I'm delighted to have featured so many conversations with makers dating back to when I started this site.
I am especially delighted that Tara Hunt, someone whose business stamina and persistence I've admired for years, agreed to make the time to answer a few questions about entrepreneurship and Buyosphere, her company and product.
Congratulations on the recent financing and making all kinds of news.
I followed with interest the evolution of Buyosphere and your conversation about life in a startup, which you captured brilliantly here.
In my experience, what you say about learning to understand what to ignore is key to any kind of venture, from free lancing and consulting to working at a corporate job. And I cannot overstate the importance of finding supporters and mentors as well.
(1.) How should we go about seeking mentors? And how do we go about understanding the importance of filtering the feedback we receive?
Tara: I seek out mentors on a daily basis. When there are people I admire, I reach out to start building relationships right away. I don't ask them to be my mentors without building the relationship over a period of time, though.
Many people make that mistake. I get emails all of the time that say, "Hi Tara! I really admire your post/presentation/interview. Will you mentor me?"
My time is limited, so if I don't have a relationship with that person, I don't feel incredibly compelled to answer. But if I know a person for a while and get to understand what she is doing, I'm very likely to want to help.
So, I build relationships and when the time is right and I've given enough to ask (key: what can you offer a person you admire beforehand?), that person you thought would be out of your reach is usually more than happy to support your growth.
As for which feedback to take and which to filter out, that's a tough one that requires a mix of experience, gut instinct and openness to listen.
With Buyosphere, we reminded ourselves not to remain married to the solution, but always keep aligned to the problem we are trying to solve. The problem we are trying to solve is the amount of choice and not enough clear choice in online shopping.
Lots of people try to solve this in lots of different ways. We think it's tapping into the interest graph and crowdsourcing that will be the answer, not algorithms that try to determine taste. People have an inherent sense of taste, computers don't.
Buyosphere is summed up elegantly as ask, answer, add, discover products and people.
In your presentation, you underscore the importance of solving the right problem. The lesson in the story is figuring out a way to iterate faster to keep driving to the parts of the experiment that work.
(2.) How do we get savvier in recognizing when we're solving the right problem?
Tara: The secret is not to be married to the HOW and instead, understand the WHY and WHO of it.
I love that story about the human-powered flying machine. The process itself was broken. It ties nicely into the whole lean startup movement.
When we first set out to solve online shopping, we thought about it like everybody else: solving it with filtering through algorithms. We were focused on the HOW and so was everybody else.
We stepped back to look at the WHY and WHO. Basically how people were trying to get around it already.
That's when I noticed lots of people using the 'lazy web' - asking on Twitter and Facebook. I thought about my own behavior when I've been looking for something. It was so simple it was right in front of us, but we weren't looking for the right answer.
One of your recent posts at the Buyosphere blog underscored the importance of seeking feedback in managing expectations.
This is something that fascinates me because I believe in the power of communication and conversation to help people connect with a product and brand.
(3.) What has been the biggest ah-ha from your experience?
Tara: People will do the work involved (signing up, filling stuff out, taking even hours to carefully craft something) if they know that there will be a fruitful outcome. This happens in a couple of ways:
1. Early adopters use it and get huge benefits and start telling people how beneficial using the product is. Their followers trust their advice and try it and spread the word themselves. (i.e. influencer marketing)
2. The product has a SUPER low barrier to entry so people give it a whirl and enjoy it (i.e. re-pin this - one click interaction)
3. The reward/benefit is clear, apparent and easy to understand, so users will take the time (i.e. fill this out and you'll get free stuff)
We're still trying to drop the barrier to entry enough to keep spammers out while we try to give adopters who are using the product an amazing enough experience to talk about AND trying to communicate the product clearly, showing the benefits.
It's not as straight forward as it sounds!
(4.) Are startups finding operations more important these days? Actually doing business, rather than just flipping brands.
Tara: Well...funding isn't a business model, so we all have to figure out how to build a business while we build a product people love.
Hopefully the two go hand in hand and starting earlier than later is key.
(5.) If you were to share one word of advice with business leaders, what would that word be?
Tara: Go into it thinking that you have no other choice than to make this work. Giving up prematurely is the number one reason for startups failing. ;)
In a culture that seems to favor fast results and getting out quickly, we forget that real wealth is created by laying strong foundations and building the business over time.
The lesson to me is staying with a product/service long enough to learn about what works and do more of it. That's the magic.
I'm very grateful that Tara could make the time to share what she learned with us.
Presenting the Conversation Agent WORKSHOP where we will work with CEOs who have built a business.
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