So long Brownie Points, and thanks

After nearly four years building Brownie Points, I’ve decided to hand the reigns over to my co-founder, Dana, and start 2016 in a new direction with fresh challenges. But before I go, I wanted to quickly reflect, to thank the people who had faith in me as a first-time founder, and take a moment to look forward at what’s next.

You often hear that building a startup is like an emotional rollercoaster (which it absolutely is), but in my experience it’s also an education taught in hard knocks.

Fail fast. Fail forward.

These “best practices” can end up feeling like body blows when you’ve poured every last drop of effort and passion into something.

As a founder, it’s your job to weather those blows and keep going. And so you do. But inevitably, you’ll hit some unusually rough patches, and the only way to keep pushing forward is by leaning on the people in your corner. Your mentors, and peers.

Sometimes just a simple conversation is all that’s required to bring clarity to a situation, and get you back on your feet. Other times, you really need to rely on the type of wisdom that can only be picked up with experience, over time.

So, with the hope that my experiences might help soften some hard knocks for other first-time founders, I wanted to briefly highlight a few key things that I failed to pay attention to when launching my first startup.

  1. Really think about who you want to serve
    The people. The Matt’s and Mary’s who will be using your product, asking you questions, reading your content, and telling their friends about you. You’re going to need to relate to them, empathize with their struggles, and understand their motivations. So many founders focus entirely on their idea, and forget about the people they need to reach.
  2. Then think about how you want to help them
    Not a specific product idea or an acute pain point, but think of a broad category. So for example, helping small businesses with customer retention, rather than punch card replacement app. This helps you focus on a problem space rather than a specific idea, giving you a much wider area to pivot in, once you get started.
  3. Now that you have those two pieces, think about what makes you uniquely equipped to help that audience in that given problem space
    You don’t need to be the ultimate authority in a given space to succeed, but there should be something that makes you the right person to help your chosen audience. You’ve already determined who you want to help, and how you want to help them. So how did you arrive at that? What experiences have you had that lead you there in the first place? Dig into that. It’s what will make your vision unique.
  4. Finally, figure out how you’re going to reach that audience
    This is the difference between a project and a business. If you can’t get your product to your audience in an efficient, profitable way, you’re not going to last long. Distribution should be as important to you as the product itself. (Check if you need some help getting the ball rolling)

With that, you’ve given yourself a mission to serve an audience you care about, in a way that you are uniquely equipped to handle. And you’ve also outlined a distribution plan to get whatever product you end up building into the hands of the people who need it.

These are the key things I failed to give much thought to when I started my first venture, and they’re the same things I see so many other founders overlooking as well. Whether they’re at the coworking space I co-founded, at the accelerator program I participated in, or at events and meetups I’ve attended over the years. Everyone has exciting ideas and a spark in their eye, but too often it seems like they try to bolt these essential elements on later instead of using them to drive their venture from the start. As a result, so many founders seem to be spinning their wheels on a plateau, unsure of how to proceed, until they simply run out of steam.

I want to help founders overcome this. I want to help them find an engaged audience, and launch better products. That’s what my next chapter has in store for me, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Cheers, Brownie Points! Our time together has been incredibly formative.

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