Who is it for

At the beginning of every new venture, there is one question that matters…

Who is it for?

Often, our dream is for the new thing to reach as many people as possible. “Everyone!” we respond, knowing that what we are working on has the potential to change the world.

Experienced founders know this is a trap. You can always increase the scope of what you’re working on later, but growth begins by focusing on specific audiences and communities.

This is why we unconsciously dismiss brands or organizations that churn out huge and life-changing promises, but don’t deliver the specifics. We know, of course, that it is hard to change the world but seek relationships where people deliver on their promises.

At every moment, ask yourself, who is this for? And if you aspire to develop a strong and broad community …the answer isn’t “the ceo” or “the board” or “me.”

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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.

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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The connection between creatives, value, and survival

A few weeks ago I gave a talk for CreativeMornings on survival, being a child of immigrants, and what I've learned about networks and value. 

I rarely give public talks like this one, but it got me thinking about how we tend to frame startups, founders and tech as creating and uncovering value, while art, music, writing and other forms of creative work need "support," or are tagged as philanthropic activities instead of core parts of both our society and economy. 

We recently conducted a survey for ABQ Creates (which I've been running for about a year) that covered responses from 369 creatives in a variety of industries. 40-percent of respondents listed their total household income as $35,000 or less, with 25-percent making $25,000 or less.

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How pattern matching builds over time

It's been a while since I wrote about choosing your work in the midst of turmoil.

Some of that is because of the normal hustle of building a new thing from scratch (I'm currently working on ABQ Creates), and some of it is because I'm feeling the same political / structural extremes we're all being subjected to right now, and trying to figure out what type of value I need to deliver to help with the situation. 

One of the things that entrepreneurs of any sort struggle with (the good ones anyway), is not just the value of their own work and/or company, but what it means in a broader ecosystem.

If you're designing a matching platform, for example, you may be able to make money and grow a company, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're doing a good job. Uber's continued struggle with both their business model and (lack of) ethical structure internally illustrates how good things can look while simultaneously being a trash fire that threatens to overwhelm any value provided. 

The best founders that I've met care a lot about pattern matching - that is, making sure that the company's value is clear in both directions to audiences, customers, and employees.

If your value is aligned correctly, you can easily say "Cool idea! But we are working on something else" or "Let's run a test for the next 6 months growing this product area that our customers are consistently asking for." 

If your value is not aligned correctly, if someone gets to your landing page, product, event, etc. and it turns out you were telling them one thing but delivering another, there's almost nothing you can do to fix the situation. Even if you quickly pivot to provide what they expected, you've already created a pattern mismatch.

Mostly, pattern matching is about knowing what you are testing vs. what already works, and making sure that what you say or present matches what you actually do. Over time, pattern matching correctly builds audiences, customers, fans, and helps you grow individually and as an organization/company.

It's also a hedge against bad ethics, one-hit wonders, and non-sustainable business practices.