Last weekend I got the amazing opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the Casual Bloggers Conference. I was able to open up the conference and give the first speech to a room packed with 375 influential mom bloggers. I was asked to share my story and what I have learned so far, which has got to be my favorite subject by far!
I got to share my story of growing up fascinated with technology. How I was programming at 13 and hosting online Bulletin Boards out of a closet. How this love of technology guided me through college then brought us to Boulder Colorado. Then I got to share how moving away from all our friends and family got us into blogging and the frustration that was felt as readers would try and carry on conversations in the comments, which is how BlogFrog was born. I talked about the months spent moonlighting – building instruments to study the stars by day, then working with the new stars of the internet (the bloggers) by night.
Then I shared some facts about blogging that we have been compiling over the years on just how amazing moms who blog are.
I closed my address with some specific advice and stories about how you can get started on your project or new business. While I could have shared hundreds of tips learned, these were the 5 I thought would be the most helpful:
- Find your niche. There’s a huge temptation to start of trying to be all things to all people. Focus on one niche first, conquer that, then expand to the next niche. At BlogFrog, we started off being the social tool for everyone, then focused on blogs, then women’s blogs.
- Do your homework. I’ve done far more homework since college then I ever did in college. Starting a company takes lots of study and research. If you’re a true entrepreneur, the problem is not coming up with ideas, it’s identifying and saying no to the bad ideas so you can focus on the good ideas. When I came up with the idea for BlogFrog, I spent months building financial models, pitches, and execution plans. Then I talked with anyone who would listen to me about the project, always asking these amazing 11 words at the end “Who else do you know who would be interested in this?”. Slowly I was filtered up to those who could help make the business succeed.
- Partner up. It’s nearly impossible to launch a life-changing company by yourself. Your first pitch shouldn’t be for money or a big sale, it should be convincing someone to be crazy enough to do this with you. 1 + 1 = 4 when it comes to people and starting a company. I talked to 30 people before I finally met my co-founder, Holly Hamann. I knew she was a great fit because she was good at the things I wasn’t, and I was good at the things she wasn’t. We could talk candidly, even debate, but it was always with the good of the business in mind and we would never take it personally.
- Pivot. You have to try lots of different things when you start a company. A pivot is different then changing directions. When you pivot, just like a pivot in sports, you keep one “foot” grounded in what you know. You pivot around that foothold, toward the better solution or greater problem. Your speed and agility is your greatest asset as a startup. When a well established company tries to pivot, it’s like turning the titanic. A startup can pivot on a dime. Some examples of famous pivots include Flickr (which started as an online game) and Paypal (which started off as payments between Palm Pilots).
- Don’t get discouraged. Starting a company isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would do it. As an example, Blogger is the software which pioneered the idea of blogging. I took a poll of the audience, and nearly everyone in the audience had been blogging less than 5 years. Blogger has been around for 11 years! It took people 6 years before they really started using it. There’s no such thing as an over-night success. It just looks like an overnight success because we don’t notice it until it’s successful!
I closed by telling the audience that there is no better time to start a company. Everything you need to know is available online. I feel like I have earned an MBA reading and studying blogs like A VC, Feld Thoughts, Seth Godin, etc. No additional schooling necessary. Also, never has there been such great support for those who are starting companies. It’s much easier to connect with those who want to help you.
It was a great conference and an amazing experience. I hope those in the crowd thought so as well!
P.S. I started the talk by telling a funny story about pants. The day before at the speakers dinner, Julie had told us about a post about speaking tips at White Hot Truth. It includes style tips, and the tip for guys was to wear nice pants. I had this covered because a few days earlier I had gone to the mall and bought a rockin’ pair of pants. I packed them and brought them to the conference, I tried them on the night before and was shocked to find that they didn’t fit! If I wore them I would have been arrested! Perplexed I thought… “hmmm, I probably should have tried these on first before I bought them”. Total guy moment.