Without Execution and Followup, Hustle is an Airball

There is much reverence in this real-time world for The Hustler.

Google defines the hustler as:

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The thing about hustle, is that it’s all about working hard to capture something. It implies that if you move fast and don’t let matters hold you back, you win. And that’s all it takes. 

I take issue with your search driven definition Google.

And I don’t fancy myself a prostitute.

Hustle is the medium by which you travel. The interstate highway, if you will. Yet the skill you employ while driving a rental car 160 mph down the 405 defines if you live or die.

Or get to hot yoga on time.

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Showed up late and got the spot next to Brand. The worst.

Hustle must be complemented by two important skills:

Execution: Undertaking the actions required to capitalize on opportunities (like scamming on the carpool lane) or challenges (dodging douchey tanktop-wearing bros trying to Vine you).

Followup: Returning the favor to those who assist you (like, letting the white bronco that allowed you to merge pass when the popo hit the lights), or getting something to those whom you promised it (just pay your speeding ticket already).

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Good call, letting that nice man pass. 

The point is, hustle hard, but don’t forget that the bread and butter of business is getting things done, returning the favor, and doing what you say you’re going to do.

Loose analogies are my specialty. 

World Cup Brazil 2014 Bracket, presented by the team at Dash Hudson.
Printable version available here. 

World Cup Brazil 2014 Bracket, presented by the team at Dash Hudson.

Printable version available here

Breaking Down the Bits of the Decoded Fashion Summit

The Decoded Fashion Summit and fashion tech hackathon took place in beautiful (it hardly rained) London two weeks ago. Dash Hudson was proud to present at the Summit, show off our product and meet some amazingly talented and innovative people from the industry.

Spectacular venue in London. Image c/o Decoded Fashion.

Decoded Fashion, which was founded by dynamo Liz Bacelar, is an organization that connects fashion technology companies to brands and retailers. Both luxury and high street brands are quickly realizing that innovation - in design, product, customer engagement and marketing - are critical to their growth. This is especially true in a world where pure online ecommerce brands and retailers are executing on new, efficient models to grab a share of both wallet and mind.

My key takeaways from the event were:

  • Luxury brands are inherently conflicted as to how they will pursue the development and participation in new product platforms. Their concern is around how to maintain their strong, internalized identity in a distributed, social world.
  • Global retailers and publishers are moving at lightening speed to develop and invest in new platforms built through internal teams or through acquisition.

  • The development of technology-supported in-store experiences are a priority for brands and retailers. Interesting to see if this commitment to bricks over clicks proves through as sound strategic thinking.
  • New technologies need to deliver an experience, not just efficiency.

  • Menswear is hot, and shoppable mobile content is hot. For us, this was an incredibly valuable point of validation.

In addition to some key learnings, it was a great opportunity to meet some of the leading lights in the industry. Here are a few hilights of the presenters:

William Kim, the CEO of AllSaints, showed how his once cultish brand is reaching broader appeal with the help of a sophisticated online marketing presence and technology-focused in-store experience. AllSaints had also sponsored the Decoded Fashion Hackathon. One of the resulting projects was pure comic awesomeness. ‘AllSaints Row’ used Oculus, Leap Motion and a rendered 3D AllSaints store to help users blow up awful, colored items that would never be found on an AllSaints rack. Amazing.

Tracy Yaverbaun, Head of Retail Marketing for Facebook, spoke about the need for marketers to once again connect on a personal level and create a human connection rather than rely solely on disruptive technologies. Enlightening words from a senior representative of one of the most brutally efficient marketing platforms on the planet.

Daniel Bobroff, Investment Director for ASOS, boldly claimed that brands and retailers need to stop thinking about mobile as a ‘second screen’ and see it as the only screen. This very clearly indicates how ASOS sees the future of where its customers will engage and transact. I had the chance to speak with Daniel one on one and was inspired by the sophisticated thinking of ASOS, as it relates to platform development, content and social engagement. 

'AllSaints Row' demo at the Hackathon. Image c/o Decoded Fashion.

It was a great honor to be granted an opportunity to present Dash Hudson as part of the conference program. In our presentation, we described how the young male millennial shopper is much different than his elder brethren, and how we are using a powerful and intelligent community to create shoppable content that works for this customer. We had a great response and I look forward to following up on opportunities that came out of the event.

When in doubt, wear black. Image c/o Decoded Fashion.

Thanks to Liz, Fay, Dana, Anna and all of the sponsors for a great event and a great opportunity to present Dash Hudson to such an engaged, innovative and influential audience.

The Sushi Effect: How to Not Kill Your Startup

The Latte Effect is an oft discussed parable in personal finance. Buying too many Starbucks Extra … Lattes will erode your disposable income. More than that, it’s a harbinger of greater financial distress.

In startups, where being lean and mean is just as important as in personal finance, I’ve discovered my own parable. It’s called the Sushi Effect. 

The Sushi Effect: High consumption by startup founders of delectable Japanese food (consisting of vinegared rice, fish and, often, avocado) leading to a lack of awareness of the value of scarce resources (read: CASH MONEY).

Don’t fool yourself. A $12 lunch is not okay. A $6 lunch is okay. You just doubled your lunch burn because you really like raw fish. Not cool friend. Not cool.

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Sushi attacks.

The Sushi Effect can be seen all over the startup world. Here are some examples I have either seen or heard tales of:

- expensive rental cars and fancy hotels

- trips to CES / any other Vegas trade show. Hell, any conference at which you are not on stage or featured somehow

- unnecessarily high pre-Series A founder salaries 

- [insanity Part 1] immediately upon closing an A round, moving to lavish Google-grade office space in chic neighborhood

- [insanity Part 2] while the move is happening, taking the entire team for a week of snorkelling in the Maldives (for real this happened!)

- Color Labs burning through $41m on Palo Alto penthouses and a shitty MVP

- swag or office adornments more costly than a sticker. No we don’t want to wear your polo shirt, bro

- expensive, open bar sponsored parties by PRE-SEED startups (hope it’s your Daddy’s cash you’re burning)

- having Detlef Shrempf on retainer

Some of these are extreme, some of these happen everyday. The point is that for an early-stage startup cash is everything. It’s your lifeblood and the only reason that you exist.

Tweet this: Founders, cradle that dollar like it’s the last piece of sashimi you will ever see.

Every dollar that you push toward a non-value add item, you push yourself one step closer to the edge. And you’re about to break.

Cue Linkin Park.

Remember how terrible Linkin Park was? Sorry  :-/

We’re far from perfect at Dash Hudson. That said, we built a great team, got a fully functional product (that customers love) to market and are hitting early traction. We got featured in Men’s Health and Details. We built out and are executing on our marketing plan. We did this with almost no money and managed to get as far as we did by valuing every dollar.

Here are a few tips on how to stay lean pre-financing:

1. Don’t pay yourself. Wages are the biggest cost to your business and the most difficult to remove. As founders, pay yourself nothing if possible, and just enough to cover rent / mortgage if necessary.

2. Buy second hand gear. Unless you’re SpaceX, you can probably get by with some used gear. We bought almost all of our tech on Craigslist and Kijiji. In fact, our iOS engineer built our entire iPhone 5 app on an iPhone 4s. Yup.

3. Pretend you work for the government. Government employees get AMAZING rates at hotels. Even though it may turn your stomach, tell the hotel you want the government rate. 99% of the time they won’t ask for identification.

4. Cheap office space. Work from home, from a coffee shop (not too many lattes now) or a coworking space. Find something cheap and flexible with great wifi.

5. Eat lean. Don’t go ramen, but find cheap local delis near your office that serve healthy food for under $6. They exist. Find them, and love them. Better yet, pack a lunch. No nigiri.

Keep it real, stay hungry, and put as much sweat into your company as possible to make it grow.

I’d love to hear your stories about how to conserve cash and stay lean in your company. Please leave your ideas or stories below in the comment section.

Thanks!

Never Ask for Permission - Build Your Startup by Skipping the Line

Alexis Ohanian’s book Without Their Permission chronicles the early development and rapid rise of Reddit. Reddit became the front page of the internet because Alexis and Steve said fuck it, let’s do it.

Alexis asserts in his book that the future will be made by those who create products people love, and do so without looking for the approval of the established.

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Reddit cofounder Alex Ohanian. Likes beer, lobbying governments, and not asking for permission. Not necessarily in that order.

This is an incredibly powerful realization. We are trained from an early age to follow the worn path. Walk in orderly fashion, stay to the right. Guess what. It’s pretty clear that the quickest way to the front of the line is to go left and pass everyone by. 

My personal mantra has been to do what I believe in, and do it without permission. If you have good ideas, and execute clearly on them and in good faith, then the outcomes often play in your favour. This is certainly how we operate at Dash Hudson.

Asking merely slows things down or gets you into trouble.

Last week, I had a discussion with an interesting founder. He was prepared, knew his business, had a good sales pitch. But when I dug in on his go to market, it involved working through some of the slowest partners around.

Fuelled by a few pints, we worked through an alternative experiment that would make the customer love him, lower his acquisition costs and DEFINITELY piss off the same partner he was trying to work through. It was mostly a thought experiment, but made me pause to reflect how almost every critical business decision can be made to act with, or without, someone’s permission.

Here are three key questions to ask yourself when determining if you need to ask for permission:

1. Do I need money to get started on this?

Needing money means asking someone for the permission to get started, An investor, a boss, a friend. You often don’t need money to get started. You need hustle and motivation. If you can get started without asking for money, do that. 

2. Do I need to partner with ‘X’ to succeed?

Partnerships too early in the development of a company slow down development. I’ve seen it. Not because the partnerships don’t have potential long-term value, but because the partner doesn’t care nearly as much about your business as you do. Begging and borrowing take time. Take what you need from the world. Don’t ask. 

3. Will this piss somebody off?

You’re not pushing hard enough and creating enough new value if you aren’t going to make someone (a competitor or incumbent, hopefully) extremely upset. If you can piss a few people off with a great product built without their permission, you’re probably on the right track.

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Eric Cantona, one of my favourite soccer players of all time, never asked anyone for permission. Of course he also karate kicked a fan in the face that one time…

In the nascent life of a company, where every day spent without significant progress is a day you are closer to death, the route of independence and speed wins.

Always go left and skip the line.

3 Lessons in Product Management Learned on the Fly

A skill learned without practice is often a lost skill. For instance, in my time as a VC I spent lots of time reading about product management and helping companies sort through product challenges. But until I managed my own product, those learnings were largely superficial.

Here are three things I’m learning (on the fly) about product management:

1. Speed Wins but Coordination is Key

At Dash Hudson we move extremely fast on product development, often pushing app updates (to both android and iOS) three to four times per week. Our torrid pace is part of who we are, but the need to coordinate when moving at high speeds is especially important. We have learned that by times, a stop, deep breath and reconsideration of the dev plan is required, before jumping back on the interstate.

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Destroy your competition with speed, but stop and look around once in a while or the carnage will be yours.

2. User Feedback + Data = Good Decision-Making

Sounds pretty self-explanatory, right? The real lesson we learned is that, while it’s important to show your early users tons of love (do things that don’t scale), be careful what you listen to. We almost made a significant product decision based solely on user feedback that would have required a week of build time and had additional product repercussions. Users were screaming. But when we checked the data, it showed that what users were telling us was absolutely not true. Their real behavior told the truth that they were activating at very high rates. 

3. Thinking Your Product is Ugly is Normal

A friend recently asked me what the biggest surprise was about launching a product. This may sounds a bit self-gratuitous, but the truth is I was surprised at how much users (seemingly) liked the UI/UX. In our eyes, the product is ugly, we’re never satisfied. Lesson is don’t be so hard on yourself, and thinking your product is ugly is normal. 

Lots more challenges ahead and lots more to learn. Until then, that’s it. 

Five (FRESH) Lessons on Startup Launch PR

It’s been four days since Dash Hudson launched.

Launches are many months in the making. From ideation to market, the typical startup travels an uncertain course. The go to market phase is like running madly in a hamster ball with two giants having a kick between them. You hope at some point you get smashed in the right direction and across the goal line.

It’s best I impart these fragments of wisdom while it’s fresh; time will turn these lessons into either parody or legend, neither of which is helpful to fellow entrepreneurs.

Our goals were to be covered in three highly reputable publications (two in the fashion and lifestyle industry and one in the technology industry), and to drive traffic to start the wheel spinning.

With that, five lessons on launch PR, from a first time entrepreneur:

1. Be Nice

Overwhelmingly, people can be selfish assholes. When reaching out to an individual whom you do not know and whom is inundated on an hourly basis with desperate pleas for coverage, above all, be nice. Writers are people too. Be genuine and appreciative of the time journalists are taking to even consider your pitch. And if they are considerate enough to respond with a no, thank them for it.

2. Know Your Story Arc

We (I) initially did this poorly. I spent four full weeks trying to drum up PR for our imminent launch. I knew it would be tough, because we are an unknown team operating out of a small market. But for the first 50% of my reachouts, I did it all wrong. I pitched exactly what I wanted, which was a launch story. WRONG. Nobody cared about our launch. Why would they? What I learned through trial and error is to pitch a story, an arc. After I sorted that and really engaged people in what we were doing, it became much easier and we upped our response rate.

3. Use Hacks

There are a ton of hacks to reach writers and journalists. They’re actually pretty easy: (a) Google your competitors and find out who covered them. Super hack? Google image search your competitor’s PR photography (thanks Dan Martell for that one); (b) Look for people who care about what you do and reach out to them having genuinely researched their interests and work. Use Rapportive to figure out emails or just write every combination you can think of in bcc and send it off; and (c) Put the most compelling content in the title and the first two lines of the email because most journalists just scan the gmail preview.

4. Get Your Kit Together

Be prepared, with a tight press release and great images. This is standard advice, but truly take the time to make your package look good. Have a knowledgeable expert (I had two, thank you guys) review your release closely. If you use data in your release (I recommend) or supporting materials, make it easy on the writer and provide great source information. Help them, help you.

5. Hustle Hard and Have Hope

Many will tell you to hire a PR agency. Unless you’re an overfunded darling, keep it raw and hustle the connections yourself. You tell your story better than anyone and it gives you the opportunity to build a true relationship with a writer that can be mutually beneficial over time. Research your targets, craft your emails, leverage your connections, repeat. On your first go, push the message widely in the hope that you will get those critical and important few.

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Billy Dee got GQ, and so can you.

It was an adventure, for sure, and a ton of hard work. We’re very happy with the outcome and I’m so appreciative of those who believed enough in our story to cover the launch of an unfunded and unproven company. We had great coverage in Details, Style Bistro and Techvibes. Thanks to Chris, Katie and Rob for taking the time to write interesting pieces.

More than anything we’re happy to be out in the world. And we’re happy to have found publications and writers that care as much as we do about Dash Hudson to share the story with a wider audience. We accomplished our goals and are now on to the privileged job of delighting our customers.

If you have thoughts or lessons on launch PR, I’d love to hear them in the comment section. 

Fresh Feature: Dash Hudson by Chris Law

Dash Hudson launch story on the Details Network.