The social network he founded in 2009 around planning and attending events attracted major interest early on, especially among tech influencers, but never gained huge engagement or monetization. On his path he earned praise and criticism but ambivalent event-goers and other hurdles prevented him from “going big.” He nearly killed the project in 2012 before Active network bought it and pivoted.
Th stressful “up and down” journey would intimidate even the bravest entrepreneur. Hendrickson shares what he learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.
1. Leave your ego at the door. Early into Plancast, Hendrickson experienced something few entrepreneurs ever do, a huge groundswell of interest among early adopters. “It's an absolute emotional rush,” he said. Hendrickson now prefers slower, quieter rollouts, as opposed to hard launches that include press blitzes, partly because the early surge didn’t continue.
“Whether you announce your product from the rooftop and garner thousands of users overnight, or distribute it patiently to friends and family by the dozens, the most important thing is to stay as egoless as possible and eagerly assess just how people are (and are not) using your product,'' he said. "Thousands of registrations don't mean anything if those users aren't coming back and participating in ways that bring them value.”
2. Tackle your problems head on with little hesitation. There are many reasons why Plancast never scaled into a giant social network. People often don’t decide which event they will attend until the last minute. Many don’t want their entire network to know what they’re doing.
Some critics said Plancast didn’t make appropriate partnerships or connect to Facebook easily. They said Hendrickson and his team didn't make adjustments to these issues quickly enough.
“In hindsight, we sensed all of (the issues) from the start, but we were stubborn about having convinced ourselves that they weren't critical issues, merely friction points,” he said.
“I do believe that, to some extent, we were warranted for thinking this way, because we couldn't have known fully just how difficult these issues were without having faced them repeatedly,'' Hendrickson continued. "But I think the most important lesson here is that we should have tackled these problems more head-on through particular design changes rather than hoping the positive aspects of our product would simply outweigh the negative ones.”
3. Listen for the right feedback. Plancast hit it off well with influencers such as tech evangelist Robert Scoble, a huge fan who became frustrated when Hendrickson announced he planned to shut the company down.
Hendrickson says entrepreneurs must know the difference between advice from their “power users” like Scoble and advice given by more general users.
“It's hard for (power users) to resist the temptation of suggesting more ‘pro’ features as the answer to one's product ills,'' he said. "This is a general lesson about user feedback. Entrepreneurs need to distinguish between feedback that comes from dedicated, loyal users and that which comes from people who are yet to be sold on the product's basic premise in the first place. Both are valuable for different reasons, but the latter is more valuable when it comes to breaking out of a niche market that may provide intense affirmation but not adequate growth numbers.”
4. Take the long view. Hendrickson says entrepreneurs need to take a more long-term view of their work. When he started, he was stressed out constantly, unable to detach work from the rest of his life.
“Now, I realize just how unsustainable and rash that mindset was. Instead, I prefer to reduce the number of active considerations in my work, take more of my time feeling them out, and not allow the day-to-day turmoil to make me too fearful of what the future may bring.”
5. Stay connected to why you started. Entrepreneurs are notorious for putting a lot of pressure on themselves. Hendrickson says, to stay positive, make sure what is motivating you lines up with your values, especially as you make sacrifices for your business.
“Are they doing it to create something they themselves want to use? Or to make money, impress their friends and peers, avoid having a ‘normal’ job, or simply prove they can do it?,'' he said.
"The sacrifices begin to take their real toll when we lose track of our expectations or they no longer match one's own values. You may start off wanting to hit the cover of Entrepreneur magazine but do you value that at the expense of your personal health? This sort of introspection can lead to critical adjustments to your approach, ones that ensure you have the right balance to not only survive the entrepreneurial experience but integrate it into your life in a way that makes it a fulfilling, long-term profession and not just a harrowing, one-shot deal.”
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