Being an entrepreneur means learning everyday. Being a B2C media entrepreneur means trying to adapt to some serious societal trends. I want to share some of the lessons we’ve learned at jrnal in our first six months.
1. You don’t need an app to start.
Up to 90% of entrepreneurial ventures will fail. So what you need ASAP is a working business model, an absolutely great team, and a product people LOVE. None of those things require an app.
Building an app is challenging, since features are hard to integrate and you probably don’t have the human resources, money, or product knowledge to build the perfect app. With jrnal, we spent months and almost all of the shoestring budget we had on building the app we were dreaming of. And we ended up with something that’s pretty different from what we believe we need now.
We needed to focus on our business, on making something that’s easy for our users to understand. Like in most cases, having an app from the beginning really wasn’t worth it. Now we know that once you have traction, you’ll also have the cash to build your dream app fast — I’ve seen people get one made in as fast as 10 days or even a week.
If you somehow just have to build one, I would suggest following this ratio: spend 30% of your time, money and emotion on building the app / service, 30% on letting people know about what you are doing (+ iterating), 30% on speaking to them, building a community and working on retention. For the other 10%, step away, take some time away from your company… at least for a few hours / days. Ask yourself: Do I really want to do this? If the answer’s yes, your confidence will be at its peak. This will also help to gain clarity on what you’re doing (don’t ask how, just try it).
1.5. Your entrepreneurial journey starts when you launch your product.
Everything before that has been experienced by thousands of others, and if you’ve got a question, you can probably just google it. Everything that’s unique to your journey, the stuff nobody else knows, is the part that comes after you launch your product.
Once you’ve got 100, 1000 people to sign up, you need to find new ways forward. You’ll have to find ways to understand what exactly is going inside people’s minds (and that includes people on your team).
2. The French funding ecosystem, at least the Parisian one, is built to fund “infrastructure start up*” and hype.
*Infrastructure startups are projects where investors are almost assured in advance that there will be future cash flows.
An infrastructure startup sounds like something safe. Most people outside the industry don’t really understand the problem or the product, it’s “disruptive”, and the exit opportunity seems obvious.
Don’t understand what I mean here? Please consider the following: (an example I heard Oussama Ammar give one day) Paracetamol & vitamins are two pharmaceutical products. Paracetamol has a very specific use while vitamins sounds like something of a bonus. The French funding ecosystem is keen to finance paracetamol-like startups, even though the vitamin market is 1000x the paracetamol market.
That’s absolutely fine but investment is a risk/reward game and the risk aversion will inevitably define the length of your reward tails. In that kind of funding environment, we shouldn’t be surprised when the next unicorn don’t come from Paris.
As an entrepreneur, I wish somebody would have told me this before and I hope this post will help. Of course, this shouldn’t be a barrier to starting the company you want to build, because as entrepreneur you want to challenge the status quo, mindset and current practices.
3. A media must be a respectable and respected authority in its field.
After hundred conversations/surveys of our users and prospects, it seems that most people do not pay for information today because they perceive very little of the added value of information in their lives. The whole future of the industry is at stake here.
Why’s that? Publishers themselves have very rarely sold the information. They have often been confined to selling a medium and reselling the audience to the first interested party.
But nothing is lost. Quite the contrary, because a number of media are changing the rules of the game. On their scale — that of a niche — certainly, but they have partly found the answer: A media is a respectable and respected authority in its field of competence.
Among other mistakes, I believe we have been chasing after the wrong guys, looking for the wrong content.
From the very first day, we should have focused on niche & solo publishers. They are changing the industry landscape and people are actually paying for their content. They are named, Bitch, Lwlies, Jacobin, The Carton and you probably never heard of them but they are the next New Yorker or The Economist.
4. Always discuss people personal agenda beforehand
I have been blessed with my co-founders. I found two absolutely amazing people, Tristan and Balthazar. Thank you guys, really...
I have also been blessed with tackling an important subject that lots of people were willing to dedicate their time to, even if that meant quitting their previous jobs. But I know I can’t take that for granted. I’ve had to figure out how to talk with everyone about their personal agendas. You won’t be able to afford everyone’s agenda, and that can put you in a very delicate position... Really have a very frank conversation with every single person that proposes their help before you start working with people outside of the founding team.
Oh, and never delegate something you haven’t done before. This will help you understand and respect the work you have to delegate. At the beginning, you can do most things by yourself. If you aren’t working 100h / week, you probably don’t need external help if your company isn’t ramen profitable yet (You might want to check out Paul Graham’s writings on the subject).
And about jrnal, in case you were wondering, Among other achievement, we managed to grow at +100% per month since the opening, reaching the our first breakeven (without the salaries). Yet, Remember the 10%? We’re in the midst of it. Let’s see what come next…
If anything above make you doubt about your entrepreneur journey, don’t even think about starting one and if you are already in, you should stop now. Your time, the more precious asset, the only one you can’t replace.