Rules of frog kissing
A lot has changed in our journey to raise a seed round:
When I was young, my Dad taught me to work hard, be honest, study, and learn, and the universe will reward you. I didn't realize back then, and it took me 40 years to understand that my Dad's definition of reward was very different from mine. My Dad wanted me to have a good job, buy a nice house, raise a good family, live near my family, access good health care, road, and schools, and take vacations once in a while. I indeed achieved those things. But, those weren't my definition of reward. I dreamt of building a company, finding a partner I love unconditioanlly, having more money than gods, and going on crazy adventures. I tried to make my dreams true, but I kept following my Dad's formula. And, the universe hasn't rewarded me the way I wanted.
I followed my Dad's formula at school, and I got good grades. I followed his formula in my corporate job, got a good salary and bought a comfortable house. I followed my Dad's formula in building my company, and I built a small company that makes money. And, I recently moved to live near my family. By my Dad's count, I'm a massive success. By my count, when I go to bed at nights, the last thought that takes me to sleep is, "how did I become such a dismal failure in my life?"
I recognize this is a moment of self-pity...
Good night you trickster universe...
Remember this, Mr. VC!
Three years ago:
Two years ago:
One year ago:
One year from now:
Where will you be in 3 years?
I've been working with my coach, and he made me do an interesting exercise. He said, it's 2022, and we meet in an airport. He tells me, hey, how are you? How have you been? How's Stock Card. And, I had to act out exactly how I imagine I would explain my life and Stock Card's progress to him. The exercise took us down the road of identifying how I plan to make the vision come through. Originally, I assumed, this is the easiest exercise. I know exactly where Stock Card would be by then. I thought, in 30 minutes, I can write down the plan and be done with the exercise. That was three weeks ago, and you know what I'm still working on? You guessed it correct. I'm still working on the 3-year plan.
It's too expensive!
I call BS! The number one reason people (our users and our team members) bring up as an excuse for not upgrading is that the subscription is too expensive. I hear it, but I don't buy it. Cheap or costly is a perception of value. When they say the subscription is too expensive, the chances are that two things are happening:
I plan to resist a price-cut for a few more months, and instead, focus on addressing the above two hypotheses. Let's go through each one with a few details.
They are not the right target customer (Topic for a future post):
Finding the right target customer is hard. We'd like our customers to be younger people. And, we would also want them to old enough to be ready invest a few thousand per months, so our subscription price is worth it to them. They also have to be in the middle as far as investing experience goes. Not too early as an investor that they still don't know what Fair share price is, as an example, and not too advanced that they have their own Google sheet with formulas and plugins. There is this narrow and nice slice of the pie that works for us. If I say this sentence to a VC or an angel investor, they will walk away because they think the size of our target customer is too small. If I do not focus on these people, then I have to walk away because the product doesn't make money. I'm planning to focus on our target customer. However, this topic is more related to our traction strategy and needs more thinking. We have some thoughts, most importantly, we are thinking of our embedding and widget tools. However, more on that in a different post.
They don't understand the product yet:
One thing before I get to the this discussion is that I think customer feedback is BS (I know, blasphemy!). We can't just ask them do you understand how this product creates values for you. Customer feedback for UI and UX works, because people can show you what they see, and how they see it and how they interpret it. However, customer feedback related to product development is not good enough. People have a hard time verbalizing what they need and how they want it. But, the question is how do we plan to figure out whether the users understand our product?
Most people are reactionary creatures. You put a feature in front of them, and if they use it, you know that it's working. If they don't, you still don't know if they don't like it. Maybe they haven't seen it? Perhaps, they haven't understood it. So, let's peel the onion layer by layer (Elon Musk style) to figure out why the users don't understand the product:
In chapter seven of his book, The Four-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss talks about why so many people fail to stick to their diets. It's only logical to eat healthy and exercise. However, most people fail at it, although they know that's what's right! Logic fails, he argues. He doesn't go to a lot of details, but it's a behavioral challenge the humans have. What's logical to do remains as nice-to-have until it's too late. It's similar in investing. Most people know investing is the right thing to do but, they delay it. When it comes to fat-loss, Tim argues that you may have a tipping point - Harajuku moment - that turns something nice-to-have to a must-have. Or, you can follow a four-step process to making failure impossible. If the process can make a fat-loss program failure-proof, I should be able to use it to make investing a must-have activity too. I don't think there is a way to create Harajuku moment for every single user that signs up for our Stock Card tool, although we may fine-tune our messaging to try to create that. However, we can guide the users through Tim's failure-proof process and make them stick to an investment regiment that improves their lives.
There are four steps to failure-proofing a diet program in the four-hour body book:
Making a diet conscious is another way of saying that you must be aware of where your are (basline) and what you are doing to get there (progress). I can see this in the most successful diet programs I know - RP diet and Zone diet. Moat successful people at such diets take a phone of their before and after body and post it to Facebook, Insta or on their blogs. It establishes a baseline, and it makes the person aware of his flaws. How can this be applied to our context? How can we apply this step to making our users more aware of their investment habits?
I can imagine a few ways of doing this. We won't know until we try a few things. Therefore, before going to steps 2 to 4, I'm going to run a few initiatives or add a few new features to make investing a conscious behavior for our users. Some of the examples that come to my mind are:
The second one is a feature we've already defined and the dev. team is going to work on it soon. The first one is interesting. I had an idea very early-on to get the users to sign a new contract with themselves to obey by the rules of intelligent investing, and declare their goals (for example, I want 1000 to buy X). We've never implemented it. Maybe, it is something to try at a small scale and see how it goes. The third one is related to the ultimate product we would want to build at Stock Card. It's a longer-term thing though. I've developed the specification document for version zero of such behavioral nudging, and I will be adding more to it as we see users' response to it.
Going back to my panic-moment last week, it looks like the one thing I need to do every day is to make Stock Card users conscious about their current status. I'm willing to give it a try!
Doing the one thing that matters
When I walk Kratos, a.k.a Stock Card's Chief Goof Officer, I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. Most of them are investing related book. And, every now and then, I pick up an interesting self-help or business book. I've been wanting to listen to Tim Ferris' 4-hour workweek forever, and I finally did it last week. The book is not over, but so are most of the books I listen or read. Usually a chapter or a small section resonates with me and I just stop there. Tim Ferris has a chapter about elimination. He suggests, every day in the morning identify the one thing you would like to achieve that day. And, only do that. Eliminate the rest. This exercise has given me so much grief, to the extend that I questioned if I'm just wasting life building Stock Card.
Scene: I'm all caffeinated, ready to take on the challenge. Laptop on, additional coffee at hand, zero-inbox, and ready to go.
me: What's the one thing that matters to me today?
Me: Well... I need to review the analytics reports, and respond to the social media comments and likes, and check in with the developers, and post new social media posts, ...
me: Is that the one thing that matters the most?
Me: ummm... well, I do all these things to acquire more users and increase their retention and they ultimately convert to a paying user.
me: And, how's that going for you so far?
Me: well... we are still in early days. So, I mean... what else I can do?
Conclusion: I have no clue what's the one thing to do everyday that matters ...
Daly City, CA, 3/28/2019
Lonley and clueless!
In the pursuit of the Promise Land ...
The concept of "Promise Land" fascinates me. I learned it from Andy Raskin. There are so many ways you can describe what Promise Land is. Andy does it the best, of course. In simple words, Promise Land is the change you want to create in your customers' lives. It's so simple, but not easy. I have been thinking about it for months, and I'm sure my thinking will evolve in the future.
What change are we trying to create in Stock Card's customers' lives? We want to save people time, because time is the most valuable asset they have. Why? Why now?
It sounds corny, but it isn't. Everything we do takes a toll on our time. Social media nibbles at our time, emails consume our time, Netflix gobbles it up. And, we are left with no time that we can use to make investment decisions and manage our wealth. Therefore, we either make mistakes by relying on our intuitive judgment, news, or friends and family recommendations, or we give up better than average return by choosing the passive investing route.
Now comes Stock Card. It is a place(?) where people can make mistake-free investment decisions without spending hours learning and researching. Stock Card makes mistake-free investment decision-making so easy and intuitive that it literally takes you no time. Why do you have to make mistakes or accept the average return of the market, when you can invest easily and generate results without spending any time on the process? In the end, we let you gain back time. You can go back to your social media, emails, Netflix, or whatever else you'd want to do with it, knowing that you made the right investment decisions.
If we tell Stock Card's story in this way, it's a lot easier to let the customers understand the change we can create in their lives. As Andy puts it, it's not about how we are better than the competitors, it's about whoever that tells the story better!
And, that's our story (at least, for now ;):
"We save you time, because time is the most valuable asset you have in life."
In the days to come, my team and I are going to experiment with this new Promise Land of ours. I will tell you how it goes. By the way, if you want to learn from Andy Raskin, and I think you should, watch this latest presentation he did. Have fun!
It didn't feel that special, it was just a fun day. We turned on the paid version and voila!
On October of 2016, when I started the journey from zero to one paying user, I had imagined that the day we get our first paying user, I will be ecstatic. Instead, on April 19th 2018, when the first user signed up, I was just grateful.
Now, the journey changes. It's now about the journey to 1000 paying users. The 1,000 target is important. It makes us ramen-profitable. A lot to say and write about this new journey. So, stay tuned!
Here we go!
Raising startup capital is all about ...
- A great product?
- An awesome team who have built 10 companies and exited 2?
- It has to be about a great network, and who you know?
- Wrong again!
- Oh, I know... It's about having a lot of users. I'm right this time?
- What is it then? Just tell me!
"Raising capital for your start-up is all about establishing credibility as fast as possible!
That's what stuck with me the most after participating in Founder.University, run by the one and only Jason Calacanis and his Launch team. Usually, I try to avoid conferences and workshops that claim to teach you how to be a better founder, and build a great company. Like everything else in life, building a great company is a logical process. There are a few things you need to know, and after that it's all about the execution. However, a few weeks ago, after I read Jason's Angel book, which is a practical guide to become an angel investor (to be honest, it could be used to become any kind of an investor), I decided to apply for Founder.University. If an investor can so clearly and practically describe the path to become an investor, he must have a unique point of view as to how to build a company and raise capital to grow it.
Here is a recap of what I've learned:
Persistence: In the class, Jason talks about the power of persistence. He asks all founders to send him monthly updates. The very first sign of a winner founder is his/her persistence. If a founder continues to send at least three months of consistent updates about the company's progress, chances are that startup is destined for "unicorn-ness". Most founders get distracted. Many are "tourists" in the startup land. And, several are just clueless about how their company is making a progress. A founder that can briefly and consistently articulate her company's progress is rare to be found. Jason talks about the monthly updates in his Angel book too. Continuance in taking action in spite of difficulties and the strength not to give up are the characteristics he expects.
I even had a chance to experience the power of persistence. When I first applied for the Founder.University program, I didn't get in. There were too many applicants, and I was not selected. The Friday before the program starts I thought to myself "I want to be there." One email follow-up and a few last minute cancellations by other applicants gave me the chance to participate.
Credibility: During the two-day workshop (I was there in-person on the first day and streamed through FB live on the second day) a few of the founders get a chance to pitch to Jason and his VC guests. I found the pitching section the most intriguing. I've learned so much by watching how Jason and his VC guests reacted to different components of the founders' pitch. Jason listens to each pitch like a scavenger. He is looking for credibility. Every piece of information, every slide, the founder's body language, and the way he/she responds to the questions are all moments of truth where Jason and other investors look for the evidences of "credibility".
I didn't get a chance to pitch (lesson learned for the next time. Early bird gets the worm. Show up earlier to put your name on the list of the pitchers.) But, I went back to my pitch deck after the session. And, I realized there is limited in my deck that builds credibility. I'm a storyteller, and my deck is a fantastic story. But, aside from the last slide on my 10-page deck, there is no signs of credibility crumbs. I have some work to do. I can't wait to pitch once again, combining the art of storytelling (which I own) with the power of credibility (which I learned) into a power pitch. Thank you Founder.University!
Special thanks to Jacqui Deegan who made everything possible, and surprisingly knew all of the 50 participants by name! What a superstar she is!
Here below is a collection of ten ideas, quotes and notes from Founder.University, winter 2018 batch, to help you pitch like a unicorn (not a snowflake in a blizzard)!
Photos used under Creative Commons from insider_monkey, jeffdjevdet