In 2003, I saw the early seeds of something new and wonderful in software. I saw the very beginning of people creating and organizing with other people online via profiles into “social networks.”
While the earliest social networks were in fact bulletin boards and chat rooms that engineers were using even before there was a commercial Internet, it wasn’t until 2003 that we as a small collective of entrepreneurs living and working in Palo Alto, CA started working on a series of social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Ning – that would become a critical part of people’s lives all over the world.
As someone who had always been passionate about how people organize for change in their lives, I was struck by the power of the village going global. With social software, I thought the possibilities were endless. Political campaigns and model airplane clubs could find each other in ways whose scale had no analogue in the real world.
With social software, I thought that anything was possible.
In 2004, I turned this passion for the possibilities into a new company that my co-founder, Marc Andreessen, and I started from scratch. We sought to offer a way for everyone to create their own unique social networks for anything. We envisioned that social networks would evolve the way the Internet did: as millions of different social networks where anyone could organize different sets of people into different social networks focused around a specific interest or passion.
For the first two and a half years, we built, we learned, and in 2006 having watched how our (extremely talented) engineers could take different pieces of software and tie them together into a new product, I thought that regular people like me would want to do that too, only for free in less than a minute.
With that simple idea — to create your own social network for anything in less than 30 seconds for free — Ning Networks were born. Overnight, we doubled our traffic and, more importantly, saw the most amazing interests and passions emerge.
We saw librarians, teachers, zombie documentarians, offbeat brides, authors, fans, emerging hip hop groups, and bluegrass jam sessions emerge in so many unique and creative ways that we were awestruck. All from the simple idea of your own social network for anything.
I realized within three months of launching Ning Networks that I had found my calling. I wanted to spend the rest of my life finding new ways for people to build relationships and meet new people around the interests, passions, and goals that make them uniquely them.
I left Ning in March 2010 and it was sold for $150 million just this month. In September, I launched a new company called Mightybell designed to inspire people to action around their interests, passions, and goals.
What have I learned ten plus years into being an entrepreneur in brand spankin’ new markets?
Just keep going. There is something to be said for just showing up. It’s half the battle. The other half is getting smarter every week in how you are spending your time while you keep going. Both are critical. Struggling to keep going? Finding a band of compatriots and supporters who will help you keep going. Then, just keep going.
Treat everyday as day one. It is really easy to get weighed down by a running tally of all the things that you did that didn’t work out. In fact, we’re naturally more focused more on what didn’t work than on what did. By letting go of your mistakes, you free yourself up to start fresh everyday. This is a much better way to go.
Celebrate your “at bats.” As a perfectionist, a number of the personal metrics I keep track of are around the number of things I put out there and try. By shifting my focus to the things that I can control, I’m increasing the chances of something positive happening. It’s a simple law of numbers. If you send out 1,000 emails versus 100 emails and you have a 1% success rate, you have a greater chance of winning with 1,000 emails than you do with 100. In the past, I would have chosen to focus on a few things that I obsessed on getting perfect. Then, if one of those two things didn’t work out, I’d be crushed. Not a very successful strategy if you are trying to build something out of nothing.
Find inspiration in everything and everyone. I’ve found women tend to focus on identifying a single mentor that is going to ensure that they make it professionally. This is probably unrealistic, especially as an entrepreneur. A better approach I’ve found is looking for inspiration and lessons in everyone you meet. I’m constantly asking myself, “what can I learn here?” and, when I write it down, I’ve found great lessons learned in just about everything.
Do a personal weekly retrospective. It’s critical as an entrepreneur that you get better at what you do every week. The best way to do this is by sitting down each week and for at least one hour look at what you did/how you spent your time, what you learned, and how you want to adjust what you are going to do next week based on what happened in the previous one. Making this a weekly – or even daily – practice trains the muscles you need to become awesome because it makes you accountable to yourself. You can’t do anything big until you are confident that you can do what you set out to do.
While these are some specific techniques that I use everyday as an entrepreneur, there really is no substitute for a passionate, driving mission at the core of what you are doing.
Creating something from nothing is too hard without a bigger purpose. What’s yours?