I’m back with the monthly memo. And I’m going to start this one by asking y’all to take a deep breath, because it’s been a long 40 days since I began this newsletter. But I’m not alone in the sentiment of being a bit more tired than usual, it’s been a lot of really long days.
When I read that letter again, part of me feels the same as I did then: there are glimpses of fatigue along with a healthy level of founder optimism. But my sentiment in the last letter about battening down the hatches was no joke. The 6 am wake-ups and 14-hour work days haven’t quite let up, and while it does feel like I’m moving at lightspeed, there’s still a feeling of “hurry up and wait.” This letter, in large part, is for my fellow founder friends who are continuing to build amidst a financial winter unlike we’ve seen before.
All that said, if you’re going to stick with a startup during an economic downturn, I strongly believe in the importance of – as a founder – outperforming and inspiring those around you. In truth, that can be a very difficult thing to do when you’re young and everyone you work with has more experience than you.
That means you’ll have to figure out what your “secret sauce” is in order for you to stay ahead of the pack. I’ve found that nobody can prescribe the right sauce to any person, because the value we bring to our respective startups differs from one to the other. In my case, my “secret sauce” is my obsession with productivity and capturing information that can be leveraged later. I try not to let a single plausible idea – or concept that could improve my life or help me achieve my goals – go undocumented. This isn’t productivity for work I’m talking about, but a personal life management system.
For you, your secret sauce might be communicating the most outrageous concepts in the simplest of ways. Or maybe it’s showing up on time for people, something I haven’t been very good with recently. Whatever your secret sauce, use that each morning to deliver your unique value to whatever vendetta you’re building against. Focusing on one vendetta at a time keeps the stress levels down :)
But if you’re young, now is the time to be pulling all-nighters and risking it all to change the world. Stick with me as I tell you about the last 40 days since I wrote y’all... and apologies for the delay. Here we go!
This month I’ve been meeting with lots of different investors, from venture funds to angels. The feedback and interest in what we’re building is strong: it’s never been so obvious how terrible of an investment college is for Gen Z. Our challenge is straight up ambitious: use AI to tailor online education to get you employed in under 3 months. As we head into the holiday season, we’re focused on our beta users currently taking courses, and driving towards our MVP to open our doors to the internet.
We’ve made some exciting progress this month onboarding beta testers for Audo Learn, pushing the limits of what our beta can handle before our MVP opens in January. But even that statement feels like a blessing when I think back to the beginning of this year when we didn’t even know if the concept would resonate (we did tests, but ya never know). I’ve been doing live walkthrough onboardings with some of our beta testers, and it’s been really helpful to get that user feedback in real-time.
I was planning on telling everyone how many career tracks we’d launch with in January. But we may have a surprise in the works
Audo is hitting the road, and we’ve applied to some of EdTech’s biggest opportunities:
- Myself, Andrew (CTO), and Ahmad (Partnerships) will be attending CES in January: would love to connect with anyone thinking of going!
- You’ll see us in a booth at ASU+GSV where we’ll be looking to connect with new partners, demo our tech, and learn more about the future of education.
- We’ll also be at SXSW to join hundreds of excellent companies working to reimagine the future of education. A hackathon is also in the works; more details coming soon!
I also had the pleasure of speaking on a couple of podcasts and Yahoo Finance to get the word out about Audo, which were really cool. I’m just a verbose dude, and am working on refining my answers, because I love rabbit holes. Conveniently located here to peruse:
Man. This one is tough. As I spoke about in my last letter I’ve taken a step back from Nota (Previously named The Doe), to allow Josh Brandau the new CEO of Nota to bring the organization some much-needed focus.
That much-needed focus also came with a lot of innovative ideas, and a lot of questions around building a sustainable technology company in a struggling publishing industry. The problems are nuanced, but I’ll start with this: it’s very difficult to watch something you’ve built for so long come screeching to a halt, as we evaluate the most viable route forward.
All that to say, the Nota team has made it past many of the “rough times,” and momentum should begin to pick up soon with more clarity on what we’re building. But it took some time to get here. I don’t have much more to share at this point, but I’m hopeful that we’ll have some really exciting updates about Nota by the end of the year.
The Guin team has been growing significantly lately. We’re now a family of about 20 people, and proudly a 90% black-employed organization.
With our growing team also comes an evolution of concept. Beginning this year, Guin has focused on creating sustainability for the label, and we’ve made major moves toward ensuring that this happens. We’ve fleshed out our revenue model, and the label itself has undergone a huge in-service operation: everyone’s jazzed for 2023.
We have big dreams for Guin, and Misha is chipping away at all of them daily. Imagine a Guin studio in every major city. Imagine an incubator focused on artist development for aspiring artists who are financially disadvantaged. Imagine transparency at the core of every deal we do.
There’s a lot that’s been cooking in the oven that we’ll start to share slowly, but October was a temperature check on the dream, and it’s strong!
Across the Board
Culture has been a big focus of mine recently. It’s the driving factor of success for a startup, which is why I’m grateful to highlight an amazing culture being built at Guin. Misha has done an amazing job of driving cohesion among an ever-evolving team against a new pivot. But culture ebbs and flows. Across my organizations, we’ve had to let people go as we’ve made aggressive pivots and evaluated what the organizations best need to be successful. We’ve also seen amazing moments where we’ve gained explosive growth at Audo, meeting our goals, only to see the goalposts move into arenas like fundraising or team growth: which inevitably weaken culture. The startup game can be frustrating, but I also believe that building sustainable companies that employ many, and drive obvious solutions to industry-wide problems, is the greatest use of my drive and time.
At Guin, I’m seeing glimpses of a really amazing culture. At times, artists will tear into staff, but our team is learning how to deal with it. We are learning when to own up to a fault or hole in our startup processes and to recognize the moments when it’s not our fault. It’s amazing to see this growth in Guin under Misha’s leadership.
At Nota, the team and culture have suffered a lot. I’m grateful that all the team members we let go, or chose to leave during our pivot, have all managed to gain employment and make the next moves in their careers. That’s the best outcome you could hope for as a founder who will inevitably make mistakes. In my case, it was seeing hockey stick-like traction without building proper monetization strategies. To the team members who have moved on, thank you for trusting in me for so long. I’m proud of the work we did and proud of you all for keeping the drive and finding new opportunities to work: I can’t wait to cheer you on on your new paths.
For the folks still at Nota, I think we understand how daunting the challenge we’re tackling is, but I also think we’ve figured out how we’ll be able to operate and build. I know you all will love what we release next.
It’s been a tough month. I think most of my fellow entrepreneurs are changing their expectations of what the end of this year would look like. The hours have gotten longer and the work more extensive. I’m sure I’m not the only founder who’s been facing 14-hour days with no lunch.
But I don’t want you to think it’s all doom and gloom.
This past month has been a lesson on the importance of building connections and keeping an open mind, even under the intensity of building and raising. From chats with investors, to dinners with fellow founders, there’s truly no better way to get a perspective on what you’re building than by hearing other people’s stories. It re-motivates and re-excites you about the path you’ve chosen.
You never know what kind of insights or opportunities will come out of a conversation – and you are more likely to find them when you are receptive and present.
I attended an event on the Future of Work this month, intending to connect with VCs and find opportunities to pitch Audo. Surprisingly, though, the best connection I made wasn’t with a potential investor; it was with another founder. His company is creating tech that can quickly recognize patterns in large data sets. In connecting, we were able to follow up with meetings, learn about their technology, and develop new ideas that will save my team hundreds of man-hours. Had I been narrowly focused on networking with VCs, I would have completely missed out on that learning opportunity.
When you're building, staying laser-focused on your MVP and fundraising can be tempting, but there's a lot to be said for staying impartial and open-minded. In fact, the early building stage might be the most important time to remain objective and open. Remaining malleable and adaptive as a company culture will result in more effective pivots that keep you on track, rather than breaking you.
George Bernard Shaw said it best: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
I mentioned I’d talk about productivity in these newsletters, but really I’ve just been building out my life on Click-Up more than ever these days. So for now, here are some contact management apps to help you improve the relationships in your life. It’s been a very interesting, niche, craze. And there are so many options from Dex, to Clay.Earth, Contacts+, and more.
In January, I shared that I got a publishing deal for a book proposal on civil discourse. I’m excited to say that the final manuscript has been submitted to the publisher, and we’ve approved the first set of proofs. On the long road of publishing a book, we are within sight of the finish line!
We’re 5 months away from our publishing date, so expect to see more on this soon. I’ll likely do a cover reveal in November!