25 Startup Lessons I Wish I Would've Known

Honest, real advice from an overworked startup entrepreneur.

The Problem With Marriage and the Passionly Solution

We're changing the face of marriage. Will you join us?

Improve Your Elevator Pitch In 30 Minutes

Up your game in under an hour!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Product Management 101: 5 Ways to Creating an Awesome Website

Creating a product for non-technical co-founders is no simple task. It's something I've been struggling with over the past several weeks. On the private beta launch of our newest website, Passionly, we're in the midst of working on making an awesome product. That's why I'm breaking down the foundation for entrepreneurs and startups alike. Let's get straightforward with what tasks to do first.

I've chatted with others and this seems to be the mythical task. A mix of figuring out what UI to cover up your useful website. As an entrepreneur focused on a technical, product-focused project, I've been considering how I'm going to create a product our (Passionly closed beta) subscribers will like. So with transparency, I'm writing up recommendations here!

So let's get started. There are two parts. Strategy and implementation.

Strategy 

1. Understand your objectives

Just as any campaign--from business development to marketing--make sure you understand your goals. This is harder than you'd think. I've seen entire campaigns go awry without iterating the most important objectives. It can't be just re-tweets, Facebook shares or website clicks. What do you really want to do? How do you specifically want to help your customers? If you don't want to help your customers live easier/better lives, you should just step away from your computer right now. The internet of things is big enough. Don't waste our time.

How? Think back to your business model canvas value propositions. Ensure you're measuring how your customers are gaining from using your website.

Implementation 

2.  Eat your own dog food

Understanding the pressure points of your customer is best done when you use and abuse your own product. When you have a QA team in place, this isn't such a big deal. When you are your own best tester, get familiar with your objectives (see number 4 below). Does your site not meet those specific needs of your customers? Is it "difficult" to do the specific task your website was created for? You need to re-think your usability.

3. Build analytics into your product

There's no way to manage what you can't measure. Understanding bounce rates is one thing, but there's a whole world of analytics outside bounce rates. Considering the lean startup model (like I am), it's not necessary to measure every single action customers take on your site. However, for the most important tasks/actions you want them to take, make sure you're measuring those. And, of course, demographics of your most enthusiastic audience. Refining them will ensure you can advertise for that audience specifically.

How? This is easily assessed on the newest version of Google Analytics. If there are elements (which there always will be) use a mix of measurement and analytics tools to find the data you need to measure your (above) objectives.

4. When analytics fail, survey

Surveys are easy to create on tools like Surveymonkey. As my recommendation for beta launches, make sure you're measuring with surveys (in addition to other forms of tools). Surveymonkey is a great recommendation, and feedback to 100 respondents is completely free (the one down side: your branding won't be visible on your surveys).

5. Understand design & usability best practices

Websites are getting better and better. They're responding to the responsive nature of the web market place. This means for entrepreneurs and startups, it can be difficult to keep up. You don't need to use Ajax and fancy flash tools when you're first establishing your beta launch. But if you want to excel in your industry, finding the right mix of usability and good design will go far.

How? Smash Magazine has some great web design best practices and Mashable has been talking frequently about excellent design for responsive web design. What could be more important though, even more than a good looking website, is one that actually works. For this, consider usability best practices.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

25 Startup Lessons I Wish I Would've Known

Since starting what was then "GetLusty for Couples" last August (now Passionly), let's just say I have been busy. Like, spend your weekends working busy. Like not going to Christmas busy (sorry, mom!). I made mistakes that any entrepreneur would have made.

With all that distilled into several pieces, I'm going to divuldge what I have learned. The stupid (and not so stupid) mistakes that I just feel like I shouldnt've made (and neither should you). I’ve been writing my startup lessons for weeks (months?) now and I thought I’d share them with you. Why? Because like others, I feel like honesty kind of rocks.

We reserve honesty to a time when we absolutely no other choice. How about sharing some best practices. Because entrepreneurship and #startuplife are hard. Are you an entrepreneur? Want to quit your day job (or maybe not) and start a business? Take it from someone who’s spent some serious time doing it. This isn't my first business and likely won't be my last. Let's collectively get better as a community and reach out for help when we need it.

So let's get to it! 

#1 Let your goals guide you (whatever that means to you).

Wandering aimlessly is adventurous. However, most of the time it’s unfruitful. Think strategically (and incrementally) about what you want. Take 3 or 6 months in the future and ponder with your co-founders (those are handy). Then, turn those goals into real-life deliverables. What do you need to do by tomorrow? Then, go do it. Santa couldn't be wrong with his whole checklist thing.

Want to ensure your tasks meet the needs of your business. How about using something like LeanLaunchLab? While I haven't used it myself, the product itself sounds pretty interesting. Alternatively, SmartQ lets you visualize your tasks for the more visual/creative folks.

#2 Don’t waste time feeling frustrated about your mistakes.

Fix it, learn from your error and move on. Dwelling on the past only disables you to move on. It can feel so emotionally empowering (or so you think) to really consider where you went wrong, why, how and who brought you to that place. Well, 2 weeks pass and you realize you just missed some really important consideration because you're daydreaming about your mistake. Learn. Kvetch. Then move.

#3 Enjoy the moment.

This is a hard one for entrepreneurs. I know because I am one. Never satisfied. Feeling like there's no time for savoring the moment. "Yeah, I did that really well. I should thank myself." I'm not talking about a whole weekend off (God forbid). I'm talking about finding out what you really enjoy on the way there and treating yourself. Entrepreneurship should be fun. If it’s not, you need to re-energize.

#4 Don’t get burnt out.

This is similar to #3 but goes farther. Be conscientious about enjoying and being fruitful in where you are. When you enjoy the moment, you're less likely to burn out. What about noting the warning signs of burnout? Especially if your work feels like work—ie. It’s an activity you don’t enjoy doing. Sometimes it’s necessary and you simply have to do sales and you hate it. Well, you can only grow from that instance. But along the way, reward yourself for being such a good sport. What a good salesperson you were (for example)!

#5 Know what 'work smarter' means to you.

There’s a lie circulating that small business owners don’t work a lot. That’s a lie. Well, not exactly. In most business models, a certain number of hours per week is needed to sustain the growth of the company. Take the consultancy model. You create a list of high priced businesses and broker the time of subcontractors. While that's not as high-touch as say, a cafe or restaurant (which takes tons more time), your level of time commitement should match your personal needs.

Say what? You haven't considered your personal needs here? Mistake. If your goal is to be hands-off (and have more of a 4-hour work week for example), then do consider that during your own feasibility research. Testing and validating your business model is something you should be doing  constantly.

#6 Coffee, coffee, coffee. 

Whether you are or aren't a coffee drinker, you might want to consider it. More specifically, there are numerous health benefits to a caffeine kick. Coffee doesn’t only increase productivity, but it could also have some other unexpected health benefits. For example, according to a few media outlets siting scientific studies internationally, coffee appears to increase life expectancy for individuals with certain chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, according to a large 2012 study. Drinking coffee could also decrease the likelihood of dementia and Alzheimer's.

#7 Believe in yourself. 

You’ll have small battles with yourself or your project schedule (Will that marketing campaign work? What were we thinking with that activity?). Finding the courage to believe in your gut feeling and stop the self-doubt will move you to the next direction. Don’t fool yourself into thinking every other entrepreneur doesn’t doubt themselves, either.

#8 Take advice with a grain of salt. 

As someone who values’ others opinions, I’ve occasionally put myself in a position of self-doubt. Do others have the answers and I don’t? Maybe that investor was right and we should’ve done X. We should completely re-think our model. No. Re-think why you’re doing what you’re doing—and be defensible, of course. But don’t take all advice with the same weight. Just consider it. This sounds silly, but in the initial stages of a startup, the wrong advice can be deadly.

#9 Learn how to run an assembly line. Oops, I mean project management.

Keeping all the areas of your startup going at the same time is basically like an assembly line. Think about when Lucille Ball and her friend Ethel were working on a chocolate assembly line. They started falling behind and everything became a mess. Managing and monitoring your startup activities are the same way.
Considering the direction of your startup, the skill of project management is absolutely invaluable and similar to an assembly line. Sure, there’s PMI--where you could go and get an official certificate. But what's important is making lists of tasks, resources (even if that’s you) and budgetary constraints. There’s a whole variety of ways to reflect the tasks you need to do today and maybe you're not a 'list' person. Find what kind of project scheduling software or visual representations work for you and stick with them.

#10 Measure, measure, measure. 

If the Lean Startup (by Eric Ries) taught us anything, it’s that product matters. Your customers matter. And those are basically it. Measuring what’s happening as reflected by your project schedule will not only keep you on track. It will ensure your project and startup are on the right track. In the specific measurement that works for you and your startup.

#11 Make time for sex.

As someone who's in charge of a sex startup, it's been ironic that my sex faltered at one point. Somewhere between working on the weekends and forgetting about my personal health (think sitting a lot and eating too much), I realized health is important. It's one of GetLusty's 5 pillars of an amazing sexual relationship. It's hard to tell others how to have great sex if I never plan it for myself--duh! This goes not just for sex but things that you find fun and relaxing. Having great sex? Now that's the ultimate, awesome relaxation.

#12 Incubators don’t help. But they don’t hurt.

I've been a member of multiple co-working spaces. From London's Hub Islington (I miss you, London!) to VentureSHOT in Chicago. I've had interesting conversations, but one of the most important values of incubation is their access to resources. So consider wisely before investing time and money into incubation space without a clear goal. Are you looking for a board of advisers, advice or just an awesome view?

#13 Stay passionate.

Staying passionate is a highly personal lesson. For me, I realized multiple times throughout the process I'd lost my mojo. The startup metaphorically kicked my ass, and yours will kick your ass, too. The more you can hold onto your mission (for me: empowering women sexually) the more you can make the emotional decision to invest in your startup. Because beyond money and time, you're investing your spirit.

#14 Plan – it’s the best way you’re going to get ahead.

Planning is easy. It's not harder than you think. Surprisingly, it's not the planning but the implementation that will be the killer task. Make a clear plan to start off, you'll make the implementation phase a lot easier.

#15 Plan, plan, plan. But when your plans don’t go as planned—go to plan B. 

Your perfect little plan is beautiful. It's going to be important, but there will be tasks you'll have to ditch. Now what? Like a boxer in the ring, you need to roll with the punches. Although some might say, "Don't make a plan B, because you might leave room for Plan A to fail", I see it slightly differently.

If you've made a project plan, understand all your tasks likely will never--ever get done. Make room for your errors and know you're going to do a lot of improvising. Project planning is one of the hardest thing to do for entrepreneurs (think: knowing what's most important, when and how long to do it before moving onto priority number 2).

Even Scrum project schedules can't reflect the need for constant change in a startup environment. (Unless you have a scrum startup.) The bottom line: when your tasks don't get done, don't freak (or if you do, make sure it's good). Move onto plan be and be flexible. When things go sideways, think nimble and get creative. Like loosing your underwear before a big conversation with your investor. Solution: bring a clipboard. Life is for the living, anyway, right?

#16 Laugh a little.

Entrepreneurship can be a scary world. What makes you happy? Laughing can bring you closer to that thing called the "good life", which is ultimately... Happiness. Laughing can make you feel genuine happiness--not the material kind. Laughter can make you healthier by boosting your immune system, protecting your circulation and heart development among other benefits. Think about it. Make room in your life for happiness. If you don't constantly think about what makes you happy--you'll get sucked into your to do list.

#16 Publicize yourself.

Your personal brand is important and should be cultivated, too. Even as a marketer my entire career, I forgot about the blogging, or the opportunities I did have weren't topical or newsworthy. I missed out on quite a lot (from a marketing and PR perspective).

Every chance you have, write! Write about your startup, your experience and especially how your experience feeds into your startup. As a co-Founder or even a startup employee, you need to be shamelessly advertising (to your target audience). Further, if you move onto do something non-entrepreneurial, it'll help to have self promotion under your belt.

#17 Refine your pitch.

I was lucky enough to attend the Melissa Pierce's Pitch Refinery in 2012 during the nascent stages of GetLusty. Though I honestly made what I felt was the worst pitch, I was glad I'd told it to a crowd. Knowing your 'angle' is super important, and taking in into consideration for those (above identified) target audiences makes a big difference. Everyone resonates differently to your story, so have a few ideas on hand for relating to your audience (in my past venture, it'd be sustainability. Now it's dildos or dating. Similar, right?).

#18 Eat right & sleep. It’s going to help you later.

Having a healthy body and mind keeps you on your toes while also making you feel happier. Sleeping and happiness have been clearly linked together. In the same vein, a diet of junk food can actually make you angry. Some even argue unhealthy and junky foods could be linked with mental illness. So doing avoid eating right or being physically active just because you, "don't have time." Find the time for your health or find yourself sick (physically).

#18 Get along with your business partners.

One of the biggest problem startup Founders find are issues with their co-Founders. There are several considerations there. First off, make sure you choose your team carefully. There are even new services like Matchist to identify co-Founders. Secondly, work with your partners patiently and in a non-emotional/professional way. This is much easier said than done but keep your issues professional and compliment one another.

Personal note: I had a particularly difficult time being in a startup with my husband particularly because there's such a lack of information about couples and startups. Although there is one awesome book from Brad Feld called, "Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur"--I wish I would've known about that one!

#19 Find the right startup colleagues.

But know everyone isn't going to work with your startup. If not, do both of you a favor and move on. If you're a founder/co-founder hiring in a startup environment, please consider taking advice from a knowledgeable HR professional. In a startup, your colleagues are your life blood. Take that seriously or part ways. You should be able to tell within the first 4 hours whether someone will fit in or not. There is simply no time to make mistakes, so start with the interview process. If you have any hesitations, don't move forward.

#20 Attend networking events regularly.

Networking has many benefits--it could even make you smarter. Further, getting to know your community will simultaneously enrich your social life, give you valuable time to pitch and meet others dealing with the same startup mentality.


#21 Investors may call. 

In fact, there are some middle men that seem to think they'll find you an investor (whether that's series A, B, C or a buyer). Number 1, that doesn't encourage transparency. Why aren't you finding those folks? Number 2, middle men control the finances. I'm not alone in rejecting the middle man, Mark Suster agrees, too. It's hard enough to organizing your own financing. Let alone someone else mucking things up with their contacts. Plus, some of these VC finders want a fee. Really? If you're looking for funding, think strategically about where you're going to find it and how. Don't blindly accept help from someone who claims they'll give you $10,000+ of consulting time for free (unless you're in an incubator-style program).

#22 Don't forget content. 

Make a content strategy for your customer-facing bits. Content is now a core component to many startups and companies across the internet. Whether it's for SEO or to find customers (both B2B and B2C), having a solid foundation of content can be essential. What's the point, though? What do you want to be found for, anyway? Having clear goals and expectations with your social media and blogging strategy (among your other content - think: media, SEO, etc) will bring you far.

#23 Don't be afraid to delegate. 

You can't do everything. Delegating tasks to your co-founders or employees can help you do more. However, do consider if the task would be best to delegate -- because not all tasks should be delegated. There are even quizzes to know when you should delegate. Don't be stupid to think that you can do everything. Or do it in a silo. Communicating with your fellow startup colleagues is absolutely essential. Delegating and just, "getting shit done" is just as important as strategy.

#24 If you do delegate, follow up

Make sure that task gets done. Never be in the shadows of your fellow startup colleagues. Daily or weekly meetings are a great way to keep in touch on what's the plan. Although quarterly or even monthly project schedules might not work (as noted in Part 2 of my startup lessons), having an agile project methodology could work. As Steve Blank has noted, startups are really just a bunch of assumptions and hypotheses, so how about testing the best project management model that will suit your startup?

#25 Always know why.  

If you’re delegating someone else to do that task, ensure they know goals and a rough idea of why you need that task completed. Things can get confused along the way. If you're delegating tasks to others, provide reasons why that task is needed especially. Don't let others--or yourself--not be proactive as to whether you need to do that activity, or what it's purpose is. Think for a few seconds and potentially cross reference your project schedule. Is this task getting in the way of a bigger task? Don't stop others from proactively considering the purpose of different activities. Could you be more efficient? Then you should do it.

Well! That concludes my startup lessons. Have your own ideas that you'd like to share? Comment below!

Two Ways Marriage is Broken & How Our Startup Will Help

Get ready because I'm going to be blogging about love, sex, marriage and startups more frequently. The intersection between these four topics is never talked about. And frankly, busy, tech savvy folks need to know they have help when they need it most.

* * *

Marriage, as love, is a loaded word. It’s definition has a deeply cultural context. It’s a ritual, a recognized union or legal contract between spouses. It’s an agreement or contract establishes rights and obligations. But it’s principally an institution which intimate and sexual relationships are acknowledged.

Throughout the several marriage and renewal of vows ceremonies my husband and I have had, I had mixed reactions from participants and on-lookers. A majority of people who greeted us were congratulatory. Some were disillusioned with the idea of marriage. They’d gone through messy divorces. Hated their former spouses. Wished they’d never done it.

Since starting a site dedicated to the love and sex lives of couples in 2012, I’ve also heard this many times: “If I only had your site during my marriage, I think I would be together today.” Sustaining deeply fulfilling love and sex lives in long-term relationships is difficult if not nearly impossible some days. So it would seem there are two gaps in marriage. The premise and the actual marriage itself.

The premise of marriage

First, the premise of marriage is broken. Why couples believe is their purpose for getting married. Again, it’s cultural. (This means each one of us controls what it means to our marriage.) Of lately, what some argue is Instead of thinking of our long-term love as just that, western couples think about the short-term expense of the engagement ring and the wedding.

And I understand. I’ve had my own share of impatience for the difficult times in my long-term relationship. I’ve been asked by at least one family member when we’ll get ‘officially’ married. In front of God. Versus actually having a strong relationship--which is the harder part.

The one question we should be asking is, “Why are we getting married, anyway?” One article suggests maybe we should re-think the idea of marriage. In order to change and move forward the institution, let’s change the premise. The purpose. Marriage as an institution about love and sex. Because marriage is so deeply ingrained in culture, that means we have control over what it means to us and how we practice it.

I like Jill Filipovic’s definition, “It's a choice, entered into because two people are committing to build a unique social and legal relationship premised on mutual respect, love and a shared life vision.”

Sexy marriage in practice

But let’s not forget the sex. One of the top reasons for divorce, sex has been one of those taboo topics for too long. Something that’s just supposed to, “happen” on your wedding night (and throughout your marriage). But instead of happening, millions of couples live in sexless marriages. And when we do have sex, it’s pretty much always the same. According to the Kinsey Institute, 70% of couples admit the only position they do consistently is missionary. We’re a society of bored, unsexy married couples.

One quick thing which I can't even fully issue is the inequality issue. For example, for whom is the sex even for? We've heard we should have sex everyday for our husbands time and time again. We women supposed to put out to please our husbands. Again, according to Jill Filipovic, “The Douthat-approved model is marriage as a unit of transactional economics, where women get financial security from a male partner and a male partner gets sex and someone to take care of his home life.”

What we're doing at my new startup, Passionly, is invite both partners to think proactively about their love and sex lives in the context of marriage. Sure, less couples are getting married, but that doesn't that show us we need to be re-thinking marriage?!

Enter Passionly: the thinking couples hub for your sexiest marriage

Besides differences in our ideas of the purpose of marriage, the practice is other broken area of marriage. Even couples with the best of intentions have no clear direction. The problem is, as it stands, there are few tools to help keep marriage sexy. Sure, there are dozens of books to read about communication. And volumes of books are dedicated to sexual techniques, seduction and foreplay. But when it comes to finding the time. Creating schedules and sending each other loving and sexy texts, things fall flat. Other obligations get in the way.

What’s more, the women's perspective is so many times lost. Those ever-present, "please your man" ideas from "sexperts" that simply may not understand the context of today's modern relationship. From women-centric porn recommendations to communication balanced with sexual ideas, we’re excited to help couples just like you re-think your marriage. We have therapist and pyschologist-driven one week to one month long sex and love challenges, an archive of 300+ articles on everything from BDSM to pegging. Everything a couple could think of to re-think every aspect of their own marriage.

Our closed beta has garnered approval from numerous participants. For example, one beta subscriber said, "I love the progression of the challenges, and I like the whole tone of the website - it approachable, like a close friend made the site for you."

The world’s first love & sex dashboard

We count our calories. We measure our friends and social status. Isn't it time to measure and improve our love lives?

But our love and sex lives are far more complicated, so they can’t be counted. At Passionly, we don't think so. In fact, we think being able to communicate why and how you feel, you increase your emotional intelligence. We think you’ll have a happier, sexier and more healthy marriage when you actively think about what you want. That when you challenge yourself and your spouse to dig deeper sexually and emotionally--you’ll get more out of your relationship.

Join us in re-thinking marriage. We need beta participants!

Would you like to be part of the revolution that’s changing the way we think about sex and marriage? We need beta subscribers. Join us and change the face of marriage. Sign up on our Launchrock page here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

25 Startup Lessons I Wish I Would've Known (Part 5 of 5)

Since starting as what was known as "GetLusty for Couples" last August (now just GetLusty.com including GetLusty Couples and GetLusty Singles), let's just say I have been busy. Like, spend your weekends working busy. Like not going to Christmas busy (I'll never be forgiven--goodness that was a mistake). I made mistakes that any entrepreneur would have made considering and always taking into account the over 40+ conversations I had with entrepreneurs here around 1 year ago just before starting GetLusty.

With all that distilled into several pieces, I'm going to divulge what I have learned. The stupid (and not so stupid) mistakes that I just feel like I shouldnt've made (and neither should you). I’ve been writing my startup lessons for weeks (months?) now and I thought I’d share them with you.

Are you an entrepreneur? Want to quit your day job (or maybe not) and start a business? Take it from someone who’s spent some serious time doing it. This isn't my first business and likely won't be my last. How about learning lessons from our mistakes and collectively getting better? Let's continue.

#21 Investors may call. 

In fact, there are some middle men that seem to think they'll find you an investor (whether that's series A, B, C or a buyer). Number 1, that doesn't encourage transparency. Why aren't you finding those folks? Number 2, middle men control the finances. I'm not alone in rejecting the middle man, Mark Suster agrees, too. It's hard enough to organizing your own financing. Let alone someone else mucking things up with their contacts. Plus, some of these VC finders want a fee. Really? If you're looking for funding, think strategically about where you're going to find it and how. Don't blindly accept help from someone who claims they'll give you $10,000+ of consulting time for free (unless you're in an incubator-style program).

#22 Don't forget content. 

Make a content strategy for your customer-facing bits. Content is now a core component to many startups and companies across the internet. Whether it's for SEO or to find customers (both B2B and B2C), having a solid foundation of content can be essential. What's the point, though? What do you want to be found for, anyway? Having clear goals and expectations with your social media and blogging strategy (among your other content - think: media, SEO, etc) will bring you far.

#23 Don't be afraid to delegate. 

You can't do everything. Delegating tasks to your co-founders or employees can help you do more. However, do consider if the task would be best to delegate -- because not all tasks should be delegated. There are even quizzes to know when you should delegate. Don't be stupid to think that you can do everything. Or do it in a silo. Communicating with your fellow startup colleagues is absolutely essential. Delegating and just, "getting shit done" is just as important as strategy.

#24 If you do delegate, follow up

Make sure that task gets done. Never be in the shadows of your fellow startup colleagues. Daily or weekly meetings are a great way to keep in touch on what's the plan. Although quarterly or even monthly project schedules might not work (as noted in Part 2 of my startup lessons), having an agile project methodology could work. As Steve Blank has noted, startups are really just a bunch of assumptions and hypotheses, so how about testing the best project management model that will suit your startup?

#25 Always know why.  

If you’re delegating someone else to do that task, ensure they know goals and a rough idea of why you need that task completed. Things can get confused along the way. If you're delegating tasks to others, provide reasons why that task is needed especially. Don't let others--or yourself--not be proactive as to whether you need to do that activity, or what it's purpose is. Think for a few seconds and potentially cross reference your project schedule. Is this task getting in the way of a bigger task? Don't stop others from proactively considering the purpose of different activities. Could you be more efficient? Then you should do it.

Well! That concludes my startup lessons. Join me here at TechInspireMe to continue the conversation on startups, marketing, digital and the future of inspiring technology.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

25 Startup Lessons I Wish I Would've Known (Part 4 of 5)

Since starting as what was known as "GetLusty for Couples" last August (now just GetLusty.com including GetLusty Couples and GetLusty Singles), let's just say I have been busy. Like, spend your weekends working busy. Like not going to Christmas busy (I'll never be forgiven--goodness that was a mistake). I made mistakes that any entrepreneur would have made considering and always taking into account the over 40+ conversations I had with entrepreneurs here around 1 year ago just before starting GetLusty.

With all that distilled into several pieces, I'm going to divulge what I have learned. The stupid (and not so stupid) mistakes that I just feel like I shouldnt've made (and neither should you). I’ve been writing my startup lessons for weeks (months?) now and I thought I’d share them with you.

Are you an entrepreneur? Want to quit your day job (or maybe not) and start a business? Take it from someone who’s spent some serious time doing it. This isn't my first business and likely won't be my last. How about learning lessons from our mistakes and collectively getting better? Let's continue.

#16 Publicize yourself.

Your personal brand is important and should be cultivated, too. Even as a marketer my entire career, I forgot about the blogging, or the opportunities I did have weren't topical or newsworthy. I missed out on quite a lot (from a marketing and PR perspective).

Every chance you have, write! Write about your startup, your experience and especially how your experience feeds into your startup. As a co-Founder or even a startup employee, you need to be shamelessly advertising (to your target audience). Further, if you move onto do something non-entrepreneurial, it'll help to have self promotion under your belt.

#17 Refine your pitch.

I was lucky enough to attend the Melissa Pierce's Pitch Refinery in 2012 during the nascent stages of GetLusty. Though I honestly made what I felt was the worst pitch, I was glad I'd told it to a crowd. Knowing your 'angle' is super important, and taking in into consideration for those (above identified) target audiences makes a big difference. Everyone resonates differently to your story, so have a few ideas on hand for relating to your audience (in my past venture, it'd be sustainability. Now it's dildos or dating. Similar, right?).

#18 Eat right & sleep. It’s going to help you later.

Having a healthy body and mind keeps you on your toes while also making you feel happier. Sleeping and happiness have been clearly linked together. In the same vein, a diet of junk food can actually make you angry. Some even argue unhealthy and junky foods could be linked with mental illness. So doing avoid eating right or being physically active just because you, "don't have time." Find the time for your health or find yourself sick (physically).

#18 Get along with your business partners.

One of the biggest problem startup Founders find are issues with their co-Founders. There are several considerations there. First off, make sure you choose your team carefully. There are even new services like Matchist to identify co-Founders. Secondly, work with your partners patiently and in a non-emotional/professional way. This is much easier said than done but keep your issues professional and compliment one another.

Personal note: I had a particularly difficult time being in a startup with my husband particularly because there's such a lack of information about couples and startups. Although there is one awesome book from Brad Feld called, "Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur"--I wish I would've known about that one!

#19 Find the right startup colleagues.

But know everyone isn't going to work with your startup. If not, do both of you a favor and move on. If you're a founder/co-founder hiring in a startup environment, please consider taking advice from a knowledgeable HR professional (and generally--why and how you should have a HR-friendly organization when you're in the growth process). In a startup, your colleagues are the life blood of your startup. Take that seriously or part ways. You should be able to tell within the first 4 hours whether someone will fit in or not. There is simply no time to make mistakes, so start with the interview process. If you have any hesitations, don't move forward.

#20 Attend networking events regularly.

Networking has many benefits--it could even make you smarter. Getting to know your community will simultaneously enrich your social life, give you valuable time to pitch and meet others dealing with the same startup mentality.

Monday, October 21, 2013

25 Startup Lessons I Wish I Would've Known (Part 3 of 5)

Since starting as what was known as "GetLusty for Couples" last August (now just GetLusty.com including GetLusty Couples and GetLusty Singles), let's just say I have been busy. Like, spend your weekends working busy. Like not going to Christmas busy (I'll never be forgiven--goodness that was a mistake). I made mistakes that any entrepreneur would have made considering and always taking into account the over 40+ conversations I had with entrepreneurs here around 1 year ago just before starting GetLusty.

With all that distilled into several pieces, I'm going to divulge what I have learned. The stupid (and not so stupid) mistakes that I just feel like I shouldnt've made (and neither should you). I’ve been writing my startup lessons for weeks (months?) now and I thought I’d share them with you.

Are you an entrepreneur? Want to quit your day job (or maybe not) and start a business? Take it from someone who’s spent some serious time doing it. This isn't my first business and likely won't be my last. How about learning lessons from our mistakes and collectively getting better? Let's continue.

#10 Make time for sex

As someone who's in charge of a sex startup, it's been ironic that my sex faltered at one point. Somewhere between working on the weekends and forgetting about my personal health (think sitting a lot and eating too much), I realized health is important. It's one of GetLusty's 5 pillars of an amazing sexual relationship. It's hard to tell others how to have great sex if I never plan it for myself--duh! This goes not just for sex but things that you find fun and relaxing. Having great sex? Now that's the ultimate, awesome relaxation.

#11 Incubators don’t help. But they don’t hurt.

I've been a member of multiple co-working spaces. From London's Hub Islington (I miss you, London!) to VentureSHOT in Chicago. I've had interesting conversations, but one of the most important values of incubation is their access to resources. So consider wisely before investing time and money into incubation space without a clear goal. Are you looking for a board of advisers, advice or just an awesome view?

#12 Stay passionate

Staying passionate is a highly personal lesson. For me, I realized multiple times throughout the process I'd lost my mojo. The startup metaphorically kicked my ass, and yours will kick your ass, too. The more you can hold onto your mission (for me: empowering women sexually) the more you can make the emotional decision to invest in your startup. Because beyond money and time, you're investing your spirit.

#13 Plan – it’s the best way you’re going to get ahead.

Planning is easy. It's not harder than you think. Surprisingly, it's not the planning but the implementation that will be the killer task. Make a clear plan to start off, you'll make the implementation phase a lot easier.

#14 Plan, plan, plan. But when your plans don’t go as planned—go to plan B. 

Your perfect little plan is beautiful. It's going to be important, but there will be tasks you'll have to ditch. Now what? Like a boxer in the ring, you need to roll with the punches. Even Scrum project schedules can't reflect the need for constant change in a startup environment. (Unless you have a scrum startup.) The bottom line: when your tasks don't get done, don't freak (or if you do, make sure it's good). Move onto plan be and be flexible. When things go sideways, think nimble and get creative. Like loosing your underwear before a big conversation with your investor. Solution: bring a clipboard. Life is for the living, anyway, right?

#15 Laugh a little

Entrepreneurship can be a scary world. What makes you happy? Laughing can bring you closer to that thing called the "good life", which is ultimately... Happiness. Laughing can make you feel genuine happiness--not the material kind. Laughter can make you healthier by boosting your immune system, protecting your circulation and heart development among other benefits. Think about it. Make room in your life for happiness. If you don't constantly think about what makes you happy--you'll get sucked into your to do list.

Picture #1 from here. Picture #2 from here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

5 Killer Ideas & Tools for Beta/Launch Customer Feedback


Before finishing off my 25 things I wish I would've known about starting up (part 1 and part 2 done so far), I thought I'd detail some more issues I'm dealing with as a startup co-Founder. We're on the way to creating a beta feedback group for a new feature we're adding at GetLusty. I wondered, "What works best for different situations in specific feedback programs?" Below is what I found.

The background 

Sometimes, as entrepreneurs and more as business people, we can occasionally feel as if we're in a bubble. We're going against the grain. Not in touch with the average Joe; we're making products that look months, if not years, in the future. We see the future. What's the problem?

We don't know what customers want today. What are they willing to pay for? How many folks from your audience are willing to pay for said product or service? Find out and you'll rule your own entrepreneurial world. Not sure? Fail miserably. That's why you and I should value feedback.

Who are you?

With that said, let's move on. Launch early and change often is an awesome mantra. And, ironically, I'm not even talking just about Beta feedback or testing. The point of this article is more to identify feedback during phases of new product development or alterations. I'm not even talking about how to release as a beta--I'm more talking about how to get customer feedback during the release. Whether it's a Beta or not doesn't matter at this point.
Ideas 

#1 It's all about the (small) group (1-50 participants) 

I have separated the smaller from the larger customer feedback community because there could be significant differences. First off, are you considering quantitative or qualitative feedback is most important for you? This depends on the direction of your product and the value of individual feedback. You may consider small-scale feedback communities if you're doing a very niche product (your customer base will be small either way).

During this process, you'll want to consider Google+ hangouts on an X number of week basis. You'll want to start the process off with a clear definition of how long they'll use the product or what you want them to do before they provide you feedback. (Ie. They should test this, this & this feature out and then we'll come together and talk about it during the Google+ hangout). Ensure customers clearly understand how to use Google+ hangouts so there's no confusion. Also get their feedback from another tool like SurveyMonkey.

Optional (free) tool: Gri.pe: According to them, "Gripe is a much better, Better Business Bureau for the Twitter-age. We use your online word-of-mouth power on social networks and review sites to help get your complaints in the real world heard and resolved!" While I've never used this program, I just signed up and I'm going to test it out.

Optional (paid) tool: IdeaScale. According to them, "IdeaScale is an easy-to-use, yet powerful solution for the collection of feedback and ideas." Prices are freemium with several options available. I just signed up for this product (the free version) and I look forward to using its' basic features (cash-strapped startup here).

#2 Let's beef up the jam with a bigger group of participants (50-100 participants+) 

More testers means more feedback. They'll provide a little more quantitative feedback--but not much depending. More and more businesses are leveraging their most active and excitable users with new products launched in beta. With larger groups, it's harder to schedule meetings and talk in-person, though you may want to select the most avid users and talk directly with them.

Case study alert! Larger businesses like Twitter and Snapchat, for example, have opened up beta feedback groups successfully. What they've done is had a Beta option available for download on their Google groups (like the Twitter Google group process also available here). Both of those cases are primarily getting feedback from their groups on Google.

Optional tool: UserEcho. Basically, the site creates an online space for your feedback community. In their words, "On the main page of the community users will see most popular ideas, popular questions, relevant questions and most recent thanks. Also main page contains fields for searching and adding requests. It's can be completely customized by community administrator."

#3 Integrate feedback into your site

Get feedback! I sometimes kick myself for not realizing during my first few startup projects how pivotal feedback is. With the introduction of "big data", adding more data points and feedback to your site and integrating feedback into all that you do should be a consideration. Feedback can come in many forms. Integrating feedback into your site for me comes in three forms.
  • First, consider your conversion rates for the most important areas of your site. Click through versus purchase clearly indicates customers judge of value for a certain product.
  • Second, what actions do customers perfer to do versus other actions? For my site, as of October 2013, we've been media-focused and therefore get hits on our articles. We've built into our backend a way to judge how many customers click through on our multiple kinds of content, though (ie. articles, merchants & events as we have).
  • Lastly, specific widgets for feedback and/or a feedback form. If your feedback form isn't visible enough, it won't get a reaction, though. 
#4 Survey early & often

One of the best ways to get feedback so far is the survey. Sending out a clear, concise, under 5 minute survey has been our method of choice to gauge specific interests. Are my customers interested in this? Will this upcoming product help them in this way specifically? Always offer an incentive for your customers to fill out the survey today.

Optional tools: We use the above mentioned SurveyMonkey, but Google forms also works for this too (if it's not too large -- they're visual tools also aren't great). Another one is SurveyGizmo which offers relatively the same product as SurveyMonkey (another freemium product). Lastly, another one that jumped out at me is Fluid Surveys. They're another survey tool which you might enjoy. Personally, I stick with SurveyMonkey.

#5 Solicit on social media

Social media is a customer service tool so use it as such. You won't get as much in-depth responses. Especially in my line of business (sex education) where folks are not excited about publicizing to their friends our product isn't helping them get the erection they thought they'd have. How difficult. Well, if you have a more general product/widget, you can get good feedback via social media tools (think: Facebook, Twitter).

Alternatively, I've amplified the success of surveys in the past through a combination of eNewsletters and social media publicity.

Optional tool: FiveSecondTest. According to them, "Learn how visitors will interact with your design before launching. Find out what they think, what they remember, and where they make mistakes."

Man gesturing come here motion came from here. Come here picture from here.

Any I'm missing? Comment below.