At Startups.com, we built an 8-figure business by saying "no" — a lot.
We knew going in that if we’re going to have 100% control of our destiny now and in the future, that would only work if we could constantly say "no" in a disciplined manner.
But you know what? Saying "no" sucks. Just like saying "no" to delicious glazed donuts sucks. We know that we want them, but we also know the cost of saying "yes"! Now I'm hungry for a glazed donut. See what I mean? We knew that controlling our destiny would mean an insane amount of discipline, across the entire organization. In order to prepare ourselves for this discipline, like any good regimen, there were a few things that we'd have to stay incredibly focused on.
Our Founder careers aren't defined by the size of our positive outcomes, they are defined by whether we've had one at all.
Therefore, if our outcomes are so important to us, shouldn't we first start with optimizing for the most likely outcome that will be meaningful to us? Is our idea more likely to become a $3 million business earning $1 million in profit or a $100 million business that could go IPO?
We need to start our journey, which implies an insane amount of tough decisions, aligning our path with outcomes that will not only be meaningful but those that we have the highest probability to achieve.
To be fair, the "It has to be a billion dollars" is a mantra directly driven from the VC community...
I had the pleasure of talking to Blake about his ideas and experiences as a social entrepreneur. I started by asking him about how TOMS started.
Blake: I started TOMS after a trip I took to Argentina in 2006. I noticed that many of the locals wore shoes that I learned were alpargata. I also noticed that in rural villages there were many children who were without shoes and how that was affecting their daily lives. I had to come up with a way to help and knew that relying on donations alone was not a sustainable solution, so I used my knowledge of business to come up with an idea. The result was a for-profit business model that empowers customers to help children through their purchases. For every pair of shoes purchased, a new pair is given ...
Founders are really bad at asking for introductions.
On a daily basis I get a request that looks something like this: "Hey Wil, I see that you know (some investor), would you mind introducing me to them? I just had this idea 9 seconds ago and I'd love to see if they'd invest in me!"
Now, mind you, I make a living by helping Founders (my dream job) so making introductions is a huge part of my job. The problem isn't my willingness to make them, it's the inexperience of Founders in how to ask for an introduction.
As Founders, our ability to get introductions is the lifeblood of our growth. Here's how to do it incredibly well — and what to avoid like the plague.
Every time I make an introduction to someone, I'm...
As Founders, we spend an inordinate amount of time setting and pursuing goals, yet the ones that truly matter — the ones that affect us personally — are often amorphous. If we're spending every waking moment working toward a goal, it stands to reason that our goals should have an insane amount of fidelity.
If you ask a startup Founder what their goals for the startup are, they may say something like "To sell for a billion dollars!" But that's a pointless goal unless that Founder needs exactly a billion dollars (or their percentage of it) to achieve their goals. Also, if you have a plan for spending a billion dollars please call me - I want to hang out.
A better goal would be "I need $281,520 to pay off my ...
For over 10 years, I lived simultaneously in Columbus, Ohio as well as Santa Monica, San Francisco, and Beverly Hills (don't ask), working in both locations and being very active in the local ecosystems. My family and I were on a plane every 3 weeks for almost 5 years.
A lot of people pontificate on whether a bigger city is better for a startup (and the Founder) but I actually tested it across 4 different startups, raising a family, and genuinely trying to enjoy the best of every city. Here's my take:
While living in LA and SF I met with over 1,000 Founders, more than most people will meet in a city they were actually born in. Big cities naturally attract the most ambitious people, so it's so much easi...
In the early years of my first startup we totally ran out of money. I remember sitting in my apartment staring at the ceiling thinking "how do we possibly recover from this?"
Then I had a (then) silly idea. What if I just took the whole staff down to just a couple of people and we ran "bare-bones" for a while? I recognized it was a big step back, but I was also thinking "I'd rather be alive and breathing than dead and bloated" (the former being a Pearl Jam reference, the latter being a Stone Temple Pilots reference — RIP 90's).
We made the hard decision of letting basically everyone go. We moved the office back to my apartment. We sold off furniture and office equipment. It sucked.
And then something really interesting happened.
All of a su...
Recessions breed incredible opportunities for startups, if only us Founders knew where to look and how to leverage them.
At its core, a recession distracts everyone all at once, meaning only a select few will have the fortitude and foresight to find advantages. What we need to do during these times is step back and look at the overall picture to understand not just what's happening to us, but what's also happening to everyone else.
This is where the opportunity begins.
It's really hard for anyone to stay focused on growth when the walls are closing in around us. That's why most of our competition will be circling the wagons and staying completely fixated on internal struggles and survival. This is a gol...
What if we defined success by what we DON'T have to do anymore?
What if we didn't have to work with people we don't like? What if we never had to miss dinner with our kids? What if we never had to think twice about taking a vacation?
Does this sound like startup Shangri-la? I thought so, too, until 8 years ago. I decided to build Startups.com based on everything I never wanted to do again.
It fundamentally changed my life.
It turns out that making a list of things we don't want to ever do is actually much easier than a list of things we are trying to accomplish.
That's because saying "no" is more immediate. We can say, "I'll take more vacations when I'm really rich" (the "someday" paradox), or we can say,...
Would you rather make $200K with a shitty quality of life or $100K with an awesome quality of life?
In the startup world we all seem to understand that $200K is better than $100K, but we do a really lousy job of qualifying that difference based on what actually matters — our quality of life.
When we step back for a second, we may come to find out that "compensation" in strictly monetary terms, is a broken metric. We're all really trying to translate those dollar signs into how it will impact our quality of life.
So why don't we just start with what improves our quality of life and then figure out where money comes in?
Years ago at Startups.com, we instituted a work from home policy. At the time we were all sti...