Bucking the “fail faster” mantra
Not failing is better than failing fast.
Jessica Livingston, the co-founder of Y Combinator gave a keynote at a Female Founders Conference and laid out the alternative to the “Fail Fast” philosophy: Don’t fail at all.
How not to fail
Jessica has seen hundreds of companies go through the Combinator and talks about her real observations of what makes a successful founder. The first, and maybe most important point, is:
1. Make something people want
“Nothing else you do will matter if you’re not making something people want. You can be the best spokesperson, the best fundraiser, the best programmer, but if you aren’t building a product that satisfies a real need, you’ll never succeed.”
This is actually the motto of the Combinator and central to everything Livingston has to say.
2. Stay focused
One characteristic Livingston sees in the most successful entrepreneurs is the focus to stay with the vision. She gives a list of distractions that occur over and over including networking, having coffee with investors, arguing on social media, attending conferences, spending time on PR before you are even making something people want, and the last item is “Worrying about being a woman in tech. And that’s a theme that reoccurs in address. In fact, its the next item on the list:
3. Don’t worry about being a woman
Livingston doesn’t aim to minimize the challenges of being a female entrepreneur. Rather she worries that the amount of time the media spends on taking about it will discourage female entrepreneurs:
“While I’ll tell you that it is going to be harder for you as a woman, it’s not going to be so much harder that it will make the difference between success and failure. If you want to start a startup, go ahead and do it and don’t let yourself be intimidated or distracted by all the noise.
4. Measure your growth
If you follow those first few steps, Livingston continues, you’ll see growth. And keeping tabs on it is important. A good start up will see about 10% growth a month. If you’re not making that, you might no be focused enough or you might to be making something people want.
5. Know if you’re default alive
It’s not enough to have growth if you’re going run out of money. Yo need to know if your business baby is “default alive” or default dead”.
Do your expenses stay the same while your revenue continues to grow? Congratulations, you have a pulse.
Livingston is amazed how many start up founders have never thought to do this simple math.
6. Keep expenses low
This is the number one reason startups run out of money. And because the number one money eater is salaries, this usually means hiring too many people. This gets a lot of new ventures in trouble after their initial phase.
7. Fundraising gets harder
Founders who have a good amount of seed money think it will be easy to replicate that success, but that is often not the case. Series A investors have a very different mindset than seed investors. While the latter are looking for promise, the former are looking for performance.
And nothing says bad performance like needing more money early on.
There’s a lot of logistics and hope in this talk for all founders, but especially female entrepreneurs. It’s a tough business world out there for you, but also for everyone. So synthesize the knowledge of Livingston and other pioneers, take your ideas, and make something great.
And remember: just don’t fail.
How to turn your side hustle or hobby into a successful business
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Surely you have a favorite hobby by now, well what can you do with it? You can grow it into a full time business, but how?
Almost everyone has a hobby they enjoy doing in their spare time — something that sparks their creativity and engages their senses. If you look forward to your weekend pastime more than your nine-to-five job, perhaps it’s time to turn your passion into profits.
This path requires dedication and commitment. However, as you turn your hobby into a profitable reality, the hard work pays off. Getting to that point requires several steps. Thankfully, there are many resources out there that will help you pave the way.
- Establish the Basics: Establishing the basics will act as your roadmap for turning your passion into a business. This plan will no doubt change along the way, but it’s important to have preliminary ideas of where you want to take your enterprise.First, establish what you’ll be selling. Most hobbies can become a business, but you’ll need to hone in on what people will be buying. Anything of value — like products and services — can be an enterprise. Once you have that in mind, you can decide if you want it to be a part-time or full-time job. If you already have a job, managing your time between the two can get tricky.
To stay on top of your tasks, you can look into a time management app or software. With these platforms, you can input how much time you spend on certain projects. From there, you can properly divide your time and give your new business the attention it requires.
Next, you’ll have to conduct research. Is there a market for your product nearby? Can your business realistically take off in your location? How much needs to be e-commerce? Market research can help you determine who’s interested in buying and what you’ll need to get your business off the ground.
- Know Your Finances: Your finances are one of the biggest factors when starting a business. Too often, people rush into things without planning their expenses and resources first. Be sure to ground your plan with actionable steps. For instance, If you’ll be working from home, you can save on renting costs. However, some businesses require a storefront, so keep that in mind.You can also look into financial planning software or budgeting tools. Research relevant tips for budgeting when starting a small business. One pro-tip to keep in mind, if renting, is that you’ll want to save around six months’ worth of rent beforehand. That way, when you get started, you won’t rely on revenue to pay this expense.
Additionally, don’t forget about taxes. You’ll likely need to pay estimated quarterly ones and potential sales taxes, too. There are multiple tools to help calculate these expenses online. Don’t be surprised by the costs, a hobby can be inexpensive but ramping up to a business can be costly, but worth it.
- Take the First Steps: As you form your plans and goals, you can start to take the first steps toward a sale. This phase consists of setting up space in your home or a store and developing your products or services.You’ll also want to set up a digital platform where you can access information at any time. In this central base, you can refer to all the details about your plans, finances and marketing strategies. With tools like Google Docs and Spreadsheets, creating accounting documents and client lists become easy.
- Create Marketing Strategies: Your first sale will likely be to someone you know. That’s an important step. No matter who it is, though, marketing and advertising can take your business to the next level. Make sure you have a strong online presence. With social media and Google’s resources, you can increase your reach.Having social media pages on multiple platforms can help spread awareness of your business. You can use hashtags and locations to establish yourself so others can find you. Most of these platforms have analytic tracking, too, so you can see who engages with your pages and when.
From there, you can work with Google Analytics. It connects to your website and tracks activity and sales. It shows you which visitors come from social media, referrals and search engines. Then, you can focus your marketing strategies on strengthening those areas.
Additionally, it’s vital to focus on search engine optimization (SEO). SEO works with search engines like Google to push your listing to the top with keywords and links. As you cover your bases with SEO and social media, your online presence can grow along with your sales.
- Network: Outside of the online world, you have options for growing your business, too. Local companies can work together to help each other succeed — you can look into other small businesses in your area for new opportunities. People often overlook the power of collaboration, but it can bring about significant results.If you can provide a service or product to local businesses, they may be able to advertise for you at their locations. For instance, if you’re a florist and provide arrangements for a local coffee shop, it could put your business cards next to your display. Customers will see your information and know they have a local option should they need flowers.
You can also bring this connection to the digital realm. When you interact with other businesses on social media, people will see that engagement and click on your pages. That dynamic could translate to more traffic and sales. Check online to find the communities of your chosen hobby, the people there can fill you in on vital info that may be missing, or be a customer base you can connect w
- Keep the Growth Going: The last step is to perpetually keep your business growing. In this phase, you can quit your full-time job or reduce your hours to be a part-time employee. You can then focus on your new enterprise.You should expand your outreach through email newsletters, deals and coupons. You can give rewards to loyal or returning customers if you’d like, too. You can also add a blog or a section for customer service and inquiries to your website. Once your business grows enough, you may need to hire help.
As you progress, adjust your goals. You’ll see that your trajectory differs from your original ideas, but you can keep building to take it to the next step. Set new milestones and watch your business thrive.
When a Hobby Becomes a Business
You should be aware that this a long-term process. Building a brand won’t happen overnight, but the small changes will add up until your company is a force in the market. It’s also an ongoing activity. The more you grow your enterprise, the more possibilities open up. It all starts with your hobby and your entrepreneurial spirit, which can take you anywhere.
You should say no to one-way video interviews
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Recruiters, please stop asking job applicants to send in one-way video interviews — they are demoralizing and could be discriminatory.
It’s hard enough out there for job seekers, but now some companies are requesting one-way video interviews from candidates. This is problematic on several levels. Unless the job is specifically “making TikTok or Reels videos of yourself,” HR departments should not ask this of job candidates. Even if that is the precise job description, a portfolio would be enough to show that an applicant can do the required work well.This format is also ripe for discrimination, as the recruiter can make assumptions and decisions due to their implicit bias more easily over a disembodied video than for a flesh-and-blood interviewee.
For starters, job hunting and interviewing are two stressful activities for most people. Especially post-pandemic, when it’s more likely than ever that candidates have been unemployed or underemployed for too long already, the pressure people feel about finding a job is intense. Interviewing makes most people nervous to begin with. Being on camera makes a lot of people even more nervous. One-way video interviews are not unlike public speaking, something an estimated 75% of people have a phobia of public speaking to some degree, according to various publications. Add to that the discomfort many people have seeing themselves on camera, and one-way interviews seem not only rude, but also cruel.
One benefit to one-on-one interviews, either by phone call, Zoom, or in person, is that the interviewer and the candidate have the opportunity to interact in a more authentic, conversational way. This can help put the candidate at ease, or at least will give them an opportunity to ask the HR recruiter questions about the role and the company. It also gives the interviewer a better feel for the candidate and how they would fit into a company culture or team. There is an exchange of energy for better or worse. Face-to-face, or person-to-person interviews show candidates that you value their time as well as your own. One-way video interviews are one sided, indicating that only the recruiter’s time is valuable or worth being valued.
Many job candidates have likely already applied for several positions. Updating and sending out a resume and portfolio, filling out an online application form, and possibly crafting a cover letter should be enough to convey a candidate’s qualifications to move on to an interview. Many of those documents are lost in the ether, as many recruiters and HR teams do not reply to all applicants. One-way video interviews seem impersonal at best. As with the resumes and applications, there is also the possibility that nobody will watch it, that nobody will reply. How soul-crushing. To add insult to injury, the process for these seems wildly inconsistent from company to company, with some telling the candidates to make it as long as possible. Other companies provide automated, popup questions at timed intervals, either cutting the candidate’s previous answer short or leaving them with dead air time waiting for the next question. Excruciating—surely not an opportunity to shine.
The thought of someone putting themselves through a process that could be so grueling for them personally only to hear crickets in response is simply depressing. It’s possible that a real live human won’t even see these, because if an HR recruiter doesn’t have the time to schedule a phone screener at least, they likely won’t be taking the time to watch all of the one-way video interviews they receive. This shows so little regard for the applicant that it reflects poorly on the company—and tells applicants something about how the company will likely treat their employees.
If Reddit r/recruitinghell and members of the Austin Digital Jobs Facebook group are to be believed, a lot of candidates won’t bother with these awkward and dehumanizing one-way video interviews anyway. In a popular Reddit post, hundreds of commenters weighed in to agree with u/tron_mexico25’s post saying he turned down a request to do one of these. The Reddit post concludes, “If you would like for candidates to pursue your open roles, I would humbly suggest someone reaches out with a more personal touch instead of asking candidates to speak into a camera with no opportunity for meaningful interaction.”
Both HR recruiters and candidates in Austin Digital Jobs responded to the posting of a CareerPlug article, written by their Director of HR, Natalie Morgan, that they should be avoided and “are hurting the candidate experience.”
The ADJ members strongly agreed with Morgan that these one-way videos were disrespectful, “gross,” “terrible,” “indefensibly dumb,” and a waste of time. One ADJ member, Annette Priest, sums up the whole vibe perfectly, when they say, “Yuck. You’re almost never treated as well working for a company as you are when you’re interviewing. Consider this a red flag and run away!” I agree completely. Applicants, you shouldn’t subject yourself to these. Recruiters, please be better.
You’re more likely to thrive with entrepreneurs if you get distracted easily
(ENTREPRENEUR) If monotony and boredom at work bores you, it’s possible you may fit with the other entrepreneurs with a quick and constantly changing career.
When Bill Gates was a kid, he knew he liked messing around with code. He couldn’t have known how it might evolve, but he, like other entrepreneurs, was willing to live in the distraction, focusing on details when needed, but always learning, moving on, taking risks and growing in the process.
Some of the most successful folks among us are not content to sit and make widgets every day. They cannot thrive in a detail and focused work environment. So, it may come as no surprise to know that people who are more easily distracted are also more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs.
According to this study, if you are intelligent and get distracted more easily, those two qualities combined will likely enhance your creativity. And, that creativity and ability to use distraction as an advantage can be channeled to create new things, jobs, companies, etc.
For those of us who are more easily distracted, who enjoy doing different things every day, and who like learning, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests a good option is to find a career path that provides the right amount of distraction and which is a great fit for your personality. If you do that your talent is more likely to be apparent because you are playing to your strengths. Also, if you are working in your sweet spot you will be more productive and motivated.
Maybe not surprisingly, the top job for those who live in distraction is entrepreneur. The term “easily distracted” often comes with a negative connotation, but considering an entrepreneur is taking risks, making things happen and creating companies, ideas, products that may have never existed, this spins that idea on its head. Entrepreneurs are the chief cooks and bottle washers of the world. They ideate, create, hire and inspire. None of that is possible in a monotonous work environment.
“Unsurprisingly, meta-analyses indicate that entrepreneurs tend to have higher levels of ‘openness to experience,’ so they differ from managers and leaders in that they are more curious, interested in variety and novelty, and are more prone to boredom — as well as less likely to tolerate routine and predictability,” according to the HBR story.
Other careers that are great fits for those of us (me included) who enjoy distraction are PR/Media Production, Journalism and Consultant. What these fields all have in common is, there is never a dull moment, switching from task to task is pretty commonplace, and you will do well if you can be a generalist – synthesizing information and weeding out the unnecessary.
Not sure where your strengths lie? Here’s a quick quiz to give you some feedback on how curious you really are.
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