Every startup founder, even the most aggressively realistic, has a quiet pipedream in the back of their mind.
Everytime they hit launch on a new feature, everytime they publish an article, everytime a new piece of coverage is released—some part of their mind asks, “Is this the thing that is going to change everything?”
We can’t help ourselves. It’s part of startup lore. A business with moderate traction is struggling along, until one video goes viral, pouring in millions of new customers. A founder adds one feature to their product, and suddenly it’s a sensation.
The reality is, 99% of the time, the feature doesn’t change the world. The coverage doesn’t spark a movement. Your content only gets a few dozen shares.
And that’s alright.
While those wins may seem small, they matter, and not just because of their results. In order to get to those 1% ideas—the ones that lead to explosive growth—you need to test everything and iterate through all of your 99% ideas.
That’s one lesson of many I took from my interview Cliff Lerner, founder of Snap Interactive, recognized growth expert, and author of Explosive Growth. The rest of our interview is below…
1. If you were going to give a new founder one actionable piece of advice from your book, what would it be?
It takes the same amount of time, hard work, hustle, and luck to build an amazing business that achieves explosive growth, as it does to build an ordinary company. So, you may as well strive to be extraordinary. I firmly believe that small goals lead to small ideas which lead to small results.
Find something you’re incredibly passionate about and build something that can improve the lives of millions of people. You’ll need to draw upon your passion and determination to get you through the hard-times that all startups and entrepreneurs must endure.
And then focus on building an incredible product, a purple cow as marketing genius Seth Godin says. I believe that there’s always one problem that tends to solve all other problems, and for startups, I’ve come to learn that the one thing is having a truly amazing product. Something that is 10x better than the competition. Something that solves a real problem and improves the lives of many. A product that is truly remarkable, and not because your mom says so, because your customers passionately go out of their way to spread the word. Otherwise, if you have an ordinary or crappy product, all your doing is spending money on marketing telling customers to check out your crappy product, and that won’t work out well.
Plus, if you have a remarkable product, all of the other items that are critical to a startup’s success – growth, funding, talent, culture – will become infinitely easier. Passionate and talented employees and investors will be banging down your door. And word-of-mouth growth, something necessary in order to achieve explosive growth, can only happen with an extraordinary product.
2. In a lot of anecdotes in the book, we see a group of really smart people learning on the fly, entering uncharted waters, and making it up as they go along. With the gift of hindsight, what is the one thing you would have done differently?
I do believe that experience is the best teacher, and there are so many pitfalls that can derail a startup as well as opportunities to be seized, all moving at lightning speed, so, surrounding yourself with amazing mentors and entrepreneurial friends who can help you navigate them is what frequently separates the winners.
I had the chance to work with legendary entrepreneurs such as Mark Cuban, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Tim Ferris. But I didn’t, and it cost me dearly.
I was fortunate enough to have Andrew Weinreich as a mentor, a brilliant visionary/serial entrepreneur who created the first online social network in 1997. His advice, support, and insight was crucial to my success and helped me confidently navigate through some very difficult times, while recognizing when I needed to make big bets, such being an early adopter and going all in on the Facebook platform in 2007.
Master networker and entrepreneur Jayson Gaignard frequently says, ‘Amazing people become increasingly amazing over time.” So don’t be afraid to take chances on up and comers as well.
Tony Robbin’s mentor Jim Rohn famously said that, “You become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, so choose wisely.” So I would constantly evaluate who your spending your time with, actively eliminate people from your life who are negative, and allocate some time to find supportive and talented mentors and friends.
You can read more of Cliff’s writing on Medium, and in his new book, Explosive Growth: A Few Things I Learned While Growing To 100 Million Users And Losing $78 Million.