April 15, 2019

Recap notes from Jason Cohen's IH podcast

Ok, I couldn't help myself. The podcast with Jason Cohen had so many useful bits of advice, I just had to take note of them.

Maybe the #recap will be useful to others. I often take notes of things I read (and they eventually make their way to my personal website, I'm trying at least), but it's the first time I've done it for a podcast.

Do you learn more from success/failure?

  • It's hard to learn from either successes or failures. Either way you learn from a whole bunch of decisions and so many things are out of your control. And sometimes it is not even clear what factors are in or out of your control.
  • Sometimes you don't know if you would have had a different outcome if you had done things a different way.
  • It can be hard to tell why you've succeeded. As there are so many different factors to take into consideration.

Do people listen to your advice?

  • When they want that advice, yes.
  • Advice has huge bias. There is advice everywhere.
  • Be clear on your own goals. This is my situation, this is my context, these are my primary problems and these are my goals. When that is clear, then ask of the advice - the person giving the advice are they giving it to a person like me? If a yes, it sounds interesting. If a no, it could still be interesting but you need apply skepticism.

How do you learn?

  • Even with all the advice available, there are things that people just need to find out for themselves. Entrepreneurs just have to do it their way, we don't always take advice well.
  • Having advice out there can be useful for people to discover afterwards and help them process and reflect.
  • Now the way Jason learns is not typically from blogs posts from the likes of 37 Signals. It's more from things like strategic thinking, systems thinking, Harvard Business Review, Books. Things that will inspire the way you think about things.
  • Innovators Dilemma (describes the situation) and Innovators Solution (the sequel book -
    describes what you can do about). Jason prefers the Innovators Solution.
  • Talk to other executives/people, who are 2-4 years ahead of you in your journey. Not so far ahead (like 20 years) where they have likely forgotten about what it is like.
  • There can be alot of people who are willing to help. Mentors, whether loosely or well defined, can be helpful.

When to take the leap? And what can people do to make it easier?

  • I don't know why it should be easy.
  • (Of course) It's scary. You're jumping off. You don't really have any objective way to know if it is right. You'll be spending your savings/money. Your reputation is one the line.
  • Compelling events, can make you leap, something happens so you did it. Or perhaps something internal, like "I just can't work for anyone else again".
  • You can be planful and thoughtful about how to take the leap. Make financial plans. Do research up front. Test ideas. Gather evidence. Commit to trying for a timeframe.

How can you be honest to yourself as a founder?

  • [Lies] Aren't all founders the smartest person in the room, always? Their ideas are better. Marketers are not that useful. Every business problem can be solved with code. Sales people are coin operated. Finance isn't necessary because you're good at spreadsheets.
  • [Lies] Even in the fields where you are an expert in, you still believe you know the best, your ideas are the best, because they are your ideas.
  • Just because you are the founder you end up becoming the CEO/leading. Very few founders actually know how to lead.
  • "There are many kinds of companies and many kinds of journeys. And that is cool that all those can happen."
  • It's not productive or healthy if you lie to yourself about the performance of all the aspects of the company - sales/marketing/finance/product/design. Be honest with yourself, if you are not honest with yourself, you will not get better.

How to come up with an idea for a profitable self funded business?

  • Self funded creates restrictions on what a good idea can be - restrictions in a good way - if it's profitable and self funded, you can't be wasteful in certain ways.
  • Restrictions are good. When you have constraints, that helps you focus on what is a good idea and a valid business model. It helps you throw away the bad ideas.
  • You've got to be really clear about how you will get to the first milestone of revenue. $10k per month per founder is an interesting milestone as it is the point where founders can (usually) quit their job and focus full time.
  • What would it then take for you to get to $10k per month per founder? You can use elbow grease to scrape together your first few customers, to get the ball rolling.
  • Annual pricing is your friend - you get the money upfront and that makes all the difference.

Why don't founders sit down and do the math and realise the reality?

  • It's more ignorance than a lie.
  • All these things pull on each other. I could do this, then that, then make up for things. It makes it complex.
  • It makes it easier to justify any combination you want. Or making some strong decisions about what kind of company you want to build, will help you lead to making decisions easier and more consistently.
  • Thinking about the items together. Price is part of the product. Customer service is part of the product. Lots of people tend to think of these things separately, but they should be thought of as part of a whole ecosystem. Having some fixed points, values, ethos will help you make consistent decisions.

How to get unstuck when something isn't gaining traction?

  • Just do it.
  • People worry they have are restricted when they have small amount of customers. The reality is you are free to do anything you want. Change the price. Change the name. Change the brand. You are free to do anything.
  • The more customers you have the more careful you have to be. The more you have to communicate, explain and help with customers.
  • What do you think it should be. Then decide. Founders at really early stages have little restrictions, embrace the freedom. When you are small, be thoughtful how you effect the change.

Early days of WP Engine, how did you make some of these early decisions...

  • The process I used to validate the business idea. I know it was impactful, I had other ideas and used the same process to validate those ideas. It doesn't prove the method is the best, but it is evidence that maybe it is good. It discarded the ideas that probably weren't right.
  • Write down a bunch of theories about the market/customers and what they need/want.
  • What questions could I ask (in customer interviews) that could in/validate the question, without a leading question? e.g. How many clients do you have? How has that changed over time? instead of do you have about 10 clients?
  • Some theories are right and some are wrong, you find out. There's also brand new stuff you find. Continually update your theories based on your findings.
  • Can I build a business around the idea? Good ideas are not necessarily good business ideas.
  • When the answers get boring and repetitive, it means you are settled on what is true with the customer and business model.

(False) dichotomies:

  • Execution, very few first ideas survive, but certainly you can have you the best idea in the world and without execution, it won't matter.
  • I challenge the idea that your cold hard analysis is cold. I think you bring bias into things. I think you read data the way you want. I think you probably don't statistical analysis correctly anyway, and you probably don't have enough data to do statistical analysis. And you therefore have to fall back on intuition.
  • Working on (your business) on the side is a good idea, to a point. There are people who work on a business on the side for 4 years; at that point it is not working. Do your customer discovery before you quit your job.
  • Follow your passion vs being opportunistic: Love your customer. Love solving the problem.
  • Solo or cofounder is a personal decision.
  • Bootstrapping or fundraising? What is the goal you have for your company and yourself. What journey do you want. They are simply very different journeys. Pick a path that is consistent with the journey you want. —— The default answer is bootstrapped. That should be the default answer. Almost all companies are bootstrapped and should be. Simply by numbers. Most things don't get funding. Only raise money to meet a criteria - you want that journey, you want to go big or die, goals of highest growth, etc.
  • If you bootstrap you can always change your mind to go big/get funded.

What founders should:

  • not read TechCrunch
  • not pay too much attention to competitors
  • not charge too little
  • define your own business models
  • realise you don't need to be unique