Everyone likes to read about success stories, but rarely do we deal directly or intimately with the problems associated with Start Up culture. Rand Fishkin’s new book Lost and Founder, in contrast, explores the trials and tribulations of building a global company. Readers can follow Rand on his journey as he reflects on his personal battle scars in this candid exposé, where he analyzes his personal mistakes and unplanned mishaps while creating a multimillion dollar startup at Moz.
Fishkin is the co-founder and former CEO of this SEO software company. Moz offers resources to help marketers make better decisions in regards to search engine optimization, link building, and more.
During his time as CEO, Rand hosted Whiteboard Fridays to share expert insights on complex topics like SEO and marketing tips and tricks — all while creating a loyal following.
Along with his new book, Lost and Founder, Rand is currently focusing on his new company, Sparktoro, using the very insights he writes about in the book to develop another winning product.
Why this book?
Lost and Founder is exceptionally well-written with useful, actionable information. The level of transparency and extraordinary lucidity will keep you wondering what drives Rand forward, while he continues to battle his own personal demons, doubts and regrets.
Fundamentally, the book is a start up guide based on failures, reflection, and final success, all written with a personal and no-holds-barred approach that makes it read more like an autobiography than just another business book.
How Does It Compare?
Fishkin’s Lost and Founder has all the hallmarks of angel investor James Altucher’s self-effacing style, using a similar blunt scalpel to dissect personal anxieties as a key method to overcome blocks towards progress. The book may seem to be a form of self-analysis but the insights are universally applicable and relevant to business leaders today.
Lost and Founder will surely fit well on a bookshelf alongside media strategist Ryan Holiday’s bestseller The Obstacle is the Way, which explores the need for hindrances as an ultimate path to success. Fishkin pulls no punches with this sometimes painful review of the hurdles he encountered on his road to success.
Alongside the business lessons, the book’s extensive knowledge of marketing makes it a strong companion piece to Gary Veynerchuk’s Crushing it, as Fishkin deals with his belief in the flywheel method (see below) and the future of digital marketing.
Scality’s exclusive interview with Rand Fishkin
Scality caught up with Rand for an exclusive talk about his new book, some advice on his Flywheel Method and his plans for the future.
Your book explores the human side of start up culture, and you have been painfully honest with your battles with depression in the past. Many entrepreneurs glorify the workaholic lifestyle, can you give us any insights on how you find a healthy balance?
Fishkin: A big part of it comes from my regrets about the past and my hopes for the future. For example, I don’t believe that in the past, the weeks I spent working 70 or 80 hours were more productive or made a bigger positive difference to my startup’s outcome than those where I worked far fewer hours. Hours worked is a pretty terrible metric to optimize toward, and I find that it usually makes entrepreneurs (and early-stage employees) far less happy, far less well-rested, and thus far less able to make great decisions than finding balance and sleeping well. Honestly, the biggest job a founder [has] is to make great decisions — five hundred hours spent on a bad decision will lose to five hours spent on a good one.
Once I established these principles for myself — sleep matters more than work, health is a must, make time for play and relationships — I was able to build a company around that life that works really well for me. That means building a remote-first company, keeping the staff small, using contractors and consultants, and giving ourselves a lot of runway with our initial investment. Obviously it’s tough to know whether it will work out in the end (as SparkToro’s product hasn’t launched yet), but so far the signs are good. We’ve made fast progress building up market awareness and a brand people know. We’ve built an early version of the product and tweaked it over the last 8 months to be in pretty good shape. And we’ve got enough excitement and a long waitlist that portends a strong potential launch.
Many people get caught up in the excitement of a new idea, do you have any advice on how to test the market for a new product?
Fishkin: A few! I really like interviewing people about the problem you’re trying to solve before you come up with the idea to solve it. I’m also a big fan of Jake Knapp’s Sprint book and methodology for getting a super-fast prototype in front of real people. With SparkToro, we had to first validate that a problem existed, then validate what people were using to solve that problem currently, and finally, validate the technology side of our solution to see if it would even produce the data we knew folks wanted. That meant a slow iteration, but even in the very first few months of the company, I could manually build lists from web research that held a kernel of the solution we’d eventually build. When that showed promise, we invested in the engineering side of things.
Can you explain your “Flywheel” method of marketing and why you believe it works better than searching for a golden growth hack?
Fishkin: Certainly. The concept is simple: by investing in repeatable tactics that build brand and traffic momentum over time through compounding effectiveness, you can create a scalable process for getting more and more value out of each unit of effort you put into marketing. For example, by consistently publishing content that your audience and their influencers want to consume and amplify, you slowly build up authority in search engines, subscribers to your email list, followers of your social channels, etc. And then each time you publish in the future, more people see it and it has the opportunity to reach a wider audience. This is what I call the “flywheel” energy — it remains consistent, but output increases as the wheel gets spinning.
Compare this to most growth hacks, which tend to have a limited lifespan because, once discovered or abused, they’re shut down or become less effective. Compare it even to most forms of paid marketing, where the ROI over time stays, at best, consistent as your engagement levels rise against competitors’ efforts. I love marketing flywheels because they produce returns that scale with decreasing friction and increasing ROI. That’s very, very hard to compete against, even though it usually takes a long while to build up.
Your book examines failure along with success; how has writing the book changed your perspective on business and life?
Fishkin: In many ways, writing the book was a cathartic experience. The pain you feel as a founder making all these mistakes, hurting people along the way (unintentionally, but still), limiting your future… Those experiences create a profound sense of regret that can linger and, as anyone who’s done therapy knows, cause the past to have an outsized negative impact on the future. Writing helps make sense of that past [and] it helps free you from the trap of not knowing what happened, or what you learned from it, or what you can do differently next time. I think that’s not only true for me, but for many other founders with whom the book has resonated. They can feel the pain through the pages. And they can pinpoint many of those experiences from their own lives and companies, and use the chapters to turn what’s raw and emotional into something more settled and pragmatic.
What quote or advice helped you most in business?
“When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.”
– Abraham Joshua Heschel
Fishkin: The older I get, the more I find myself using my privilege and good fortune (and a modicum of smart/hard work) to surround myself with people who are kind, and to work on giving out kindness myself. I don’t know that it’s been the most “profitable” or most “money-bringing” thing in my professional life, but it’s absolutely been the thing that’s helped me build a life that, frankly, is better than most people who have 10, 100, or 1,000 times my level of wealth.
Apart from your own book, can you share any books that have had a profound effect on your life?
What are you looking forward to in 2020?
Fishkin: I’m really excited to get SparkToro launched and publicly available. I’m nervous about it, too, but the beta feedback has been good, and a lot of folks have been getting value from the data, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.
And of course, I’m very hopeful that the American election produces a more thoughtful, honorable, and kind-hearted set of elected officials than what we’ve had in the past.
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