The $80 Million Dollar Man. The Sumo. Mr. 4-Hour Everything. The Super Bowl Ad Wizard. And the Queen of Social. All on one stage, discussing everything you ever wanted to know about business, growth, how to overcome hurdles, and other ideas that will change the way you think about success and failure.
The 2017 two12 panel included an all-star cast featuring Jake Kassan of MVMT (@jakekassan), Noah Kagan of Sumo (@noahkagan), Tim Ferriss (@timferriss), Jason Harris of Mekanism (@jason_harris), and Laura Roeder of Edgar (@laurakayargh). Here are 16 lessons we took away from their conversation.
DON’T abandon email, no matter what so-called experts tell you. The percentage of the audience that reads your subject line will be far greater than what you can achieve organically on Facebook. And while people claim that young people don’t use email, Tim Ferriss says, “that’s only true until they get a job.” Laura Roeder of Edgar sums it up: “We need to be communicating in a lot of different places.”
DO look at things in your business where you have to cobble together clunky solutions as areas of opportunity. There’s a strong likelihood other companies are dealing with the same hassles. Developing a fix will help you be more efficient—and could be a product opportunity.
DON’T think that spending money is the “easy way” to success on social media. Big ads and big influencers come with big price tags, and they often don’t produce results in line with their costs. Jake Kassan of MVMT says that, early on, his company invested a six-figure sum into getting an influential starlet to post about their product, but the campaign was a flop. He advises that if you do go the big name route (like working with a high-profile athlete or actor), the person needs to interact and look like they actually use your product—which obviously means that you’re better positioned if they genuinely do. Otherwise you run the risk of your big investment being marked #ad and getting ignored.
DO give your team an incentive to grow aggressively if your goal is growth. “Make it clear to your team that, ‘here’s what you get if you win,” Ferriss says. He cites the astronomical rise of Instagram, who’s founders were working essentially around the clock at “four desks in a ramshackle office in San Francisco” in it’s early days. Their payoff? A $1 billion purchase by Facebook within a year and a half.
DON’T take equity instead of money for your company’s work. Why? Simple: If you could predict which startups were going to hit it big with 100% accuracy, you’d be in a different line of work, wouldn’t you? Jason Harris, CEO of Mekanism, says that his agency experimented with the “work for equity” model, but the results never paid off.
DO keep the message simple. That’s one of the big things Ferriss learned while creating his book “The 4-Hour Chef,” a far-ranging 700-page tome that covers everything from cooking techniques to rapid learning to wilderness survival. If the audience can’t wrap their head around the product or service, they’re not likely to buy it or use it.
DON’T ignore your “spidey sense,” or that feeling you get when something just isn’t right. That’s true for everything from new hires to new products to potential investments. Trust your instincts, and remember this quote that Ferriss cites from the 1998 movie Ronin: “When there is any doubt, there is no doubt.”
DO help the people you ultimately want to reach a year before you need them. That’s what AppSumo and Sumo founder and CEO Noah Kagan recommends when it comes to building relationships. What you don’t want is for people to be asking “who?” when you’re in the middle of your big launch and dollars are on the line. Find ways to build goodwill and do favors for people without being asked—so that when you do ask them for something, they’ll be primed to help you out.
DON’T take on too much at one time. Big ambitions are a good thing, unless you couple them with unrealistic expectations about how soon you’ll achieve them. “You can do it all, but you can’t do it all at once,” Ferriss says.
DO make a splash by finding quiet markets—or no market at all. In fact, Kagan says that when you go to places where there isn’t a marketplace, you’ll find the best deals. As an example he cites Facebook. Traditional ad spending there delivers good results, but everybody is doing it. Do something unexpected—like sponsor a Facebook group—and you’re more likely to get noticed.
DON’T tweak too many variables at once. That’s another thing Ferriss learned from the process of writing and releasing “The 4-Hour Chef.” A/B tests are called “A-B,” and not “A-B-C-D-E-F”, for a reason. When you adjust too much at one time, it becomes impossible to make sense of the results. Limit your confounding variables and you’ll get better data. Get better data and you’ll make better decisions. Make better decisions and you’ll have a better outcome.
DO aim for big partners and be okay with “eating it.” This may mean working for less than your ideal rate—or nothing at all—in order to gain a prestigious client. Why? Because working with marquee players and famous brands can lead to new clients and other unexpected opportunities. For example, Harris was informed by then-Vice President Joe Biden that Mekanism would be spearheading the White House’s campaign against sexual assault—for free. Undeterred, Harris and his team developed “It’s On Us,” a widely popular program that’s now been running for more than three years. And Mekanism has experienced tremendous growth since adding philanthropic work to it’s mix.
“DON’T operate from a place of fear. Mistakes are made there.” That was Ferris’s advice to an attendee who asked how he could grow his business quickly in order to stave off competitors. The fact is that no market is going to remain uncontested, no matter how innovative you are. “You can’t control when the clones come,” Roeder says. So instead of worrying about them, see competitors as validation—and then look for ways to build on your advantage, improving your product or service, creating a higher barrier to entry, and establishing your brand as the leader in the space.
DO partner with someone who knows a subject that can complement your business. No matter how gifted of an entrepreneur you are, you can’t know everything. You want to build a team that strengthens your business by expanding your knowledge—which means you might need to get outside help for making certain hires. For example, when Kassan was in search of a Chief Financial Officer at MVMT, he realized he didn’t necessarily know what sort of skill set might make one CFO more qualified than the next. “It’s on you to pick someone who fits your culture,” Kassan says, “but the role might not be something you know.” So he sought help from a recruiter who better understood the position—and wound up finding the perfect fit.
DON’T forget the fact that most big successes started small. “People all seem to ignore the fact that Facebook served only Harvard at first,” Kagan says. You’ve read “The Lean Startup.” (And if you haven’t, do it.) You might have a big idea that you think will change the world. That’s great. But build your minimum viable product first. Then scale up.
DO create your own definition of success. While it might seem great to have millions of dollars or see your company (or your own face) up on billboards, there is a personal cost to fame and fortune. “Entrepreneurship can be isolating,” Kassan says. Remember that your family, friends, and the lifestyle you want are all things you need to consider when you set your goals.
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