Rank Fishkin is the founder of SparkToro, and previously the co-founder of Mox and Inbound.org. His professional life is dedicated to teaching marketing.
He currently runs the Whiteboard Friday video series and a blog. He is also the author of the book, “Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World.”
In this podcast, Rand offers some valuable advice on getting a start-up going.
WHY DID RAND WRITE HIS BOOK?
One thing Rand realized when talking to fellow entrepreneurs is that there’s certain conversations that don’t get had when starting a start-up – stuff like mental health, lay-offs, and overall people problems.
Because people are afraid to have these uncomfortable conversations, Rand wanted to air these ideas publicly.
Rand doesn’t believe every business should be totally transparent. But every business does need to have its own values. You should write them down and weave them into your company’s DNA, where you can use them to hire and promote people.
Having a clear set of values that everyone knows is well-correlated with successful companies.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE GROWING A BUSINESS WITH PURSUING YOUR PASSION?
When Rand started out, he was fascinated with SEO. But, as his business began to grow, his time was taken up by a number of other responsibilities.
Finding these responsibilities to be a chore is perfectly normal at first, but there’s a mental component to it that can help. You have to remember that everything is in service to building a product.
This shift from doing 90% of what you love to doing 10% isn’t going to happen immediately, too. It’s going to be slow change, over months and years, which will give you plenty of time to adjust.
Make sure you use this time to prepare yourself mentally, and that cognitive dissonance will be significantly blunted once it does occur.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR IDEA IS VIABLE?
You’ll have to do a few things in advance. One of those things is pinpointing customer pain – the pain you’re trying to solve. This is important, as many companies mess up by not focusing on a pain that customers are willing to pay for a solution.
Then, they try to pivot, and pivoting from one idea to another is incredibly difficult. It’s tantamount to figuring out what people need and will pay for, and doing it early.
Don’t expect to have a huge success at first, either.
The marketplace is big enough, Rand says, for even a small dent to be enough to grow your business and pay your bills.
Also, it helps if you can take whatever your good at, whether it’s engineering, operations, or marketing, and match that ability with the business.
Rand finds that people with a personal connection with their market often perform better.
COMPANIES INHERIT THE GOOD AND BAD OF THEIR FOUNDERS
Rand makes clear that companies will carry their founder’s baggage, emotional, and mental. For this reason, you need self-awareness, so you can self-correct when necessary.
If you need help in the self-discovery process, Rand’s book includes advice on how to compensate for your weaknesses. Therapy and professional coaching are among the tools he suggests.
A cheaper way to go about it is by asking past co-workers what they believe your strengths were, then take note of what they don’t mention as possibly being a weakness.
Another hack is to structure your business in a way where your weakness don’t get in the way.
FINDING YOUR EXPERTISE AND BUILDING A NETWORK COME FIRST
Networking is extremely important when starting out, because that’s how you’re going to do recruiting, press and, most importantly, establishing a healthy group of early customers. These people will support you through your early years.
Another great way to build a network is by utilizing your greatest skill, which you should have pinpointed by now. By lending this skill out and being in-demand, you can meet other entrepreneurs, who can help you down the road.
Following these guidelines will help you be profitable from the get-go.
MAKE SURE YOUR COMPANY HAS A HEALTHY CULTURE
Most companies will promote or demote employees based on performance, which is certainly an important factor.
However, it’s not the only factor.
Another thing you should keep your eye on is the internal culture. For instance, one employee might be incredibly productive, but also have a poisonous personality that makes people avoid him or her.
Some companies might promote this person based on performance alone, but Rand believes that’s the wrong move. He believes that this person should probably be fire, because he or she is bringing down the performance of those around him or her.
Besides, he says it’s easier to improve an employee’s productivity than his or her attitude.
ALL KINDS OF DIVERSITY ARE IMPORTANT FOR A BUSINESS
When people talk about diversity, they’re often speaking only in terms of race or sex. However, there’s far more differences than that when it comes to the infinitely complex species we call human beings.
By having the most diverse employee base, in terms of background, ability and opinion, you’re far more likely to see holes in your business model.
Diversity is the best way to cover all your bases.
Like some of the other things Rand has talked about, he stresses that establishing diversity is important to do early on.
HOW DO YOU ASSIGN MANAGERS?
Many business owners believe that hiring managers is as simple as appointing someone who has been doing a job.
But Rand believes not everyone is cut out for being a manager. It takes a specific skill-set.
Instead, Rand suggests paving a clear, upward path for your employees without them having to become managers, as many won’t be suited for the job.
Where Can You Learn More About Rand?
More on Rank Fishkin’s entrepreneurial wisdom can be on Sparktoro’s website, where he has his own blog.
About Rand Fishkin
Rand runs most of the show at SparkToro. He was formerly co-founder and CEO of Moz, co-founder of Inbound.org, and author of Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he does have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and is deeply passionate about making SparkToro a great company (at least, by his own peculiar standards).