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Rand Fishkin | Founder & CEO
7
Lessons that Would Have
Made Me (and will make you) a
Better Entrepreneur
A) This is Rand’s personal experience.
Disagreement welcome.
Caveats
B) The following is intended to apply to early
stage companies (0-200 employees, $0-
$50M in revenue)
Caveats
C) These are merely patterns. Counter-
examples of successful companies doing
the opposite of all these exist.
Caveats
D) I do not define success as $billion+
outcome. Success to me is building a
business that survives, that you love, that
you’re proud to work at.
Caveats
The Environment We’re In Shapes Our Thinking.
One Thing > Many Things
#1
Becoming Well-Known is a
Cheat Code
For both individuals and brands
And It’s Far Easier to Be Known For
One Thing
Known People & Brands:
#1: Have an easier time attracting attention & press
#2: Earn links, rankings, & traffic organically with far less effort
#3: Have lower ad costs & higher clickthrough rates
#4: Every visit is more valuable b/c of higher conversion rates
#5: Benefit from a powerful network & low friction, high response
outreach efforts
What Do These Brands Do/Make?
How About These?
How About These?
All of them started by
doing one thing well!
Simpler Products = Easier to Market
High
Med
Low
ImpossibleDifficultEasy Tricky
ProductComplexity
Ease of Building BrandAssociations
My Worst Mistake at Moz?
Moz’s Most Successful Products
Simple Obvious Does One Thing Well
Quality & Complexity Are Inversely
Correlated in Early Stages
High
Med
Low
TortuousConvolutedSimple Tricky
ProductComplexity
Ease of Producing a High Quality Product
Story > Tactics
#2
For a Long Time, I Believed the
Classic Advice
Big Markets > Small Markets
Execution > Ideas
Low CAC + High CLTV > Products People Love
Better Product > Better Marketing
These aren’t all wrong,
they’re just not the
whole story
Imagine If…
Better Taxis!
(*please ignore the ugly externalities & rampant sexism)
Slimfast for techbros!
Regus, but with a hipster aesthetic!
Product reviews with affiliate links!
A Great Story Covers Many Sins
Stories Build Memories Far Better Than
Features or Benefits
Via Quartz
Great Stories Make Great Startups
Settings & Characters
Climax
New Normal
Before, Things
Were Like This
Our Company is the Solution
Here’s How
Most startups exist
BECAUSE of a story
Features. Meh.
Via UTires
Benefits > Features. Meh.
Via
AdsOfTheWorld
Emotions > Benefits > Features
Via Ohio.com
Before, Things
Were Like This
Here’s How
The problem
triggers a negative
emotion
The resolution
triggers a positive
emotion
Our Company is the Solution
To Craft Your Story:
Start with the most emotionally resonant problem you solve
Center the story on individuals, not groups
Tell the story in a way that triggers your own emotions
Practice the story over and over, with different variations, learning which
styles and bits resonate most
Audience That Cares > Big
Market
#3
Relative Difficulty Level: Insane
Build for an audience that you don’t have any connection to (other than
a belief that they have $$ and a problem)
Chase a market that’s big enough to have billion $+ outcomes by
pursuing broad, mainstream appeal
Serve a hot, growing market that dozens or hundreds of other well-
funded companies are also pursuing
Relative Difficulty Level: Low
Build for people who already know, like, and trust you
Earn amplification from a group of passionate, raving fans
Serve a market that’s underserved because others don’t believe it’s “big
enough”
Avoid competing against firms with millions in funding
easier to reach
harder to reach
Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee)
Know of you, like you, & follow your work closely
Are already connected to you via email
Already follow you on social media channels
Have visited your website at least once
Have heard of your company (and can recall it)
Are in your target audience/reachable via FB+GG ads
Mark didn’t start Facebook with…
Oh dang… He totally did.
Dharmesh & Brian Didn’t Start Hubspot with…
Oh dang… They totally did.
Brian & Joe didn’t start AirBnB with…
Oh dang… They totally did.
Jeremy didn’t start Yelp with…
Oh dang… He totally did.
easier to reach
harder to reach
Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee)
Know of you, like you, & follow your work closely
Are already connected to you via email
Already follow you on social media channels
Have visited your website at least once
Have heard of your company (and can recall it)
Are in your target audience/reachable via FB+GG ads
Pro Tip: Having a lot of target customers in
your personal network makes EVERYTHING
about starting up easier.
MVPs ≠ Launchable Products
#4
The MVP
Via Varteq
The Problem
A lot of people who
want this
are gonna be very disappointed by these
An Alternative
Impressive
Basic
Pathetic
MassiveDecentHarmful Minimal
ProductQuality
Attention & Evangelism
Incredible
Many products
launch here
If you have an
audience, wait until
you’re here
Beta test MVPs w/ a small, private group;
Launch EVPs when your testers are raving
Don’t let your brand be
associated with these
Long Hours < Fewer, Higher
Quality Hours
#5
Glorifying Hours Worked is Just Dumb
“Be extremely tenacious and then just work like hell. You just have
to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week.”
“If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you’re putting
in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing …
you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to
achieve.”
-Elon Musk
Via Vator.tv
Productivity Over Time
40
30
20
0-20
QuantityofOutput
PerHourWorked
Number of Hours Worked/Week
50
10
0
21-35 36-50 51-60 61-80 81+
The first ~35hrs we work each week tend to
be the most productive
After 60+hrs, we’re not just getting less
(& lower quality) work done, we’re
eating into next’ week’s potential
productivity
Via Harvard Business Review
What the
@#$%?!!!
Founders’ Most Important Job
#1: Make good decisions
#2: Everything else
Via PubMed Central
<8 Hours Seriously Harms the Quality
of Your Decisions
Hiring Right People < Not
Hiring Wrong People
#6
People Often Rapidly Improve Knowledge,
Output, & Work Quality
Strong
Rand’sSEOSkills&
Knowledge
Top Notch
Crap
2002
Decent
2004 2006 2008 2010
Mediocre
People Rarely Improve Affinity for a New Set of
Values, Beliefs, & Culture
Strong
Rand’sCulturalFitforLater-
Stage,LargerCompanies
Top Notch
Crap
2002
Decent
2004 2006 2008 2010
Mediocre
Hire for Culture. Train for Competence.
Via Lost and Founder
(img credit: Dawn Shepard)
Via NYTimes & Google (2016)
Via First Round Capital
Tiny Odds of Becoming a Unicorn <
Decent Odds of Being a Zebra
#7
The Odds of Being a “Success” Drop
Massively the Day You Raise VC
Via Gil Ben-Artzy
Bootstrap vs. VC is a False Dichotomy
Via Twitter
All of these are on the table:
Self
fund
Bootstrap Revenue
loans
Smallbiz
loans
Friends
&family
Angel
$
Conv.
debt
Crowd-
funding
VentureAccel-
erators
Exit Requirements
5+ Year Survival Rate
10X+$$$
orbust
5%+YoYis
totallycool
<10%50%+
All of these are on the table:
Self
fund
Bootstrap Revenue
loans
Smallbiz
loans
Friends
&family
Angel
$
Conv.
debt
Crowd-
funding
VentureAccel-
erators
We need to stop
worshipping & amplifying
only these
And start telling stories, and elevating all the rest of these
Entrepreneurs can build
Zebras, Unicorns, or
anything in between!
Via Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break
You Don’t Have to Follow Anyone Else’s Path
Ask Yourself:
What do I want to create?
What am I seeking professionally?
What level of risk is acceptable?
What level of reward is enough?
Why that? Is it for me? Or someone else?
Rand Fishkin | Founder & CEO
Thank You!

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7 Lessons That Would Have Made Me a Better Entrepreneur

  • 1. Rand Fishkin | Founder & CEO 7 Lessons that Would Have Made Me (and will make you) a Better Entrepreneur
  • 2. A) This is Rand’s personal experience. Disagreement welcome. Caveats
  • 3. B) The following is intended to apply to early stage companies (0-200 employees, $0- $50M in revenue) Caveats
  • 4. C) These are merely patterns. Counter- examples of successful companies doing the opposite of all these exist. Caveats
  • 5. D) I do not define success as $billion+ outcome. Success to me is building a business that survives, that you love, that you’re proud to work at. Caveats
  • 6. The Environment We’re In Shapes Our Thinking.
  • 7. One Thing > Many Things #1
  • 8. Becoming Well-Known is a Cheat Code For both individuals and brands
  • 9. And It’s Far Easier to Be Known For One Thing
  • 10. Known People & Brands: #1: Have an easier time attracting attention & press #2: Earn links, rankings, & traffic organically with far less effort #3: Have lower ad costs & higher clickthrough rates #4: Every visit is more valuable b/c of higher conversion rates #5: Benefit from a powerful network & low friction, high response outreach efforts
  • 11. What Do These Brands Do/Make?
  • 13. How About These? All of them started by doing one thing well!
  • 14. Simpler Products = Easier to Market High Med Low ImpossibleDifficultEasy Tricky ProductComplexity Ease of Building BrandAssociations
  • 15. My Worst Mistake at Moz?
  • 16. Moz’s Most Successful Products Simple Obvious Does One Thing Well
  • 17. Quality & Complexity Are Inversely Correlated in Early Stages High Med Low TortuousConvolutedSimple Tricky ProductComplexity Ease of Producing a High Quality Product
  • 19. For a Long Time, I Believed the Classic Advice Big Markets > Small Markets Execution > Ideas Low CAC + High CLTV > Products People Love Better Product > Better Marketing These aren’t all wrong, they’re just not the whole story
  • 20. Imagine If… Better Taxis! (*please ignore the ugly externalities & rampant sexism)
  • 22. Regus, but with a hipster aesthetic!
  • 23. Product reviews with affiliate links!
  • 24. A Great Story Covers Many Sins
  • 25. Stories Build Memories Far Better Than Features or Benefits Via Quartz
  • 26. Great Stories Make Great Startups Settings & Characters Climax New Normal
  • 27. Before, Things Were Like This Our Company is the Solution Here’s How Most startups exist BECAUSE of a story
  • 29. Benefits > Features. Meh. Via AdsOfTheWorld
  • 30. Emotions > Benefits > Features Via Ohio.com
  • 31. Before, Things Were Like This Here’s How The problem triggers a negative emotion The resolution triggers a positive emotion Our Company is the Solution
  • 32. To Craft Your Story: Start with the most emotionally resonant problem you solve Center the story on individuals, not groups Tell the story in a way that triggers your own emotions Practice the story over and over, with different variations, learning which styles and bits resonate most
  • 33. Audience That Cares > Big Market #3
  • 34. Relative Difficulty Level: Insane Build for an audience that you don’t have any connection to (other than a belief that they have $$ and a problem) Chase a market that’s big enough to have billion $+ outcomes by pursuing broad, mainstream appeal Serve a hot, growing market that dozens or hundreds of other well- funded companies are also pursuing
  • 35. Relative Difficulty Level: Low Build for people who already know, like, and trust you Earn amplification from a group of passionate, raving fans Serve a market that’s underserved because others don’t believe it’s “big enough” Avoid competing against firms with millions in funding
  • 36. easier to reach harder to reach Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee) Know of you, like you, & follow your work closely Are already connected to you via email Already follow you on social media channels Have visited your website at least once Have heard of your company (and can recall it) Are in your target audience/reachable via FB+GG ads
  • 37. Mark didn’t start Facebook with… Oh dang… He totally did.
  • 38. Dharmesh & Brian Didn’t Start Hubspot with… Oh dang… They totally did.
  • 39. Brian & Joe didn’t start AirBnB with… Oh dang… They totally did.
  • 40. Jeremy didn’t start Yelp with… Oh dang… He totally did.
  • 41. easier to reach harder to reach Know you personally (& would happily meet for coffee) Know of you, like you, & follow your work closely Are already connected to you via email Already follow you on social media channels Have visited your website at least once Have heard of your company (and can recall it) Are in your target audience/reachable via FB+GG ads Pro Tip: Having a lot of target customers in your personal network makes EVERYTHING about starting up easier.
  • 42. MVPs ≠ Launchable Products #4
  • 44. The Problem A lot of people who want this are gonna be very disappointed by these
  • 45. An Alternative Impressive Basic Pathetic MassiveDecentHarmful Minimal ProductQuality Attention & Evangelism Incredible Many products launch here If you have an audience, wait until you’re here
  • 46. Beta test MVPs w/ a small, private group; Launch EVPs when your testers are raving Don’t let your brand be associated with these
  • 47. Long Hours < Fewer, Higher Quality Hours #5
  • 48. Glorifying Hours Worked is Just Dumb “Be extremely tenacious and then just work like hell. You just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week.” “If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing … you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.” -Elon Musk Via Vator.tv
  • 49. Productivity Over Time 40 30 20 0-20 QuantityofOutput PerHourWorked Number of Hours Worked/Week 50 10 0 21-35 36-50 51-60 61-80 81+ The first ~35hrs we work each week tend to be the most productive After 60+hrs, we’re not just getting less (& lower quality) work done, we’re eating into next’ week’s potential productivity
  • 50. Via Harvard Business Review What the @#$%?!!!
  • 51. Founders’ Most Important Job #1: Make good decisions #2: Everything else
  • 52. Via PubMed Central <8 Hours Seriously Harms the Quality of Your Decisions
  • 53. Hiring Right People < Not Hiring Wrong People #6
  • 54. People Often Rapidly Improve Knowledge, Output, & Work Quality Strong Rand’sSEOSkills& Knowledge Top Notch Crap 2002 Decent 2004 2006 2008 2010 Mediocre
  • 55. People Rarely Improve Affinity for a New Set of Values, Beliefs, & Culture Strong Rand’sCulturalFitforLater- Stage,LargerCompanies Top Notch Crap 2002 Decent 2004 2006 2008 2010 Mediocre
  • 56. Hire for Culture. Train for Competence. Via Lost and Founder (img credit: Dawn Shepard)
  • 57. Via NYTimes & Google (2016)
  • 58. Via First Round Capital
  • 59. Tiny Odds of Becoming a Unicorn < Decent Odds of Being a Zebra #7
  • 60. The Odds of Being a “Success” Drop Massively the Day You Raise VC Via Gil Ben-Artzy
  • 61. Bootstrap vs. VC is a False Dichotomy Via Twitter
  • 62. All of these are on the table: Self fund Bootstrap Revenue loans Smallbiz loans Friends &family Angel $ Conv. debt Crowd- funding VentureAccel- erators Exit Requirements 5+ Year Survival Rate 10X+$$$ orbust 5%+YoYis totallycool <10%50%+
  • 63. All of these are on the table: Self fund Bootstrap Revenue loans Smallbiz loans Friends &family Angel $ Conv. debt Crowd- funding VentureAccel- erators We need to stop worshipping & amplifying only these And start telling stories, and elevating all the rest of these
  • 64. Entrepreneurs can build Zebras, Unicorns, or anything in between! Via Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break
  • 65. You Don’t Have to Follow Anyone Else’s Path Ask Yourself: What do I want to create? What am I seeking professionally? What level of risk is acceptable? What level of reward is enough? Why that? Is it for me? Or someone else?
  • 66. Rand Fishkin | Founder & CEO Thank You!