It seems somewhat derivative to write a blog post about another blog post, but there are three reasons why I think it’s worth it in this case:
1. The original post is in German. Google Translate is an awesome tool, but it’s not perfect…
2. I got to share an office with Wappwolf CEO Michael Eisler for much of the past few months, and thereby got to hear the story (in English!)
3. I think there are a lot of great lessons in the post, despite Michael’s self-deprecating opening where he claims that there may be no advice or wisdom in his story (he is wrong — there is). We celebrate success, and cover that wildly in the news — but it’s these sorts of stories that help entrepreneurs succeed, rather than focusing on the buzz of companies like Instagram or Waze, which make things sound awfully easy.
So the focus of this post is on the lessons I am taking away from the Wappwolf experience and discussions with Michael. Not all of these pertain directly to Wappwolf, but that story was the catalyst.
- Be careful how you measure traction. Throw out vanity metrics, focus on true success indicators and, importantly, drill-down to understand actual behaviors. This might mean dusting off your SQL skills and sitting in front of a database, or wrestling with Google Analytics. Are people really using the tool as you imagined? Are they actually people?! Wappwolf saw some interesting “looping” behavior that drove their metrics up, but were not a signal of “value” for the people doing the looping.
- Consider carefully how much time to invest in launch events, even if they’re free to enter. Wappwolf launched on stage at DEMO (nb: not free) with a very unique and interesting pitch, but ultimately this can be a distraction and not yield the returns one might hope for (yes, some press coverage and a feeling of accomplishment, though this may not be enough — so don’t bet the house on it).
- A vision is a must for any entrepreneur…but so are directions for how to get there. If you, as the CEO, don’t like to focus on the details or drive a true understanding of specific steps for how to march forward, then hire someone who does. It’s ok to hire people that are “better” than you if that’s what it takes — in fact it’s preferable.
- You can use the “friends and family” test in some cases, but don’t obsess over it if they’re not the target for your product. Michael laments that their friends and families were not active Wappwolf users, and that may be a problem. But consider who you are really building the product for, and don’t overestimate the “viral” effect your auntie or cousin may have (unless of course they are the target — then it’s worth exploring).
- Press coverage does not necessarily lead to investment. Yes, VCs will likely use press coverage as a signal, but the team’s track record and product traction are weighted much more highly. This isn’t to say don’t strategize around getting covered in the press but, again, manage your expectations. A TechCrunch article should never be a milestone on a plan.
- Professional photos can be worth it sometimes. If you’re completely bootstrapped and sleeping on your office floor, maybe not, but if you have some money it can be done for a reasonable price and will make you look successful (fake it till you make it?). Wappwolf always seemed to have some great photos and images (just look at Michael’s page on Twitter!)
- If you’re not in Silicon Valley (or perhaps other US tech hubs like Silicon Alley, LA, or Boulder) try to get to the Bay Area as early as you can. Building relationships with investors and meeting/hiring local people is time consuming, and you won’t accomplish very much in a simple 1 or 2 week visit. Consider cheap accommodation options through platforms like AirBnB and eat at Chipotle.
- Finally, if you are riding a dead horse, then simply get off and walk away…the trick is truly knowing that the horse (aka your dream) is dead. The most bitter pill of all, but sometimes it has to be swallowed.
There’s lots more I could write about Michael, Wappwolf, our just.me experience, and his new venture but I’ll end it here. For many the lessons contained in this post aren’t new and are perhaps “obvious”, but hopefully there’s some value nevertheless. I certainly enjoyed the time I spent with Michael and learned a lot. Now go read his blog!