A startup is just a series of prioritizations

In the early going, before there is a product or service, all you are doing is looking at a relationship between people, and maybe the market at large. 

The goal is to answer one question: can we create something that is useful, interesting, meaningful, inspirational, valuable, and/or helpful to a specific person? 

If you can, and they share with you why it has meaning or value, then you can build a community around it. 

This is what every "visionary" pays lip service to, but experienced founders know: an early stage company or project is just an exercise in building community.

If you focus on growth alone, you may occasionally stumble across value, but you're likely to miss many of the non-transactional reasons people relate to a company or organization - why they are loyal and choose to stick with something, or why they choose to try something new. 

Your job is to keep a list of 10, 20, 50, or even hundreds of priorities that reflect the values of your community...and constantly re-prioritize the list based on what is possible, and what can be imagined.

If the list is all imagination, you'll miss the opportunity to deliver meaningful value. If it's all value here and now, you'll miss the chance to build a community with vision.

When to show the OS

The messaging is always the same…

“Anything is possible.”

“It’s as easy as saying, Alexa, find me a job.”

“Connecting your world with the touch of a button.”

While consumer brands have used the “easy as 1, 2, 3” angle for decades, tech platforms in the last 15 years have extended that to nearly every aspect of daily life.

Their work has largely become about hiding the operating system, masking the actual work it takes to create and interact with both the physical and digital world - this is the mantra of tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google, and by extension the startups that dream of becoming them.

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When an ecosystem can’t or won’t reject bad actors

How much of what we see online is real?

It’s a question we’re all facing - made worse by the fact that people often fail to look closely at the information they consume, and sometimes quickly fire it back into the world without looking at all.

In the case of millions of fake accounts and bots described by the New York Times over the weekend, the problem has reached such massive levels that if social media giants gave the same treatment to showing the impacts of bots and fake audiences as they are to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, it’s doubtful it would show that anyone has gone without at least one fake retweet or favorite.

In nature, a healthy ecosystem by definition rejects or minimizes bad actors to ensure variation and longevity. But in the case of social media platforms this problem can be deceptive, because most tech startups are optimized for growth and growth alone.

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You can't control an ecosystem

Last week marked my ninth year of being on Twitter, matching nearly a decade that I’ve worked in / around tech and The Web.

In that decade I’ve dug into a vast array of projects, including managing design + development, building a brand from scratch, researching/reporting on stories as a journalist, creating my own startups, and mentoring entrepreneurs.

While this has been an intense year, it has also reinforced a bunch of lessons from that time, many of which I’ve written about here on this blog. That includes things like taking the time to do work correctlydesigning a good creative processletting people chart their own course, and negotiating more than just salary.

When I named this site Ecosystems and Entrepreneurs in 2015, I was thinking a lot about how structure works…both good and bad.

2017 has turned out to be all about looking at structure and power, revealing what’s been hidden in some cases for hundreds of years. One of the overarching lessons right now is that you have to be willing to give up power in order to actually see change.

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When (and how) to outsource marketing in a startup

One of the most interesting problems early-stage startups run into is when to actually invest in marketing. 

There's no one size fits all answer, but there are tested and true approaches. Most importantly, if you're a founder or early employee, the starting point is to assess where you are...

"We are working on an idea and have some early customers / users of our product"
"We have a company that’s making money (revenue positive) on a consistent basis, and has a clear business model and path to growth"

For early-stage startups, outsourcing marketing is almost always a mistake. This is because you haven't identified your market(s), and built enough of a community or customer base to withstand changes.

Rand Fishkin of MOZ, recently published a deck on all the ways startups suck at marketing, and how to avoid them. In some ways the conversation is similar to hiring a sales team before you're ready to scale: you have to actually do the work yourself first.

But the crucial point Rand makes, and that many people miss when they're busy encouraging you to outsource your marketing, is that marketing in a startup is a mix of strategic and tactical work. 

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