October 22, 2011
Last week, AwayFind also announced a new product targeted at businesses and available in the Google Apps Marketplace. It gives administrators a control panel to manage their company’s use, and lets recipients set up AwayFind within Gmail and subscribe to alerts from the bottom of emails. Users can set alerts by categories like sender or keyword, then receive a text, IM, Twitter DM, phone call, or notification in the AwayFind iPhone or Android app. In a little over a year, the company has grown from a side project of founder Jared Goralnick’s consulting company, to a full-fledged productivity system supported by a seven-person full-time team.
Meanwhile, 30-year-old Goralnick is keeping himself busy. Among other things, he is a mentor for 500 Startups and the Founder Institute, cofounder of the Inbox Love conference, and cofounder of Ignite DC. Drawing from about a decade of startup experience, Goralnick has honed his advice on user experience and on running a distributed company – he splits his time between DC, Buenos Aires, and San Francisco. He shared some insights with Tech Cocktail on the challenges of building a company and tips on how to pull through the “long, long slog.”
Tech Cocktail: What has been most challenging about growing AwayFind?
Goralnick: “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t work. No matter what your expectations are, you pretty much always have to temper them. Not everybody pays, not everybody signs up; things that are challenges for you aren’t necessarily challenges for other people. I don’t want to beat the lean startup drum, but until you see people reacting to your product, you just don’t know what kind of impact it’s going to have.
I guess my advice for your readers would be to recognize that it’s going to be a long, long, long slog. Many of the entrepreneurs raising money now have been working on their idea for two, three years. They may not have quit their job for the first few years; they may have tried to raise and failed several times; and eventually they found an incubator and told the world, “Look, we did this in 3 months and then raised a million dollars!” but that’s just not quite how it went. I think that’s something that isn’t covered and people aren’t aware of.
Tech Cocktail: Was there ever a time when you were particularly frustrated or overwhelmed?
Goralnick: Not so much, but I guess anything from hires that end up not accepting at the last minute, to press that don’t behave, to investors that lead you on, all those things can be frustrating and overwhelming. It’s like a bunch of first dates online – you put a lot of effort into a lot of people and some of them are valuable in the long run and with some of them you feel you’ve wasted your time.
Tech Cocktail: Why do you think AwayFind as a company has been successful?
Goralnick: Treating employees well and helping them be the successful person they are is one of the biggest keys. Getting the work style and the communications style down and helping that person know how to act on their own, that just takes time. We have a team that really works well together and is past all the personality stuff and slowness and friction, and that’s something I’m most proud of. In both of our companies, I’ve really never lost somebody key.
Another thing we’re continually working on is where to focus our efforts in the product/marketing lifecycle. A startup is constantly choosing when to focus on marketing, activating the user, keeping the customer, getting them to refer other people, and how much revenue they’re making. We get a lot of value from often taking a step back to recognize when to focus on which part.
Tech Cocktail: What has been most surprising?
Goralnick: Every day I’m surprised and delighted by the different ways people use our product. You can put yourself in the right situation as much as possible, but you don’t know how serendipity’s actually going to play out – who’s going to be the big customer, who’s going to be the amazing developer, who’s going to be the big investor. That’s the kind of stuff that fascinates me in a wonderful way.
Tech Cocktail: How do you help create serendipity?
Goralnick: You have to go to events and actually meet people – the magic really happens from relationships over time. And another part of it, after you show up, is keeping in touch. Most people meet people and it’s transactional and it’s over. You need to send that next message and to even ask for things. And also not be afraid to introduce or to help when you think of it. Most serendipity comes from reminding people that you exist.
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