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Lessons learned from our failed shoe startup

Before we started Shoes of Prey, we were heavily inspired by Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow.

The basic premise of that book is that the majority of businesses are boring. They’re not unlike ordinary black and white dairy cows on a typical farm paddock: run-of-the-mill, a dime a dozen. Now, imagine instead a cow that is completely purple. You’ve never seen such an animal. It’s something so unusual, so remarkable, that people can’t help but tell their friends. Pretty soon, word spreads and the cow is Instagram famous.

The trick, says Seth, is to try to design products and services that stand out like purple cows— because, if you succeed, they’ll market themselves. …

The best vision I’ve heard belongs to Elon Musk. His vision for SpaceX is “humans will live on other planets”. The mission, then, is to revolutionise space technology.

Elon illustrates this visually with two giant images hanging in the SpaceX lobby:

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The left is Mars today — a red baron planet. The right isn’t earth. It’s what Mars might look like once Elon’s finished terraforming it.

You can imagine walking in to the office each day, seeing those images, and being massively inspired. We’re building another freakin’ planet!

I’m certain SpaceX employees make large personal sacrifices to push towards that vision. …

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Photo by Freddie Collins

In 2009 when I left Google, I had over $100,000 in my bank account. I don’t say that to boast. I worked hard to save that money, and did so because I wanted to create a startup.

Nine years later, my bank balance is a fraction of that. I also don’t expect to ever see a return from my startup.* It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve gone backwards. (No need to feel sorry for me — I’ll be fine! This article is actually about you.)

Today having a startup is all the rage. They’re basically fashion accessories. On one hand, that’s great! The world needs more innovation. There’s also a massive amount to learn when you run things yourself. But please, be smart. …

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Y Combinator recently published a collection of advice from some of their portfolio companies — it was great, but very long.

Here is a summary of the top 11 tips, sorted by frequency:

  1. learn how to properly hire, manage and fire (and, fire fast) — it’s your core job
    (9 mentions)
  2. ensure you have a great relationship with co-founders and significant others; deeply think about — and document — how you will handle future scenarios
    (6 mentions)
  3. define your customer very precisely & really listen to them
    (6 mentions)
  4. avoid hiring too many people (e.g. …


Mike Knapp

Product Manager @ Google. The views expressed here do not represent the views of my employer.

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