Ready, Fire, Aim vs. Thoughtfulness

Part of the joy of entrepreneurship is that, as an entrepreneur, you get to start fresh with each new project.

If you work for a large corporation, legacy technologies, organizational rules, middle managers, etc. will always provide the framework in which you make stuff. Whereas in a startup, if you’re a founder, you help create the framework in which stuff gets made. (And you also get to make stuff within that framework.)

In reality, during each start-up’s lifecycle, as an entrepreneur you make hundreds and thousands of “mistakes” (learning experiences). If you’re not an idiot, you will notice some patterns.

Certain pain points rear their ugly head repeatedly. Some of these pain points are unavoidable (dealing with your local governments’ regulatory and taxation agencies). Other times, the pain points are avoidable, as they are artifacts of the framework you created.

Most startups fail before they’ve ever launched. That is to say, the potential founder decides not to risk anything. He tells a friend about his big idea… and that’s the end of it. Or, the project is launched, but the founder doesn’t really invest in doing the activities that she intuitively (sometimes subconsciously) knows are a prerequisite for success.

Which is why I’ve always subscribed to the DIFN School of Web Entrepreneurship. If you’ve not ever read the Hall of Fame-worthy original DIFN article at SEOBlackHat.com, click here to do so now. The gist of it is this: you already know the core activities which drive the growth of your business. So get off of Facebook, and go do those core activities. Stop procrastinating.

Another favorite phrase of mine is, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Because perfect never arrives, “waiting for perfect” is a great excuse to procrastinate. If you remove the excuse, you can remove the procrastination. You have a great idea? Cool! Not really, though. Go push a beta live in 48 hours. Or at least finish your alpha, or demo… now I’m interested.

These maxims have generally served me well in the past. Ready, Fire, Aim! Your initial business or product plan will evolve dramatically anyway. So don’t worry about getting it perfect. To learn, you must do. To build 1M in annual revenue, you must first sell your sucky v1.0 widget to a single customer for a tiny amount of money.

My practical experience tells me that Ready Fire Aim, The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good and DIFN are proven shorthands to launch a startup, then get it to break-even and beyond. Which means they are powerful strategies indeed; getting materially past the “try to survive stage” places you and your business in the top 10%. I’ve found these maxims are especially integral to success in years one and two of the start-up lifecycle.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog_Day_(movie_poster)

This guy…

The pain points of these philosophies really emerge in year three. We need some design changes on our Web site. OK, but that change which should take 10 minutes, is going to take 2 hours, because the CSS is hard to edit. Why is the CSS hard to edit? Well, we used that WordPress theme you liked in 2011, then custom-hacked it a bit to do what we wanted. Over time, our custom-hacking and new site features have made our theme into an unmanageable Leviathan. OK, well why don’t we start fresh with a new and better WordPress theme? If we install a new theme, 90% of our site will break, because most of our custom tools are heavily integrated with the old theme. Also, we had to use a lot of in-line CSS in these one-off tools to get stuff working correctly. All that in-line CSS will break, too. Well, why didn’t we think of this two years ago? Two years ago we were trying to build revenue as fast as we could, so we could break even before we ran out of runway. You told me to make the site look good, and have the design ready to launch within 14 days. We should fire the CEO. You’re the CEO. Crap.

The above conversation is one I’ve had four different times, with four different developers, at four different start-ups. Two of those start-ups made me a lot of money. Two of them lost me a medium amount of money. The common element was me, my business philosophy, and the framework setup by myself & my partners.

Source: http://www.hasbro.com/nerf/en_US/shop/details.cfm?R=6292A685-5056-900B-1096-FE592395B82E:en_US

Does anybody else think she resembles the H&K P30? Image source: http://www.hasbro.com

With age comes wisdom, and — imagine me in a Yoda robe here — I’ve learned I don’t need to embrace DIFN now as my core business philosophy anymore. It’s now so internalized, so implicit, such a part of my inner self, that there isn’t a risk I will slow down too much and never “launch”. Ready Fire Aim. Trust me, I won’t be that guy who has water left in my Super-Soaker at the end of the battle.

It’s not so much that DIFN isn’t the strategy that most budding entrepreneurs need to hear — it is. My point is, DIFN is probably a prerequisite for entrpeneurial success; but it won’t necessarily lead you to the outer edges of your abilities and talents. 

Enter Thoughtfulness

My latest and “greatest” start-up, MonetizePros, is winding down (or at least going into Limp Mode) at this point in time. I don’t have any regrets about that — I don’t live that way. It didn’t pan out. I tried my best.

At the end of the month, I’m being pitched by a past business partner regarding a new start-up opportunity, about which I’m guessing I’ll be pretty excited.

Whatever project I do next, I’ve decided to commit myself — and hopefully the team of said unknown next project — to the core value of Thoughtfulness. I know, even typing that sentence made me feel like an MBA student, puke. (Just kidding, gentle reader. Your MBA was totally worth 150GR… just kidding.)

I don’t care about a start-up’s written vision statement. When I talk about Thoughtfulness, I’m referring to seriously mission-critical decision-making stuff:

  • Rather than launch with a hacked existing WordPress theme — why don’t we build our own? So it will take two weeks instead of two days… so what? Will that trade-off be worth it, if/when we get to year three as a start-up?
  • When we launch our Premium subscription product — why don’t we limit it to one or two or three features? Yes, I know we could do seven features. But don’t the vast majority of our paying customers really just want one or two or three of these features? Let’s take these essential one or two to three features to their maximum potential of value, rather than waste any time, money, or thought cycles on the other non-essential features.
  • At our brainstorming meeting, we generated 17 hooks for new articles. Which four or five of these hooks are most valuable, scalable, and repeatable? Let’s master and scale these four or five hooks. Let’s hold off on the other 13 ideas, even though some of the them are very good. Let’s save all our mental energy for the very best, most scalable hooks, and execute them to our maximum ability.

Being a CEO is mostly about saying No. Saying No to bad ideas, but also saying No to some pretty darn good ideas. You and your team have limited time, limited cash, and limited mental energy. Direct all of these scarce resources to the very best ideas. The most essential ideas, activities, features, and products.

There is a huge power to Less. I think I’ve always been aware of this, but when I met Greg McKeown several years ago, the lesson really hit home. Greg is an inspiring speaker, especially so when he speaks about “the essential.” (In fact, that’s basically the title of his book: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.)

Note, I can’t distill the lessons from his book into a short blurb here. But hopefully you can grok the basic philosophy in this excerpt from his webpage:

The Way of the Essentialist involves doing less, but better, so you can make the highest possible contribution.

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us.

Amen.

The next time I co-found or jump aboard a start-up, I’m going to strive to be thoughtful.

  • To slow down.
  • To discern the essential. What are the essential features our users want? What are the essential activities to get our business where we want to be?
  • What is the path forward to enable our seven year plan and 100x scalability? No more three year plan with 10x scalability. I want to take a company public some day.

To slow down, be thoughtful, and discern the essential will go against the grain of my nature. It will challenge me. It will hopefully push me to the outer edges of my talents and abilities.

It will be awesome.

Follow me on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+AndyHagans/
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyhagans (set to Private, but I’ll probably approve you :-) WARNING: there’s a steady diet of “grumpy libertarian” tweets.)

Postscript Feb. 18, 2015: I have created an image — with inspiration from the book Essentialism — to demonstrate that I believe the path to huge value creation involves saying No to many good ideas.

Created with inspiration from the book Essentialism.

Created with inspiration from the book Essentialism.

Three Bookmark-worthy Articles from the Past Month

I don’t post a ton of links on my blog, but there were three internet business resources I’ve come across in the past month that I’d like to share with you here.

BrianProvost.com: These Social Media Clickbait All-Stars Are Quietly Building Massive SEO Traffic

Bprovost

Image source: BrianProvost.com

Brian Provost has a great piece regarding bleeding-edge strategy for large scale click baiting. Among other take homes: arbitrage via Facebook — even if it’s near break-even — may not be able to save publishers with otherwise weak execution.

Much like most of Paid Search is run at breakeven or even negative margin (that’s another post for another day, but Paid Search is often run by CLTV instead of CPA at big brands), we may soon see Social or clickbait content sites run along the same fiscal lines to build longer term, defensible audiences. I’d be surprised if that wasn’t happening at more than a few now. As that happens, expect to see the Direct traffic contributions increase for recurring earned audiences. This metric will differentiate which Sites live on as brands.

Read the entire article here. You can also follow Brian on Twitter at @brianprovost.

KISSmetrics: How to Structure a Longform Landing Page for Maximum Conversions

There’s such a thing as “too perfect”: if you have a hundred things to do, but you spend way too much time getting the one thing “perfect,” your overall execution will suffer. The key to a good “v1.0 sales page” is to find a good formula/template to follow, and then pump out the best draft you can in a few hours. Neil Patel has you covered with a wonderful sample structure you can follow verbatim.

It’s not just lots of content that matters. It’s how the content is organized that truly matters.

This article explains how you can organize the content — an approach to structuring a longform landing page that will deliver maximum conversions.

There are eleven basic elements of a longform landing page. I will go through each one in order of its appearance on the page.

Read the entire article here. You can also follow Neil on Twitter at @neilpatel.

The Moz Blog: 10 Predictions for the Marketing World in 2015

Rand Fishkin is certainly one of the most well known internet marketers in the world, and for good reason. Consider these “required reading”: even if his predictions don’t come to fruition, the fact that he includes them implies that they’re topics you need to be thinking about.

#2: Google will continue the trend of providing instant answers in search results with more interactive tools.

Google has been doing instant answers for a long time, but in addition to queries with immediate and direct responses, they’ve also undercut a number of online tool vendors by building their own versions directly into the SERPs, like they do currently for queries like ” timer” and “calculator.”

Read the entire article here. You can also follow Rand on Twitter at @randfish.

Why You’re Not Making More Money with Affiliate Marketing [Slideshow]

You’ve tried your hand at affiliate marketing for several months now. You wonder: Why aren’t I making more money? My tongue-in-check slideshow might help you.

Very few affiliates fit the definition of a “super affiliate”. There’s no hard and fast rule, but I’d say you’re a “super affiliate” if you’re bringing in five figures via affiliate marketing each month. A few percent of affiliates can make a full time living with affiliate marketing, but the vast majority of affiliates are lucky to be able to earn minimum wage (or even buy a few latte’s with their earnings each month).

Very few affiliates fit the definition of a “super affiliate”. There’s no hard and fast rule, but I’d say you’re a “super affiliate” if you’re bringing in five figures via affiliate marketing each month. A few percent of affiliates can make a full time living with affiliate marketing, but the vast majority of affiliates are lucky to be able to earn minimum wage (or even buy a few latte’s with their earnings each month).

Holland, Michigan!

Earlier this year I relocated to Southwest Michigan (Holland, to be exact–a small city near Grand Rapids). Holland is notable for Tulip Time and its Dutch heritage. When I’m not at home, you might find me hanging out at the local gun shop or bakkerij. But lately I’ve been home a lot–I’ve set up an office in my barn, actually!

I’ve taken a bit of a break from my most recent Web project, MonetizePros. For the next few months, it’ll be a lot of “family time” ;-). In early Spring, I’m hoping to get started on a new venture. In the meantime, stay warm this winter!

New Tools and E-Books from MonetizePros (1Q2014)

We are speeding along over at MonetizePros.com this year. Our big projects in this Q1 included:

My business partner & co-founder Michael Johnston was instrumental in creating all of the above resources (by the way, he now has a personal Web site up at MichaelEJohnston.com, if you want to follow him there).

Anyway, as big as Q1 was for MonetizePros, we have even bigger plans for 2Q2014 — including the launch of our own premium subscription product. If you have any ideas, proposals or thoughts on MonetizePros, please feel free to get in touch with us.

MonetizePros Launches Expert Reviews Section

My new(ish) project, MonetizePros, is growing by leaps in bounds (both in terms of site features, and in audience).

The latest site feature has been developed with a lot of hard work from Jimmy–our insider reviews section. The first category is advertising networks. Jimmy has published the most extensive–and authoritative–and honest–reviews of Commission Junction, AdSense, AdMob, etc. that are on the Web.

This is a case of developing something that we really want for ourselves, and then “eating our own dog food”. I’ve wanted a top level snapshot (with the ability to drill down for further info) of the top ad networks on the Web–from an objective [non-shilling] source–since 1998. It only took me about 15 years to build the thing I needed :-)

UpCity Has Officially Crushed the Blogosphere (and Developed an SEO Solution for Agencies & Designers)

I’ve posted here before about an SEO software company that I’ve invested in–UpCity. Since I last wrote about them, they’ve made a ton of progress in the industry; Firstly, their blog/newsletter has published a few articles that ‘caught fire’ on social media:

… all of these blog articles receiving a boatload of recurring traffic according to Google Analytics–they must be popular!

Baity titles aside ;-) these are all very helpful, practical resources for web entrepreneurs. I really have to compliment the inbound team at UpCity for pushing out great content, week after week.

But secondly, the inbound / SEO platform itself is really pushing hard into a second area: aside from offering the stand-alone platform for small businesses, UpCity is also offering a comprehensive, whitelabeled & revenue-sharing inbound marketing & SEO platform for agencies (& designers–& web hosts–etc.!)

UpCity already has agencies using their platform to manage thousands of clients,  meaning the platform is robust and scalable. If you’re a designer or manager of a non-SEO company but would like to offer SEO to your clients, consider checking out the offering.

Update 1/19/2014: UpCity has just published an amazing resource/article, The Definitive SEO Software List (2014). It’s worth a visit (& bookmark).