Today’s post is a bit different. Megan interviewed Jessica Devine, founder of Todayist, to discuss the advice that has most stuck with her most in the six months we’ve been working together. Each month on our calls, Jessica walks away with one nugget that impacts her decision-making, sometimes in ways she didn’t expect even when we were discussing it. This week we discuss months one through three and next week we’ll discuss months four through six. Stay tuned!
As a first-time founder with all of my experience in the corporate world, I never aspired to have a startup. I had an idea, and that idea stuck with me long enough that I decided to work full-time to bring it to life. With my lack of startup experience, I knew I’d need to find someone who had that background to help me. Ultimately, I met Eric, who (amazingly!) agreed to a monthly phone call with me (for free!).
We’ve been meeting now for six months, and each month I walk away with a piece of advice (you could even call it an aphorism) that sticks with me and helps guide my decisions for the rest of the month. Most of the time on the call, I don’t even know what will have the biggest impact. But a few days or a week later, there’s Eric’s voice in my head.
Thanks to his generosity, I know my app Todayist is better and more likely to be successful for it. In a small attempt to return the favor, I offered to give him those six little nuggets for a blog post. So here they are, the six things every founder needs to know.
#1 Be Fearless
On our very first call, Eric encouraged me to be fearless in the sense that when I talk to people about my app, I need to be fearless both about who I’m talking to and also about what I am asking them. He told me to reach out to everyone, and to pay attention to their reactions and the words they used when they answered. If they’re using fancy words with lots of syllables, they’re talking from their head as opposed to their heart. But if they’re talking quickly, with short words and maybe even some profanity, you know you’ve connected with their emotions.
My initial reaction was, “I’m already doing that.” As a first-time founder, anyone who gets within a socially-distanced six feet of me hears about my startup. The first thing I did after I started working full-time on my idea was talk to 75 different people in 45 minute calls over the course of a month. I felt like I’d been fearless, probably more fearless than most.
But then next week, I was feeling stuck on marketing language. I realized I had a whole network of awesome marketing colleagues who I hadn’t reached out to, because it felt weird asking them for help. Turned out I wasn’t being as fearless as I thought.
It was so easy for even a self-proclaimed “fearless founder” to fall into the trap of “that’s too much to ask,” or “I don’t want to bother them.” But that was not being fearless. Being fearless requires pushing those doubts and potential socially awkward situations to the side and asking the questions even if you might not like the answer.
#2 You Don’t Need a Co-Founder, You Need Employees
This one might not be true for everyone. But one of the reasons I felt it was so important to talk to as many people as I could about Todayist was because I wanted to find a co-founder. I bought into the mentality that without a “team” no one from the startup world would touch me. But I was also ready to get building, so I figured that if I just talked to enough people while I was also working on development, eventually a cofounder would emerge.
During our second call, I brought this up with Eric. I told him at the moment I wasn’t spending much time looking for one, and asked his advice on how much time each day I should devote towards finding a cofounder. My jaw dropped when his response was, “you don’t need a cofounder, you need employees.”
This little nugget went against everything I had read, heard and told myself for months. But the more he explained, the more it made sense. Eric laid out two reasons you need a cofounder.
One, if you’re unable to move forward on your own for a reason other than a time or resource constraint. I was humming along with my development team, and have lots of my own experience on the business and marketing side, so, according to Eric, this didn’t apply to me.
The second reason he cited was for emotional support. I’ve created a network in other ways with a circle of friends and mentors, including Eric, and he knew that. Without that lack of emotional support, and with plenty of people around to keep me going on the days I want to throw in the towel, it turns out, I didn’t need a cofounder. I needed employees.
Ever since, I’ve felt more confident and validated in my approach. Instead of feeling like I’m doing something wrong, I’m proud of what I’m accomplishing. And I’m excited about building a team of employees to help me get things done faster.
#3 Know What an MVP Is
Because I’m bootstrapping my app with my own money, I’ll be the first to admit that my approach to development was outside the norm. In an attempt to save as much money as possible, I wanted a “one and done” development process that shied away from the traditional iterative, build something, see how it goes, and make changes approach. But even still I couldn’t afford everything right away, so by the time Eric and I had our third conversation and I showed him my product, I had already cut out so much of what I thought I needed, and I felt like everything I did have was absolutely essential.
His response? “I’m not sure you know what an MVP is.” I’ll be honest, I got off the phone that time still disagreeing with him, and pretty riled up about our conversation. He encouraged me to cut way back, but having already spent time (and money) on so much of it, I just didn’t think I could let anything else go.
Then, a week later, I was meeting with my developer. We were going back and forth on a feature, trying to figure out how it would work. After realizing there just wasn’t a clear answer, that’s when my conversation with Eric popped back into my head.
“Let’s just cut it,” I told her. “If it’s this hard, maybe we don’t need it right now.”
Her eyes got wide. “Really?” she said. “I think that’s a great decision.”
I spent the next month cutting, and cutting, and cutting some more. Even some things I’d already spent money on, even some things that hurt. And I’m so glad I did, because everything I cut is something that wasn’t needed. It was slowing us down, and costing us money. Now that money has been reallocated, and our time to market has vastly sped up.
It took about a week for it to sink in and take hold, but his advice empowered me to rethink my approach and how I make decisions for my product. And everyone is better for it.
— Jessica Devine, as told to Megan Hanson
As I say on my coaching site and elsewhere, I’ll talk to any founder at least once, regardless of whether they’re looking for a coach. I just want to be useful in the startup community the way others helped me when I was first getting my feet underneath me. So when Jessica reached out, it was an obvious “yes, let’s chat!” It was a wonderful conversation and at the end I immediately asked if we could talk in a month. Even though she was bootstrapping and couldn’t afford my coaching rates, I still wanted to be a part of her journey. Seven months later and I’m proud to share that her app launched this week and I couldn’t be happier to have made even a tiny impact on her company.
If you are looking for ways to make daily incremental improvements to your life, please install Todayist and see what you think. And if you would like some feedback on your own startup, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a call.