5 Things I Learned in 2015

Lessons From Running My First Venture-Backed Startup

1. Don’t Lie About How You’re Doing

Lately I’ve been asking friends how often they think founders lie about how their life is going. I’m not talking about fibbing on user numbers or company value — I’m talking about lying about personal issues. How is the mental and emotional struggle of starting a company treating you? How many founders are struggling in private? When I prompt my friends with the number 95%, not a single one has said it sounds too high. I have found the emotional and mental strain of starting a company to be 10x the difficulty of actually starting it. If you’re building something, you’re probably used to long hours; why else would you sign up for it? The trouble then comes when you face the uncertainty of not knowing whether any of this hard work will amount to anything.

My biggest take away on this subject during the year has been: DON’T LIE ABOUT HOW YOU’RE DOING. The reason for this is simple — If you lie about it, no one can help you. These issues can spiral out of control.

2. You Can’t Trust Focus Groups Until You Have Something They Want

The arguments for and against focus groups are many, but both sides are correct. The argument against these groups that I’ve made in the past is, “If I asked them what they wanted, they would have requested a faster horse.” This is a quote attributed to Henry Ford about the creation of the automobile. The concept here is that without knowing what a car is and why you need it, you’d never ask anyone to build it for you. However, this isn’t the end of the story — once you build a car and people see how valuable it is, user feedback should be the main way you evolve the product.

Revolutionary products seem to require singular vision and a lack of outside distraction, while evolutionary updates to existing products are fueled by the needs and desires of the users.

3. Sucking At Things Is The Best Prep For Starting A Company

Yesterday, I submitted a yearly audit to one of our investors. Two weeks ago, I had absolutely no idea how to do such a thing. This is running a startup in a nutshell. There’s something new every day, and 9 times out of 10, you’ve never done it before. Because of this, the best way to prepare yourself is to put yourself into situations where you SUCK.

Three years ago, I started boxing. The first time I stepped into the ring with someone to spar, I got wrecked. Badly. But this experience of sucking is invaluable because it reminds you of all the different ways you can learn, evolve, and become a better you. I truly believe if you can come to grips with this cycle of sucking and overcoming, you can be a great entrepreneur.

4. Content Marketing is King — Everything Else Is a Joker At Best

We got more eyeballs on our product from blog posts and videos we made than from Product Hunt features or speaking in front of thousands of people. YMMV (your mileage may vary), but for us — the content we created proved infinitely more valuable than other forms of marketing and publicity. Given that we are making a pivot, I’ve thought about whether this simply means that our content was more compelling than the product itself. Suffice to say, this data was a very intriguing part of 2015.

5. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

A year ago, I was certain that Momunt would be a huge deal. We’ve since pivoted and I’m positive it was the best choice our team made all year. 2016 is looking big and bright, but the path to the new year has been filled with bumps and bruises I could not have predicted. This has been the overwhelming lesson of 2015 for me — I don’t know what I don’t know. Somehow, some way, you have to keep pushing that boulder up the mountain, changing paths as they open up, and trusting your gut despite the fact that it’s been wrong before. It’s ok to be wrong.

Here’s to a new year full of unpredictable changes and upcoming successes.

As always you can contact me at ryan@zeroslant.com

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