We had the pleasure to interview the coder, developer, entrepreneur and trainer Naomi Freeman last week. She shared developer tips, entrepreneurial secret sauce, her success formula and more. Here are the keynotes from our fun, honest and learning experience interview:
Startup Secret Sauce
We had to ask Naomi, who is a serial entrepreneur: what’s the secret sauce to a startup?
“You can find tons of articles talking about startup secret sauces but I think the simplest thing is to make money. That seems obvious, but when you’re in the technology space at least (and sometimes in nonprofits, too), you can kind of lose track. It’s very simple: if you’re not earning money, you don’t have a business,” she said.
If it’s such a simple secret, though, how do people get off-track?
Naomi built an AI prototype and co-founded a company around it. With that in mind, she explained:
“If you build something – and, for me, I built this prototype myself, so I was really deep in it – and the building is great but as soon as you do something cool in the technology space, suddenly you’ve got cameras on you, you’ve got venture capitalists, you’ve got accelerators coming after you. It can be really exciting but if you look on your calendar and do an exercise where you write down every single thing you do for every single hour of a week for one week or two weeks or three weeks, then go back with gold star stickers or little gold money stickers and see where you were actually doing revenue-generating activities (not trying to get venture capital).
We’re talking about meetings for partnerships, we are looking for actually talking to clients who want to pay for things and if you can’t find them anywhere on the calendar where you can put a money sticker without really stretching it, you have a problem.”
It can be exciting to be part of the Silicon Valley culture, but venture capital success doesn’t necessarily mean business success. Quite often, Naomi argues, most businesses aren’t even a good fit for the venture capital model. That doesn’t make the business a failure. It just means it’s not the right kind of business for venture capital.
Pieces Of Advice For “Entrepreneur-To-Be’s” and Project Management
What would you say to prospective entrepreneurs if you could only say one thing?
“I think the greatest advice to prospective entrepreneurs is ‘You got this! No one is gonna take you seriously, but you totally got this!’” she said.
When asked what the best advice for those wanting to dive into entrepreneurship is, Naomi stressed that there’s no single path.
“I guess, more seriously, you hear all kinds of advice about how to do a startup, how to be a founder and at the end of the day it really is a little bit unique for every single person. Some people need that support of multiple co-founders and big boards right out of the gate, some people are really most comfortable once they have a big financial partner or they’re more comfortable when they have their own autonomy.”
Given that there can be so many different ways a start-up can be structured, how do you know if you have a start-up or not?
“At the beginning with that first spark, when you move from ‘I have an idea I want to share with everyone’ to any kind of action, either you have to be all in or you have to know that it’s a great business. These are both start-ups. Whether you’re in R & D for 2 years on venture capital funding or you’re earning money but it’s not your purpose in life, you’ve still just started something. That’s a start-up.”
The best way to beat up competition with a low startup budget
“What makes a startup an unbeatable entity is the community. Again, that’s my perspective, but if it’s just me and you [two co-founders who] want to team up against the world, yeah, the wind can blow us around a lot. But if we build a community of people who come to us, who know us, root for us, it’s a lot harder to get rid of the company. It becomes a much larger, more intangible, less targetable entity.”
How do we make an unstoppable force of the community to support our business?
“There are concrete ways to build a community and it will depend on your business.
Let’s say you’re one of those subscription boxes that goes out every month – you’ve got makeup or books or food in the box. It’s really easy to put on the inside of the box ‘hey, Instagram it, tweet us, show us what you got, tell us how you’re feeling’. If it’s a book, maybe let’s talk about a book club kind of question that you post on Instagram, or blog or tweet about, where everyone can connect. In other cases, say, if you were selling socks, it could be that when you send it out – first, you make sure your boxing is amazing, the unboxing experience is like nothing you’ve ever felt before. It’s like joy comes out of that box, not just socks. Second, when you unwrap the box, there is a thank you card saying thanks so much for being part of this bigger thing.
There are different ways to create community and engage but the key is that people need a way to feel like they’re part of your team and they’re on the journey too. The funding might go but your users and people won’t.
Why are people on Facebook? Cause everyone else is on Facebook. It’s a network effect and people want to be a part of it.”
She went on to explain that you have to create that kind of community and feeling for every company. A company is not just the product(s) it’s selling. It’s also the brand identity that they sell and the community they build up around that not only shares with the company but also shares with everyone else in the community and anyone watching from outside the community.
The most common challenges developers face
What do you think the most common challenge is that developers face?
Naomi explains that the biggest challenge developers face is actually in how they connect – or disconnect – from the people around them.
“It comes back to some other things I’ve been talking about: people get inflexible and isolated. When you think you know better, even though everything around you is changing, and you cut yourself off from your team or your peers because you’re pretty sure you know better, you end up in a really dark place.
There is this myth in Silicon Valley of the individual coder – a hacker in the basement that’s doing all this crazy wire work (or whatever they’re doing) but the truth is, when grown-ups go to work, they interact with lots of other people. That’s just how modern life is.
Unless you own your own business, you don’t get the final say on ‘well, this is the future!’ Unless you own the business it’s actually not your decision what the future looks like, because what you’re really saying is that you are the best person to know what the future of the company looks like, and that’s just not true. I mean, you can take ownership for your decisions at your table but that’s within the framework of whoever owning it saying it’s okay, right?
I don’t want to discourage people but I feel like when people get a little too comfortable sitting where they are, they can end up in that place.”
We hope you enjoyed this interview and got the chance to learn a lot from Naomi’s experience, for us, FogBugz, it was very enlightening and we’re grateful to be able to share this excellent advice!