It’s here! I’ve now officially been running my website for a little over a year. It’s been a crazy period of my life. I’ve learned so much more than I thought was possible, and I became a better person through the process. Here were the five most important lessons that I’ve learned.
1. Be persistent
If I’ve learned anything from running a website with content that hinges on a CEO or founder replying to an email, it’s that you have to keep trying. I remember my first batch of emails pretty well. I spent several hours drafting up a general template that I thought was sufficient before sending them out to a couple of people, expecting to immediately get enthusiastic yeses.
That didn’t happen. In fact, it took me almost twenty emails and a couple of cold calls to finally get a response. For most emails thereafter, my response rate was sub 10%. Eventually, I figured out that when I started sending follow-ups, the chance that I got a response doubled, and it got even better if I sent a third follow-up. Even more, I began to experiment with different email formats, trying out different styles and ways to organize them and recording results that were favorable. Moreover, trying to reach out to these people over other forms of social media helped increase my visibility.
The most important lesson here is, if you truly care about getting something, whether it is obtaining an interview with a coveted CEO or hitting that next benchmark, you need to be persistent. One try isn’t enough. Two tries aren’t enough. Many times, the third try won’t be the charm either.
Having patience, planning out a strategy, and going even when a challenge seems insurmountable will reward you with what you want and sometimes more. Many of the founders I interviewed, after starting their company, spent over a year without any revenue, but because they tirelessly pursued the next customer, they were able to sign their first contract.
For instance, Dealflicks went a year without a theater signing onto their service, constantly switching co-founders, and having trouble developing their software. Despite the hardships, Sean Wycliffe kept going and eventually, his movie ticket platform based on supply and demand exploded and is now used in hundreds of theater branches around the United States.
2. Figure out what direction you want to go in sooner rather than later
For six months, I was completely confused about what I was doing. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted out of my blog or how to write the stories. I was trying to do much. I wanted everything in the beginning: the world my viewer, spinning gold by sitting and writing for a couple of hours, and simply asking for an interview from any CEO and getting a response.
Alas, running anything without a purpose is a death sentence. Almost every company I have interviewed so far has reiterated this premise in some way: a startup with no focus will die. That’s it. For example, Jackson Boyar from Mentor Collective explained to me that he had run his business around too broad of a mission, in the beginning, attempting to use mentorship from parents to high schools to universities. Only after he had thought about his vision more did he end up focusing on universities, eventually partnering with top schools like Tufts, Washington University at St. Louis, and Johns Hopkins.
If you don’t laser down on one goal, you’ll run out of money, other resources, or someone may beat you at your own game. Personally, after being unable to figure out why I wasn’t going anywhere, I finally realized that without one solid mission to fulfill and a solid strategy to back it, I was destined for failure.
I pivoted. In March, I wrote up a list of promises to myself about what I was going to do and how I was going to do it (hint: one thing to do). Furthermore, I rewrote my email pitch and did a lot more research on the CEO’s I was cold emailing. I read every article about the person and their company online. I also looked for social media outlets they were active on and tried to reach them there.
My numbers started to improve after that. If I had figured out exactly what I was looking for when I had first started, I could have avoided half a year of wasted time trying to figure out what I was attempting to do with my website. That’s not to say that I didn’t learn anything from the companies that I interviewed during that time, but I hadn’t learned how to apply their lessons just yet to my own website.
3. Accept the Rejection
The first time that I got rejected for an interview, it was a horrible feeling. For many new entrepreneurs, it can feel like your effort has been useless. I’ve learned some key things to help me deal with rejection better.
- Realize that rejection is inevitable. No matter how great what you’re doing is, there will always be someone out there who it’s not a right fit for or who doesn’t have time for it.
- It’s not personal. They’re not rejecting you (most of the time) because they think you are some horrendous person. Relax.
- Take it as a lesson. If someone’s rejected you, try to figure out where you possibly went wrong and try to fix it. Actively ask them for suggestions after rejection so you can figure out how to improve.
Ultimately, rejection is a good thing because it teaches you to get a thicker skin and push through even though it seems like things are tough. Jia Jiang’s TED talk on getting 100 rejections a day is the perfect example of how getting rejected van desensitize yourself for failure.
Accept the feeling, let it wash over you, and then rise out of it twice as strong.
4. Things have ups and downs. Realize that your worst days will be mixed with your best days.
You will have horrible days. You’ll have days where you just want to despair and you question your motivation for doing what you are doing. These days might turn into weeks or months. Treat it like a roller coaster though. You might be going down for a long time, and it might seem like you’re heading face first for the ground, but if you are constantly adapting, thinking ahead, and being persistent, then you’ll have good days too.
One of the hardest parts about running your own thing is that you’ll have extreme emotional ups and downs. Brett Kopf had to figure out the hard way that emotional resilience was the key to keeping a sane mind when running his company Remind. For me, I remember one day at the beginning of the summer when I felt so confident about what I was doing. I had just gotten a bunch of interviews, I was writing like a madman, and I was elated. A few days later, the person I was supposed to have an interview with didn’t show up for the call and I went for a stretch of time where nobody responded to any of emails.
Blowing through my queue of stories, it felt like I was not going to be able to keep going, but then some people started responding again, and I realized that I hit this cycle every month. I get a bunch of interviews, I’m writing well, and I feel happy. Then something happens and I go empty-handed for a while. Being able to expect these ups and downs has greatly improved my emotional resilience.
5. Improve your workflow by taking notes on what works and what doesn’t work along with where your time is going
This is probably the most underrated thing I learned. When I first started, it would take me a ridiculously long time to transcribe, outline, write, and edit a story, but as time went on, I began to make my workflow more efficient by tracking my time using a Pomodoro timer and cutting out things that weren’t working for me. For example, I used to type all my transcriptions, and it would take roughly 3-5 minutes to type one minute of an interview. On the other hand, when I started using voice, it cut my transcription time in half.
Likewise, I used to do all my outlines digitally, but afterward, my mind would be in a disarray and it would take an incredibly long time to organize my thoughts and create something coherent from the transcript. Because I’m a visual thinker and I enjoy seeing how different themes are connected, I changed my approach by doing whiteboard outlines. I use themes as central points and draw connections between different things the interviewee talked about. I also like to draw out the concepts as images because it helps ingrain the idea into my mind.
Overall, I cut my total interview to publish time by around 40% just by optimizing my workflow.
Setting up a business and starting your own company is hard – evident from all the interviews that I’ve had. The key thing to do though when you are starting is to embrace the process. In the past year, I’ve learned so much more about myself and I’ve improved my writing by miles.
I’m glad I did it.