2. A great team and a great market are both critically important—you have to have both. The debate about which is more important is silly.
3. Write code, talk to users, and build the company (hire the best people you can find, get the culture right, fundraise, close sales, etc.) Most other things that founders do are a waste of time.
4. Set a clear, easy-to-understand vision for your company, and make it be a mission people believe in.
5. Stay focused and don’t try to do too many things at once. Care about execution quality.
6. You have to have an almost crazy level of dedication to your company to succeed.
7. In general, don’t start a startup you’re not willing to work on for ten years.
8. Be relentlessly resourceful.
9. In the current pivot-happy world, good ideas are underweight. It’s worth the time to think through a good one.
10. Growth solves (nearly) all problems.
11. While growth is critical and you should focus on it, occasionally consider where you’re going—you need both growth and to be growing towards something valuable.
12. Obsess about the quality of the product.
13. Overcommunicate with your team. For some reason most founders are really bad at this one. Transparency is your friend.
14. Move fast. Speed is one of your main advantages over large companies.
15. Hire slow; fire fast. Hiring is the most important thing you do; spend at least a third of your time on it.
16. Occasionally think about why the 20th person will join your company.
17. Hire smart and effective people that are committed to what you’re doing. The last five words there are important.
18. Hire friends and friends of friends. Go after these people like crazy to get them to join. Some other candidate sources are ok, but I always got bad results from technical recruiters.
19. Generally, value aptitude over experience.
20. Hire people that you could describe as animals.
21. Eliminate distractions.
22. Don’t die.
23. Be frugal.
24. You’ll often hear conflicting advice about everything but “build a great product”. This means you can go either way on much of the rest of it and it doesn’t really matter. Just make a decision and get back to work. Product/market fit is what matters. You can—and will—make a lot of mistakes.
25. You make what you measure.
26. Startups are very hard no matter what you do; you may as well go after a big opportunity.
27. Momentum is critical. Don’t lose it.
28. Keep salaries low and equity high.
29. Keep the organization as flat as you can.
30. When working on a deal—raising money, trying to get a partnership, etc.—it’s important to create a competitive situation.
31. Schleps are good.
32. Don’t forget to make money.
33. Journalists like hearing directly from founders. If you hire PR people, resist their desire to control all the contact.
34. It’s standard for founders to keep board control in the first round.
35. Listen to everyone. Then make your own decision.
36. Remember that you are more likely to die because you execute badly than get crushed by a competitor.
37. Get lucky.
38. Have a direct relationship with your customers.
39. Be formidable—do not be easy to push around.
40. Don’t let your company be run by a sales guy. But do learn how to sell your product.
41. Have a culture that rewards output.
42. Don’t hire professional managers too early.
43. Simple is good. Be suspicious of complexity.
44. Get on planes in marginal situations. In-person is still better than tele-anything.
45. Most things are not as risky as they seem.
46. Be suspect of anyone who says the word process too often.
47. Raise a bit more money than you think you need.
48. Ignore the fact that “the press loves [you]”.
49. Have great customer service.
50. You can create value with breakthrough innovation, incremental refinement, or complex coordination. Great companies often do two of these. The very best companies do all three.
51. The role of the board is advice and consent. If the CEO does not lay out a clear strategy and tries to get the board to set one, it will usually end in disaster.
52. Board observers are usually a headache.
53. If you pivot, do it fully and with conviction. The worst thing is to try to do a bit of the old and the new—it’s hard to kill your babies.
54. It’s better to make a decision and be wrong than to equivocate.
55. Set goals for the company and motivate people to get there.
56. Always praise good work.
57. Celebrate your wins as a company. Get t-shirts for big milestones.
58. Have a good operational cadence where projects are short and you’re releasing something new on a regular basis.
59. You can win with the best product, the best price, or the best experience.
60. Meetups and conferences are generally a waste of time.
61. If the founders of your company seem more into being founders than your specific company, go join another company.
62. It’s easier to sell painkillers than vitamins.
63. Be suspicious of any work that is not building product or getting customers. It’s easy to get sucked into an infrastructure rewrite death spiral.
64. It’s better to have a few users love your product than for a lot of users to sort of like it.
65. Learn how to stay extermally optimistic when your world is melting down.
66. Startups should require as few miracles as possible, but at least one.
67. You have to have great execution—far more people have good ideas than are willing to roll up their sleeves and get shit done.
68. Don’t have a diverse culture in the early days.
69. Keep a to-do list every day. At the top of it, put the one or two big things you want to work on.
70. Being the CEO is miserable more often than it’s good. But when it’s good, it’s really good.
71. On the really bad days, remember that tomorrow will be better—it’s hard to see it being much worse!
72. Sleep and exercise.
73. Success in a startup is usually pass/fail. Worry more about making sure you pass than an extra point of dilution.
74. Good investors are worth a reasonable premium.
75. Give your investors something to do.
76. Go for a few highly involved investors over a lot of lightly engaged ones.
77. Raise money on promise. Raise money on clean terms.
78. Do reference checks on your potential investors. Ask other founders how they are when everything goes wrong.
79. Investors love companies other investors love.
80. A lot of the best ideas seem silly or bad initially—you want an idea at the intersection of “seems like bad idea” and “is good idea”. (It’s important to note you need to be contrarian and right, not simply contrarian.)
81. Surf someone else’s wave.
82. Sometimes you can succeed through sheer force of will.
83. All startups are fucked in at least one major way. Keep going.
84. Keep an eye on cash in the bank and don’t run out of it.
85. Pay a lot of attention to the relationship between cofounders, especially if both/all of you want to be CEO.
86. Stay small and nimble.
87. Have a staff meeting at least once a week.
88. Find a mentor that will teach you how to manage.
89. Keep burn low until you’re sure everything is working.
90. Be suspect about buying users.
91. Lead by example.
92. Have the right kind of office. The proper office for a very small company is an apartment or house.
93. Share results (financial and key metrics) with the company every month.
94. Have a table in your offer letters that shows how much the stock you’re granting a new hire could be worth in various scenarios.
95. The best startups are defined by exceptions; all of these rules are probably breakable, but probably not all at the same time.
Find your company’s One Thing. Your One Thing falls at the intersection of 3 truths:
The one thing you and your team are most passionate about.
The one thing you and your team have a realistic shot at being the best in the world at.
A huge untapped market opportunity.
If what you’re doing does not fall at the intersection of those 3 truths, you’re doing the wrong thing.
Only do your One Thing. Everything else is a distraction. Don’t do side projects. Don’t take unnecessary meetings. Anything that distracts you from executing on your One Thing is just that, a distraction. Say no to everything that does not contribute to your One Thing.
It’s all about the product. Always has been. Always will be. The only thing that matters is how good your product is. All the rest is noise. At Fab, our virtual product is our website & apps, our physical products are the merchandise we sell, and our experience product is our operations and service. Getting all 3 parts of our product right is everything.
The only judge of how good your product is is how much your users use it and value from it.
In the early days the key determinant of your future success is traction. Spend the majority of your time figuring out how to cultivate pockets of traction amongst your early adopters and optimize around that traction. Traction begets more traction if you are able to jump on it.
If you cannot gain traction in 1 year, pivot. I firmly believe that in this age where the product development life-cycle is so short and user feedback comes so quickly, you will know within a year whether you are focusing on a worthwhile one thing.
Sure, you’re not going to get it right at first, no one does. But, you can iterate and iterate on features, but you cannot iterate your way to a business model. I’ve seen too many businesses get stuck or fail because of their endless pursuit for the magic new feature that is going to help them gain traction. Stop. There are plenty of interesting problems out there to solve.
If you can’t show some measurable and real traction within 1 year, move on to working on another problem. I bet you, if you are working on your startup for a year and you have not yet experienced real traction, if you poll yourself and your team and ask the 3 questions: (1) Is this the problem we are most passionate about solving, (2) can we realistically be the best in the world at it, (3) and is it a huge untapped market, you’ll likely uncover that you are working on the wrong one thing. So, pivot. Pivot to the One Thing at the intersection of those 3 truths.
Before there was Fab there was fabulis, a social network meets places guide targeted to the gay community. We built a lot of cool features and iterated and iterated, but we never truly grasped our One Thing; instead we just tried doing a lot of things hoping that something would stick. 1 year later we sat down and had an honest conversation with ourselves and realized that our One Thing, the thing we were most passionate about, that we could realistically be the best in the world at, and that was a huge untapped market opportunity was: Design. So, we pivoted from fabulis to Fab.
Once you pivot, focus, and don’t look back. When we pivoted from fabulis to Fab, from gay social network to design, we made the decision within 10 days to focus exclusively on our new One Thing, and we set a rule that not one person on the team could still do the old thing. We needed every last ounce of resource and mindshare focused on our One Thing. We shut down the old website and apps right then and there. We pivoted the entire company in 10 days, focused on the future, and never looked back.
Be self-aware. Know your own personal One Thing - the one thing that you yourself are really good at. Likewise, know what’s outside your one thing - the many things that you are not so good at.
It’s not about you, part 1. Building a successful company is less about you and more about your ability to bring out the greatness in the people around you. When we pivoted from fabulis to Fab, we pivoted towards building a business around the unique tastemaker talents of one of our founders, Bradford Shellhammer. Fab was born from my own realization that we could be the best in the world at something by taking Bradford’s unique and eclectic sense for color, humor, quirkiness, and his passion for products that brighten up people’s lives, and bring that to the entire world. It takes guts and a whole lot of of self-awareness to build a business focused around someone else’s talents.
It’s not about you, part 2. It’s not about you, it’s about your customers. At Fab we have been focused from day 1 on making our customers smile. From the start we said that we would never make a decision as to what features to build or what products to sell based on revenue alone, rather we would focus on things that make our customers smile and by doing so lots and lots of revenue will fall out over time. Sticking to that philosophy has been one of the keys to Fab’s success.
Have amazing co-founders who are better at what they do than you could ever be. I’m fortunate to have started Fab with some amazingly talented people like Nishith Shah and Sunil Khedar who previously built one of the first truly viral Facebook apps and who co-founded socialmedian with me in 2008; like Veerle Pieters who I uncovered in 2009 on a hunt for the most talented graphic designer in the world whose design aesthetic matched my own, and, of course, Bradford. Fab started off as a collection of all of our abilities and passions, and it remains so today, albeit with 600 more people helping us take it even further.
Work with people you love. Work with people you get excited about. People who thrill you. People you trust. People who you can look at every day and say: There is no better person in the world for this job AND no better person that I’d rather go to battle with. I’m a deeply emotional person. Love is CRITICAL to business success.
Position your desk in a way in which you are staring at your co-founders and they are staring at you. If you aren’t enjoying looking at each other each day, you’re working with the wrong people.
Don’t work with people you don’t love. Bradford and I have a rule: As long as we’re running Fab, we’re only going to work with people we love to work with. If we don’t enjoy working with someone - an employee, a partner, whomever - we’re just not going to do it. There’s no short term gain that is worth sacrificing for working with someone you do not working with.
Founders need to personally own something big themselves. It’s not enough just to lead, you need to own something big and critical to the business and your brand. And you need to really, really own it. My personal belief is that since everything comes down to the product, the best founders are product managers. Bradford and I split ownership for our virtual products, which I own (our Website & Apps) and our physical products, which he owns (the merchandise we sell). To this day, not a single pixel gets on our website or apps without my input, review, and approval. It’s that important. Likewise, not a single designer gets approved to sell on Fab without Bradford’s input, review, and approval. It’s that important. Sure, we employee lots of amazing people whom we trust to help us make it great, but as Founders we still own and control the final product. I can’t imagine it any other way.
As CEO, you need to also do the stuff that no one else can do. Typically that means stuff like pitching and choosing investors, managing your board, coaching your execs, helping your team understand and build towards the bigger picture, motivating and rallying the troops, and most of all, providing clarity of focus. These are the things that only the CEO can do, and you cannot outsource them.
Work with people who argue with you and tell you no.
The most important hiring criteria for your executives is cultural fit. You need to work with people who work like you do, and who enjoy and appreciate your style and pace. It doesn’t matter how smart or experienced people are, if they don’t match your style it’ll never work. You need to love working with them, and them with you.
Be willing to fight like hell during the day but still love each other when you go home.
As the CEO, you and only you can figure out where the company needs to go, how to get there, and how to marshal the resources you need to get it done. Sure, you’ll need a lot of input to figure out the plan, but you and only you can provide that clarity of focus that is required to say, “this what we’re doing” and then align the resources to match the direction. The biggest enunciation of strategy is how an organization allocates its resources.
Make deliberate decisions. There’s no time to dicker around at a startup. Pick a path and go with it. Better to make a decision followed by a mistake and some learnings and course corrections than to sit around idle while contemplating the direction. Leaders need to lead.
Inspire. Startups are hard work. They’re emotionally draining and tiring. Inspire your team to push forward, accomplish the impossible, and persevere.
Push the people around you to care as much as you do.
As CEO, you are responsible for every hire. Until Fab reached 150 people, Bradford and I interviewed every single person we hired. To this day, as we approach 600 people at Fab, we personally interview every manager and we still personally review and approve or disapprove most hires throughout our entire organization. If we make a hiring mistake - and we do from time to time - I put that blame on me, not on anyone else.
Hire people who are passionate about solving the specific problem you are trying to solve. Passion for building a business is not enough; there needs to be passion for your customer and solving your customer’s problem.
As CEO, you set the tone, the style, the pace, the expectations. My tone is confident but humble, and challenging. My style is to cheer on our wins while focusing our management on our challenges. And, I’m direct and transparent. No one ever has to wonder how Jason feels about something. I wear it on my sleeve (and on my blog). My pace is fast. My expectation is passionate pursuit of perfection, knowing that we’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way. I like to say that at Fab we celebrate our challenges and focus on why we suck more than why we’re great. That’s our tone. We also challenge each other in meetings so that we get to amazing results. There are no free rides. It takes thick skin to work at Fab, and I like it that way.
Be tough. Sometimes you have to even be a jerk. Not too often, but sometimes. If every day is a happy day, it’s too easy. I’m not saying be an asshole for no reason. I am saying that greatness comes from pushing people outside their comfort zone. Push. Managers especially need to be cool with this and understand this. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. It’s hard sometimes because we’re creating something special. When you do 98% work and I ask you where the other 2% is, that’s a good thing.
Be authentic and transparent. Tell the same story to yourself, your executives, your general employees, reporters, external observers, and your investors.
If you are down on someone, the rest of your team will already know.
Give a bad seed a day before firing them. Fire fast.
Cultivate and coach people vs. churning through them. At my first startup I soured on executives too quickly, blaming them vs. accepting ownership myself. Coach and mentor. Give a good seed who is not performing several months to turn it around. It might be you, not them. There’s a difference between a “bad seed” someone who just isn’t capable or doesn’t fit in vs. someone who is capable and is a cultural fit but whom isn’t performing at the level you expect for them.
Treat people well on the way in and on the way out. We’ve let go of a small handful of people at Fab and — unless it was because of woeful underperformance or horrible attitude — with each I’ve coached our team to go out of our way to offer more than generous exit packages. In most cases it didn’t work out because the person wasn’t a fit for Fab, not because they didn’t work hard. I take the approach that everyone who ever works for Fab will come in contact with at least 100 people who we eventually want to be Fab customers. We want our former team members to respect and appreciate our company and our brand, forever.
Provide feedback. Even though Fab is a fairly new company, we’re already put in place a recurring feedback process. We do twice-yearly reviews of all Fab team members. But it should never be a surprise. If it’s done right, feedback and postmortems are regular activities and reviews are just the official aggregation of such feedback.
Even executives need reviews. Here are the criteria I review Fab’s executives on:
Fab Culture. Does the executive personify our culture, cultivate it, and help us nurture it?
Fab Passion. Is the executive passionate for our specific Fab mission or could they be working at any company? Is Fab their life? Were they made to work at Fab?
Manages Up. How well does the executive manage up to me and keep me informed about their activities, go to me for input when they should, and not when it’s not needed.
Manages Horizontal. How well does the executive manage and coordinate with his/her peers? Do they operate in silos or do they foster teamwork and collaboration? Do they come to me to solve and referee issues between the executives, or do they bring their peers together and come to me with options? Btw. This is one of the criteria that most executives in startups struggle the most with.
Manages Down. How well does the executive lead and manage their team? Do they provide direction? Do they make sure that all of their team members are clear about their mandate and responsibilities? Do they coach and build people up?
Inspires. How well does the executive inspire people around them? Do they lead by example and motivate people to give their all for the Fab mission?
Takes Ownership. Is the executive accountable for results, both good, fair, and bad? Do they take big projects on their shoulders and get shit done?
Big Picture. Does the executive get where Fab is going over the long term and what we need to do in order to get there.
Attention to Detail. Does the executive meticulously and thoroughly follow up on tasks? Does nothing fall through the cracks?
Exec Ready. Could the executive run the company for a month if I was away? Could they easily transfer to another country or region and step right in and lead? Could they present to investors or reporters about Fab?
You’re never as right as you think you are. That goes for you and for your company.
Think 5 steps ahead. Very hard to do, but it’s what differentiates great companies from good companies. Think where things are going, what the impact of today’s decisions will be tomorrow. What the chain of events is likely to be. Tough stuff, but so important.
Build all of your own technology. This is a must if you want to build sustainable competitive advantage. If you think you can build the next great company on someone else’s stuff, you’re kidding yourself. (I’m not saying don’t leverage open-source or established platforms. I am saying don’t outsource your code).
Bake social into your company’s DNA from the start. It has proven to be a core advantage for Fab. We think social first and we are defining and inventing what social commerce can be. Getting social right is hard. You will get it wrong a lot. Keep at it. 1 billion people use Facebook. 1 billion. Your customer is growing up on social media.
The time to start thinking mobile first vs. web first was 6 months ago. At Fab, mobile is already 33% of our visits and sales and we just launched our mobile apps nearly a year ago. Very soon mobile (smartphones and tablets) will be a majority of the usage of Fab, and of your service.
Go to the gym and/or run at least 4 times per week. Keep your body in shape if you want to keep your mind in shape. So many people get this wrong yet it is so very important. I take it to the extreme - I run every morning and I also lift weights at least 4 nights per week. It’s not just because I’m a fitness freak (ok, I am), it’s because it keeps my body and mind fresh to fight big emotional and physical battles. It’s also because the gym is scheduled private time with myself in the morning (I watch TV shows while running on the treadmill) and with my partner Chris in the evening. It forces us to do something together every night besides just sit on the couch or work, which is a great thing.
Don’t drink on airplanes unless you are on a flight of longer than 8 hours.It ruins you and wastes your time.
The first thing I do, without fail, when landing in another country after an overnight flight is hit the gym. I don’t care if it means delaying my first meeting by an hour. That post-flight workout counteracts the jet-lag and gets me ready to face the challenges ahead.
Follow your gut, and back it up with data. At Fab we like to say that we start with emotions and then support our emotions with data to learn whether our emotions were right. But, it’s emotions that come first. I firmly believe that’s how it should be.
User experience matters a lot. More than most people realize.
The best designed user experiences get out of the way and just help people get shit done. Less is more. If you have to explain it, you’ve already failed.
Be technical and understand how technology is built. Not every leader has to write code but you do have to understand how it is built, what the engineering process is all about, and how the technology works.
It’s easy to farm out the parts of the business you don’t particularly enjoy, but you can’t allow it to be your blind-spot. For me, that’s operations, so even while I’ve taken the approach of hiring people smarter than me and more operationally passionate than me to run Fab’s operations, I’ve also challenged myself to be deep in the details and challenged our organization to make our operations a competitive advantage. Take the part of the business you know the least about and shine a spotlight on its importance. Force yourself out of your own comfort zone.
Stack rank your features; and it’s all features. Every request for use of scarce resources needs to be prioritized vs. alternative use of the resources. No two features are ever created equal. You can’t do everything all at once. Force prioritization.
Ship it. You’ll never know how good your product is until real people touch it and give you feedback. If you’ve been working on some technology for more than 4 weeks and you have yet to have a user start to test it, you’re likely working on too big a chunk of code. Break it down into small milestones that allow for rapid user feedback.
Ship it fast and ship it often. Don’t worry about adding that extra feature. Ship the bare minimum feature set required in order to start gathering user feedback. Get feedback, repeat the process, and ship the next version and the next version as quickly as possible. If you’re taking more than 3 months to launch your first consumer-facing product, you’re taking too long. If you’re taking more than 4 weeks to ship updates, you’re taking too long. Ship small stuff weekly, if not several times per week. Ship significant releases in 3 week intervals.
You’re doing really well if 50% of what you originally planned on doing turns out to actually work. Follow your users as much as possible.
But don’t rely on focus groups to tell you what to build. Focus groups can tell you what to fix and help you identify potentially interesting kernels for you to hone in on, but you still need to figure out how to synthesize such input and where to take your users.
Most people really only heavily use about 5 to 7 services. If you want to be an important product and a big business, you will need to figure out how to fit into one of those 5 to 7 services, which means capturing your user’s fascination, enthusiasm, and trust. You need to give your users a real reason to add you into their time. Or, if you’re selling stuff, you need to give your users a real reason to add you into their wallet. Not easy.
As CEO, you have to balance the needs of the business and the interest of the shareholders. If the two are not aligned, you’re in trouble.
Only work with investors who share your long term vision. Keep reminding your investors what your long term vision and plan is. If you’ve got an investor with a 2 year return focus while you’re building towards a 10 year or 20 year business strategy, you’re misaligned. And, only you can fix that.
Always choose your investors based on who you want to work with, be friends with, and get advice from.
Never, ever, choose your investors based on valuation. A couple of dilution points here or there wont matter in the long run but working with the right people will. Alignment of business objectives and personal relationships means tons more than valuation.
Raise as little money as possible when you first start. Force yourself to be budget constrained as it will cause you to carefully spend each dollar like it is your last.
Once you have some traction, raise more money than you need but not more than you know what to do with. This is tricky. Don’t skimp on fundraising because of dilution fears.
Spend every dollar like it is your last. But, don’t be afraid to spend.
Know what kind of company you are trying to build. There are very few Googles and Facebooks. A good outcome for your business might be a $10M exit or a $20M exit or a $100M exit or no exit at all. Plan for the business you want to build. Don’t just shoot for the moon — at least until you realize that you are legitimately on a rocket ship. From a money-in-your-pocket and return on time spent standpoint, owning 20% of a $20M exit in 2 years is much better than owning 3% of a $100M business in 5 years.
Understand whether your business is a VC business or not. A VC business is expected to deliver 10x returns to investors. That means if you’re taking money with a $5M post-money valuation, the expectation is that you are building for a minimum $50M exit. $10M post-money valuation = $100M target. $500M valuation = $5B target. That’s not to say that you might not sell the company for less and everyone involved might be happy with that outcome, but that’s not what you are signing up for when you take VC money with such a valuation. Know what the implications of taking VC money are and what it means for expectations on you.
Make sure your personal business goals are aligned with the goals of your investors. The business will only succeed if you are motivated. Investors can’t force the business to succeed. And they certainly can’t force a CEO to care.
If you’re on a rocket-ship, strap on on your seatbelt and aim for another planet. 4 months after we launched Fab, when we hit 1 million members of whom 50% came from social sharing, we knew we were onto something big. So, we started thinking about our business differently. We started thinking: Just how big could this thing get? In January 2012 when we looked back on our first 6 months and we saw that 2/3 of our daily sales were from repeat buyers, 50% of members still from social sharing, and just how emotional our customers were about Fab, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to build a brand for the decades, so we started thinking less about near term results and more about what Fab could look like in 5, 10, 20 years. And, then, we started really building our business that way: What will it take to build the next amazing global brand around everyday design became our focus, not hitting any near term numbers.
Find yourself a “sherpa.” This is someone who has done it before — raised money, done deals, worked with startups. Give this person 1 to 2% or even up to 5% of your company in exchange for their time. Rely on them to open doors to future investors. Use them as a sounding board for corporate development issues. Don’t do this by committee. Advisory boards never amount to much. Find one person, make them your sherpa, and lean on them. I’ve leaned on Allen Morgan for the last 8 years through 4 companies and all sorts of ups and downs and twist and turns. He’s been an essential consigliere who has helped me navigate acquisitions, sales, investors, and all sorts of corporate governance issues. Find your Allen Morgan. If you do this right it will pay back in spades.
If you want to build a long term business, don’t give in to short term pressures. Once you’ve decided to ride that rocket ship, Pplay the long game, not the short game. Most startups are playing short. Big winners play long.
Protect and nurture your brand. Too many companies get this wrong. Your brand is bigger than your business. Your brand is the emotional reaction your customers and partners and employees have towards your business. Brands are fragile and they are built through repeated trusted and consistent interactions.
Service matters more than sales. Sales go up and down, service lasts forever.
As you grow, the hardest thing to manage is culture. We’ve probably worked harder on trying to make Fab Fab everywhere we operate over the last few months than on any other initiative. Ultimately, culture is a personification of who you hire, who manages, and how they do it. Alignment amongst managers around who we hire, how we hire, and how we manage (and how we have fun doing it) is key to culture. Don’t talk about culture; create culture by hiring smart and managing smarter.
Don’t defocus your team on strategy. Execution wins. In my first startup we were constantly doing executive strategy offsite sessions, brainstorming together as to where we needed to take the company next. That defocused the team away from executing on the plan at hand. Now, I do strategy by collecting inputs over time and having small dinners with with Bradford (errr, usually on airplanes), and then getting our executive team together twice per year to review and plan together. Between those sessions, it’s all about execution.
Insist on perfection. Never, ever settle. If you start to settle a little here, a little there, soon enough you’ll turn around and say, “how did we get here?” It’s on me and Bradford and Nishith and the rest of our executives to make sure that Fab is Fab is Fab in everything we do.
But make mistakes. Insisting on perfection doesn’t mean your team members have to live in fear of making mistakes. Encourage them to try things and innovate. Celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities.
Just don’t fuck it up. There’s a difference between a mistake that turns into a learning event vs. fucking something up by doing stupid things. It’s not a fine line, it’s a big canyon of difference.
Celebrate your challenges. We have all-company meetings weekly at Fab and they’re about 30% about why we’re awesome and 70% about the challenges ahead. If you want to grow and do amazing things, that’s how it should be. Our management meetings are skewed even more towards improvement, more like 10% success focused and 90% improvement focused. Again, as it should be IMO.
Conferences are generally a waste of time. I know many people disagree with me on this one, but it’s just not my bag. I learn more meeting with our team, solving problems, going to talk to customers and partners or walking a trade show than I do shmoozing at events. My rule is that conferences are to be avoided unless it’s purely for PR purposes or if you’re in sales.
Wear funny socks or colorful shoes. I wear funny socks and red shoes to remind myself to not settle for boring and to be creative. And, to show others that even me, the boring CEO guy, can be fun.
Do something, anything that shows you’re not just a robot. Let people get to know the real you. I’m known to DJ in our office on random Friday’s at 4pm. I shoot marshmallows at people, in the most loving way.
Hang a lantern on your hangups.
Laugh at yourself, and let others do so too. When I fuck something up, I make sure to point it out to our team and make a joke about it. We’re all human.
Tell a good story. People get inspired by stories, not plans and tactics and results. Bring the results to life by making them personal to you and the people around you.
But don’t lie. Ever. You can round up, but you can’t make it up. The numbers are the numbers are the numbers.
Find inspiration in the people around you. Listen to them. Cultivate them. Learn from them. Help them make you better.
Have fun every single day. If it’s not fun, stop doing it. No one is making you.
It’s true what they say in sales, you’re only as good as your last sale. At Fab we’re only as good as our most recent damaged order, or worse yet, our most recent order that we couldn’t fulfill.
Go home. Yeah, it’s cool to build a successful fast-growing company. It’s way cooler to go home to your partner.
Mature, but don’t grow up.
But, change the world. Do something meaningful. Make a difference.
The truly great marketer obsesses about the customer: his needs, wants, desires, dreams and problems. Every marketing conversation begins with the customer—and how they will benefit.
A good marketer understands that people love stories. He or she can identify and weave a good narrative. He knows that conflict is at the center of every good story. And he knows that people want to see themselves in those stories.
3. Speed reading
If you want to stay on top of your game, then you need to read every book, magazine article and blog post you can get your hands on. The more information you have at your disposal, the more ideas you will have.
4. Building associations
Great marketers can listen to an advertising idea, scan a business plan or watch a presentation about a client’s campaign goals and eventually bring together a comprehensive plan. They can see how to maximize opportunities across several industries.
Marketers need to think like a journalist. No matter if you are talking to the CEO or a client, you need to know how to ask the right questions to get the best answer, hunt for the best hook and not be afraid to follow up if he has more questions.
6. Describing the end game
What does success look like? How do you know if you are succeeding or failing? What milestones do we have to reach to know we are on track and schedule? These questions define the way a marketer thinks. He’s always thinking about the big picture.
Creativity is really all about the production of unique and useful products. A great marketer spends a good deal of time thinking or and refining these types of products. He’s not afraid to fail (he loves risk) and he’s not afraid to throw away a bad idea. He’s full of ideas.
A lot of marketers are introverts, but that doesn’t excuse you from being a good speaker. You need to be able to handle yourself in both one-on-one situations and in front of a group. I didn’t say you have to love it—you just have to be able to do it well.
In connection with speaking, a great marketer will love to teach. He will love to share all of his knowledge. You can do this through blog posts, podcasts, one-on-one mentorships, workshops or even teaching in an official classroom setting.
A great marketer will know how to craft just about any message. He’ll know the essence of creating an email asking for a favor from a business partner or writing a proposal for a client. He’ll be a decent speller and know the rules of proper grammar. And when to break those rules.
Communication is not all about what you say. True communication occurs when you hear what someone else says and you correctly understand what they say. That comes with good listening skills like asking questions, nodding, paraphrasing and concentrating on what the speaker is saying.
Marketing is one discipline that must play nice with several other disciplines like sales, finance and IT, which won’t happen if you don’t learn how to work with other people. Teamwork is essential to creating great marketing—so be humble and seek the success of other people, and not just your own.
13. Giving feedback
Steve Jobs wasn’t afraid to tell a designer his work sucked. Of course being diplomatic is important. But it is much better that you kill bad ideas quickly, than let them fester and gain momentum, which ultimately will lose you time and money.
14. Live for rapid change
Do you realize how much marketing has changed in the last 50 years? From radio to television to the internet, the changes that have influenced and transform the marketing world have only increased. You need to be comfortable in this environment.
15. Understand data and metrics
As a marketer you should also live for metrics. You don’t have to be a Google Analytics expert or a database mining guru—but you need to understand common terms and you need to know what to ask for.
16. Hard nose for results
Speaking of data, a great marketer thinks that ever thing he does should be tied to performance. This goes back to his love for the endgame, and his belief that without results you can’t tell if you are winning or losing.
17. Direct marketing
He’s developed this hard-nosed quest for results from his exposure to direct response marketing, which is a discipline inside marketing and made famous by the real Mad Men.
You should have a fascination with figuring people out—what are their hot buttons? What makes them tick? What do they want out of life? This campaign? And then figuring out how to get them those things so
Hate it or love it—you got to do it if you want to get things done. So it pays to learn negotiating tactics like “good cop/bad cop,” “deadline” or “be willing to walk away.”
20. Analyzing emotions
Whether it is your client, CEO or customers, understanding how emotions make people buy is an incredibly effective skill to have when it comes to marketing. And it all starts with the belief that people buy on emotions, not logic.
21. Search engine optimization
You don’t have to master the art of SEO, but it helps to know the basics like link building, on-page optimization and the impact social media has upon rankings.
22. Content marketing
This is another sub-set of marketing that should be in every marketer’s toolbox. This includes creating content for videos, conferences, blogging or book-length how-to guides. You will usually be a master of one of these areas, too, but not all.
23. Public relations
This boils down to the exchange of information between you and the public. How much do you tell them about the new product you are creating? How do you respond to a customer service nightmare? How you deal with these issues is all about good public relations.
24. Social media
Are you familiar with the major social media platforms out there? Do you have a general sense of each one’s target audience? Can you tell which corporations that would benefit from a social media program—and which ones that wouldn’t?
24. Manage multiple projects
It would be nice if you could just focus on one campaign or project at a time—but unfortunately that won’t be the case. You’ll need to be able to juggle multiple ideas, plans and end goals if you want to be a good marketer these days.
Marketing is all about studying your market, customer, product and company. And all of that means you have to roll up your sleeves and dig for information.
More than likely as a marketer you will work with a team to accomplish a goal. A great marketer is also a great leader, recruiting and encouraging people to accomplish a goal from the start to the very end.
28. Decision making
Even though you’ll probably have access to a ton of information, you’ll never have enough. Worse, you may get paralyzed by all of that information. Or you may fear making a wrong decision. Analyze the data, make a decision and then learn from your mistakes.
Marketers understand that the more people you know the more opportunities, ideas and help you will have. This is why you should spend a good chunk of your time connecting with people on social media, at conference and lunches.
30. Funnel focused
This is the person who constantly thinks about the systems that gets a suspect to become a prospect who becomes a customer who becomes an advocate.
31. Authority building
The marketer realizes that he’s only as good as what people think of him…so he constantly works to become a master in his field.
32. Anticipating and handling objections
Because of your extensive testing you can zero in on what annoys the client or what will make a customer say no to your product offering—and then adjust to overcome that objection.
33. Closing sales
People usually fail at sales because they are afraid to ask for the order. A great marketer knows that most customers won’t buy unless you tell them that’s exactly what they should do.
34. Sharpen the saw
The DNA in a marketer includes this relentless desire to get better at what they do. They are always trying to improve personally—and they are also trying to help those around them improve, too.
Remember the Hari Krishna’s handing out flowers at airports? That was pure marketing genius. Their donations skyrocketed because giving someone a gift makes other people feel obligated to give them something in return. Marketers understand people don’t like to be in debt to other people.
36. Building scarcity
Another skill the marketer has is the ability to use the concept of scarcity to get people off of their butts to buy. Limited time to buy or limited supply are examples of building scarcity marketers employ.
You understand the impact manufacturing costs, quality, customer expectations, market position and conditions and competition have on your product. And how to test price to reach maximal profitability.
Running tests is one of the things that makes marketing so fun. Whether it’s an A/B on an email headline or a multi-variate on a landing page you get a kick out of learning what will win out.
You love to look at numbers: number of subscribers, traffic, page views and sales.
What I mean by this is the ability to clearly and concisely describe a complex or large idea into a short, easy-to-digest idea. After listening to clients or management ramble for hours, a good marketer will be able to say, “So you want X with Y by Z, right?”
You can study a product, its market and target customer and eventually articulate the benefits that need to be promoted and the best way to craft that message across all channels.
Like Steve Jobs, a great marketer will shave off all fat and pour his concentration into making a handful of products the absolute best they can be.
Whether it’s your desktop or the latest marketing campaign, as a marketer you need to be able to coordinate smaller things into meaningful larger chunks. This includes building a marketing team or a content marketing strategy.
44. Architecting content
What I’m talking about here is how to best layout content like videos, articles and ads on a web page.
45. Planning good usability
Marketers need to be involved in the manufacturing of a product—whether it’s a door handle or website—and you need to determine what makes a product easy to use.
46. Recognizing great design
You don’t have to be a designer to be a marketer. You just have to be able to spot good and bad design, which means you have to know what attracts and repels people.
47. Creating innovation
Are you pushing to stand out from the crowd? Do you strive to create something that competitors can’t copy because they don’t have your resources? Are you always saying, “What if”? Then you are probably a pretty good marketer.
48. Kissing butt
Great marketers aren’t so proud that they aren’t willing to kiss butt to get stuff done. They understand that a little flattery goes a long way—even if the principle on the other side of the table knows he is being flattered. People like their egos stroked.
49. Motivating others
You might be a pretty passionate marketer, but no doubt you’ll run into situations where people you have to work with won’t be as motivated as you. This is why you need to take your passion and rub some of it off on your team.
It’s hard being a marketer—especially if you want to be a great one. You need to have the balls to stick to your ideas and to call crap “crap” when you see it.
Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question – you have to want to know – in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.
I have to admit that I agree with the cacophony of criticism about Apple’s latest round of TV ads. In fact, I almost had an allergic reaction to them when I first saw them air during the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.
They looked and felt like ads that my former employer, Microsoft, used to release in attempt to position themselves as being relevant.
So many issues abound:
They don’t show the product. This is a product ad, not a brand ad or a perception ad. And Apple has always impressed me by the way that they have (almost) always made the product the star of their product ads. Consumers need to see what’s being advertised in order to understand the messaging in a tangible way.
They don’t explain the product. Apple doesn’t always show the product in its ads. A great example of this is the Mac vs. PC campaign that ran through the first half of the 2000s. But that campaign still made the product the star by focusing on each ad on a discrete feature or set of related features, and explaining how they work. That’s something that this campaign utterly fails at doing. In the ad above, the Genius asks the shopper, “It came loaded with all the great apps like iMovie, iPhoto, Garageband… Not ringing a bell?” The consumer at whom this ad is targeted doesn’t know what these apps are. As a result, he doesn’t know why he should care that he doesn’t have them. And if the ad doesn’t tell him that, he’s just going to hear marketing noise and tune out.
They make the target audience feel stupid. This is Apple’s first real effort going after a less tech-savvy group of computer buyers, and this ad makes it clear that they really don’t know how to talk to them at all. The people in this segment are not idiots, in fact, a lot of them are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and otherwise very smart people.They just don’t think about the latest technology all that much, and this ad basically calls them stupid for not buying a Mac. When consumers buy PCs, they are usually doing it after lots of research — after all, it’s a big purchase for most people — and this ad is essentially telling them they made the wrong decision despite all the thought they put into making what they thought was the right one.
They make the Geniuses look like unsupportive know-it-alls. In a similar vein, the Apple Genius in this ad comes off as a true embodiment of the elitist stereotype many have attributed to Apple’s core customer. When Apple first introduced the Geniuses, they worked because they weren’t that stereotype. No one wants to buy a computer from a cocky teenager who things their questions are stupid and that they’re wasting his time.
There’s no clear call to action. I’ve alluded to this a little already, but the most important thing missing from this ad as that there’s absolutely zero payoff. No moral. No happy ending. Nothing to tell the consumer what they should take away and do next. They don’t even explain that these “friendly” Geniuses can be found right by where you live at your local Apple Store. This is a product ad targeted at people who don’t know anything about the product, and Apple fails in the most fundamental way by not telling them anything about it or even where to buy it.
When I was with Microsoft, I saw vapid creative like this get created and published all the time. It wasn’t because people at Microsoft didn’t know what they were doing. There were and there continue to be a lot of extremely talented people at Microsoft.
Collateral like this happens when there is no creative vision coming down from senior leaders. When leaders delegate the vision downward, middle managers end up having to make the final call, but in almost all cases they don’t have the power to do so alone. So, they go about securing buy-off from multiple teams, and the result was leadership by committee. Not exactly the Apple way.
There’s been much said about whether Tim Cook can steer the great ship that is Apple into another decade of innovation. While he may still be getting his sea legs, this ad along with other marketing blunders over the past few months make it clear that this is no longer Steve Jobs’ Apple, for better or for worse.