Menagerie’s Final Update

We created Menagerie to make it easy for modern couples to confidently choose their wedding vendors. We envisioned a future where every couple would be able to receive personalized virtual wedding assistance and was equipped to seamlessly discover high quality vendors that fit their budget, style and vision.

Along the way, we grew our team, launched a MVP, joined an accelerator and received funding, pitched at Demo Day on both coasts, and worked very hard to deliver our vision to our couples. While there was much success to be celebrated along the way and our second launch in November showed promising initial traction, we eventually discovered that we were struggling with product-market fit.

In this reflection, I summarize and share our biggest learnings, and express gratitude to all those who inspired and supported us along the way. I hope this can not only become a valuable read for existing and future founders, but also motivation knowing that regardless of the outcome, you will have helped people and/or businesses along the way and that this startup journey will forever be one of the most rewarding experiences and greatest learning opportunities of your life.

Advertisements

Redefining Success

We live in a world where achievement defines us, not our character, generosity, passions or dreams. And that “achievement” is defined as money, fame or power. Society continually defines success for individuals at every age, erasing our unadulterated aspirations. The media paints the picture of a successful individual with their top lists of industry leaders, highest paying jobs, and most likely to succeed with this type of major in college. Most recently, publications have attempted to rank colleges differently with evaluating top colleges being institutions where students are more likely to result in a higher income…While the intention to move away from school prestige to a more practical ROI on education is thoughtful, this creates an even bigger issue of perceiving academic success with the ability to make more money, defining post-college success as income. Why do we try so hard to quantify success?

This is why we have cycles of graduating students wanting to be investment bankers and consultants one year, and engineers and entrepreneurs another year. But do any of them Really want to be those things? Schools react to this phenomenon and start creating programs that encourage more students to pursue these careers, asking alumni to support the school for such initiatives, and hoping to rank top on the list for schools that support careers in the field. And It’s a dirty cycle.

In college, I had started a program called BrightEyes out of my frustration that my school didn’t provide opportunities to easily get my foot in the door with the best companies. I got my first job out of college by impulsively traveling to New York and demanding to meet with executives at companies that I wanted to work for, and sneaking into USC’s recruiting session and pitching myself for the job. Soon after I started the program, I realized it wasn’t about providing career opportunities through BrightEyes, but helping students rediscover their true passions and unleashing and augmenting their inner voices to ask themselves what they truly aspired to do. Success in the program became defined as helping students become self aware and honest with themselves.

I’ve recently read numerous articles on “following your passion is bad advice.” At first, I nodded in agreement and part of me has always believed that those “successful” people say it, but that’s never how they got there. But now I revisit that piece of advice, and I realize there’s more to interpret in what appears to be such a shallow lesson. We can’t take the statement literally, rather we have to understand it to be a metaphor for chasing our curiosities and fearlessly trying new things to discover what makes us happiest – you don’t know what you love until you’ve already experienced it. “Follow your passion” is about happiness. While this may appear obvious and so many also preach happiness as success, few let this drive how they make decisions in life, especially when we are young and vulnerable.

I wish the word Failure didn’t exist. For so long, I’ve feared it and let it influence me. It’s a word that people constantly use incorrectly because, the fact is, it cannot be defined. It is a word that relies on short-lived perception and interpretation. It is not about being fearless of failure either. It is that we do no see failure, we don’t acknowledge it’s existence, because the decisions we make are ours and those are the best decisions we can make. Our experiences shape us, and we always come out stronger than we entered. It’s not failure, but opportunity. You cannot fail when you don’t believe it’s possible.

 

Let’s reevaluate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and challenge ourselves to not fear the unknown and rid any possibilities of failure from our decisions. Let’s save future generations from becoming a victim to the existing notions of success and failure.

Tiffany’s Birthday Fundraiser for BrightEyes

Please help me celebrate my 25th birthday by joining me in contributing to BrightEyes, a mentorship program dedicated to providing college students a unique opportunity to explore different career paths.

Four years ago, I started BrightEyes in hopes to make mentorship and career opportunities more accessible to students. With your help and generosity, we will be able to send a class of students to San Francisco, where they will be able to meet with their role models and future mentors as well as tour leading companies in startup, tech and venture capital.

I’ve also decided that I would be matching the total donations made on my campaign page, up to $1,000, so please consider giving!

To be successful, we all require someone willing to invest in our potential and vision. We’ve all had someone invest in us along the way. Join me in investing in these students’ vision and potential.

Contribute to BrightEyes: http://brighteyes-students.org/donations/

If you are not in a position to donate monetarily, please like BrightEyes on Facebook and share the program with friends & family, on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else you’d like!

Thank you for helping me celebrate my birthday this year.

My Notes on “Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future”

I’ve decided to share my notes and thoughts on Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. Additionally, I’ve also embedded suggested reads in my notes that are relevant to the topic or chapter. For those who haven’t read the book (read it!), here’s a preview of it and some of the more powerful takeaways for me while reading it. For those who have read it, I hope this is a helpful reminder for you and a good reference as you continue to help build our future.

Note: Comments in parentheses are my own.

Zero to One
Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

(1) The Challenge of the Future

The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.

By creating new technologies, we rewrite the plan of the world.
Debate: Is there a formula for entrepreneurship?

The single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Conventional beliefs only ever come to appear arbitrary and wrong in retrospect; whenever one collapses, we call the old belief a bubble.

What triggered dot com bust / bubble pop?

Dot Com Timeline

(2) Party Like It’s 1999

4 Lessons from Dot Com Crash:
1 – Make Incremental Advances

2 – Stay Lean and Flexible: lean = unplanned. You should not know what your business will do; planning is arrogant and inflexible. Instead you should try things out, “iterate” and treat entrepreneurship as agnostic experimentation.

3 – Improve on the Competition: don’t try to create a new market prematurely. The only way to know you have a real business is to start with an already existing customer, so you should build your company by improving on recognizable products already offered by successful competition

4 – Focus on Product, not Sales: technology is primarily about product development, not distribution

( Did companies like Product Hunt have a market-ready product first or did they build with the market and succeed with distribution as a result of social media?)

(3) All Happy Companies are Different

Monopolists, by contrast, disguise their monopoly by framing their market as the union of several large markets:

(Examples)
Search Engine X Mobile Phones X Wearable
Computers X Self-driving Cars

Monopoly is the condition of every successful business

(4) The Ideology of Competition
Carl von Clausewitz
Sun Tzu

(5) Last Mover Advantage

A great business is defined by its ability to generate cash flows in the future.
(Bubbles form when individuals inflate a company’s ability to generate CF in the future!)

Characteristics of a Monopoly:
1 – Proprietary technology: rule-of-thumb prop. tech must be at least 10X better than its closest substitute
2 – Network effects: network effect businesses must start with especially small markets
3 – Economies of scale
4 – Branding

People then products then traffic then revenue – Marissa Myer’s rebrand of Yahoo!

(It’s a balance of first-mover advantage and last-mover advantage)

(6) You are Not a Lottery Ticket

“Success is never accidental.” – Jack Dorsey on twitter

(Most people believe getting a job in finance is impossible without previous finance experience or technical skill set. The same is true for when people think about getting a job in tech. It’s possible to create the experience for yourself by accessing the same resources, engaging in the same conversations and building the same relationships with those already in those roles in the industry. So really, nothing is impossible because nothing can’t be learned.)

(Diversification of experiences and skill sets. In my opinion, specialization is overrated. I haven’t felt the need to specialize to be successful, only to be good at what I’m currently doing. And if you’re doing what you’re passionate about, you can’t fail.)

You’ve spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse resume to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready – for nothing in particular.

Indefinite Optimism

Today, “good design” is an aesthetic imperative
It’s true that every great entrepreneur is first and foremost a designer
Visual + Experiential Perfection

(Design your business)

(7) Follow the Money

Two Rules for VC:
1. Only invest in companies that have the potential to return the value of the entire fund
2. Because rule number one is so restrictive, there can’t be any other rules

People who understand the power law will hesitate more than others when it comes to founding a new venture: they know how tremendously successful they could become by joining the very best company while it’s growing fast.

(8) Secrets

What secret is nature not telling you?
What secrets are people not telling you?

The actual truth is that there are many more secrets left to find, but they will yield only to relentless searchers.

A great company is a conspiracy to change the world.

Thiel’s Law: a startup messed up at it’s foundation cannot be fixed

(9) Foundations

To anticipate likely sources of misalignment in any company, it’s useful to distinguish between three concepts:
1. Ownership: who legally owns a company’s equity?
2. Possession: who actually runs the company on a day-to-day basis?
3. Control: who formally governs the company’s affairs?

Anyone who doesn’t own stock options or draw a regular salary from your company is fundamentally misaligned

Any kind of cash is more about the present than the future.

(10) The Mechanics of Mafia

‘Company culture’ doesn’t exist apart from the company itself: no company has a culture; every company is a culture

Never outsource recruiting

Why should the 20th employee join your company?

2 Great Points of Evaluation of a Candidate:
1. Good candidates can answer why your mission is compelling or why you’re doing something important that no one else is going to get done
2. Why is your company a good match for the individual personally

Everyone at your company should be different in the same way

The early team should share a common, unique obsession/idea that relates to the company’s mission
(Value propositions must be defined early on. Essentially, you’re forming a cult. Airbnb is one of the best examples of a great culture that’s continued despite its growth in size)

On the inside, every individual should be sharply distinguished by her work

Defining roles reduce conflicts
– Most fights inside a company happen when colleagues compete for the same responsibilities; startups face an especially high risk of this since job roles are fluid at the early stages
– Eliminating competition makes it easier for everyone to build the kinds of long-term relationships that transcend mere professionalism

Every company is also its own ecosystem

(11) If You Build It, Will They Come?

The engineer’s grail is a product great enough that “it sells itself.” But anyone who would actually say this about a real product must be lying…

If you’ve invented something new but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business – no matter how good the product.

Advertising works for startups when CAC and CLTV make every other distribution channel uneconomical (i.e. The advertisements justify the method of acquisition because of users and revenue achieved…all about ROI)

A product is viral if its core functionality encourages users to invite their friends to become users too. (Network effects in The Networked Age)

Just get on distribution channel to work, then have a great business

Important to have PR strategy; selling company to media is necessary part to selling to everyone else

(12) Man and Machine

People compete for jobs and for resources; computers compete for neither

But big data is usually dumb data. Computers can find patterns that elude humans, but they don’t know how to compare patterns from different sources or how to interpret complex behaviors. Actionable insights can only come from a human analyst

(Will this statement always be true? Maybe the human role will change but will not become obsolete with new technologies that require human guidance but predictive analytics will become so powerful that patters across sources can and will be effectively interpreted by computers)

(13) Seeing Green

Seven questions every business must answer:
1. The Engineering Questions: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
* Proprietary technology significantly differentiates?
2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
* Identify and Own a niche market
4. The People Question: Do you have the right team?
5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your products?
6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
* The Last Mover
7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Myths of Social Entrepreneurship:
“…corporations have great power, but they’re shackled to the profit motive; nonprofits pursue the public interest, but they’re weak players in the wider economy. Social entrepreneurs aim to combine the best of both worlds and ‘do well by doing good.’ Usually they end up doing neither.”

Great companies have secrets: specific reasons for success that other people don’t see.

(14) The Founder’s Paradox

A unique founder can make authoritative decisions, inspire strong personal loyalty, and plan ahead for decades.

Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime, but they usually act with short time horizons.

*We need founders…a great founder can bring out the best work from everybody at his or her company

(Conclusion) Stagnation or Singularity?

“Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better – to go from 0 to 1.”

Give Thanks

I have a lot to be thankful for this past year. I like to think back to where I was exactly a year ago today and what I was doing. A year ago, I was at Duff & Phelps valuing companies and working part-time at 3D Hubs. I was just discovering the potential of 3D printing to enable us to produce our imaginations and unleash a new wave of innovative businesses. I was planning for the second BrightEyes trip in San Francisco, focusing on the startup and venture capital industries.

Today, I am at SOLS, where I’m learning what it truly means to build and grow a product, brand, community and company. More importantly, we’re discovering how to do it with both the offline and online consumers, and the growing consumption of social, mobile and video. I’ve had the fortune to work closely with a female founder and role model that is sharing with me the challenges and excitement of building a business as a female in a traditionally male-dominated industry. I am thankful for this opportunity.

I first learned about SOLS through a mentor. In our lives, we come across many passions and sometimes our interests ask us to change our current course. Mentors help guide us down untraveled paths, trust that we will succeed and take multiple chances on us. To be successful, we all require someone willing to invest in our potential and vision. I am thankful for my mentors.

What we receive is also what we need to give. I freely offer mentorship to those who ask or need it. I am reminded to pay it forward by my mentors. But I’ve realized that mentoring is also a mutual benefit. In those conversations you have with your mentee about what they’re struggling with, what they want to learn, where they envision themselves, you also learn more about yourself. Teaching leads to self-reflection as you search through your own experiences to provide advice. It is also incredibly rewarding to experience success through another individual, a feeling that cannot be replicated. I am thankful for my mentees.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a person’s career is lonely. We switch companies, teams and roles over the years and these changes in our career are singular decisions and advances. What allows us to confidently make these decisions is not only our own ambitions, but also the support from our family and friends. My family has never questioned my dreams and decisions. In fact there is no wrong decision or concern for taking risks. It’s this support system and trust that has allowed me to have no regrets. I am thankful for my family.

Friends are the other component of our support system. They remind us how we can choose happiness and live our lives. People live to connect with others and share stories. We cannot thrive alone. I am thankful for my friends, old and new.

And finally, everyone should thank themselves. Every day, you succeed at some personal challenge without knowing it, it could be as trivial of a task as completing a book, attending a meeting on time, cooking a new recipe, going to the gym, meeting someone new or calling home. We’re often too harsh with ourselves and never reflect to acknowledge our own accomplishments. It’s very easy to be unhappy with ourselves, but this is not unusual and in fact, you should occasionally feel unsatisfied with yourself because you expect more out of yourself, you know you’re meant for greatness. But just be sure to celebrate yourself along the way and as much as possible. Thank you, self.

 

Happy Birthday tiffanydstone.com

Exactly 1 year ago I published my first post – Potential and Self-Identity. When I first started, I had so many ideas and thoughts I wanted to write about that the pace at which I was publishing posts couldn’t keep up with what was going on in my head. A year later, I have built an online library of my thoughts and interests to share with the world.

This blog has opened my mind up to the world. It has challenged me to formulate a unique opinion on many different areas and share it with others. It’s difficult to be a contrarian and even more difficult to be in agreement but for reasons different than the obvious ones. Forming a true opinion requires understanding more than the topic itself and being able to identify parallels or points of intersection with other ideas or events. This means asking a lot of questions, reading and researching, and talking to people. And when we are able to do this, we realize how transparent and comprehensible the world becomes.

I encourage others to write not only because it is a valuable learning experience, but also because we become more self-aware in the process. We are able to hear ourselves when we read our writings. Our writings expose our thoughts and emotions. I believe self-awareness is what enables us to improve ourselves and grow.

These days, your voice can be louder online than elsewhere, and people will listen more by reading. The internet is powerful and it has allowed me to be heard. I challenge you to bring your voice online and through writing.

Where to Write:

         

Post highlights from this past year:

Lessons Learned from the History of Car Sharing

OH The Places Food Trucks Will Go!

Manufacturing Then and Now. Made in U.S.A.

The Modern Woman – Standing Out

I’m Lovin’ It: Going Global by Going Local

A Bubble? Or Are We Just Calling It That?

Show Me the Money

Twitter & My 5-Year Anniversary