We’re approaching the one year anniversary of the Chick Approved acquisition. There’s no new money coming in, no new press releases with my name in them, and nothing being done with the site. Yet the experience keeps on giving. I just got a huge dose of joy and nostalgia from a memory I forgot I ever made.
I was sitting at Hop Monk a few nights ago with my oldest California friend, Silke. We were just grabbing dinner and catching up when she randomly said, “Do you remember that one time when you were sketching Chick Approved ideas on a napkin at the bar when I met up with you?” Whoah! Whirlwind of emotion. Over 2.5 years ago I was sitting at the bar a few feet away waiting for Silke to finish work and meet me for dinner. Chick Approved was still just an idea. No users. No website. It wasn’t even the same concept it eventually became. It was all I could think about. I was so excited. Every free minute was spent fleshing out the idea. I grabbed a beer and a napkin and started sketching ideas (I always have a pen on me so napkins are often my mind’s canvas). That napkin, which I desperately wish I’d kept now, had the general layout for the site’s first models.
It’s kinda hard to describe the emotion. It’s amazing though. Even as I’m writing this my chest gets tight, tears swell behind my eyes, and I feel it. Nostalgia? Probably, but what does that even mean? It aches like remembering lost love, but it’s not sad. It’s definitely elation, but not just happiness. A little bit of pride. Whatever it is, it’s powerful and feels really good. It makes me want to work harder. I can’t wait to feel it again.
I’m convinced I wouldn’t feel this way about anyone else’s idea. I’m fairly certain you won’t either. So start something. Even when the project is long gone…it keeps on giving.
If you’ve worked in IT for any length of time you’ve heard the phrase “You don’t get fired for buying IBM.” Why? Because at the time that phrase was coined, IBM was the biggest, most reliable computer company there was. If you take a chance on the little guy and it fails, it’s your ass. If you buy IBM and it fails, it was still the “smart” decision. The investing landscape in the valley is heading the same direction.
We were pitching a VC recently, and outlined the product, market, needs, benefits, etc. He listened politely, but made it clear that this was a market he thought was saturated and had zero potential going forward. We pressed on, eventually arriving at a slide we put little emphasis on: expansion. One of our strategies for expanding the product is a mobile app and that was only one of a few bullets on the slide.
The goal of this post is to provide some very general guidelines to determine what good advice looks like. Feel free to read the whole post, but I like when people get to the point early so here it is: Good advice is relevant, actionable, and timely.
I learned a lot through the development, fundraising, and sale of Chick Approved. We did a lot of things wrong, but we also did a lot of things right. Every startup is so different and their goals vary so widely that I’m not going to attempt to make a bulleted list of tasks you should check off to be successful (besides most of those are more bullshitted than bulleted). Though, as I’m working through new projects I can guarantee that I’ll come across similar obstacles, be reminded of a lesson learned, and share it with you.
It seems fitting that my first bit of advice is not to blindly follow my advice or even assume I’m anywhere close to being right
Be opinionated, but listen
I’m an opinionated person. I feel very strongly about almost any topic I’m aware of. One of my opinions is that I’m always right, despite the fact that I’m wrong a lot. Some people say I’m confident, others cocky, and others still, pigheaded. Whatever, it works for me. If I thought it was a bad thing I would make an effort to change, but I don’t. Here’s why: it’s hard to convince me of something, but if you do, I’m sold 100%. In my opinion (yes another one), it’s ok to be stubborn as long as you’re not closed to others’ opinions. Basically, be open minded. (I’ll do another post on being open minded because so many people throw it out there without knowing what it means. Kinda like buzz words in tech pitches.)
The Litmus Test: What constitutes good advice?
“Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.” – The Deal Pool
I’m constantly seeking advice from people I like, trust, and respect. I’ve received more good advice than I can remember or truly appreciate. Like everyone, I’ve also received a ton of bad advice. To make my inquisitive efforts more fruitful, I developed a quick test to tell whether the advice I’m receiving is worthwhile: Good advice is relevant, actionable, and timely. If you ask for advice on X and you’re getting a story about Y, it’s not relevant. If you don’t walk away with a mental todo list, the advice is not actionable. Finally, if you’re asking for advice on a current matter and receiving criticism or advice on a previous issue, the advice is not timely. If you want to see exponential gains from the advice you receive, make sure it passes this test: relevant, actionable, and timely. Hopefully my litmus test passes itself. (I’m a nerd, so all I can think of right now is recursion.)
5 things to remember while keeping an open mind to others’ advice:
It’s just one person’s opinion, they have a completely different paradigm than anyone else you’ll talk to. Talk to multiple people.
No one understands your problem, vision, or idea like you do. It’s up to you to make them understand.
In an effort to be helpful, people will always try to steer the conversation towards something they know about. That doesn’t make it relevant or useful. Keep the conversation focused on the matter at hand.
If you didn’t ask for advice, why are you still listening?
Don’t make quick decisions if you can avoid it. Give your mind at least a good night’s sleep to let everything sink in.
Make sure the advice you’re receiving is relevant, actionable, and timely. Take everything into consideration. Then ultimately go with your gut instinct.
I just read this article on “Why the Freemium Model Doesn’t Work“, and while he makes some good points, he wraps up the article by saying “The reality is, the freemium model doesn’t work for the majority of companies who try it.” No shit Sherlock! The reality is, no model works for the majority of companies who try anything. The majority of companies fail within 5 years.1
The 4th Type of Freemium
In his examples of successful freemium models he mentions Evernote, Dropbox, and Spotify. He also suggests that fremium models are limited to only 3 scenarios, egregiously missing my favorite type of freemium: pay for additional features. Read more
I was thinking of titling this post “What it feels like to give up and still win” or something like that. Then I thought about some clever title about perseverance and how we saw value where no one else did, which would be true. But in the end it’s better to give credit where credit is due; so there you have it: How Pinterest Changed My Life.
My last company, Chick Approved, was just officially acquired by Seattle-based Lockerz, Inc…and it feels great! You can read allaboutit, but that’s just the inspiration for the post and really beside the point.
So what is the point?
The point is: I’m not sure we deserve it.
We built a great product, had 2 people on full time managing the community and our ambassador program, and I spent just about every weekend for the better part of a year working my ass off iterating and iterating on the product. So why don’t I deserve it? Read more