When building a company, learn out loud
By the start of 2020 I had helped launch the first Alexa product, built the foundations of a unicorn at Bluecore, and helped kick off Bonsai’s initial product. These were all incredible experiences that left me with an itch to create and grow a company of my own; there was just one problem… well three: I had no specific idea, no co-founder, and no funding.
For the first 9 months of 2020, I learned a lot that led to finding a cofounder, a product, and raising a $1.85M seed round. One of my most valuable learnings is the concept of learning out loud.
What is learning out loud?
Usually when people think of “learning”, they think notes in Notion, Roam, a piece of printer paper on everything they could think of about a topic. As they collect these notes, hypotheses start to form and perhaps some conclusions reveal themselves. The things is that up until the grand reveal, all the information is hidden from the world and people don’t know what you’re thinking. Learning out loud is pushing out these ideas (half-thought out is okay!) as quickly as possible to the world. These pieces of information can go onto twitter, blog, slack groups and if you’ve got a big enough network (10 people is enough), you can push them through your email newsletter. Be as noisy as possible. I’ll explain why.
In the beginning
At the start of my journey, I knew nothing! I had just left my awesome job to start a company that did… nothing! I wanted to hide away until I came out with my genius idea. It felt like a term paper was due today and I had totally forgotten about it. I went into hyper-research and hyper-networking mode… in private.
I would go through cycles where I would go heads-down to learn about an opportunity and build a prototype, pull out my results to share with the world and use those responses to go back heads down. After 5 months, I had gotten that cycle down to 4 weeks. I was burnt out and as I watched my runway dwindle, I felt that this feedback cycle needed to speed up. What’s more, I was going at it one idea at a time. I needed to make this go faster!
Opening up my research
As I felt the shadow of time creeping up on me, I started to broadcast my ideas in real-time through emails, slacks, and at dinners, and not just the idea I was focused on, all of them, even my “Uber for dogs” ideas. To my surprise something amazing started happening. People were trying to help me out! Turns out when folks see you trying to figure out a problem, they jump in: I was getting in-bounds from people who had already tried an idea, introductions to folks who had a problem I identified, and even folks who wanted to invest if I pursued certain ideas.
I was learning a lot from folks based on my premises, killing ideas quickly, and identifying opportunities that I wasn’t even thinking of. The goal at the early-stage isn’t just to find a good idea, it’s about learning how to spot bad ideas. This scaled method of learning allowed me to spot similarities in bad ideas and unsuitable industries. By learning out loud I had sped up my learning. By July of that year, I had gone through 20 ideas. What’s more, as I’d been learning and broadcasting out loud, folks got to learn what kinds of problems I liked, what values were driving me and my process in validating ideas: it started to create a funnel of potential co-founders.
People interacting with your ideas ASAP is key in speeding up your learning People interacting with your ideas ASAP is key in speeding up your learning
For folks in the early-stages, there is an immense amount of pressure to learn a lot… fast. Learning out loud by sending emails, creating a newsletter, posting in LinkedIn/Twitter, and sharing as much in person, will give people an opportunity to supercharge your learning. What’s more you may find a co-founder along the way.
By the way, I’m currently exploring the connected fitness wellness space. If you are interested in this space and want to collaborate, feel free to reach out.