The Build Cycle Podcast #056 – How to launch a company right freakin’ now w/ Noah Kagan

Don’t be a Wantrapreneur. We probably all know one. Someone who keeps thinking they have the next big thing. They watch all the videos, sign up for all the webinars, and download the e-books from the experts. And yet, they never actually start anything. Don’t be that person.

AppSumo founder Noah Kagan continues to launch new products and companies around the idea of solving his own pain points. He joins me to share how anyone can become an entrepreneur, get a company up and running (even if you don’t know what you want to do yet), and how to optimize your efforts around what works to keep growing as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you’re not quite sure where to start, but you know you want to become launch your own business, this episode will give you the inspiration to find your niche and get moving. Because no one wants to be a Wantrapreneur, so let’s help you become an entrepreneur!

DISCUSSION TIMELINE

01:40 – How to make an easy $1,000 per month
06:22 – Got an idea? Where do you start?
11:15 – Noah shows how to do it, by doing it
15:15 – Focus on measurable goals
21:10 – Setting a “Proactive Dashboard” to move you toward your goals
23:26 – Make what’s working work harder
25:16 – Tools won’t save your business
27:50 – Just make sure everybody gets what they want
32:55 – What management challenges keep him up at night?
39:25 – How can you come up with your next big idea?

AppSumo founder Noah Kagan tells how to launch any business and start making an extra thousand dollars per week

POST-GAME ANALYSIS

Start with what you know!

What are you already doing that people like and want? That’s the low hanging fruit. Start doing that, tell all your friends (and your social media “friends”) and get them to buy it. Maybe it’s a service. Or a product. Whatever, just start. This is far easier than building a company around something you don’t know, just because it seems like a good opportunity or it’s the hot new thing. You’ll spend a ton of time and energy learning about it, finding and vetting suppliers outside of your network, and many other headaches. But if you start with something familiar, you’re already miles ahead of someone who isn’t. Just find a way to differentiate your offering.

And if you need to bolster that income while you’re launching, work for Lyft, Uber, Fivrr, TaskRabbit, or any of the hundreds of other online service marketplaces popping up. Or just go mow lawns. It’s not hard to make a little extra money and keep a flexible schedule these days.

Start small and don’t spend money until you have to

Noah suggests starting without spending money. Or at least minimize it. It’s free to tell your friends about what you’re doing. See if there’s any demand for it before you spend money to make something. Whether it’s flyers and business cards or even a physical product, just see if there’s demand before you spend a dime.

Here’s one way of looking at this: Noah’s example of launching a Beef Jerky company from scratch in 24 hours is perfect. He didn’t actually have to make the jerky before he started selling the “idea” of jerky. He was selling the promise of a future delivery, much like folks do on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, then figuring it how to actually make the product later. In this day and age, you can find someone who will make anything for you, and most simple products (including food products) can be figured out in three months or less.

Optimize to focus on your strengths and passions

Noah turned the tables on me and put a spotlight on Bikerumor, my cycling tech blog that launched in 2008 and has been become a leading source of bicycle technology stories. He challenged me to pick the things that I like doing most, and delegate the rest. Not only does this make the job far more enjoyable for me, but it also lets people who are better at the other things do those other things…better.

“What am I really great at, and how do I spend all my time doing that?”

AppSumo founder Noah Kagan explains what the most important things entrepreneurs should focus on to grow their company
Workers get cozy at the AppSumo HQ.

Set measurable goals

He also challenged me to set specific, number-based, quantifiable goals as opposed to fuzzy goals. Our example was video. I think we need to do more video on Bikerumor, but he suggested we quantify why and how much in numbers so we can see if A) it’s worth our time and B) if it’s moving the needle in terms of traffic, revenue or both. Pick a goal that will lead your business where you want it to go, then figure out what will help you achieve them. Noah uses something called a Proactive Dashboard that breaks big, long term goals into small weekly actions his team can execute on.

Focus on what you can control…

Having a goal to rank better on Google is one thing, but it’s mostly out of your control. Setting a goal to produce 10 videos per month, or grow your email list by X per month, etc., is a measurable goal that’s more within your control. If your business is entirely dependent on the whims of search engine placement or social media sharing, then you need to find ways to bring your success more under your control.

…and on what matters.

Of course, you should pick a goal that will moved the needle for you in some meaningful way, too. Just because you have a measurable goal doesn’t mean it’s a valuable goal. Noah suggests picking a goal that will make an impact, then commit four days a week to working toward that goal and only doing things that are moving you in that direction. Then use Fridays to try all the other random stuff that you want to try.

The corollary to that is to focus on what’s working. One of the most important lessons from this episode is that, if you’re doing something that’s working, whether in marketing or sales or management, double down on that and keep benefiting from it until it stops working. Don’t get distracted by all the shiny new things…that’s what your Friday “experiment” days are for.

How AppSumo can sell apps so cheap

I wondered how Noah negotiated such amazing deals from the app companies that run promotions through AppSumo, but it turns out it’s not that tough of a sell. I was looking at it through the lens of “Man, that’s a big discount!”. But he’s looking at it through the lens of “Man, I’m providing so much value to them!” Which is a very interesting difference in outlooks that’s worth applying to your own products and services, especially if you’re struggling to charge enough for them. Check out my interview with sales expert Matthew Pollard to see how a simple shift in your message can mean a 10x or 30x difference in what you can charge.

how to build a profitable business by focusing on the things that work until you maximize profits with them
Noah and his wife taking some time off in Japan, a luxury afforded by building the right kind of company that can operate without the founder.

Management and Growth Challenges

Looking for a business idea? Here’s Noah’s challenges and concerns, which are shared by many (all?) entrepreneurs:

  • How to get employees to treat the company’s money like their own as they consider expenses?
  • How to manage a growing team? How to figure out what management tactics are needed as you scale from 5 to 50 to 500 employees?
  • How to stay relevant in an uncertain future? We can’t predict what is coming, nor which new thing will disrupt our business model, so how do we future proof our company?

I like asking this question not just for the answers, but because it both humanizes the people behind the companies we admire and shows that all entrepreneurs have things they struggle with, and also because it might give you inspiration to start a company by solving these problems for others!

Noah’s answer to that first one is actually great advice for instilling any behavioral expectation into your company: Set the tone from the beginning, lead by example, and hire the right people that share your values. As for spending money wisely, one tactic they use is having employees pay for things out of pocket first, then get reimbursed, which makes them more conscious of how much things actually cost and more sensitive to how they’re spending money. The flip side of is rewarding everyone when the company does well and makes more profit.

Regarding future proofing your business, you need to think about how someone else can crush you, then work to prevent that. Or crush yourself. Don’t be afraid to cannibalize parts or all of your own business if that’s what it takes to evolve and grow to the next level.

How to come up with Business Ideas

Noah advises keeping a notepad by your side and every time you think of something that sucks during your day, write it down. That’s a business opportunity. And don’t worry if someone is already doing something similar, just find what’s going to make your product or service different or better. Another tip is that most ideas don’t start out great and amazing. But they start, and then they iterate. And that’s the difference between being a wantrapreneur and an entrepreneur!

LINKS & RESOURCES:

  • OKdork.com is Noah’s blog, which can be hard to navigate but offers killer advice.
  • Noah’s YouTube channel does too, and like his blog, is a wonderful rabbit hole to get lost in.
  • AppSumo is Noah’s main business
  • SendFox.com is Noah’s new email list service
  • Find Noah on Instagram and Twitter

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