Sunday, March 13, 2016

How we made a grand in one day teaching what we know

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, likes to call out false choices.

Do you eat or do you exercise?  You do both.  Do you network outside of your company or do you work hard for a promotion where you are?  Well, actually, you do both!  It's an AND.

Talking and Doing

Notice, I didn't say talking vs. hustling.  It's talking AND doing.

I regularly meet aspiring startup founders. They have great ideas. For some reason, their actual business falls short.  It's a common problem.  I ran into someone who had a great staffing business idea.  But, what she does day to day is like a traditional recruiting business.  Hard work.

I'm guilty of this myself.  I have lots of great ideas.  A year later, I don't have a single dollar to show for the ideas.  Big problem.  You can sympathize.

I wonder why.  It could be that,

  • You struggle to start.  There's a saying: perfect is the enemy of good.  You know, sometimes you spend too much time on the drawing board, and the game is over by the time you start.  That same Reid Hoffman said: "if you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."
  • You didn't get right people and mentor to help you.  I wrote before about the power of context and how people around you make you.  If you don't learn from other people, then you end up reinventing the wheel.  Don't do that.  Just ask someone who knows what she's doing what you should do.
  • But, at the end of the day, you just gotta embrace the pain.  Don't be afraid to fail, because failing is part of succeeding.  Don't step back, step forward.
If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

Wasn't this post about making a thousand bucks?  In a day?

Fast Prototyping

This reminds me of the time that some acquaintances and I tested an idea with ultra low cost and cleared a grand in a day.

We were all in San Francisco at the time.  We had an idea.  Lot of people wanted to get tech jobs.  There are SAT prep courses, but there were no interview prep program for technical folks.  We all happened to know startups and tech companies in the area, and we always heard them complaining about how hard it is to find engineers.

So, we thought, why not connect all these people who want the tech jobs, make sure they know what they are doing, and connect them to the companies?

We could have written an elaborate business plan, and talked to dozens of companies, and reached out to potential recruits to validate our idea.  It could have taken weeks.  Instead, we said: okay, if there really is money to be made, then let's test it.  Let's see if we can get a small group of people to pay money to show up to learn a little bit about technical interview.  (One of the group was a technical interview expert, so we already had the content taken care of.)

So, we set a date.

We asked around and found a company that let us use their classroom for free one Saturday.

We sent around some word, and got a group of about 20 - 25 folks to pay $50 - $100 each to show up and learn for a day.  It was a few years ago, so I don't remember the exact figures.

Here's the proof of what we did - Interview Bootcake SF 2014.  (Name takes after Parker's Interviewcake, a site to help engineers prepare for technical interviews.)

Parker Teaching Stuff. Parker is a technical interview expert.
If you still don't believe me, some pics.

Parker Teaching More Stuff. Parker found
Business Model and Startup

From there, we could have taken the business further.  We could have focused on creating on-line content and selling that.  Or we could have focused on the in-person business and taught more classes and gathered more people paying tickets.  Or we could have become a recruiting business, and charged the companies to hire the talented engineers we were finding through the class.

This is how startups work.  You build something fast, test your assumptions, and then build on the lessons to move forward.

As I said, some of you struggle to get started because you're spending too much time talking and talking and talking and designing, but not doing.  At the same time, it's no good to just do things without thinking about the bigger picture and your plan.  You have got to do both.

My challenge to you is, think about how you can take this lesson to help you improve something you are working on.  It doesn't have to be a business idea.  Maybe it's a personal project.  Maybe it's a personal goal.  You can break out the core issues, set up a quick experiment, and test it out.

Once you succeed small, you can build on that success and dream bigger.  Onward, upward!

Further Reading

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