The other night I was at a small restaurant for dinner. I overheard a conversation at the next table.
(prepare for a total san francisco eavesdrop)
This woman was trying to convince her friend to start a company that compiles user tokens across banner ad publishers that asdf fidffj oueritjlfgdjkl erkgjdflkdfkgjgddfkgj [insert really boring adtech thing here].
I wanted to jump to their table and yell “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SAVE YOURSELVES.”
I founded a big ad network. I spent years on it, had 125 employees and we generated more than $100 million in revenue.
But I didn’t care about ads.
Oh, there are people who do. And there are people who are passionate about different aspects of the online ad business—big data, behavioral science, design and consumer psychology.
But I wasn’t one of them.
(Many of them worked at AdBrite and were/are awesome.)
But we hear that entrepreneurs need to be passionate. My justification was that I’d always been passionate about building things, getting users, and seeing people use my stuff.
But by that definition, any entrepreneur can be passionate about anything.
Some of those things did well, some didn’t. But none reached their potential or got as big as their biggest competitors.
I would dread going to adtech conferences.
I’d hang out with entrepreneurs who were super into the biz—who later sold their companies for much more than I did.
Then there were guys like me, who were all “I built a thing. Check it out.”
For the past two years, I’ve been running a service for musicians called DistroKid. We help musicians get their music into iTunes, Spotify and other places. This year we’ll generate over $5 million in royalties for 50,000 artists and bootstrap past $1 million yearly recurring revenue run-rate.
And people love it. Check out these Unsolicited Tweets O’ Love.
And not just people.
Back in 2007, the mighty Marc Andreessen wrote about “Product/Market Fit.” You’ve achieved Product/Market Fit when the thing you’ve been building (and pivoting, tweaking and changing…) finally becomes useful to people.
Chris Dixon talks about Founder/Market Fit. He says it’s important to know your market well.
But you can build something great for a market—a market you know well—that you don’t give a shit about.
Most entrepreneurs do.
You’ve heard musicians say they can’t pick a favorite song they’ve written, because it’d be like picking a favorite child.
Why didn’t I feel like that about any of my previous companies?
Now that I’ve found it, I realize how important “Product/Founder Fit” is to the success of a business. At least for me.
This is likely obvious to other entrepreneurs.
Evan Williams loves making it easy for people to publish their writing (he founded Blogger, Twitter, and Medium—different takes on the same thing?). Bryan and Jeff from TypeKit love design. As a musician, I obsess over my drumming. Great surgeons, physicists and scholars can’t get enough of that stuff.
Yet there I was, building an ad network.
I’m not sure what the takeaway is.
But I’m pretty sure if you aren’t totally into the thing you’re building—and not just totally into that you’re building a thing—you’re gonna have a hard time.