About a week ago, I wrote a post that decried the rampant overabundance of pithy posts and self-help quotes called Fuck You, Startup Yoda.
Yet here I am about to write a post that is specifically a self-help post. But here is the rub. It's not about helping you.
It's all about me.
Sound selfish? Well it is. I know, my inner mom voice is agreeing with you that it is wrong to be selfish.
But its not.
A entrepreneur is many things, and while it make not seem to be true, most often, selfish is not one of them. Founders put it all on the line to make sure that their visions become reality. And “it,” usually consists of their health, sanity and emotional well-being.
But thats ok you say. Once we win, it's all good.
Yes, along with a lack of selfishness, most entrepreneurs are also overly optimistic.
The truth is that you are going to fail. In fact, the most successful companies are the ones that understand that failure is part of the process and engage innovative ways to manage failure in order to optimize success.
But if, after all the optimizing your company still fails, what are you left with?
I am at the core of everything I do. Me. Yes, there are dozens and dozens of people that help in the success of the companies we build, but strip away everything, and before we get to nothingness, we get to ourselves. The true ourselves that only we know.
And, for some reason, we have been taught that tending to that core being is selfish, and selfish is bad.
Why? What about ensuring that our core being is strong is wrong?
Take a moment and think about the first thing you do each morning. Do you reach for yourself, or do you reach for something else?
Jerry Colonna is a CEO coach, and he once challenged a room full of entrepreneurs with that question.
“I read email first.” I responded. “It's for me, though. I want to make sure there are no fires I have to deal with.”
“Is it?” Jerry asked. “Is it for you? Sounds like its for your business, your employees, your clients…”
He was right.
Jerry is one of those people that enters your brain and refuses to leave, even as you actively work to reject his hippie bullshit as the ravings of a bygone era. The problem with guys like Jerry and Brad Feld, is that their simple questions crack your skull open and force you to look – really look – at what is inside, with a naked truth that is usually reserved for your sixth year of weekly therapy.
Ok, enough of my namedropping.
Let's get back to me.
Several months ago I realized that I had no more to give. I was spending every waking moment either working on my company or helping others with theirs. I was traveling a couple of a days a week, sometimes because it had a direct relation to my business, or my FOMO was in such high-gear that I was afraid that not going would somehow be detrimental.
My tank was at empty. I sat in my chair playing Xbox, and my brain was not recognizing shapes. I kept dying over and over, and finally I just tossed the controller at the tv and walked away.
I was done.
As I laid down in my bed Jerry's question came back into my brain. “When you wake up, what is the first thing you reach for? Is it you or something else?”
It was time for it to be me.
Over the course of the next several months I put myself first in a real, complete way. I made myself matter to me.
And I realized something. When we put anything in front of ourselves, we are proving that we matter less than something, anything else. We are not as important as something else.
Usually, it's our company. So we work 23 hours a day. Or its our significant other (even if they have fur and four legs). So we stop working. Or maybe it's the companies you have invested in, or your parent's computer problems. Or whatever. It doesn't matter.
As long as you believe that something is more important than you, you will always have a Fear Of Missing Out on something more important than you.
As I became more selfish, I started to see that I also became more “Zen.” Which made seeing the solutions to problems easier. Which made motivating others easier. Which made production go up.
As I became more selfish, it was easier for me to tell others what I needed. What I needed became clearer, and it was easier to separate what I need from what I want.
Yes. I realized that if I was selfish, and cared about me, then I could kick more ass, which would create more value.
That, in essence, my selfishness was actually beneficial to the people (investors, employees, family, etc.) that I once put ahead of me.
There is an explosion of Startup Yodas, with their 140 character silly, pithy Jack Handy deep thoughts, seeking the retweet over the truth driving an insanely inappropriate number of tumblr quote posts.
“Famous” founders comes out with post about how easy/hard/awesome/sucky being a founder is. A million others retweet/quote pieces of the post as if some deep truth has been exposed.
Or, even more common, is a person considered to be a “thought leader,” writes an article about how everyone is building startups wrong and how he has the answer. The perfect answer.
And the quotes on Tumblr explode.
The truth is that entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because we are in a constant state of search. We get excited when we read, or hear, or see someone that seems to have figured out something. We take that data, consume it, put it in our brains and let it sit there.
And sometimes, it comes out in the form of an idea. Even more rarely, it's a revelation.
The voices that bring real value are often not folks with tens of thousands of twitter followers or facebook subscribers. They are true operators, the silent killers who write with a pent up requirement to share their search with fellow entrepreneurs. They understand, perhaps unknowingly, that they are learning through the collective unconscious of the startup ecosystem by participating, rather than being a sound bite.
Entrepreneurs love to learn. We derive knowledge from amazing places, but as long as we are blinded by the apparent importance of the words of someone who has a 'name,' we are missing the truth in the words written by the doers.
Why are we looking for meaning? Haven't we found it in the pursuit of changing the world through our startups?
Because that's why we exist. We want to understand why the world doesn't work in a certain way, and make it so. We want to change the very fabric of the world.
Want to stay anywhere in the world inexpensively? Boom. done. Want to make sure that the world has clean drinking water? Yup. Boom. On it. Have a story to tell? Want the world to see it? Not. A. Problem. Boom.
The most used (and most hated) word in an entrepreneur's life is the word 'why.' We cannot escape it. We cannot run from it. We cannot avoid it. So we accept it. We learn to love it. We cannot imagine living without it. And sometimes, we build something that answers it.
In the great search for meaning, entrepreneurs fight a never-ending battle. It why so many of us suffer from depression, substance abuse, are awful people to be around at times, and are just fucking selfish people. We are in a war that we cannot win.
But sometimes, we prevail in a battle. And that battle can be big. Can change lives. Can bring value to people. And we smile for a moment. Pause, and then get back to the life we have chosen. A life we love, but cannot explain why.
Certainly, no Startup Yoda can explain the importance of meaning to an entrepreneur. Not in 140 characters or in a 140 years.
And while your victory is a retweet or tumblr quote, mine is seeing the very fabric of the world change as it accelerates into the future.
And until you realize that, that the only value you bring is the complete lack of value, you can go fuck yourself.
I was just reading on Facebook about the reaction a friend's son had to learning that Santa Claus wasn't real.
I felt my stomach twist, and my lips curl into a disappointed frown.
You see, I am a firm believer in magic. Not the David Blaine kind of illusion, or the Wiccan wilderness, but in the real, truthful magical moment.
I think it's why I am an entrepreneur. Seeing that moment when the dream become reality because a team of engineers strung letters and numbers to make that magical box output a beautifully designed web service that betters millions of lives in just a small magical way.
When we were first pitching Graphicly, when asked about the tech, we would say, “it's magic,” and by the time we were done explaining it, the investor seemed to believe us. “Magical.” they would whisper under their breath as we left the offices.
Magic, the thing that cannot exist because we are logical and believe in science, is emotional. It's often filled with wonder and passion, and that is something that we cannot replicate with logic and science, and the greatest inventions and services in the world are embrued with magically properties. Flip a switch and light appears. Magic. Press a button and shit shows up at your house. Magic. Press another button and movies play on your phone, then your tv. Magic.
I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs and I often spend time talking about the magical properties of what they are building. There are so few that are truly in love with the magic of what they are building. They don't want to build 100 year companies because they are blind to the potential economic positives of an earlier exit. They want to build a company with longevity because the pull of doing magically things follow up by simply more magic is just such a drug that it's impossible to not pursue it.
We spend our lives surrounded by burden. People, responsibilities, and health among others, that we begin to see the magic in our lives equally as burdensome.
When I was a little kid, my dad would go to the junk yard. He would often come back with various things in various states of disrepair, which would drive my mom into various states of annoyance.
Every once in awhile, he would fill the back of his truck with random broken things, and let me join him on a trip to the junk yard. For me, the junk yard was an amazing place filled not with broken discarded items, but items that blinded their previous owners to their potential magic.
Last Saturday, I was sitting with my friend Drew talking about everything and nothing, when he asked me about Graphicly. “Hows the comics biz?” Drew said with that look of “I'm interested in you, your company, not so much.”
“We aren't 'comics' anymore, we work with publishers of all types” I responded, to Drew's surprise.
“Tell me more!” And so I did, and while I did I kept thinking about the times at The Dump with my Dad, and that Pong machine we found.
See, my dad has never been a big talker. A doer. A worker. An achiever. Yes. But talker, no. He just sees what needs to be done, and does it. Consistently. Reliably. Which, by the way, as a kid, having a father who was never wrong and always did the right thing was a complete pain in the ass.
After getting that Pong, I remember running around to all my friends and telling them about it! “We've got Pong! The original video game! Pong at my house! Pong. Pong. Pong! By the way? Pong!”
Yet, when I tried to hook it up to the television and make it work, nada. “Dad! It's broken!” I screamed amongst the disappointment of my friends.
“Of course it's broken, Micah,” My never wrong father explained. “There is a reason we found it at the dump.”
As I sat there talking to Drew about all the success we had had over the previous year, massive spikes in revenue and paid users, solid product advancements and acceptance in publishing, which was a huge market, he kept asking me why I didn't do more press.
“Because its my job to support the building of a real business, not talking about a smoke and mirrors one. Because it's more important to build value than build hype.”
Which is an easy thing to say. And, while in our current culture of reality shows and entitlements it would seem that as someone who can't code or draw a straight line, there is minimal value I bring other than creating hype.
But I tried that. And all it left me with was disappointed and angry friends, who just wanted to play the original video game on an old tv.
Do we need to promote our startups and network and all that funky time jazz? Of course, after all if a product can change the world, but there is no one there to use it the world just keeps spinning on.
Yet, there is something amazing, maybe even beautiful in execution. In silently creating something of immense value without the need to be everywhere to be seen by everyone. That our worth as entrepreneurs is built through our products, not through our names.
I enjoyed talking to Drew about Graphicly, and over the next few months, I will be talking to more and more people about what we are doing – because we are deeply passionate about we are doing. That we are enabling the publishing industry to accelerate their digital efforts so that stories that are currently trapped in printed form can be enjoyed by everyone in enhanced and interactive fashion.
Still, I remember that Pong box and the trips my dad and I took to the junk yard. I won't forget the disappointment of my friends or lesson of my father:
Be proud of what you accomplish; not what you convince others you can.
Don't confuse activity with achievement. - John Wooden
Thought I might start adding the posts and articles that inspire me to write this particular post.
I was asked the other day why I spend so much time mentoring and advising startups.
“It's the energy.” I replied.
There is something special about companies when they are in the early stage and everything is in front of them. The numbers are big, the potential is awesome and the effort, while massive is done with joy.
As companies grow, the responsibilities and needs of the organization change, and the energy changes. The needs are more specific, and the road is clearer. It's not bad, just different.
Over the past year or so, I have spent time with UpWest Labs which is unique in that its focus is on Israeli startups and giving them the opportunity to meet and integrate into Silicon Valley.
And, its not all wide eyes and puppy dogs. These are seriously interesting startups with founders that have hard core technical skills that are attacking real problems, big problems in markets that are both domestic and international. And maybe its because so many spent time in the military, but they are relentless in pursuit of the solution to the problems they are addressing. (One company from a previous class spent 3 months interviewing hundreds and hundreds of teenagers on how they use text messaging. It is NOTHING like you would imagine, and the product is just beautiful. A company from this class has used algorithms they developed to analyze Farsi and other highly complex languages to improve the impulse decision making process.)
I wish I could write more about the companies that are currently here, but they have a demo day coming on October 30th (if you are interested in going, just email Yael and she can hook you up.)
UpWest Labs has done a great job of bringing in companies that sit at that intersection of positive energy and relentless drive that helps founders increase their chance of success.
I spend time with early stage founders because the energy reminds me why I love being an entrepreneur; and that I am proud of the work that UpWest Labs has done with Israeli startups.
The time was six in the afternoon. I remember it, because it was always about then that my friend Rahul and I would walk over the Emeryville BART station from the MyPersonal offices in an old submarine factory.
It was late 2000, and we had just gone through a few rounds of lay offs. The entire Bay Area seemed to get silent overnight, and a crowded coffee shop that was constantly buzzing with energy, dreams and techies, was closed.
“Let's go hang out on the grass.” Rahul and I went to a grassy hill and as I imagined so many of our friends were doing, started to discuss what we were going to do next.
“Cheaper, better, faster. That's the answer.” Rahul started. “So many of the startups that are dying are none of those. They are just different.”
Since then, I have always kept that mantra in my thoughts as I review and mentor startups. Are you really, cheaper, better, faster, or just different?
We seem to be entering a phase where most companies are just different. And that different isn't enough to see them through to success. There is nothing to compete on, only the hope that the users of the other services like yours decide that your different is a better different, and therefore make a change.
It goes for the same with the word 'disruption'. In my homage to Jason Fried, I hate the word disruption.
Somewhere, we started to believe that in order to truly disrupted an industry or industry leader, we had to replace them. Do you think that in reality Uber believes that one day there will be no taxis? Do you think AirBnb believes there will be no hotels?
Disruption is sometimes just improvements in efficiency and making the industry better. Uber makes the taxi industry better by injecting efficiency into the system. AirBnb makes the hotel industry better by creating an alternative marketplace that is cheaper, better, faster.
This reality is what drives us at Graphicly. We are not trying to replace the publishing industry. Or destroy Kindle, iBooks, etc. We are trying to develop a solid bridge between publishers and the digital world, so that publishers can focus on what they do best: promotion and creativity.
By focusing on cheaper, better, faster our customers' lives are improved. At a lower price point, our customers can easily convert, distribute and promote their content more quickly than going to places like Amazon, Apple and Barnes&Noble directly.
As a fat man, I've decided I want to be a skinny man, and so I diet and exercise. The hardest part is not knowing what to eat or what not to eat, but not getting whiplashed by all the information that is out there.
“Eat within 30min of waking up.”
“Workout before you eat.”
“Eat a bit of protein before you workout.”
The discussion around work/life balance is similar.
“If you have passion, it's not work”
“If you don't balance your life, you will fail.”
“It's okay to take time for yourself in order to be more effective.”
“I leave work everyday at 5pm. Work/Life balance, man.”
I honestly don't get the hubbub behind the discussion around work/life balance. It seems such a simple concept:
Make sure you are not overdoing any one thing, you will burn yourself out, and just not enjoy living.
But, for some unknown reason, it has evolved into:
Stop working so much, asshole. Clearly, you are an idiot.
Balance is really the difficulty here, and in some ways, its unfortunate that the concept has evolved around the word. Things don't have to be in balance to be in balance. You can work 16 hours a day and be in balance.
Yes, I said it. You can be in balance and still work 16 hours a day.
The key is to find a way to not overdo any one thing.
Dave McClure travels. He is constantly fund raising and investing. He plays ultimate frisbee (now and again) and hangs out with his family. If you looked at his life through the traditional lens of “work/life balance” you would say, “Dave, dude. You work too hard. You need to learn balance. Come, lets go on a hike. Do some yoga. Maybe a vacation where you disconnect from the world.” And you would miss the point.
What you don't realize is how Dave lives his life. Seeing his travels through social media, or by spending moments with him doesn't reveal that he is living his passion, and that passion is bringing balance to his life right now.
We forget that our lives are constantly changing and evolving. That what we need today may be completely different tomorrow. To create a definition of what work/life balance is, and apply that across the board is just innane. Its why, even though its probably not popular, I dislike FullContact's Paid Paid Vacation policy. Institutionalizing a definition of work/life balance is disrespectful to the individual choices of the members of the team.
If some asked me if I felt that I was a balanced person (yes, we can joke about my mental imbalances if you like) I would say I am. But here is my day - 14 hours spent on my startup or talking to other folks about theirs. An hour around lunch time away from the office, and an hour for exercise. I always try and sleep 8 hours, because it makes the 14 at least 1.5 times as effective.
I don't hike. I don't go to conferences. I don't to wine tastings or pick daisies while skipping through the park. I don't do work/life balance.
But, I like my life. I like the output. I like what I have accomplished and how I have helped others accomplish. I like the balance in my life.
And that's the rub, isn't it? When you are truly passionate about something (or somethings – In my case its entrepreneurship and story-telling) the line between the traditional definition of work and life blur. It becomes impossible to stop one and start the other.
Balance is achieved by balancing yourself emotionally, not by balancing your time. Work/Life balance is about clarity of action and purpose, and if to achieve that you can't take time to pee then it is ok.
You define what balance is. Just like you define if your activities are work.
Every morning, I spend a bit of time reflecting on a person and how they have impacted my life. For me, it's an important exercise in remembering two things:
1) It is impossible to achieve without support. Even haters need someone to create something to hate.
2) We learn more by how we are influenced than by what we are taught. The general rule is that we “forget” (transfer easily accessed information from short-term memory to difficult to access long-term memory) 70% of what we are taught. But lessons and influence stay with us, since they shape our very outlook.
In the late summer of 2007, I remember being about 6 months post-acquistion of Current Wisdom, sitting in a $1,500 desk chair looking at a $10,000 painting. I was on track to hit my 24 month revenue goal in 9 months (which meant my earn-out would be accelerated to 12 months), and I was so under-stimulated that I just sat there making a list in my head.
“Bought stupid shit. Check.”
“Bored senseless. Check.”
“Go to lunch? Did it twice already today.”
As most entrepreneurs, I was thinking of several ideas of businesses that would be fun to explore. One stuck in my head.
micah: “Let's grab lunch.”
danny: “haven't you been twice already?”
micah: “I'll pay.”
danny: “I'm in.”
I met with Danny and among several topics, I told him about my pet idea. “You should meet David Cohen.” he said. “Who?” I responded.
David Cohen was in the midst of starting an accelerator program in Boulder. The idea was simple. As an angel investor, take ten interesting companies, give them resources and mentorship and see where they go.
I emailed David my idea. His response was “I don't know anything about pets, but you should come check out Techstars.”
And I did, and in the process gained a mentor and friend. I spent a good amount of time with David and the program and saw the power mentorship had not only on me, but also on the futures of those ten companies and the entrepreneurs nurturing them.
(One thing that still makes me smile to this day is that early on I asked David to list me as a 'Junior Mentor.' While it was pretty damn funny, it also gave me my own section on the website, given I was the only junior mentor. I think it lasted for two years, when I 'negotiated' my ascension to regular mentor by making a couple of photocopies for David.)
More interestingly was watching David grow as he was being mentored. He always looked at Techstars as a grand experiment to learn from, and to this day continues to follow a very similar mindset.
David inadvertently taught me two things that have stuck with me:
1) Don't Tell; Do Ask
2) Truth Must Be Direct, Specific and Succinct.
The second was easy. Give good advice in the least amount of words possible. It forces truth and directness. It removed ambiguity and forces the listener to respond to the facts not the feelings.
The first was hard. We are taught that when we are asked a question, we should provide the answer. David will often ask a question. And then another one. And a third. Even when he knows the answer.
Most of the mentors in my life do the same, but it wasn't until I experienced David doing it with others, and seeing how the change in the dynamic from teaching to discovering positively effected the entrepreneurs did it stick.
(Yes, I know it's called the Socratic Method, but knowing that ice cream is called ice cream does't mean you know how it tastes until the first lick.)
That's what I thought about this morning. About how being a great mentor isn't about providing an answer, its about helping the entrepreneur get to the right question.
I've shied away from writing about my company, Graphicly, here on this blog very often. Not sure why. Probably because I obsess about the place of technology in publishing, and how the rapid advancement in ebooks has created a new and exciting place in the content ecosystem for creators.
Publishing hasn't really changed since the Gutenberg Press. Someone writes a story, someone prints a ton of books, and someone or some store sells that book.
With the adoption of digital books, one would expect the publishing industry to buck against the trend, much like music and movies did.
But, they haven't. Instead, they have turned towards digital and ran into its waiting arms. All indications are that Random House, the largest publisher in the world will see almost 25% of it's revenue come from digital. eBooks sales have doubled each year, and are looking to double again. Barnes and Noble is expecting close to a 30% growth in its ebook and college textbook business to nearly $3 billion. Two years ago, the entire industry did $1 billion in ebook sales.
Part of this movement is behavioral. We have never stopped reading. As the internet boomed, we continued to live in a medium that was primarily text-based, but no longer weighed anything. We could read a thousand pages on a single screen. Books as a content delivery device became antiquated and uncomfortable (even as the traditionalist fought for nostalgia).
THERE’S A REASON BOOK lovers are the last ones to hold out in this digital revolution. Music and movie lovers have never had the same pleasure that book lovers have in being able to identify on sight a fellow fan of Tolstoy or Didion. What does the e-reader revolution mean for all of us who get a thrill from noting the book in a stranger’s hands?
Jeff Bezos recently revealed during the new Kindle Fire launch that digital readers read on average 4.5x as much as non-digital readers. We never stopped reading, we just changed how we consumed the content.
And how do we read. More than 2.5 billion books are sold every year. 400 million cook books. Yeah, cook books. Walk into your kitchen. Tell me you don't have like 10 cook books in there.
Close to a million people are expected to self-publish books of all types this year – mostly digital.
Yet book stores are suffering. Borders - dead. Indie bookstores are dying all over the place. What's interesting is that this actually fuels ebook sales. The publishing industry is very heavy on the head - The Big Six publishers drive a ton of big name sales, followed by about 100,000 mid-sized publishers and the million or so self-publishers. With it getting more difficult to discover books outside of the big sellers, which the physical stores have to promote and place in prominent locations within the store, publishers are turning to digital – namely the Kindle, iBook and NOOK stores, which are 90%+ of all ebook sales – as channels to promote and drive sales.
So here we stand. Publishers want digital capabilities now. Large publishers are hiring digital staff rapidly, the M&A space is heating up, and more and more digital publishers are getting funded (Oyster is one of my favorites. By productizing Amazon's Lending Library, there are some really interesting things they can accomplish). Mid-tier publishers are looking for ways to get into the digital game quickly and effectively. Self-publishers all hope to be the next 50 Shades of Grey.
Yet, with this gold rush, the major marketplaces continue to silo their file formats, platforms and interfaces. Any publisher of any size has to deal with as many as 8 or 9 file formats to work with Amazon, Apple and Nook. Three interfaces. Three different agreements. Three different account reps. And there is no sign of change. It makes no sense for Amazon to allow a reader to access their content via anything but a Kindle branded app or device. Same for Apple or Nook. The fragmentation will exist forever. For publishers, it's is an absolute mess.
At Graphicly, this is the problem we are working on is removing the complexity of conversion, distribution and promotion so authors can do what they do best, tell great stories.
Rather than create a brand new marketplace to compete with Amazon, Apple and Nook, we have created an automated bridge between the publisher and the digital marketplace. Let the publishers do what they do best; let the marketplaces do what they do best. We just provide the connective tissue between the two, and with approximately 5,000 publishers joining the platform in less than 6 months to produce more than 10,000 books, I think we are on to something.
The publishing industry has made the right decision in embracing digital content. It has limited piracy, increased higher margin sales, and has turned into the mass behavioral change that driving increases in reading and decreasing in physical book ownership.
We continue to love stories, and idolize the words that the storytellers among us all weave into our imaginations. Digital books have never meant an end to the story, only the medium in which it's delivered. The book is being redefined as we speak, as are the story elements themselves.
The future of story is coming, and it all starts with the book.
I wrote this a few months back, and thought it would be worth the repost. The funding environment shifted to favor “revenue friendly” companies, and we have gone all in on this philosophy at Graphicly, continuing to grow by subtraction. We have killed more products and features in the past few months than I ever though possible. We've added staff, and reorganized the rest. We are truly the embodiment of “build, sell or leave” and the results have been strikingly positive in terms of revenue and user growth. I even grumble less.
Original post below:
Well that title removes any chance that Business Week, Inc, Forbes, etc will pick it up, and that other than Brad Feld and Mark Suster, no one will reblog/retweet/etc, so we can speak plainly.
(Just making sure…)
The past few weeks have been really interesting at Graphicly. We have achieved product/market fit, our new product launch has been overwhelming, and there is a clear direction and focus in the company. Revenue is doubling week over week, and our internal mantra has gotten equally clear.
“You are either building, selling or leaving.”
So much has be made of “vanity metrics” and our apparent love affair with them. As entrepreneurs, we are told by the media, investors, and other entrepreneurs that whats cool isn’t $1 million but $1 billion. That Instagram is AMAZING and their 15million plus users are the reason why.
How can we not buy into the importance of vanity metrics, when it seems that the ONLY THING THAT PEOPLE CARE ABOUT is vanity metrics?
For a company to be successful there are literally only two functions the company has to perfect. Building and Selling. Thats it. Metrics and analytics are only the score card, the reporting mechanism to determine if what you are building will sell, and what you are selling is worth building.
Last rant on this point: Find a metric that is truly indicative of what makes your business go. It may be a vanity metric like page views, or something more interesting like reads/user, photo filters per session, or times my mom shares my baby pictures on Facebook. Find it and love it. Throw out all other charts and graphs. Put ONE FUCKING SLIDE in your board deck/presentation and tell your shareholders if that number is going up or down and why. Any other metric just makes it easier for your investors and employees to tell their friends why the company they are a part of is cool in a dumbed down fashion so others can understand. But DONT CARE about those numbers.
Care ONLY about the metric that proves that you are building something worth selling, and selling something worth building.
Now, about sales.
Both Brad and Mark have written about Grinfucking. Its an epidemic. No one wants to be the bad guy. The working stiff dreams of being involved in that super cool startup with the sick lounge. When he gets pitched by that startup founder in the flannel shirt and Warby Parker glasses, Toms shoes and Charity:Water rubber bracelet on a cool new technology and he doesn’t understand it, then he is full of FEAR THAT HE IS AN IDIOT.
Which makes the awful, awful truth that the prospect will never say no.
Your goal as an untested, unknown founder, who has a product to sell that NO ONE CARES about is to find what about your product makes your users lives better. Read that again. Thats not a feature. Thats not a price. Thats a feeling. Better is a feeling. Sell the feeling.
For enterprise its 99% of the time that you are making your prospect look good to his/her boss. Thats it. Focus on that.
For consumer its 99% of the ego or time. People want to be part of something amazing, or want something to help them become amazing. At Graphicly, we consider our “Content Empowerment Platform” an easy button for authors and publishers. They want their stories seen. We make it so. Its amazing and it helps each one of them show the world how amazing they are. It makes their lives better. It makes them happy. (I hope.)
Instagram makes people happy. Its not the number of users, but the amount of engagement that is what makes them awesome.
Stop getting excited by the “maybes” and “lets have another meeting” responses you get to your product. IT MEANS YOUR PRODUCT SUCKS.
Budgets, approvals, etc are all excuses as to why they don’t want to buy, but don’t want to say no.
If it takes more than a simple presentation of your value to a prospect to get to a verbal yes, YOUR PRODUCT SUCKS. (Ok, maybe you SUCK as a salesperson. But sales isn’t hard if you are a founder. You are just making it hard.)
Get to an answer.
Build, Sell or Leave. It IS THAT EASY.
Finally, about revenue.
In todays funding climate, if you are not thinking about your business in terms of speed to self-sustaining revenue, you are a moron. Seed rounds are, and will continue to be, relatively easy to raise (sub $1mm). Series A investors are now looking for real businesses with real potential. Call it a crunch, call it Jennifer, doesn’t FUCKING MATTER if you don’t have a real business, because you will be called DEAD.
Have a real path to revenue. Test that path immediately. Ensure that its a real path, with the real ability to simplify sales, and go that way. You never want to get in the car, see the path you need to travel, press on the gas and find the tank empty without a gas station in sight.