What Interviewing Seth Godin Taught Me About Startups and Success

Everything is relative. Whether in business, life or body, the only thing that matters, the only thing we can comprehend is our comparisons and past experiences.

I recently sat down with Seth Godin, a man of many credentials, successes, failures and incredible business books to boot. It was an eye opening and unexpected experience. The result of a random, passionate cold email that got through yet despite the odds it happened and if you haven’t already I’d recommend you listen to the interview in its entirety before reading this. A) because Seth’s a wicked smart dude and b) this article would contain so-called spoilers.

Competition, Comparison and Your Closest Friends

The biggest benefit of talking to Seth was upleveling my point of view. We’ve all heard that we’re the average of our five closests friends and for better or worse, the people we associate with effect on deep levels. Whether it’s internal comparisons or setting ceilings on success, the people around us weigh heavily on our ability to think bigger.

And honestly I was stunned by Seth’s concept of thinking big. If it is not going to change the world, really change the world and be something people will mourn when you’re dead, what the hell’s the purpose. You never get time back dedicated to mediocrity, to small goals – why waste a breath pursuing the pointless. I came away inspired, hope you do too.

Kickstarting Minimally Better Products

Crowdfunding’s create a cult of minimalism, or maybe just joined the movement. Either way, we talked in great lengths about upleveling expectations, expanding goals and creating Blue Oceans, rather than marginally improved products(for more on the distinctions see here).

And Seth argued most Kickstarters just added to the noise. At the time I quietly held my tongue, differing to his experience but upon reflection it’s true. I love crowdfunding. At the same time though, it is largely marginally improved or differentiated products. Minimalist wallets, cool camera accessories, the latest wearable whatevers that everyone loves…

But where is the unique value? Are we really changing the world…

No. Unfortunately too many Kickstarters and IGG entrepreneurs just making quick bucks with cool designs. And where does that leave the rest of the world?

We’re living in the era of entrepreneurs, we’re able to create startups easier than ever yet profitable, sexy online startups detract from the talent pool to solve the truly impactful problems. Energy, hunger, pollution, space…the opportunities are endless but require bigger goals and commitments than any typical Kickstarter.

The Product Doesn’t Matter Without Community

While talking to Seth something else that came up again and again was the concept of that community or the tribe – your legion of raving customers and fans excited to buy your products.

With Kickstarter this is often simplified. Inventors will build a small to medium sized launch list of friends, family and perhaps even a few legitimately interested individuals and then launch their crowdfunding campaign with their fingers crossed.

Well Seth hated this. Godin argues, convincingly I may add, that startups on Kickstarter fail from lack of fans. They launch a product, primarily initially to only friends and family and have little following or demand for the product. This create a bit of a bubble. The product launches, funds but fails to build a customer base large enough to succeed long term. The company cannot effectively market follow up products or campaigns and enter a race to acquire customers or collapse – ultimately leading to failure or dangerous compromises.

What if they’d built the fan base before?

Building trust is tough, long road. It’s Seth’s strategy of choice however, at least from what I could gather. Establish yourself as an authority in the industry before ever considering a product launch, your fans will tell you what they want. He even went so far as to say stay in your job until you’ve built the audience to unleash a product that could fuel itself.

While he’s incredibly smart and experienced, I personally disagree. Staying in a dead end job you hate rarely results in success. Launching products, even with small followings is easier than ever. With a cool Kickstarter design and a little insight into marketing you can create a product and start selling. This isn’t an end goal but stepping stone. Through this process work to build fans on your blog, treating backers right and slowly become an influencer in the community.

It’s less organic approach but rapidly accelerates with subsequent crowdfunding campaigns, ie small wins, and you can build the fan base while simultaneously creating a cool company.

And if the first business fails or even succeeds at locking itself into unspectacular, you’ve got the experience and cash flow necessary to build anew, whether for passion, profit, or purpose.

It’s Knowing When to Quit that Counts

Quitting’s bastardized in society today. Our superheroes overcome unfathomable odds, our Zuckerberg’s and Page’s persevere despite inhuman expectations and winners never ever quit…

Seth Godin says this is bullshit – and he is right.

We quit things all the time, we just don’t consider it quitting. We glorify hard work for works sake and in both business and life often rob ourselves of success in the process.

While this is where the Dip comes into play.

Winners never quit that which is worth continuing…

A simple caveat makes this cliche click. What you need to ask yourself, before even starting is is this worth doing? What are the stumbling blocks, the Dips that this business will inevitably endure and am I 100% willing to go through the fires of hell to make it happen?

Once you commit to this, not to the fairytale ending, then the hard work, grind it out mindset becomes more valuable. You know the risks, you know rewards. And you will face rough spots, make no mistake about it, but you’ve planned and accepted them already. Nothing can take you unawares.

Now if things go according to plan and your life sucks from time to time, that means you’re right on schedule, hitting blockades that crush lesser startups and clearing the waters for your own success.

Don’t be disillusioned though. Rewards not necessarily or even likely proportional to the effort. Winner’s win because they choose the battles worth fighting and give it their all.

What’s your war?

Wrapping Up

Seth Godin taught me a lot. Find your heroes and take your own shot in the dark. I don’t know a way to more rapidly crush your expectations and elevate yourself and goals than getting around others in a completely different stratosphere.

The interview opened questions for me concerning Shido, my private label products brand and even myself. What do I want to do with this life, how can I change the world and make it more incredible? These are the questions that day to day business allows us to overlook, ultimately though they are the defining questions of our lives and are neglected to our detriment.

So what battles are you fighting, whom have surrounded yourself with and are you adding value to the world….

Hosted by
Roy Morejon

Roy Morejon is the President of Enventys Partners, a leading product development, crowdfunding and ecommerce marketing agency in Charlotte, North Carolina, in charge of digital marketing strategy, client services, and agency growth.

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