitors, you could have millions of users. You could serve them targeted offers, and maybe charge for premium features. [1]

The danger of an idea like this is that when you run it by your friends with pets, they don’t say “I would never use this.” They say “Yeah, maybe I could see using something like that.” Even when the startup launches, it will sound plausible to a lot of people. They don’t want to use it themselves, at least not right now, but they could imagine other people wanting it. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users.[2]

Well

When a startup launches, there have to be at least some users who really need what they’re making—not just people who could see themselves using it one day, but who want it urgently. Usually this initial group of users is small, for the simple reason that if there were something that large numbers of people urgently needed and that could be built with the amount of effort a startup usually puts into a version one, it would probably already exist. Which means you have to compromise on one dimension: you can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter. Not all ideas of that type are good startup ideas, but nearly all good startup ideas are of that type.

Imagine a graph whose x axis represents all the people who might want what you’re making and whose y axis represents how much they want it. If you invert the scale on the y axis, you can envision companies as holes. Google is an immense crater: hundreds of millions of people use it, and they need it a lot. A startup just starting out can’t expect to excavate that much volume. So you have two choices about the shape of hole you start with. You can either dig a hole that’s broad but shallow, or one that’s narrow and deep, like a well.

Made-up startup ideas are usually of the first type. Lots of people are mildly interested in a social network for pet owners.

Nearly all good startup ideas are of the second type. Microsoft was a well when they made Altair Basic. There were only a couple thousand Altair owners, but without this software they were programming in machine language. Thirty years later Facebook had the same shape. Their first site was exclusively for Harvard students, of which there are only a few thousand, but those few thousand users wanted it a lot.

When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they’ll use it even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they’ve never heard of? If you can’t answer that, the idea is probably bad. [3]

You don’t need the narrowness of the well per se. It’s depth you need; you get narrowness as a byproduct of optimizing for depth (and speed). But you almost always do get it. In practice the link between depth and narrowness is so strong that it’s a good sign when you know that an idea will appeal strongly to a specific group or type of user.

But while demand shaped like a well is almost a necessary condition for a good startup idea, it’s not a sufficient one. If Mark Zuckerberg had built something that could only ever have appealed to Harvard students, it would not have been a good startup idea. Facebook was a good idea because it started with a small market there was a fast path out of. Colleges are similar enough that if you build a facebook that works at Harvard, it will work at any college. So you spread rapidly through all the colleges. Once you have all the college students, you get everyone else simply by letting them in.

Similarly for Microsoft: Basic for the Altair; Basic for other machines; other languages besides Basic; operating systems; applications; IPO.

Self

How do you tell whether there’s a path out of an idea? How do you tell whether something is the germ of a giant company, or just a niche product? Often you can’t. The founders of Airbnb didn’t realize at first how big a market they were tapping. Initially they had a much narrower idea. They were going to let hosts rent out space on their floors during conventions. They didn’t foresee the expansion of this idea; it forced itself upon them gradually. All they knew at first is that they were onto something. That’s probably as much as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg knew at first.

Occasionally it’s obvious from the beginning when there’s a path out of the initial niche. And sometimes I can see a path that’s not immediately obvious; that’s one of our specialties at YC. But there are limits to how well this can be done, no matter how much experience you have. The most important thing to understand about paths out of the initial idea is the meta-fact that these are hard to see.

So if you can’t predict whether there’s a path out of an idea, how do you choose between ideas? The truth is disappointing but interesting: if you’re the right sort of person, you have the right sort of hunches. If you’re at the leading edge of a field that’s changing fast, when you have a hunch that something is worth doing, you’re more likely to be right.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig says:

You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.

I’ve wondered about that passage since I read it in high school. I’m not sure how useful his advice is for painting specifically, but it fits this situation well. Empirically, the way to have good startup ideas is to become the sort of person who has them.

Being at the leading edge of a field doesn’t mean you have to be one of the people pushing it forward. You can also be at the leading edge as a user. It was not so much because he was a programmer that Facebook seemed a good idea to Mark Zuckerberg as because he used computers so much. If you’d asked most 40 year olds in 2004 whether they’d like to publish their lives semi-publicly on the Internet, they’d have been horrified at the idea. But Mark already lived online; to him it seemed natural.

Paul Buchheit says that people at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field “live in the future.” Combine that with Pirsig and you get:

Live in the future, then build what’s missing.

That describes the way many if not most of the biggest startups got started. Neither Apple nor Yahoo nor Google nor Facebook were even supposed to be companies at first. They grew out of things their founders built because there seemed a gap in the world.

If you look at the way successful founders have had their ideas, it’s generally the result of some external stimulus hitting a prepared mind. Bill Gates and Paul Allen hear about the Altair and think “I bet we could write a Basic interpreter for it.” Drew Houston realizes he’s forgotten his USB stick and thinks “I really need to make my files live online.” Lots of people heard about the Altair. Lots forgot USB sticks. The reason those stimuli caused those founders to start companies was that their experiences had prepared them to notice the opportunities they represented.

The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not “think up” but “notice.” At YC we call ideas that grow naturally out of the founders’ own experiences “organic” startup ideas. The most successful startups almost all begin this way.

That may not have been what you wanted to hear. You may have expected recipes for coming up with startup ideas, and instead I’m telling you that the key is to have a mind that’s prepared in the right way. But disappointing though it may be, this is the truth. And it is a recipe of a sort, just one that in the worst case takes a year rather than a weekend.

If you’re not at the leading edge of some rapidly changing field, you can get to one. For example, anyone reasonably smart can probably get to an edge of programming (e.g. building mobile apps) in a year. Since a successful startup will consume at least 3-5 years of your life, a year’s preparation would be a reasonable investment. Especially if you’re also looking for a cofounder. [4]

You don’t have to learn programming to be at the leading edge of a domain that’s changing fast. Other domains change fast. But while learning to hack is not necessary, it is for the forseeable future sufficient. As Marc Andreessen put it, software is eating the world, and this trend has decades left to run.

Knowing how to hack also means that when you have ideas, you’ll be able to implement them. That’s not absolutely necessary (Jeff Bezos couldn’t) but it’s an advantage. It’s a big advantage, when you’re considering an idea like putting a college facebook online, if instead of merely thinking “That’s an interesting idea,” you can think instead “That’s an interesting idea. I’ll try building an initial version tonight.” It’s even better when you’re both a programmer and the target user, because then the cycle of generating new versions and testing them on users can happen inside one head.

Noticing

Once you’re living in the future in some respect, the way to notice startup ideas is to look for things that seem to be missing. If you’re really at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field, there will be things that are obviously missing. What won’t be obvious is that they’re startup ideas. So if you want to find startup ideas, don’t merely turn on the filter “What’s missing?” Also turn off every other filter, particularly “Could this be a big company?” There’s plenty of time to apply that test later. But if you’re thinking about that initially, it may not only filter out lots of good ideas, but also cause you to focus on bad ones.

Most things that are missing will take some time to see. You almost have to trick yourself into seeing the ideas around you.

But you know the ideas are out there. This is not one of those problems where there might not be an answer. It’s impossibly unlikely that this is the exact moment when technological progress stops. You can be sure people are going to build things in the next few years that will make you think “What did I do before x?”

And when these problems get solved, they will probably seem flamingly obvious in retrospect. What you need to do is turn off the filters that usually prevent you from seeing them. The most powerful is simply taking the current state of the world for granted. Even the most radically open-minded of us mostly do that. You couldn’t get from your bed to the front door if you stopped to question everything.

But if you’re looking for startup ideas you can sacrifice some of the efficiency of taking the status quo for granted and start to question things. Why is your inbox overflowing? Because you get a lot of email, or because it’s hard to get email out of your inbox? Why do you get so much email? What problems are people trying to solve by sending you email? Are there better ways to solve them? And why is it hard to get emails out of your inbox? Why do you keep emails around after you’ve read them? Is an inbox the optimal tool for that?

Pay particular attention to things that chafe you. The advantage of taking the status quo for granted is not just that it makes life (locally) more efficient, but also that it makes life more tolerable. If you knew about all the things we’ll get in the next 50 years but don’t have yet, you’d find present day life pretty constraining, just as someone from the present would if they were sent back 50 years in a time machine. When something annoys you, it could be because you’re living in the future.

When you find the right sort of problem, you should probably be able to describe it as obvious, at least to you. When we started Viaweb, all the online stores were built by hand, by web designers making individual HTML pages. It was obvious to us as programmers that these sites would have to be generated by software. [5]

Which means, strangely enough, that coming up with startup ideas is a question of seeing the obvious. That suggests how weird this process is: you’re trying to see things that are obvious, and yet that you hadn’t seen.

Since what you need to do here is loosen up your own mind, it may be best not to make too much of a direct frontal attack on the problem—i.e. to sit down and try to think of ideas. The best plan may be just to keep a background process running, looking for things that seem to be missing. Work on hard problems, driven mainly by curiosity, but have a second self watching over your shoulder, taking note of gaps and anomalies. [6]

Give yourself some time. You have a lot of control over the rate at which you turn yours into a prepared mind, but you have less control over the stimuli that spark ideas when they hit it. If Bill Gates and Paul Allen had constrained themselves to come up with a startup idea in one month, what if they’d chosen a month before the Altair appeared? They probably would have worked on a less promising idea. Drew Houston did work on a less promising idea before Dropbox: an SAT prep startup. But Dropbox was a much better idea, both in the absolute sense and also as a match for his skills. [7]

A good way to trick yourself into noticing ideas is to work on projects that seem like they’d be cool. If you do that, you’ll naturally tend to build things that are missing. It wouldn’t seem as interesting to build something that already existed.

Just as trying to think up startup ideas tends to produce bad ones, working on things that could be dismissed as “toys” often produces good ones. When something is described as a toy, that means it has everything an idea needs except being important. It’s cool; users love it; it just doesn’t matter. But if you’re living in the future and you build something cool that users love, it may matter more than outsiders think. Microcomputers seemed like toys when Apple and Microsoft started working on them. I’m old enough to remember that era; the usual term for people with their own microcomputers was “hobbyists.” BackRub seemed like an inconsequential science project. The Facebook was just a way for undergrads to stalk one another.

At YC we’re excited when we meet startups working on things that we could imagine know-it-alls on forums dismissing as toys. To us that’s positive evidence an idea is good.

If you can afford to take a long view (and arguably you can’t afford not to), you can turn “Live in the future and build what’s missing” into something even better:

Live in the future and build what seems interesting.

School

That’s what I’d advise college students to do, rather than trying to learn about “entrepreneurship.” “Entrepreneurship” is something you learn best by doing it. The examples of the most successful founders make that clear. What you should be spending your time on in college is ratcheting yourself into the future. College is an incomparable opportunity to do that. What a waste to sacrifice an opportunity to solve the hard part of starting a startup—becoming the sort of person who can have organic startup ideas—by spending time learning about the easy part. Especially since you won’t even really learn about it, any more than you’d learn about sex in a class. All you’ll learn is the words for things.

The clash of domains is a particularly fruitful source of ideas. If you know a lot about programming and you start learning about some other field, you’ll probably see problems that software could solve. In fact, you’re doubly likely to find good problems in another domain: (a) the inhabitants of that domain are not as likely as software people to have already solved their problems with software, and (b) since you come into the new domain totally ignorant, you don’t even know what the status quo is to take it for granted.

So if you’re a CS major and you want to start a startup, instead of taking a class on entrepreneurship you’re better off taking a class on, say, genetics. Or better still, go work for a biotech company. CS majors normally get summer jobs at computer hardware or software companies. But if you want to find startup ideas, you might do better to get a summer job in some unrelated field. [8]

Or don’t take any extra classes, and just build things. It’s no coincidence that Microsoft and Facebook both got started in January. At Harvard that is (or was) Reading Period, when students have no classes to attend because they’re supposed to be studying for finals. [9]

But don’t feel like you have to build things that will become startups. That’s premature optimization. Just build things. Preferably with other students. It’s not just the classes that make a university such a good place to crank oneself into the future. You’re also surrounded by other people trying to do the same thing. If you work together with them on projects, you’ll end up producing not just organic ideas, but organic ideas with organic founding teams—and that, empirically, is the best combination.

Beware of research. If an undergrad writes something all his friends start using, it’s quite likely to represent a good startup idea. Whereas a PhD dissertation is extremely unlikely to. For some reason, the more a project has to count as research, the less likely it is to be something that could be turned into a startup. [10] I think the reason is that the subset of ideas that count as research is so narrow that it’s unlikely that a project that satisfied that constraint would also satisfy the orthogonal constraint of solving users’ problems. Whereas when students (or professors) build something as a side-project, they automatically gravitate toward solving users’ problems—perhaps even with an additional energy that comes from being freed from the constraints of research.

Competition

Because a good idea should seem obvious, when you have one you’ll tend to feel that you’re late. Don’t let that deter you. Worrying that you’re late is one of the signs of a good idea. Ten minutes of searching the web will usually settle the question. Even if you find someone else working on the same thing, you’re probably not too late. It’s exceptionally rare for startups to be killed by competitors—so rare that you can almost discount the possibility. So unless you discover a competitor with the sort of lock-in that would prevent users from choosing you, don’t discard the idea.

If you’re uncertain, ask users. The question of whether you’re too late is subsumed by the question of whether anyone urgently needs what you plan to make. If you have something that no competitor does and that some subset of users urgently need, you have a beachhead. [11]

The question then is whether that beachhead is big enough. Or more importantly, who’s in it: if the beachhead consists of people doing something lots more people will be doing in the future, then it’s probably big enough no matter how small it is. For example, if you’re building something differentiated from competitors by the fact that it works on phones, but it only works on the newest phones, that’s probably a big enough beachhead.

Err on the side of doing things where you’ll face competitors. Inexperienced founders usually give competitors more credit than they deserve. Whether you succeed depends far more on you than on your competitors. So better a good idea with competitors than a bad one without.

You don’t need to worry about entering a “crowded market” so long as you have a thesis about what everyone else in it is overlooking. In fact that’s a very promising starting point. Google was that type of idea. Your thesis has to be more precise than “we’re going to make an x that doesn’t suck” though. You have to be able to phrase it in terms of something the incumbents are overlooking. Best of all is when you can say that they didn’t have the courage of their convictions, and that your plan is what they’d have done if they’d followed through on their own insights. Google was that type of idea too. The search engines that preceded them shied away from the most radical implications of what they were doing—particularly that the better a job they did, the faster users would leave.

A crowded market is actually a good sign, because it means both that there’s demand and that none of the existing solutions are good enough. A startup can’t hope to enter a market that’s obviously big and yet in which they have no competitors. So any startup that succeeds is either going to be entering a market with existing competitors, but armed with some secret weapon that will get them all the users (like Google), or entering a market that looks small but which will turn out to be big (like Microsoft). [12]

Filters

There are two more filters you’ll need to turn off if you want to notice startup ideas: the unsexy filter and the schlep filter.

Most programmers wish they could start a startup by just writing some brilliant code, pushing it to a server, and having users pay them lots of money. They’d prefer not to deal with tedious problems or get involved in messy ways with the real world. Which is a reasonable preference, because such things slow you down. But this preference is so widespread that the space of convenient startup ideas has been stripped pretty clean. If you let your mind wander a few blocks down the street to the messy, tedious ideas, you’ll find valuable ones just sitting there waiting to be implemented.

The schlep filter is so dangerous that I wrote a separate essay about the condition it induces, which I called schlep blindness. I gave Stripe as an example of a startup that benefited from turning off this filter, and a pretty striking example it is. Thousands of programmers were in a position to see this idea; thousands of programmers knew how painful it was to process payments before Stripe. But when they looked for startup ideas they didn’t see this one, because unconsciously they shrank from having to deal with payments. And dealing with payments is a schlep for Stripe, but not an intolerable one. In fact they might have had net less pain; because the fear of dealing with payments kept most people away from this idea, Stripe has had comparatively smooth sailing in other areas that are sometimes painful, like user acquisition. They didn’t have to try very hard to make themselves heard by users, because users were desperately waiting for what they were building.

The unsexy filter is similar to the schlep filter, except it keeps you from working on problems you despise rather than ones you fear. We overcame this one to work on Viaweb. There were interesting things about the architecture of our software, but we weren’t interested in ecommerce per se. We could see the problem was one that needed to be solved though.

Turning off the schlep filter is more important than turning off the unsexy filter, because the schlep filter is more likely to be an illusion. And even to the degree it isn’t, it’s a worse form of self-indulgence. Starting a successful startup is going to be fairly laborious no matter what. Even if the product doesn’t entail a lot of schleps, you’ll still have plenty dealing with investors, hiring and firing people, and so on. So if there’s some idea you think would be cool but you’re kept away from by fear of the schleps involved, don’t worry: any sufficiently good idea will have as many.

The unsexy filter, while still a source of error, is not as entirely useless as the schlep filter. If you’re at the leading edge of a field that’s changing rapidly, your ideas about what’s sexy will be somewhat correlated with what’s valuable in practice. Particularly as you get older and more experienced. Plus if you find an idea sexy, you’ll work on it more enthusiastically. [13]

Recipes

While the best way to discover startup ideas is to become the sort of person who has them and then build whatever interests you, sometimes you don’t have that luxury. Sometimes you need an idea now. For example, if you’re working on a startup and your initial idea turns out to be bad.

For the rest of this essay I’ll talk about tricks for coming up with startup ideas on demand. Although empirically you’re better off using the organic strategy, you could succeed this way. You just have to be more disciplined. When you use the organic method, you don’t even notice an idea unless it’s evidence that something is truly missing. But when you make a conscious effort to think of startup ideas, you have to replace this natural constraint with self-discipline. You’ll see a lot more ideas, most of them bad, so you need to be able to filter them.

One of the biggest dangers of not using the organic method is the example of the organic method. Organic ideas feel like inspirations. There are a lot of stories about successful startups that began when the founders had what seemed a crazy idea but “just knew” it was promising. When you feel that about an idea you’ve had while trying to come up with startup ideas, you’re probably mistaken.

When searching for ideas, look in areas where you have some expertise. If you’re a database expert, don’t build a chat app for teenagers (unless you’re also a teenager). Maybe it’s a good idea, but you can’t trust your judgment about that, so ignore it. There have to be other ideas that involve databases, and whose quality you can judge. Do you find it hard to come up with good ideas involving databases? That’s because your expertise raises your standards. Your ideas about chat apps are just as bad, but you’re giving yourself a Dunning-Kruger pass in that domain.

The place to start looking for ideas is things you need. Theremust be things you need. [14]

One good trick is to ask yourself whether in your previous job you ever found yourself saying “Why doesn’t someone make x? If someone made x we’d buy it in a second.” If you can think of any x people said that about, you probably have an idea. You know there’s demand, and people don’t say that about things that are impossible to build.

More generally, try asking yourself whether there’s something unusual about you that makes your needs different from most other people’s. You’re probably not the only one. It’s especially good if you’re different in a way people will increasingly be.

If you’re changing ideas, one unusual thing about you is the idea you’d previously been working on. Did you discover any needs while working on it? Several well-known startups began this way. Hotmail began as something its founders wrote to talk about their previous startup idea while they were working at their day jobs.[15]

A particularly promising way to be unusual is to be young. Some of the most valuable new ideas take root first among people in their teens and early twenties. And while young founders are at a disadvantage in some respects, they’re the only ones who really understand their peers. It would have been very hard for someone who wasn’t a college student to start Facebook. So if you’re a young founder (under 23 say), are there things you and your friends would like to do that current technology won’t let you?

The next best thing to an unmet need of your own is an unmet need of someone else. Try talking to everyone you can about the gaps they find in the world. What’s missing? What would they like to do that they can’t? What’s tedious or annoying, particularly in their work? Let the conversation get general; don’t be trying too hard to find startup ideas. You’re just looking for something to spark a thought. Maybe you’ll notice a problem they didn’t consciously realize they had, because you know how to solve it.

When you find an unmet need that isn’t your own, it may be somewhat blurry at first. The person who needs something may not know exactly what they need. In that case I often recommend that founders act like consultants—that they do what they’d do if they’d been retained to solve the problems of this one user. People’s problems are similar enough that nearly all the code you write this way will be reusable, and whatever isn’t will be a small price to start out certain that you’ve reached the bottom of the well. [16]

One way to ensure you do a good job solving other people’s problems is to make them your own. When Rajat Suri of E la Carte decided to write software for restaurants, he got a job as a waiter to learn how restaurants worked. That may seem like taking things to extremes, but startups are extreme. We love it when founders do such things.

In fact, one strategy I recommend to people who need a new idea is not merely to turn off their schlep and unsexy filters, but to seek out ideas that are unsexy or involve schleps. Don’t try to start Twitter. Those ideas are so rare that you can’t find them by looking for them. Make something unsexy that people will pay you for.

A good trick for bypassing the schlep and to some extent the unsexy filter is to ask what you wish someone else would build, so that you could use it. What would you pay for right now?

Since startups often garbage-collect broken companies and industries, it can be a good trick to look for those that are dying, or deserve to, and try to imagine what kind of company would profit from their demise. For example, journalism is in free fall at the moment. But there may still be money to be made from something like journalism. What sort of company might cause people in the future to say “this replaced journalism” on some axis?

But imagine asking that in the future, not now. When one company or industry replaces another, it usually comes in from the side. So don’t look for a replacement for x; look for something that people will later say turned out to be a replacement for x. And be imaginative about the axis along which the replacement occurs. Traditional journalism, for example, is a way for readers to get information and to kill time, a way for writers to make money and to get attention, and a vehicle for several different types of advertising. It could be replaced on any of these axes (it has already started to be on most).

When startups consume incumbents, they usually start by serving some small but important market that the big players ignore. It’s particularly good if there’s an admixture of disdain in the big players’ attitude, because that often misleads them. For example, after Steve Wozniak built the computer that became the Apple I, he felt obliged to give his then-employer Hewlett-Packard the option to produce it. Fortunately for him, they turned it down, and one of the reasons they did was that it used a TV for a monitor, which seemed intolerably déclassé to a high-end hardware company like HP was at the time. [17]

Are there groups of scruffy but sophisticated users like the early microcomputer “hobbyists” that are currently being ignored by the big players? A startup with its sights set on bigger things can often capture a small market easily by expending an effort that wouldn’t be justified by that market alone.

Similarly, since the most successful startups generally ride some wave bigger than themselves, it could be a good trick to look for waves and ask how one could benefit from them. The prices of gene sequencing and 3D printing are both experiencing Moore’s Law-like declines. What new things will we be able to do in the new world we’ll have in a few years? What are we unconsciously ruling out as impossible that will soon be possible?

Organic

But talking about looking explicitly for waves makes it clear that such recipes are plan B for getting startup ideas. Looking for waves is essentially a way to simulate the organic method. If you’re at the leading edge of some rapidly changing field, you don’t have to look for waves; you are the wave.

Finding startup ideas is a subtle business, and that’s why most people who try fail so miserably. It doesn’t work well simply to try to think of startup ideas. If you do that, you get bad ones that sound dangerously plausible. The best approach is more indirect: if you have the right sort of background, good startup ideas will seem obvious to you. But even then, not immediately. It takes time to come across situations where you notice something missing. And often these gaps won’t seem to be ideas for companies, just things that would be interesting to build. Which is why it’s good to have the time and the inclination to build things just because they’re interesting.

Live in the future and build what seems interesting. Strange as it sounds, that’s the real recipe.

 

Notes

[1] This form of bad idea has been around as long as the web. It was common in the 1990s, except then people who had it used to say they were going to create a portal for x instead of a social network for x. Structurally the idea is stone soup: you post a sign saying “this is the place for people interested in x,” and all those people show up and you make money from them. What lures founders into this sort of idea are statistics about the millions of people who might be interested in each type of x. What they forget is that any given person might have 20 affinities by this standard, and no one is going to visit 20 different communities regularly.

[2] I’m not saying, incidentally, that I know for sure a social network for pet owners is a bad idea. I know it’s a bad idea the way I know randomly generated DNA would not produce a viable organism. The set of plausible sounding startup ideas is many times larger than the set of good ones, and many of the good ones don’t even sound that plausible. So if all you know about a startup idea is that it sounds plausible, you have to assume it’s bad.

[3] More precisely, the users’ need has to give them sufficient activation energy to start using whatever you make, which can vary a lot. For example, the activation energy for enterprise software sold through traditional channels is very high, so you’d have to be a lot better to get users to switch. Whereas the activation energy required to switch to a new search engine is low. Which in turn is why search engines are so much better than enterprise software.

[4] This gets harder as you get older. While the space of ideas doesn’t have dangerous local maxima, the space of careers does. There are fairly high walls between most of the paths people take through life, and the older you get, the higher the walls become.

[5] It was also obvious to us that the web was going to be a big deal. Few non-programmers grasped that in 1995, but the programmers had seen what GUIs had done for desktop computers.

[6] Maybe it would work to have this second self keep a journal, and each night to make a brief entry listing the gaps and anomalies you’d noticed that day. Not startup ideas, just the raw gaps and anomalies.

[7] Sam Altman points out that taking time to come up with an idea is not merely a better strategy in an absolute sense, but also like an undervalued stock in that so few founders do it.

There’s comparatively little competition for the best ideas, because few founders are willing to put in the time required to notice them. Whereas there is a great deal of competition for mediocre ideas, because when people make up startup ideas, they tend to make up the same ones.

[8] For the computer hardware and software companies, summer jobs are the first phase of the recruiting funnel. But if you’re good you can skip the first phase. If you’re good you’ll have no trouble getting hired by these companies when you graduate, regardless of how you spent your summers.

[9] The empirical evidence suggests that if colleges want to help their students start startups, the best thing they can do is leave them alone in the right way.

[10] I’m speaking here of IT startups; in biotech things are different.

[11] This is an instance of a more general rule: focus on users, not competitors. The most important information about competitors is what you learn via users anyway.

[12] In practice most successful startups have elements of both. And you can describe each strategy in terms of the other by adjusting the boundaries of what you call the market. But it’s useful to consider these two ideas separately.

[13] I almost hesitate to raise that point though. Startups are businesses; the point of a business is to make money; and with that additional constraint, you can’t expect you’ll be able to spend all your time working on what interests you most.

[14] The need has to be a strong one. You can retroactively describe any made-up idea as something you need. But do you really need that recipe site or local event aggregator as much as Drew Houston needed Dropbox, or Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia needed Airbnb?

Quite often at YC I find myself asking founders “Would you use this thing yourself, if you hadn’t written it?” and you’d be surprised how often the answer is no.

[15] Paul Buchheit points out that trying to sell something bad can be a source of better ideas:

“The best technique I’ve found for dealing with YC companies that have bad ideas is to tell them to go sell the product ASAP (before wasting time building it). Not only do they learn that nobody wants what they are building, they very often come back with a real idea that they discovered in the process of trying to sell the bad idea.”

[16] Here’s a recipe that might produce the next Facebook, if you’re college students. If you have a connection to one of the more powerful sororities at your school, approach the queen bees thereof and offer to be their personal IT consultants, building anything they could imagine needing in their social lives that didn’t already exist. Anything that got built this way would be very promising, because such users are not just the most demanding but also the perfect point to spread from.

I have no idea whether this would work.

[17] And the reason it used a TV for a monitor is that Steve Wozniak started out by solving his own problems. He, like most of his peers, couldn’t afford a monitor.

Thanks to Sam Altman, Mike Arrington, Paul Buchheit, John Collison, Patrick Collison, Garry Tan, and Harj Taggar for reading drafts of this, and Marc Andreessen, Joe Gebbia, Reid Hoffman, Shel Kaphan, Mike Moritz and Kevin Systrom for answering my questions about startup history.

Source: PaulGraham.com

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The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups https://www.successvalley.tech/the-18-mistakes-that-kill-startups/ https://www.successvalley.tech/the-18-mistakes-that-kill-startups/#respond Sat, 03 Mar 2018 20:21:33 +0000 https://www.successvalley.tech/?p=10375   In the Q & A period after a recent talk, someone asked what made startups fail. After standing there gaping for a few seconds I realized this was kind of a trick question. It’s equivalent to asking how to make a startup succeed—if you avoid every cause of failure, you succeed—and that’s too big a question to answer on […]

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In the Q & A period after a recent talk, someone asked what made startups fail. After standing there gaping for a few seconds I realized this was kind of a trick question. It’s equivalent to asking how to make a startup succeed—if you avoid every cause of failure, you succeed—and that’s too big a question to answer on the fly.

Afterwards I realized it could be helpful to look at the problem from this direction. If you have a list of all the things you shouldn’t do, you can turn that into a recipe for succeeding just by negating. And this form of list may be more useful in practice. It’s easier to catch yourself doing something you shouldn’t than always to remember to do something you should. [1]

In a sense there’s just one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want. If you make something users want, you’ll probably be fine, whatever else you do or don’t do. And if you don’t make something users want, then you’re dead, whatever else you do or don’t do. So really this is a list of 18 things that cause startups not to make something users want. Nearly all failure funnels through that.

1. Single Founder

Have you ever noticed how few successful startups were founded by just one person? Even companies you think of as having one founder, like Oracle, usually turn out to have more. It seems unlikely this is a coincidence.

What’s wrong with having one founder? To start with, it’s a vote of no confidence. It probably means the founder couldn’t talk any of his friends into starting the company with him. That’s pretty alarming, because his friends are the ones who know him best.

But even if the founder’s friends were all wrong and the company is a good bet, he’s still at a disadvantage. Starting a startup is too hard for one person. Even if you could do all the work yourself, you need colleagues to brainstorm with, to talk you out of stupid decisions, and to cheer you up when things go wrong.

The last one might be the most important. The low points in a startup are so low that few could bear them alone. When you have multiple founders, esprit de corps binds them together in a way that seems to violate conservation laws. Each thinks “I can’t let my friends down.” This is one of the most powerful forces in human nature, and it’s missing when there’s just one founder.

2. Bad Location

Startups prosper in some places and not others. Silicon Valley dominates, then Boston, then Seattle, Austin, Denver, and New York. After that there’s not much. Even in New York the number of startups per capita is probably a 20th of what it is in Silicon Valley. In towns like Houston and Chicago and Detroit it’s too small to measure.

Why is the falloff so sharp? Probably for the same reason it is in other industries. What’s the sixth largest fashion center in the US? The sixth largest center for oil, or finance, or publishing? Whatever they are they’re probably so far from the top that it would be misleading even to call them centers.

It’s an interesting question why cities become startup hubs, but the reason startups prosper in them is probably the same as it is for any industry: that’s where the experts are. Standards are higher; people are more sympathetic to what you’re doing; the kind of people you want to hire want to live there; supporting industries are there; the people you run into in chance meetings are in the same business. Who knows exactly how these factors combine to boost startups in Silicon Valley and squish them in Detroit, but it’s clear they do from the number of startups per capita in each.

3. Marginal Niche

Most of the groups that apply to Y Combinator suffer from a common problem: choosing a small, obscure niche in the hope of avoiding competition.

If you watch little kids playing sports, you notice that below a certain age they’re afraid of the ball. When the ball comes near them their instinct is to avoid it. I didn’t make a lot of catches as an eight year old outfielder, because whenever a fly ball came my way, I used to close my eyes and hold my glove up more for protection than in the hope of catching it.

Choosing a marginal project is the startup equivalent of my eight year old strategy for dealing with fly balls. If you make anything good, you’re going to have competitors, so you may as well face that. You can only avoid competition by avoiding good ideas.

I think this shrinking from big problems is mostly unconscious. It’s not that people think of grand ideas but decide to pursue smaller ones because they seem safer. Your unconscious won’t even let you think of grand ideas. So the solution may be to think about ideas without involving yourself. What would be a great idea for someone else to do as a startup?

4. Derivative Idea

Many of the applications we get are imitations of some existing company. That’s one source of ideas, but not the best. If you look at the origins of successful startups, few were started in imitation of some other startup. Where did they get their ideas? Usually from some specific, unsolved problem the founders identified.

Our startup made software for making online stores. When we started it, there wasn’t any; the few sites you could order from were hand-made at great expense by web consultants. We knew that if online shopping ever took off, these sites would have to be generated by software, so we wrote some. Pretty straightforward.

It seems like the best problems to solve are ones that affect you personally. Apple happened because Steve Wozniak wanted a computer, Google because Larry and Sergey couldn’t find stuff online, Hotmail because Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith couldn’t exchange email at work.

So instead of copying the Facebook, with some variation that the Facebook rightly ignored, look for ideas from the other direction. Instead of starting from companies and working back to the problems they solved, look for problems and imagine the company that might solve them. [2] What do people complain about? What do you wish there was?

5. Obstinacy

In some fields the way to succeed is to have a vision of what you want to achieve, and to hold true to it no matter what setbacks you encounter. Starting startups is not one of them. The stick-to-your-vision approach works for something like winning an Olympic gold medal, where the problem is well-defined. Startups are more like science, where you need to follow the trail wherever it leads.

So don’t get too attached to your original plan, because it’s probably wrong. Most successful startups end up doing something different than they originally intended—often so different that it doesn’t even seem like the same company. You have to be prepared to see the better idea when it arrives. And the hardest part of that is often discarding your old idea.

But openness to new ideas has to be tuned just right. Switching to a new idea every week will be equally fatal. Is there some kind of external test you can use? One is to ask whether the ideas represent some kind of progression. If in each new idea you’re able to re-use most of what you built for the previous ones, then you’re probably in a process that converges. Whereas if you keep restarting from scratch, that’s a bad sign.

Fortunately there’s someone you can ask for advice: your users. If you’re thinking about turning in some new direction and your users seem excited about it, it’s probably a good bet.

6. Hiring Bad Programmers

I forgot to include this in the early versions of the list, because nearly all the founders I know are programmers. This is not a serious problem for them. They might accidentally hire someone bad, but it’s not going to kill the company. In a pinch they can do whatever’s required themselves.

But when I think about what killed most of the startups in the e-commerce business back in the 90s, it was bad programmers. A lot of those companies were started by business guys who thought the way startups worked was that you had some clever idea and then hired programmers to implement it. That’s actually much harder than it sounds—almost impossibly hard in fact—because business guys can’t tell which are the good programmers. They don’t even get a shot at the best ones, because no one really good wants a job implementing the vision of a business guy.

In practice what happens is that the business guys choose people they think are good programmers (it says here on his resume that he’s a Microsoft Certified Developer) but who aren’t. Then they’re mystified to find that their startup lumbers along like a World War II bomber while their competitors scream past like jet fighters. This kind of startup is in the same position as a big company, but without the advantages.

So how do you pick good programmers if you’re not a programmer? I don’t think there’s an answer. I was about to say you’d have to find a good programmer to help you hire people. But if you can’t recognize good programmers, how would you even do that?

7. Choosing the Wrong Platform

A related problem (since it tends to be done by bad programmers) is choosing the wrong platform. For example, I think a lot of startups during the Bubble killed themselves by deciding to build server-based applications on Windows. Hotmail was still running on FreeBSD for years after Microsoft bought it, presumably because Windows couldn’t handle the load. If Hotmail’s founders had chosen to use Windows, they would have been swamped.

PayPal only just dodged this bullet. After they merged with X.com, the new CEO wanted to switch to Windows—even after PayPal cofounder Max Levchin showed that their software scaled only 1% as well on Windows as Unix. Fortunately for PayPal they switched CEOs instead.

Platform is a vague word. It could mean an operating system, or a programming language, or a “framework” built on top of a programming language. It implies something that both supports and limits, like the foundation of a house.

The scary thing about platforms is that there are always some that seem to outsiders to be fine, responsible choices and yet, like Windows in the 90s, will destroy you if you choose them. Java applets were probably the most spectacular example. This was supposed to be the new way of delivering applications. Presumably it killed just about 100% of the startups who believed that.

How do you pick the right platforms? The usual way is to hire good programmers and let them choose. But there is a trick you could use if you’re not a programmer: visit a top computer science department and see what they use in research projects.

8. Slowness in Launching

Companies of all sizes have a hard time getting software done. It’s intrinsic to the medium; software is always 85% done. It takes an effort of will to push through this and get something released to users. [3]

Startups make all kinds of excuses for delaying their launch. Most are equivalent to the ones people use for procrastinating in everyday life. There’s something that needs to happen first. Maybe. But if the software were 100% finished and ready to launch at the push of a button, would they still be waiting?

One reason to launch quickly is that it forces you to actually finish some quantum of work. Nothing is truly finished till it’s released; you can see that from the rush of work that’s always involved in releasing anything, no matter how finished you thought it was. The other reason you need to launch is that it’s only by bouncing your idea off users that you fully understand it.

Several distinct problems manifest themselves as delays in launching: working too slowly; not truly understanding the problem; fear of having to deal with users; fear of being judged; working on too many different things; excessive perfectionism. Fortunately you can combat all of them by the simple expedient of forcing yourself to launch something fairly quickly.

9. Launching Too Early

Launching too slowly has probably killed a hundred times more startups than launching too fast, but it is possible to launch too fast. The danger here is that you ruin your reputation. You launch something, the early adopters try it out, and if it’s no good they may never come back.

So what’s the minimum you need to launch? We suggest startups think about what they plan to do, identify a core that’s both (a) useful on its own and (b) something that can be incrementally expanded into the whole project, and then get that done as soon as possible.

This is the same approach I (and many other programmers) use for writing software. Think about the overall goal, then start by writing the smallest subset of it that does anything useful. If it’s a subset, you’ll have to write it anyway, so in the worst case you won’t be wasting your time. But more likely you’ll find that implementing a working subset is both good for morale and helps you see more clearly what the rest should do.

The early adopters you need to impress are fairly tolerant. They don’t expect a newly launched product to do everything; it just has to do something.

10. Having No Specific User in Mind

You can’t build things users like without understanding them. I mentioned earlier that the most successful startups seem to have begun by trying to solve a problem their founders had. Perhaps there’s a rule here: perhaps you create wealth in proportion to how well you understand the problem you’re solving, and the problems you understand best are your own. [4]

That’s just a theory. What’s not a theory is the converse: if you’re trying to solve problems you don’t understand, you’re hosed.

And yet a surprising number of founders seem willing to assume that someone, they’re not sure exactly who, will want what they’re building. Do the founders want it? No, they’re not the target market. Who is? Teenagers. People interested in local events (that one is a perennial tarpit). Or “business” users. What business users? Gas stations? Movie studios? Defense contractors?

You can of course build something for users other than yourself. We did. But you should realize you’re stepping into dangerous territory. You’re flying on instruments, in effect, so you should (a) consciously shift gears, instead of assuming you can rely on your intuitions as you ordinarily would, and (b) look at the instruments.

In this case the instruments are the users. When designing for other people you have to be empirical. You can no longer guess what will work; you have to find users and measure their responses. So if you’re going to make something for teenagers or “business” users or some other group that doesn’t include you, you have to be able to talk some specific ones into using what you’re making. If you can’t, you’re on the wrong track.

11. Raising Too Little Money

Most successful startups take funding at some point. Like having more than one founder, it seems a good bet statistically. How much should you take, though?

Startup funding is measured in time. Every startup that isn’t profitable (meaning nearly all of them, initially) has a certain amount of time left before the money runs out and they have to stop. This is sometimes referred to as runway, as in “How much runway do you have left?” It’s a good metaphor because it reminds you that when the money runs out you’re going to be airborne or dead.

Too little money means not enough to get airborne. What airborne means depends on the situation. Usually you have to advance to a visibly higher level: if all you have is an idea, a working prototype; if you have a prototype, launching; if you’re launched, significant growth. It depends on investors, because until you’re profitable that’s who you have to convince.

So if you take money from investors, you have to take enough to get to the next step, whatever that is. [5] Fortunately you have some control over both how much you spend and what the next step is. We advise startups to set both low, initially: spend practically nothing, and make your initial goal simply to build a solid prototype. This gives you maximum flexibility.

12. Spending Too Much

It’s hard to distinguish spending too much from raising too little. If you run out of money, you could say either was the cause. The only way to decide which to call it is by comparison with other startups. If you raised five million and ran out of money, you probably spent too much.

Burning through too much money is not as common as it used to be. Founders seem to have learned that lesson. Plus it keeps getting cheaper to start a startup. So as of this writing few startups spend too much. None of the ones we’ve funded have. (And not just because we make small investments; many have gone on to raise further rounds.)

The classic way to burn through cash is by hiring a lot of people. This bites you twice: in addition to increasing your costs, it slows you down—so money that’s getting consumed faster has to last longer. Most hackers understand why that happens; Fred Brooks explained it in The Mythical Man-Month.

We have three general suggestions about hiring: (a) don’t do it if you can avoid it, (b) pay people with equity rather than salary, not just to save money, but because you want the kind of people who are committed enough to prefer that, and (c) only hire people who are either going to write code or go out and get users, because those are the only things you need at first.

13. Raising Too Much Money

It’s obvious how too little money could kill you, but is there such a thing as having too much?

Yes and no. The problem is not so much the money itself as what comes with it. As one VC who spoke at Y Combinator said, “Once you take several million dollars of my money, the clock is ticking.” If VCs fund you, they’re not going to let you just put the money in the bank and keep operating as two guys living on ramen. They want that money to go to work. [6] At the very least you’ll move into proper office space and hire more people. That will change the atmosphere, and not entirely for the better. Now most of your people will be employees rather than founders. They won’t be as committed; they’ll need to be told what to do; they’ll start to engage in office politics.

When you raise a lot of money, your company moves to the suburbs and has kids.

Perhaps more dangerously, once you take a lot of money it gets harder to change direction. Suppose your initial plan was to sell something to companies. After taking VC money you hire a sales force to do that. What happens now if you realize you should be making this for consumers instead of businesses? That’s a completely different kind of selling. What happens, in practice, is that you don’t realize that. The more people you have, the more you stay pointed in the same direction.

Another drawback of large investments is the time they take. The time required to raise money grows with the amount. [7] When the amount rises into the millions, investors get very cautious. VCs never quite say yes or no; they just engage you in an apparently endless conversation. Raising VC scale investments is thus a huge time sink—more work, probably, than the startup itself. And you don’t want to be spending all your time talking to investors while your competitors are spending theirs building things.

We advise founders who go on to seek VC money to take the first reasonable deal they get. If you get an offer from a reputable firm at a reasonable valuation with no unusually onerous terms, just take it and get on with building the company. [8] Who cares if you could get a 30% better deal elsewhere? Economically, startups are an all-or-nothing game. Bargain-hunting among investors is a waste of time.

14. Poor Investor Management

As a founder, you have to manage your investors. You shouldn’t ignore them, because they may have useful insights. But neither should you let them run the company. That’s supposed to be your job. If investors had sufficient vision to run the companies they fund, why didn’t they start them?

Pissing off investors by ignoring them is probably less dangerous than caving in to them. In our startup, we erred on the ignoring side. A lot of our energy got drained away in disputes with investors instead of going into the product. But this was less costly than giving in, which would probably have destroyed the company. If the founders know what they’re doing, it’s better to have half their attention focused on the product than the full attention of investors who don’t.

How hard you have to work on managing investors usually depends on how much money you’ve taken. When you raise VC-scale money, the investors get a great deal of control. If they have a board majority, they’re literally your bosses. In the more common case, where founders and investors are equally represented and the deciding vote is cast by neutral outside directors, all the investors have to do is convince the outside directors and they control the company.

If things go well, this shouldn’t matter. So long as you seem to be advancing rapidly, most investors will leave you alone. But things don’t always go smoothly in startups. Investors have made trouble even for the most successful companies. One of the most famous examples is Apple, whose board made a nearly fatal blunder in firing Steve Jobs. Apparently even Google got a lot of grief from their investors early on.

15. Sacrificing Users to (Supposed) Profit

When I said at the beginning that if you make something users want, you’ll be fine, you may have noticed I didn’t mention anything about having the right business model. That’s not because making money is unimportant. I’m not suggesting that founders start companies with no chance of making money in the hope of unloading them before they tank. The reason we tell founders not to worry about the business model initially is that making something people want is so much harder.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to make something people want. It seems like it should be straightforward. But you can tell it must be hard by how few startups do it.

Because making something people want is so much harder than making money from it, you should leave business models for later, just as you’d leave some trivial but messy feature for version 2. In version 1, solve the core problem. And the core problem in a startup is how to create wealth (= how much people want something x the number who want it), not how to convert that wealth into money.

The companies that win are the ones that put users first. Google, for example. They made search work, then worried about how to make money from it. And yet some startup founders still think it’s irresponsible not to focus on the business model from the beginning. They’re often encouraged in this by investors whose experience comes from less malleable industries.

It is irresponsible not to think about business models. It’s just ten times more irresponsible not to think about the product.

16. Not Wanting to Get Your Hands Dirty

Nearly all programmers would rather spend their time writing code and have someone else handle the messy business of extracting money from it. And not just the lazy ones. Larry and Sergey apparently felt this way too at first. After developing their new search algorithm, the first thing they tried was to get some other company to buy it.

Start a company? Yech. Most hackers would rather just have ideas. But as Larry and Sergey found, there’s not much of a market for ideas. No one trusts an idea till you embody it in a product and use that to grow a user base. Then they’ll pay big time.

Maybe this will change, but I doubt it will change much. There’s nothing like users for convincing acquirers. It’s not just that the risk is decreased. The acquirers are human, and they have a hard time paying a bunch of young guys millions of dollars just for being clever. When the idea is embodied in a company with a lot of users, they can tell themselves they’re buying the users rather than the cleverness, and this is easier for them to swallow. [9]

If you’re going to attract users, you’ll probably have to get up from your computer and go find some. It’s unpleasant work, but if you can make yourself do it you have a much greater chance of succeeding. In the first batch of startups we funded, in the summer of 2005, most of the founders spent all their time building their applications. But there was one who was away half the time talking to executives at cell phone companies, trying to arrange deals. Can you imagine anything more painful for a hacker? [10] But it paid off, because this startup seems the most successful of that group by an order of magnitude.

If you want to start a startup, you have to face the fact that you can’t just hack. At least one hacker will have to spend some of the time doing business stuff.

17. Fights Between Founders

Fights between founders are surprisingly common. About 20% of the startups we’ve funded have had a founder leave. It happens so often that we’ve reversed our attitude to vesting. We still don’t require it, but now we advise founders to vest so there will be an orderly way for people to quit.

A founder leaving doesn’t necessarily kill a startup, though. Plenty of successful startups have had that happen. [11] Fortunately it’s usually the least committed founder who leaves. If there are three founders and one who was lukewarm leaves, big deal. If you have two and one leaves, or a guy with critical technical skills leaves, that’s more of a problem. But even that is survivable. Blogger got down to one person, and they bounced back.

Most of the disputes I’ve seen between founders could have been avoided if they’d been more careful about who they started a company with. Most disputes are not due to the situation but the people. Which means they’re inevitable. And most founders who’ve been burned by such disputes probably had misgivings, which they suppressed, when they started the company. Don’t suppress misgivings. It’s much easier to fix problems before the company is started than after. So don’t include your housemate in your startup because he’d feel left out otherwise. Don’t start a company with someone you dislike because they have some skill you need and you worry you won’t find anyone else. The people are the most important ingredient in a startup, so don’t compromise there.

18. A Half-Hearted Effort

The failed startups you hear most about are the spectactular flameouts. Those are actually the elite of failures. The most common type is not the one that makes spectacular mistakes, but the one that doesn’t do much of anything—the one we never even hear about, because it was some project a couple guys started on the side while working on their day jobs, but which never got anywhere and was gradually abandoned.

Statistically, if you want to avoid failure, it would seem like the most important thing is to quit your day job. Most founders of failed startups don’t quit their day jobs, and most founders of successful ones do. If startup failure were a disease, the CDC would be issuing bulletins warning people to avoid day jobs.

Does that mean you should quit your day job? Not necessarily. I’m guessing here, but I’d guess that many of these would-be founders may not have the kind of determination it takes to start a company, and that in the back of their minds, they know it. The reason they don’t invest more time in their startup is that they know it’s a bad investment. [12]

I’d also guess there’s some band of people who could have succeeded if they’d taken the leap and done it full-time, but didn’t. I have no idea how wide this band is, but if the winner/borderline/hopeless progression has the sort of distribution you’d expect, the number of people who could have made it, if they’d quit their day job, is probably an order of magnitude larger than the number who do make it. [13]

If that’s true, most startups that could succeed fail because the founders don’t devote their whole efforts to them. That certainly accords with what I see out in the world. Most startups fail because they don’t make something people want, and the reason most don’t is that they don’t try hard enough.

In other words, starting startups is just like everything else. The biggest mistake you can make is not to try hard enough. To the extent there’s a secret to success, it’s not to be in denial about that.

Notes

[1] This is not a complete list of the causes of failure, just those you can control. There are also several you can’t, notably ineptitude and bad luck.

[2] Ironically, one variant of the Facebook that might work is a facebook exclusively for college students.

[3] Steve Jobs tried to motivate people by saying “Real artists ship.” This is a fine sentence, but unfortunately not true. Many famous works of art are unfinished. It’s true in fields that have hard deadlines, like architecture and filmmaking, but even there people tend to be tweaking stuff till it’s yanked out of their hands.

[4] There’s probably also a second factor: startup founders tend to be at the leading edge of technology, so problems they face are probably especially valuable.

[5] You should take more than you think you’ll need, maybe 50% to 100% more, because software takes longer to write and deals longer to close than you expect.

[6] Since people sometimes call us VCs, I should add that we’re not. VCs invest large amounts of other people’s money. We invest small amounts of our own, like angel investors.

[7] Not linearly of course, or it would take forever to raise five million dollars. In practice it just feels like it takes forever.

Though if you include the cases where VCs don’t invest, it would literally take forever in the median case. And maybe we should, because the danger of chasing large investments is not just that they take a long time. That’s the best case. The real danger is that you’ll expend a lot of time and get nothing.

[8] Some VCs will offer you an artificially low valuation to see if you have the balls to ask for more. It’s lame that VCs play such games, but some do. If you’re dealing with one of those you should push back on the valuation a bit.

[9] Suppose YouTube’s founders had gone to Google in 2005 and told them “Google Video is badly designed. Give us $10 million and we’ll tell you all the mistakes you made.” They would have gotten the royal raspberry. Eighteen months later Google paid $1.6 billion for the same lesson, partly because they could then tell themselves that they were buying a phenomenon, or a community, or some vague thing like that.

I don’t mean to be hard on Google. They did better than their competitors, who may have now missed the video boat entirely.

[10] Yes, actually: dealing with the government. But phone companies are up there.

[11] Many more than most people realize, because companies don’t advertise this. Did you know Apple originally had three founders?

[12] I’m not dissing these people. I don’t have the determination myself. I’ve twice come close to starting startups since Viaweb, and both times I bailed because I realized that without the spur of poverty I just wasn’t willing to endure the stress of a startup.

[13] So how do you know whether you’re in the category of people who should quit their day job, or the presumably larger one who shouldn’t? I got to the point of saying that this was hard to judge for yourself and that you should seek outside advice, before realizing that that’s what we do. We think of ourselves as investors, but viewed from the other direction Y Combinator is a service for advising people whether or not to quit their day job. We could be mistaken, and no doubt often are, but we do at least bet money on our conclusions.

Thanks to Sam Altman, Jessica Livingston, Greg McAdoo, and Robert Morris for reading drafts of this.

Source: PaulGraham.com

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Good and Bad Reasons to Become an Entrepreneur https://www.successvalley.tech/good-bad-reasons-become-entrepreneur/ https://www.successvalley.tech/good-bad-reasons-become-entrepreneur/#respond Sat, 03 Mar 2018 15:33:49 +0000 https://www.successvalley.tech/?p=10371   Update (Sept 2014): I gave a talk on this topic during lecture 1 of Stanford’s CS 183B course. Check out the video if you’d like to hear more about deciding to become an entrepreneur. I’ve also added a few of the slides to this post in relevant places. Update (Apr 2017: A new version of the talk for the […]

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Update (Sept 2014): I gave a talk on this topic during lecture 1 of Stanford’s CS 183B course. Check out the video if you’d like to hear more about deciding to become an entrepreneur. I’ve also added a few of the slides to this post in relevant places.

Update (Apr 2017: A new version of the talk for the 2017 version of the course: How and Why to Start A Startup — Sam Altman & Dustin Moskovitz — CS183F.

Recently we hosted a Q&A at Asana that I participated in with Ben Horowitz, Matt Cohler, and Justin Rosenstein. Marcus Wohlsen from Wired attended and wrote an article that discussed our views on the culture of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley. This is an important topic, so I want to take some time to clarify what we meant in this blog post. Before I do, I’d like to emphasize that we were talking exclusively about Silicon Valley culture and not the more general ‘small business entrepreneur.’ So for our audience at the time, entrepreneur meant “Silicon Valley startup technology entrepreneur.”

Even given that context, it is notable that we all said you “probably” shouldn’t be an entrepreneur, not that you definitely shouldn’t. This is explicitly a directional position; we believe there are too many startups and entrepreneurs in the SV ecosystem, but that is very different from saying there shouldn’t be any. Many people think there should be more, and we are counterbalancing that view. Whenever you counterbalance an extreme view, you tend to also come off extremely, and certainly do in the media (which is related to the point I made about integration in my last post).

The reason we like best for becoming an entrepreneur is that you are extremely passionate about an idea and believe that starting a new company is the best way to bring it into the world. The passion is important because entrepreneurship is hard and you’ll need it to endure the struggle, as well as to convince other people to help you. Believing that starting a new company is the best way to bring it into the world is important to ensure that resources—including most importantly your own time — are being put to the best possible use. If the idea is best brought into the world by an existing team, then it is tautologically optimal for the world for it to happen that way. Of course, not everyone is actually trying to optimize their impact, but many entrepreneurs are, by their own admission, and it is important for those people to consider this angle.

If you’re not trying to maximize impact, then it seems like a reasonable assumption that you are instead optimizing around personal lifestyle preferences of some kind. You want total freedom to choose how you make your living, regardless of if it necessarily provide large amounts of value to other people or perhaps is even redundant with something that already exists. Or you want extreme flexibility in your schedule, maybe including the ability to stop working altogether for long periods of time at short notice. Or you want to work on a certain kind of problem or with certain kinds of people. For many kinds of preference, you likely can actually find a company able to give them to you, but certainly starting your own is a great shortcut and I personally think that’s totally reasonable. I like people who are seeking to have big impact on the world, but it is not the only path worth taking, and I have no reason to denigrate this type of entrepreneur.

So with all that in mind, here are some of the bad reasons to become an entrepreneur that we were actually trying to speak to:

  • You want to be your own boss in a big company. Evernote CEO Phil Libin put it well last year:

“People have this vision of being the CEO of a company they started and being on top of the pyramid. Some people are motivated by that, but that’s not at all what it’s like.

What it’s really like: everyone else is your boss – all of your employees, customers, partners, users, media are your boss. I’ve never had more bosses and needed to account for more people today.

The life of most CEOs is reporting to everyone else, at least that’s what it feels like to me and most CEOs I know. If you want to exercise power and authority over people, join the military or go into politics. Don’t be an entrepreneur.”

  • You think it’s glamorous. The media does a great job idolizing various entrepreneurs, crowning Kings and designating Godfathers of various mafias, but this is all colorful narrative. The reality is years of hard work, throughout which you usually have no idea if you’re even moving in the right direction.

 

  • You believe you’re extremely talented and that this is the way to maximize your financial return on that talent. Why wouldn’t you want more of the cap table? This is flawed logic, since the 100th engineer at Facebook made far more money than 99% of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Small slices of gigantic pies are still themselves gigantic. If you’re extremely talented, you can easily identify a company with high growth potential and relatively low risk and get an aggressive compensation package from them. If you turn out to be wrong after a few years, you can try again. Within 2 or 3 tries, and likely on the first one, you’ll have a great outcome and can be confident you contributed serious lasting value to the world. If you instead try to immediately start “the next Google or Facebook”, there is a very high likelihood that you will fail completely, or be forced to settle for a much smaller outcome. It will take a long time to reach success or failure, so you won’t have many tries.

Comparison of financial outcomes between joining an established company that performed really well and starting your own. Notably, the table on the right assumes you succeeded.

Examples of achieving massive impact after joining an established company.
  • You heard Paul Graham compared non-founders to animals at a zoo and don’t want to look like a chump (or a chimp). As Jeff Atwood points out, this is much more projection than fact. There are companies that feel like they were lifted out of a Dilbert cartoon and treat their employees terribly and then there are, you know, good companies. Work for one of those, or work for yourself, but definitely don’t work anywhere that you can describe as “soul-sucking”.

Yes, this viewpoint is somewhat self-serving. We want to hire the best at Asana, and many of the best are choosing to become entrepreneurs instead of applying at companies like ours. That said, we only need to hire a quite small number of those folks to ourselves succeed. The bigger concern is the macro effect of spreading talent too thinly across the board and the micro effect of people not spending their time in valuable ways. Zuck himself has speculated that Silicon Valley is not obviously the place he would start a company like Facebook today for exactly this reason. As to the micro effect, I like the way Justin puts it: “If you’re going to devote the best years of your life to your work, have enough love for yourself and the world around you to work on something that matters to you deeply”.

 


A summary of the CS 183B talk, drawn by Juan Pablo Solano @solanojuan

 

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Source: Medium.com

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How Quora Can Help You Drive Massive Traffic and Conversions to Your Website https://www.successvalley.tech/how-quora-can-help-you-drive-massive-traffic-and-conversions-to-your-website/ https://www.successvalley.tech/how-quora-can-help-you-drive-massive-traffic-and-conversions-to-your-website/#respond Thu, 22 Feb 2018 23:15:49 +0000 https://www.successvalley.tech/?p=1   Many of you are probably familiar with Quora. But not everyone knows that Quora can be turned into a perfect marketing tool that will drive high quality targeted traffic and conversions to your website. I made the most out of Quora and continue to use it as one of my major marketing tools for increasing conversions. How, you ask? […]

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Many of you are probably familiar with Quora. But not everyone knows that Quora can be turned into a perfect marketing tool that will drive high quality targeted traffic and conversions to your website.

I made the most out of Quora and continue to use it as one of my major marketing tools for increasing conversions. How, you ask?

I’m one of the most viewed writers on many popular topics including videos, online videos, video production, and explainer videos. My answers gained 1.2 million+ views during the last 10 months.

Want to know how to make a go of Quora on your own? Keep on reading.

I’ll cover:

  1. Setting up an account with Quora (some banal steps are unavoidable).
  2. Finding relevant questions about your business (sounds easy, but there are easier ways).
  3. Writing useful and trackable answers and avoiding being banned (may be a little tricky).
  4. The golden rule of the Quora community (if you are in Quora, you are there forever! Just kidding).
  5. Using SEMrush to find high ranking Quora questions.
  6. The golden rule of marketing (test, test and test).

Let’s get started!

Quora is a knowledge-sharing online community where anyone can pitch in.

It’s very simple. If you have a question and can’t find an answer to it, go to Quora, post your question and it will be visible to thousands of people, who are there to help each other.

Set Up an Account With Quora

If you already have a Quora account, the following might be something you have already done, so skip up this part (but you might want to read through it just in case). For those who have no idea how to start, I’ll show you right now!

The first thing you need to do is set up an account with Quora. You have 3 options for signing up: with Facebook, Google+ or an email address.

Quora Login

After signing up, customize your bio, credentials & highlights, and fill in the “Knows About” sections. Make your bio short, so people will understand who you are and what you do. Keep it to 2-3 sentences.

Fill in the Credentials & Highlights section to add more trust to your profile. You can add information about your employment, education, location, topic and language.

Edit credentials

Upload a profile pic and include some entertaining information about yourself.

Roman Daneghyan

Add information about the topics you have knowledge of.

Edit knows about topics

Complete all the fields and continue with answering the questions.

Find Relevant Questions About Your Business

If you want to promote your business, you need to know what questions your prospects ask, what common pain points they have, and the core reasons why your business solves their most pressing needs.

You need to find and answer as many relevant questions surrounding your business topic as possible.

Right! The more the better!

After a dozen of answered questions you may come up with an idea that there are no questions left. Nope! You are most likely mistaken when a thought like this crosses your mind.

There are several ways of finding relevant questions:

First is searching through keywords at the top. For example, let’s say you’re interested in answering such questions as: “Where people want to know which digital marketing courses are available on the web?”

Search for digital marketing courses.

Quora Digital Marketing Courses

On the first lines you can see related topics that include your search keywords and by clicking on the first result you can see all that keyword-related queries.

Quora Digital Marketing courses results

Here you can sort the queries by their type (questions, answer, post, profile, topic and blog), topics (from all people or topics that you follow), author and time.

If you want to find all the questions related to a certain topic, just click the topics section on the left, and you’ll see all the results. On the top you’ll see the topics with most followers. Let’s see what’s there.

Digital marketing courses

Here you’ll find the topic information in detail. Click on the Questions tab and view all the questions sorted from newest to oldest, then pick a question and write a useful answer.

Try to find relevant questions, if you have difficulties finding the right topic. You’ll see topics assigned to your questions at the top.

Write Useful & Trackable Answers to Your Questions

This might seem a little tricky sometimes because you’ll have to combine your business promotion with writing something useful for the Quora community.

Keep in mind is that by spamming and providing a non-relevant answer to the question isn’t the best strategy. Be sure to write quality answers, otherwise you’ll simply get banned.

Make your answers easy to read and easy to understand. Everyone wants clear answers to their question.

Always add formatting to your answer. Make important headlines bold. Add hyperlinks from third-party websites that might confirm your thoughts to the answer.

Don’t make your answers too short, deliver as much information as the question requires, and don’t make them too long to read where readers might getting bored.

Using videos and photos in your answers is a great idea. This simple trick engages the viewers and makes them spend more time reading your answer – which is a signal for Quora to consider your answer useful and rank it on top.

You’ll soon get upvotes and your next answers will rank even higher. As your account becomes trustworthy to Quora, your answers will start to rank easily on high positions and will get more upvotes.

Make your answers trackable. What do I mean by “trackable”? If you want to answer questions and also track the traffic that comes to your website, use Google Analytics UTM parameters for tracking traffic and conversions.

Tip: Use an engaging photo or a video at the top of your answer, because when someone scrolls through the answers, Quora partially shows your answer (only the first section).

As you can see in the screenshot below, the answer is collapsed and because there isn’t any visual element like a video, it isn’t that attractive enough to click for opening the whole version.

Do you want to set up online

In the screenshot below we have the opposite. Undoubtedly, you are more likely to visit the answers containing visual content. It’s pretty much a fact, so no need to dig into human psychology :).

Networking

Use SEMrush For Finding High Ranking Quora Questions

Yes. You’re right!

SEMrush can be a great friend when it comes to finding relevant questions for your business. How?

I’ll  walk you through the instructions step by step!

For example, if you want to target Quora questions that are relevant to software engineering, search quora.com domain on Semrush, and add Advanced Filter, where you should include the keywords: “software engineering.”

Quora Keyword traffic

Sort the positions in ascending order.

Keyword position

Boom. And we have the list the questions that contain the term “software engineering”. You can also sort them by their search volume. This query contains about 3,377 results. Not bad, right?

Organic search position

So, you have all the questions in your hand that contains the keyword you want, but think about how many word combinations you can mix for getting more Quora questions.

Also, you can use SEMrush for finding relevant keywords and combinations of the keywords you are searching for. Pick the Keyword Analytics tab from the left and search for the “software engineering” key term there.

Keyword overview software engineering

Then scroll down to Phrase Match Keywords section (ah, 5,266 related keywords!).

Click on the View full report button on the right, and you will see all the matching phrases. Repeat this several times and you’ll get tons of new ideas. Don’t forget to have your keywords on a spreadsheet.

Bonus Tip: If you want to target commercial intent keywords and find questions that rank first for that keywords, simply sort the results by their CPC (you’ll see this button right next to sorting options).

The Golden Rule of Marketing. Test, Test and Test.

As you’ve already put UTM tracking codes in your answers for every link that points to your website, it’s important to track visits, average duration that visitors stay on your website, bounce rates, conversions and any other analytic data that you have.

High bounce rate and low average time from Quora means that people are coming to your website and don’t find the answer that they’re looking for.

Maybe you have to change the format of your answers? Maybe you’re not answering the right questions. Or your page content isn’t good enough for making visitors stay longer.

When we started using Quora back in February, traffic wasn’t that great and neither were the conversions. For the whole month we got only 200 visits from Quora.

Source Acquisition Behavior

I started answering other questions besides the business-related ones so Quora wouldn’t ban my account. Quora marketing is a cool thing as long as you give value with your answers, so don’t forget to add some useful information too.

Month by month the traffic increased and today we get about 200 visits daily and the conversion rate is about 19%.

Source Acquisition Behavior Conversions

I always try to improve answers for getting more conversions, and it’s all about testing different versions of answers.

Yes, you can update your answers whenever you want and it won’t affect the upvotes you’ve already gained with the previous version of your answer. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Compare all the data you have at the end of every week. That will help you understand what’s going wrong with your strategy. If your traffic goes down you might be answering non-relevant questions or if the visitors aren’t converting you might have some problems with your website.

Conclusion

I will start with the most important thing. Always test! Test everything!

Change your bio text and see if you get new followers.

Change the format of your answers and see if you’re getting more views and upvotes.

Testing is huge if you do it right. So start thinking of different formats of your answers.

You can divide your answers into several types:

  • Answers Including images/videos or other visual content.
  • Answers with quotations from influencers in your field.

Use trackable links (you can use Campaign URL Builder by Google Analytics for creating trackable links) and compare the traffic & conversions for different campaigns.

Share your answer on your social media accounts. Hey! Maybe your answer is really worth upvoting! Just make it visible!  Maybe you are lucky enough to have some friends who will also upvote your answer!

Don’t forget to answer other questions along with promoting your business. You remember the golden rule of Quora, don’t you? Always provide value to Quora community! Sounds creepy? I am sure you don’t want to get banned either way.

Expect targeted audience and boost in your conversions if you are doing Quora marketing right.

You need to be patient. Don’t expect your answers to appear at the top in several days. It took me about 10 months to gain 1.2 million views and a looooot of answers.

Work harder and harder. And don’t forget that Quora has about 470 million active users and the number is actually growing. You want to take your chance in bringing value to the community and to your business right?

Go ahead and get on it now. Good luck!

About the Author: Roman Daneghyan is the Chief Marketing Officer of Renderforest. He is specialist in Content Marketing, SEO, Social Media Marketing and Link Building. Favourite quote is by Gary Vee: “I Love the people and the hustle”.

Source: The Daily Egg

 

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3 Personal Growth Habits to Integrate Into Your Life https://www.successvalley.tech/3-personal-growth-habits-to-integrate-into-your-life/ https://www.successvalley.tech/3-personal-growth-habits-to-integrate-into-your-life/#respond Thu, 22 Feb 2018 14:22:14 +0000 http://seventhqueen.com/themes/kleo/?p=553   There is a difference between successful people and those who are not. While it’s easy to think that successful people got a lucky break or were born with a better disposition, that is hardly ever the case. They are human and have the same challenges as everyone else. They wake up with the same worries and fears. Culture has […]

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There is a difference between successful people and those who are not. While it’s easy to think that successful people got a lucky break or were born with a better disposition, that is hardly ever the case. They are human and have the same challenges as everyone else. They wake up with the same worries and fears. Culture has also affected them and some come from very difficult backgrounds.

So what’s the real difference? Why are some people successful while others struggle? It’s because successful people prioritize and work on their own personal growth.

How do I know this? Because I interview successful people all the time for articles and for my podcast. I also frequently attend personal growth events, the most recent one being Tony Robbins’ “Unleash the Power Within.”

In other words, I am in the business and personal growth world enough to notice specific patterns and tendencies among successful people. By the way, when I say “success,” I don’t just mean business success. The principles I’m about to share can be applied to improve any area of your life.

Focusing on growth as the end goal

Do you ever wonder why some people seem to rebound faster than others? More often than not, it’s because there’s a difference in what they are focusing on.

Those who struggle with rebounding are usually focusing on how they screwed up or, even worse, blame others. They are focused on the minutiae of the situation. They focus on how they are failing.

Meanwhile, those who are successful have a different goal. Their main goal is personal growth, so they may see “failure” as a fun challenge or a problem that needs to be solved. These people are usually referred to having a “growth mindset,” a term that was coined in the 1960s by Carol Dweck and is backed by decades of research.

This is something Tony Robbins speaks about at his “Unleash The Power Event.” Everything is a personal growth opportunity, and it’s focusing on the progress that actually makes us happy and successful.

Here’s an example to get the point across: Let’s say you’re hoping a business deal goes through and it just doesn’t. Most people would immediately go into a negative spiral about how they will never be successful. However, successful people use it as a learning opportunity. They assess the situation, look for the lessons and use it to grow – because their true focus is their own personal growth, not necessarily landing the deal. It just so happens that when you focus on improving, you also get better at landing the deal.

Meditation (or some sort of spiritual or mindfulness practice)

After interviewing several successful personal finance influencers for my podcast, I am beginning to notice a common pattern. Each of them credits their success, in part, to some sort of spiritual or mindfulness practice.

For some, it was meditation with no particular denomination. For others, it was practicing Buddhist principle. And for another group, it was a Christian understanding of their challenges that helped them get through.

Tim Ferris also speaks about this in his latest book, “Tribe of Mentors.” He found that 90 percent of the successful people he interviewed had some sort of mindfulness or meditation practice.

From a practical level, research shows that meditation helps improve focus and balance emotion. Even secular versions of meditation can lead to these results, which is why a specific religion is not a requirement.

As a related side note, many successful people also exercise which has many of the same effects as daily mediation.

Reading a personal development book every day

One of the things I notice as I interview successful people is they are always reading or listening to something that will help them improve their lives. They look for answers because they truly believe they are out there. This goes back to the growth mindset idea I mentioned earlier.

At the Tony Robbins event I attended, he made a specific point in mentioning that we should each spend at least 30 minutes a day reading some sort of personal growth book. In fact, a large focus of the weekend is about how we as humans must continue acquiring and applying knowledge in order to succeed.

He’s not the only one either. Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey are all known for having insatiable appetites for reading and acquiring knowledge. Socio-economist and author, Randall Bell, Ph.D. also found through his research that individuals who read seven or more books a year are 122 percent more likely to be millionaires.

Final thoughts

When it comes to success in any area of your life, it really comes down to a few key factors that keep you going. These factors are focusing on growth, having some sort of grounding practice and continuously acquiring knowledge. The best part is anyone can do these three things, and from anywhere.

Source: StartupNation

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Checklist: How to Start a Business with No Money https://www.successvalley.tech/checklist-how-to-start-a-business-with-no-money/ https://www.successvalley.tech/checklist-how-to-start-a-business-with-no-money/#respond Thu, 22 Feb 2018 11:10:27 +0000 http://seventhqueen.com/themes/kleo/?p=488 Got a great business idea and want to start a business with no money? You’re not alone. But for most aspiring entrepreneurs, getting hold of the much needed capital is usually the biggest challenge. Lack of funds, however, should not deter you from pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams. You just need to have confidence in your idea and a clear vision […]

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Got a great business idea and want to start a business with no money? You’re not alone. But for most aspiring entrepreneurs, getting hold of the much needed capital is usually the biggest challenge.

Lack of funds, however, should not deter you from pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams. You just need to have confidence in your idea and a clear vision about how you are going to execute it. Once you have that covered, getting the funds to support your dream may not be as difficult as it seems.

Start a Business With No Money Checklist

Keep Your Present Job

Being practical is extremely important when you are toying with the idea of starting a business. You need a steady source of income before you can set up your business, so it’s advisable to hold onto your current job. By retaining your present job, you will be more secured when you need to take risks.

You will, of course, need to spend extra hours and work harder. But the transition from being an employee to a business owner will be far smoother as you won’t have additional expenses to worry about.

Work on Your Business Idea

Coming up with a great business idea is just the beginning of your journey as an entrepreneur. There are many more steps that you need to take before you can get started. Fleshing out your business idea is one of them, and it’s very critical to the success of your venture.

Is your business idea really unique? What value will it generate? Is it something your target audience really wants? Or is it something you think they’d want? Getting answers to these questions is important to determine whether or not your idea works.

Analyze Your Market and Challenges

You have a brilliant idea that you know will definitely work, but what about your competition? Will it be difficult for a rival to copy your idea and repackage it in a better way? A potential investor will ask you this when you approach them for funding. It’s very important to understand the market you operate in and your competition.

You should first look at the trends and identify challenges that your business may face. The next step is to understand how you are going to address those challenges to stay profitable.

Assess Your Capital Needs

You require money to start your business, but how much do you really need? Without a clear idea you run the risk of coming up with an unrealistic valuation of your business, which will put off investors and get your loan application rejected. So before you start wondering how you should raise money, you should focus on evaluating your funding requirements. How much do you need to get started? How exactly are you going to use the funds?

Explore Crowdfunding Platforms

Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter have changed the way entrepreneurs are raising money to fund their new businesses. Whether you want to sell a new software tool or set up an organic noodle bar, you can get people to invest in your business.

Network with People

When you don’t have money to start your business, it’s essential you find the right people who can help. You may attend events and trade shows where you can find potential investors. You may also join various online forums on social networking sites where you can find useful tips and resources to bring your business to life.

Most venture capitalists and investors are quite active on social media, so if you can wow them with your idea you may find a great way to get started on your business dream.

Run a Trial

Want to be sure if your business idea is indeed unique? Run a test and find out. A pilot will give you the confidence you need to take your idea to the next level and mitigate risk. You can start on a small scale by giving away some freebies to a few people in your target audience group to see how they respond.

A small trial can give you some new insights to grow your business and identify challenges that you might have overlooked.

Gather Feedback

If you are planning to get into a completely new business, it would really help if you got a second opinion from someone who knows the market and the challenges involved. A business idea that looks good on paper may not be that attractive when you actually get into it. An expert’s opinion may help you look at things from a different perspective and gain more knowledge that you may lack.

Secure a Small Business Loan if Necessary

There are several loan programs aimed at helping first time entrepreneurs set up their business. The Small Business Administration (SBA) operates the loan programs offered by the U.S. government. To qualify for the loan, your business must meet some criteria such as your business must operate in the United States, your business must qualify as a small business according to SBA guidelines, you must operate for profit and you should have a good credit score.

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Source: Small Business Trends

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