Wes Kao 🏛

@wes_kao

22 days ago

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My company Maven made revenue before we even had a name… 👀 After 10,000 students and 2 years, I’ve learned a lot. Here are my 11 biggest startup lessons:

1. Your first set of customers might not be your forever customers. We got started with a certain profile of instructor: creators with big audiences. It was win-win because we taught them how to build courses, so it was “found money” for them & a way for us to enter the market.

But over time, we were surprised to find our hypothesis was wrong. There was no correlation between folks w/big audiences & how successful their courses were. In fact, many of our most successful instructors had small audiences but were credible experts and willing to hustle.

2. Smaller team of the right people is better than bigger team of the wrong people. Some team members ended up not being a fit. I was scared to lose headcount but learned a team can operate FASTER with fewer hands on deck. I knew this intellectually but finally saw it firsthand

3. There’s good struggle vs bad struggle. Good struggle is thrashing to shape an idea. It’s developing conviction. It’s answering hard questions about what to do. You can’t outsource this. Bad struggle is pontificating, overanalyzing & optimizing past diminishing returns.

4. Brute force usually isn’t the answer. In past companies my default solution was: work longer hours. I still work pretty long hours but now I see brute force as a short term solution. If you have to rely on brute force forever, you need to go back to the drawing board.

5. Best way to learn is to do. The fastest, most visceral way to internalize a lesson is to do. Stop being a spectator & get in the arena. 🚫 Old way: Learn learn learn learn learn ✅ New way: Learn do learn do learn do I’m bullish on CBCs bc it’s all about learning by doing

6. Instincts matter. We're not Amazon. We don't have millions of data points. "A/B tests" are directional at best. Most of a startup's first bets are driven by the founders' intuition on where to place bets. Ideally your instincts are right most of the time.

In some ways, instinct is millions of subconscious data points accrued over time, reps, and experience. There's not enough data to "prove" that you should do x or y. It could go either way. And you can't and won't know if you're right until 3-6 months later.

7. Look at primary data. Terrifying truth: Ten people can look at the same primary data & come to opposite conclusions. Now if someone says "x isn't interested" or "y isn't working," the first thing I say: "Forward me the note or send screenshots." I want to look at it myself.

8. Refuse lazy trade-offs. We need to hold seemingly opposing ideas in our minds without imploding. You can: - Have a mission AND be relentless about revenue - Take frequent feedback AND execute quickly - Have a plan AND stay nimble

9. Engineer room for serendipity. Early on, we suggested first-time instructors to run 3 week courses. Some said “Nope we’ll try a 3 day course." We said,"Great! Let us know how it goes." It was a huge hit. Now we recommend instructors do shorter (1 week) courses bc of this

10. Shoulda woulda coulda. We launched with a bang bc the co-founders had a great social presence (combined 250k on Twitter). But the product wasn’t ready. Many instructors saw the jankiest version of our product--and it’s now significantly better, more beautiful, easier to use

But if we didn't launch with a bang... We wouldn’t have gotten all our initial customers and momentum. Should we have waited to launch until our product was more built out? We'll never know. There are trade-offs with every path.

11. Give the people what they want. Students loved Maven courses. But they asked for a few things in particular: More ways to interact with each other. More ways to discover courses. So we listened to their feedback.

That's why this week, we're announcing an exciting launch: • ​​All new t.co/Ig9cgr7x0Z • Fall Season w/ 100+ courses • Faster, more intuitive student portal • New community chat & project features Check it out and let me know what you think! t.co/zSMeFOTyeZ t.co/ZHYNh6JYYM

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