Ask anyone how to start a local marketplace business and Zaarly will have successfully done the opposite. Bo did a great interview about how they approached it all.
Although there’s plenty to learn from the interview, I want to focus on a comment from an agitated viewer.
This comment represents a common mindset which, left unchecked, will completely ruin your startup career:
These are the types of interviews that really frustrate me. You know… The ones where the founder being interviewed had an arsenal of resources available that others will never have…
How can this story possibly be relatable to the average bootstrapping entrepreneur? I don’t know Ashton and Demi. I don’t know Lavar Burton…
When everything that made this idea successful was connections, give me a BREAK! That’s a worthless interview because it can’t be applied to anyone else… (full comment)
In the short-term, I agree. Bo’s story isn’t going to help you right now. He’s already accrued his unfair advantage and you haven’t yet.
But there’s a huge amount to learn about how to approach your days so that once you’re 10 years into your startup career, as he is, you have access to all the same incredible resources and can surmount extremely difficult business models (like Zaarly’s) by mobilising all your goodwill.
And how does Bo spend his precious time? Cutthroat strategising? Wheeling and dealing?
We actually made personalized video’s for pretty much every group of people who had ever done anything nice for us or that we had ever worked with.
We locked ourselves up for a weekend [making them,] saying, “Hey, we’d love it if you would try this thing out.”
Seems to me like he’s basically a kind, thoughtful guy.
If you approach every business relationship like that for 10 years, even though it doesn’t make sense for what you’re working on right now, you end up in a pretty strong place.
That’s why I was at Kauffman, actually. I fundamentally believed that we were making the world a better place by helping entrepreneurs get going… My job was to give away money with no personal upside, because it was a great thing to do for startups.
One of my cofounders Eric Custer… helped create Start Up Weekend and turned them from a for-profit into nonprofit… not because he got paid or anything but because he knew this was a very powerful thing for entrepreneurs.
Who wouldn’t want to help these guys?
They spent years in the habit of doing benevolent stuff that didn’t make rational business sense and now they have an unfair advantage.
Today’s habits create tomorrow’s resources, even if those habits are an irrational use of time in the short-term.
When Jason Cohen announced WPEngine, we saw the same objections:
Great idea! But not entirely fair: starting from scratch means you’re nobody, no one have ever heard of you. You’re making it the easy way… (full comment)
…and approximately 18,000 prospects. How convenient ;) I wish I had that kind of mailing list starting out. (full comment)
Later in the thread, Jason responded:
Absolutely true, it’s a completely unfair advantage, and it’s why so many people harp on folks to start things like blogs and mailing lists on topics they are interested in, so that when you want to do things like sell a book or a new startup you have a running start! (full comment)
There’s no happy takeaway from all this if you still believe you only have one shot. If you approach entrepreneurship as a single company instead of as a career, then sometimes you’re already doomed.
In that less-than-ideal case, you’re best off staying away from the big ideas and choosing something your current resources do make practical.
The same problem comes up within a company when you’re down to your final months of runway — you no longer gain any benefits from thinking long-term so you start making incredibly petty short-term optimisations. Learning processes like analytics & customer discovery don’t have time to pay dividends when you’re in your final months. In that case, you have no choice but to go all-in on the current version by trying to hard-sell customers (or investors) on a product that might not be quite there yet.
It’s not easy (or fun) to try and force your final product to succeed. And it’s not easy (or fun) to try to force your final company succeed either. The most interesting learning and advantages are accrued over time. They work on too long of a time scale for one-shot thinking to get you there.