The Secret to Hitting Startup Gold Twice
I can't speak for other entrepreneurs, but for me there were few challenges more daunting than leaving my first major success. I had been working as the VP of marketing at Mint when we were acquired by Intuit, a software company focusing on personal finance. As the exit celebrations ended and the backslapping came to a close, I geared up to throw myself into the world of corporate America as an employee of our new owner, a leading Fortune 500 company.
While the experience was largely positive, I quickly found myself stifled by the inevitable bureaucracy and internal politics. I knew it was time to find something new, but to be completely honest, I was petrified. Could I do it again? Was I capable of leading a startup or had I just stumbled upon the right mix of a great team and equally great timing?
While these fears still have a tendency to poke their heads up from time to time, starting Visually, my current company, remains the highlight of my career. There is something uniquely gratifying about building a company from nothing more than a concept and watching it grow, adapt and develop. Obviously, it's much easier to say this now as the company has raised numerous rounds of funding and passed many of the minefields an early-stage startup must traverse, but even in the earliest days we knew that we had hit on something important. Which segues perfectly into the real question -- how do you know what to do next?
The key in my case was to start with something that my team and I already knew well.
While at Mint, we had developed a reputation for both our approach to marketing and the formats we chose to emphasize. In approach, we believed that for a personal finance technology to succeed with a younger generation, the condescending attitude with which the sector had long been characterized needed to be replaced by engagement and conversation. We didn't want to sound like your parents or your banker, we wanted to be the friend you trusted for advice.
Tactically, we tried to find the balance between telling stories and standing out in a cluttered and crowded online environment. Our eureka moment came after seeing that our visual content was receiving 30 times more traffic than our standard materials. This content and its extended reach allowed us to engage with users and to provide detailed, complex information in a format that was easily consumed online and on social media. By emphasizing visual content's storytelling capacity, we were able to reach tens of millions of users with information that was normally reserved for one-on-one meetings at the bank.
When it came time to strike out on our own, we used these successes as a starting point and focused our efforts on trying to take them to new heights. We built a marketplace called Visually that matched design talent with Fortune 500 brands, startups, publishers and anyone else looking for a high quality way to maximize their visual content.
By tapping into personal experiences, we were able to avoid many of the mistakes we would have encountered in an entirely foreign venture. Research is critical, and an entrepreneurial spirit can help you overcome many obstacles, but if you're going to launch a new venture, starting with something you know can be a huge advantage.
With Visually, we took the part of our past jobs we cherished most and made it the core focus. Why help one brand utilize visual content as a platform for engagement, when you can help hundreds of brands from a range of sectors do so? Also, because it was something we felt so passionate about, we were much better at identifying different ways to channel these insights into new products, features and updates. The passion was driving our creativity, and the company's growth was fueled by these ideas.
Starting a company is difficult no matter what the circumstances, but it is made especially more challenging when you need to leave something good and stable behind. So if you're going to take the plunge into the world of startups and entrepreneurism, you'd be best served to launch from a place of strength.
Related: Aaron Patzer: How I Started Mint.com