I’m Marie, co-founder of FYI and Product Habits, AMA 🔥

Marie Prokopets
113 replies
I've had a wild ride of a career, from founding multiple products (some of which are 💀) to working with celebrities in the alcohol industry, to working on $26 billion worth of M&A deals, plus I've won awards for my comedy writing. Also, I like to meditate, burn sage, and collect crystals. 👋 Here to answer any and all questions about SaaS, content marketing, remote work, document apps, product, transitioning from corporate to startups, writing, selecting crystals, the future, and me 🔮

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Founder & CEO @Indextrus
When starting a B2B focused SaaS company, what do you think are the first few crucial hires you should make and in what order?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@aaron_kazah Early on, your number one goal is to accelerate your product development. Assuming you've been able to validate your idea through research (that includes building some kind of MVP, even if it's without code), the next thing to consider is whether or not you are technical. If you / your co-founders can code, then you should be focused on finding someone who can help with aspects of product you are less resourced in, such as design, management or more engineers. For my co-founder and I, we are both not technical, so our first order of business was hiring engineers and then moving on to find someone who could help us with design.
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Founder & CEO @Indextrus
@marie_prokopets Thanks for the answer Marie!
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Co-Founder and CEO of Nira
What's your #1 piece of advice for someone who is building a new SaaS product?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@hnshah Research. Before you build anything, validate the problem. Do enough customer research to feel like you validated your idea, then do even more. Talk to as many people as you can to understand their problem. Do surveys if possible, and user tests. That includes building an MVP as part of that research. One of the best things we did early on for FYI was build a 5-day MVP to validate our idea and also understand how to best solve the problem. Our MVP was just a search box that connected to a few apps and let you search for documents across them. We then had 10 customers use the MVP and talk to us each week for over a month. We learned so much from that first month+, it still affects how we build features for FYI today, over a year later.
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Product Manager
Hey Marie! When do you think a startup should hire its first product manager?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@viableben That's a tough (and really good!) question. I would say wait as long as you can. Once you know the customer problem inside and out, you understand how to build product with your team, and you've got a solid process down, then you can think about hiring a PM. One question to ask yourself is: should I be learning these things directly from customers as one of the co-founders, or are we mature enough that I can get the learnings from our PM? If the answer is you still need to be learning on your own, then keep on waiting until you hire a PM.
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Product Manager
@marie_prokopets thanks for sharing that! I've been the first PM at a couple startups and both times it felt like the timing was such that "there are now enough designers, engineers and stakeholders we need to get on the same page that this is probably a full-time job." It's the first real hire of a maturing product development org IMO.
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@viableben Yes! Totally agree with you. First real hire and also a very good sign of growth and maturity.
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Founder & CEO @Indextrus
What is a good compensation plan for a B2B SaaS sales team for a product that charges ($99, $199, $499)/month, are sales team even needed at that stage?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@aaron_kazah I would say that you shouldn't hire a sales team at that stage. It's too small an amount for the economics to work. You should focus on doing sales yourself or understanding how to get larger deals (i.e. at the 5-figure a year plus range).
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Founder & CEO @Indextrus
@marie_prokopets Again, thank you for the answer Marie! :)
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Founder & CEO @Indextrus
What do you think are the most important things to do early on to enable your startup to scale easier?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@aaron_kazah Scale should be an afterthought. Make sure to learn everything about your customer and the problem your product is solving. Keep iterating until you build something your customers love. Thinking about scale too early is futile, since you are going to learn so much and your product will keep changing and evolving. Once you know enough about the customer and problem and you have the resources to think about scale, that's when it's time.
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Working for progress.
What are your most essential mental models / frameworks for building new businesses?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@nbashaw My first essential mental model/framework is honesty. Is this honestly a big, painful problem for people? Are we honestly solving the problem, or just part of the way there? Is this honestly a category I'm interested in for years to come? Is this honestly a big, growing category? Did we honestly do enough customer research? (usually the answer is no because you can always do more 😺) Did we do an honest assessment of our successes and failures via a postmortem? If I'm honest with myself, where can I improve? Do our customers honestly love us? Did we get honest, unbiased feedback from customers that we analyzed in an honest way? Also a fan of the Regret Minimization Framework from Jeff Bezos, and of course Lean Startup and building MVPs.
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Author & Founder of Teamland
@nbashaw @marie_prokopets Just curated these questions on Socrat - https://socrt.com/collection/158...
Content Strategist
Wow what a career! What has it been like working in tech as a woman comparative to finance and deals. Have you seen similarities? Love all your writing recently on remote work! Keep sharing 🤘🏻
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@katetalbot2 Hi Kate 👋💅 This is a challenging question for me personally, because I've always tried to power through whatever it is that I'm working on and not pay attention to the gender aspect when it comes to myself. Back in my old jobs prior to being a founder, I learned the basic things women tend to not be as good as men at, and made sure I was amazing at them all (negotiating salary/roles, speaking up about my accomplishments, networking and getting to know everyone). And I always helped guide women on my teams to do the same. That said, I was in denial, as I've had my fair share of sexism thrown my way and have lots of stories from back then that I basically ignored, whether it's being asked by much older clients if they recognized me because we had dated in the past, asked if I was the secretary since I was the lone woman, or told that if I don't take a job that was offered to me I'll only be left with waitressing as an option. (all of these incidents were with either clients or acquiring companies, not my own). In tech, the challenges are much more visible and harder to ignore. For example, for the Product Habits newsletter, I've noticed that when we ask people to recommend their favorite resources, there are few (if any) women that get mentioned in responses. I also constantly see stories on Twitter where people are treated differently because of their gender (whether it's cat calls or people assuming women are not technical). So it's much more in your face. I think, however, new communities are sprouting up to help with this - and these are communities that I never even imagined would exist just 10 years ago. Like Girlboss, The Wing, and Elpha. They are helping us bridge the gap. These days I personally try to level the playing field by wielding my power through straightening my hair or doing my nails on video calls. Just kidding - except those things have happened and I may have really enjoyed doing it. Also thanks for the remote shout out ❤️
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@katetalbot2 I feel like I have a lot to say on the subject now that you asked - so thank you :)
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CEO @ Laicos & aspiring VC
What would be your advice for someone pivoting from a (multiple) startup founder to working within a corporation (innovation role)?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@ryannegri Learn as much as you can. Treat the entire experience as a way to learn about whatever it is you are doing. And bring what you've learned from your time founding multiple startups to your new role - big companies are dying for entrepreneurial people who think differently. If your company already has innovation frameworks they are using, see what you can bring into the process that will fit. For example, can you bring in postmortems? Is there a framework you can bring in for coming up with product names? Complementing existing processes is great. And of course, be humble - otherwise it's really tough to learn.
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Mechanic at Karmic
Hi @Marie_Prokopets, Thanks for doing this AMA, big fan of yours as someone who's also had a very "wild ride" of a career. Here's my (somewhat specific) question: If I'm launching a new product, and have to start content marketing, where do you think I should start? Blogs, vlogs, podcasts or anything else you'd suggest? How should we think about the competition, and do we directly address them or not? Cheers, Hong
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@quan Hi Hong! What are you good at? What gets you excited? That should be the first consideration. For me and Hiten, we chose the blogging path because we have those capabilities already. I love to write, and we both know how to write really good content. If you have something unique to say that people will be interested in, I'd say write, and keep on sharing it. And of course you should do SEO keyword research and understand who is ranking for what and why. If you can get on podcasts and have something interesting to say, you should totally do that. You can also run some experiments and see what people love - before you create a podcast for example, see if people will listen to videos of you talking (on instagram, facebook, linkedin). Video is growing quite a bit too so you could experiment there. And of course, think about the channels you'll use to promote what you create. My personal bias is to blogging, though it is time consuming. And I'm seeing companies and people get a lot of traction from their blogs - one person who is having success with content right now is @anthilemoon https://nesslabs.com/best The second consideration is where are the people you are targeting? How are they consuming content? We recently did a survey asking product people where they go to look for product content. The highest % of people listened to podcasts, next was Twitter, followed by reading newsletters and email lists, and reading blogs and online articles. Is your competition question about content or about the competitors themselves?
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Mechanic at Karmic
Thanks @marie_prokopets! I've been blogging for a few years, but not sure if we're reaching the right people on Medium. As for podcasts, I've been on a few, didn't think about creating our own podcast. I love the idea of videos since our products are somewhat complicated to understand, but I hate being on camera. The competitor question was whether we mention other products in our content marketing. The reason would be to explain how our products are better.
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@quan Putting your blog posts on Medium means you are losing 3 main things: 1) people being on your website and being able to sign up for your product or email newsletter right from the blog 2) the added brand equity you get from the posts being on your site and reminding people who you are, 3) the SEO value. Medium gets you reach, but with their audience. People may not even realize who your company is, and they are probably off to read another post on Medium about something else once they've read your content. You aren’t building your own audience or able to have a way to directly reach people like you can with a self-hosted blog or wordpress.com blog where you can have people who want to get your emails. That would be my top recommendation for you. Since you hate being on camera, maybe you should force yourself and see what comes of it :) I always recommend pushing yourself and getting over your aversions by just doing the thing you feel afraid of or repelled by. In terms of mentioning your competitors, there are certainly ways to do this really well. Like this: https://www.notion.so/evernote In regular blog posts I wouldn't recommend talking about your competitors unless there really is some strategic reason - for example, you are making a map of the market.
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Content Strategist
How did your intuition know that I would get my new job? What powers do you tap into?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@katetalbot2 50-50 chance that I was right :) I think we all have intuitive abilities and can tap into them if we try. So I'm tapping into my intuition which I've honed quite a bit in this lifetime.
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Picasso Health
How do you think your experience in creative writing has impacted the way you build software products & SaaS companies?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@daniel_zahler After college I spent 2 years getting my MA in English Literature as well as teaching composition to undergraduate students, it helps me constantly. I'm able to better understand problems, think critically, think of solutions to problems, spot patterns, and structure my thinking really well thanks to that degree (which I would say many would think is worthless). It also taught me how to research like a boss, and become a better writer. As for my creative writing experience (I've written 2 feature length comedy screenplays and a TV pilot), that helps me write faster and be my own editor. And of course, it's helped me become a better writer. I also get to infuse a touch of comedy into most things I write (though that can be challenging when you're writing product/saas-related blog posts).
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@daniel_zahler Forgot to mention how much easier writing marketing copy is thanks to my degree & creative writing experience.
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Growth person, ENTJ & curious cat.
Hey Marie, I am a first-time VP of Marketing at a seed-stage start-up. Any advice on how to best balance building the foundations (including positioning, data infrastructure, tech stack etc) with acquisition & activation at a startup that's trying to 2x this year? (For context, this company never had a marketing team before and their growth has primarily come from one channel: Paid Search. I am trying to diversify the offers and channels and also pivot to a slightly different market and set of buyer personas).
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@amritamathur Know your customer. Seriously. Your customer & your copy are everything. Research to nail your product's positioning is key. In terms of tech stack and data, you can get away with Google Analytics for quite some time, so you shouldn’t over complicate it until you really need to. Focus on understanding your customers really really well and determine the positioning and copy that resonates most with them. That will be the best foundation you can create for yourself which will inform all your marketing, no matter which channels you decide to go after. Since the business already exists and you are pivoting, imagine that you are starting from scratch.
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Head of Marketing @ Fellow.app
Hi Marie, I really admire your work - thanks for taking the time to answer our questions 👋 What are your favourite channels/ways to promote a piece of long-form content (e.g. a guide or an e-book?)
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@manuelabarcenas Hi Manuela :) Product Hunt is amazing if you have something that you can launch. That means it can't just be a blog post and has to be special. Do some searching on there and see what's done well in terms of the topic you are going after and what format it was in. Twitter is a really great place to share content - try doing tweetstorms, getting friends to share your content, and also sharing something personal helps too. After that, Hacker News and Reddit are great. We don't normally submit things on our own to Hacker News, but (and I mentioned her in another response) I've seen @anthilemoon submit her blog posts on her own to Hacker News and it work quite well. We've submitted to Reddit on our own and it's worked, but you have to pay attention to the policies of the subreddit. And of course there's LinkedIn. I haven't mastered it myself yet, but if you study what's doing well on there you can probably get a good amount of views from it :)
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Head of Marketing @ Fellow.app
Thank you @marie_prokopets !
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Head of Marketing @ Fellow.app
What advice would you give to young women in tech? :)
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@manuelabarcenas My advice for young women in tech is similar to my advice for women in any industry. I know it's uncomfortable (at least it is for me), but negotiate. Most men negotiate, while women tend to not negotiate. I can't tell you how many women I've hired that never negotiated at all - whereas nearly every man has. I once negotiated on a woman's behalf after I looked at the salary band for the role I was hiring for vs. what she was asking for. Negotiation doesn't just have to be about salary, there are lots of things you can ask for (equity, benefits, flexibility, being up for promotion in a certain period of time, etc.). Worst case, the company says no, but at least you asked. Be your own advocate. Speak up about what you are doing well - to your manager, and to others you work with. Men do this constantly. Some even inflate their accomplishments. You should let people know how awesome you are, even when that's uncomfortable. Be in charge of your own story, don't let others write it for you. A few ways you can do that: - share an accomplishment in Slack (i.e. holy cow, my blog post got [number] of views!). - when you do weekly check ins with your manager, talk to them about what you're doing well at and how that aligns with your overall development plan. If that's start, begin by just listing out what you've done well this week/month/year - once you start to believe it, it will be easier to tell other people. Find advocates. People who will be on your side and help you accomplish your goals. This requires networking and getting to know people, and it also requires telling people how awesome you are (aka being your own advocate). Think about when you want to & are ready for a promotion (of responsibilities, role or salary), and talk to your manager about it. Find out what gaps you have, and have a plan to fill those gaps. Advocate for yourself here too. Believe that you can do whatever the thing is that you want to do, even if people tell you that you can't. Nearly every step of my career, people have told me I can't do something - "you can't get a job in corporate strategy without an MBA" "you can't get a promotion" "you can't get a raise" "you can't negotiate, that's risky" - don't listen to them. Listen to your own knowing.
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Head of Marketing @ Fellow.app
This is amazing @marie_prokopets 🏆🥇🌟 Thank you so much for the advice!
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Sydney based 4x fintech, product guy
Hi Marie! What (if any roles) are really not conducive to being remote when you are NOT a 100% remote company?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@vincentturner Love this question. I used to work in the alcohol industry. Many of those roles weren't conducive to remote. Bottles running down lines with people making sure everything was working, people doing quality assurance, winemakers, people making tequila, people who work to harvest the grapes or agave, those who take care of the land, sales people who need to be with customers and accounts with a home-base near the rest of their team. Same exact thing can go for hardware. I would say Product and Design roles are more challenging for people if the company isn't 100% remote. Today, there are few Product roles as well as design roles that are remote. Those roles are challenging to do remote as is, so it's even more challenging when the rest of the company isn't remote. That said, I think any role (with the exception of roles that need to be at an office that are creating physical goods) can be remote, with the right dedication and process. (One exception to that rule is probably HR where there are a bunch of people in an office and you need the physical presence of an HR person who can help with any issues that arise).
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Founder & CEO
You’ve been a founder and also a leader on startup and enterprise teams. What’s your best advice for someone who is thinking about taking the leap and launching their first company?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@katebour In hindsight, there are 3 things I'd recommend. 1) ask yourself the right questions, 2) give yourself the best pep talk you've ever given yourself 3) get practical 1) Are you really ready to do this? Is this something you want to work on for years to come? Do you have a financial cushion to fall back on (i.e. did you save up some money)? What does your heart want? Is this an industry you are really into? Why am I doing this? 2) Have some real talk with yourself. Say something like: Alright self, I'm about to embark on a journey into the unknown. This is going to hurt. I'm going to think I'm amazing on some days, and a total dunce on others. I'm going to make mistakes. Sometimes I'll make the same mistakes over and over again. And I am going to learn so much, and evolve as a person in such a huge way, that all the ugly parts are worth it. Remember self, you rock - and don't forget that on days when you feel down. Always get up. Keep going. Keep learning. 3) Do all the research you can before you take the leap, if you can. Learn as much as you can about the industry you want to go into, start customer research if you can, plan out how you're going to validate your idea and hypothesis. This goes for making major career changes too - initially I quit my job to go be a comedy writer - so before I did that I made sure to write A TON, get to know a lot of people in the industry, and learn everything I could about the industry.
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Founder, Bidsketch
I know you've been doing freemium now for a bit with FYI. What's something unintuitive but important that you've learned about marketing/growing a freemium product?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@earthlingworks The biggest lesson I’ve learned about freemium is that you have to focus on a single thing at a time and have a lot of patience to do that. Initially, we tried to get a number of things right all at the same time. The single player interface, the value metric for upgrades, and also our onboarding. It turns out that there is a sequence of things you need to focus on before you can get to the free-to-paid upgrade rate. Freemium requires a ton of patience 🕑 and even more focus than if you are creating a non-freemium SaaS product.
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Founder, Bidsketch
@marie_prokopets Interesting! So, how would you figure out that sequence? Is it going after the #1 growth bottleneck? Or starting from onboarding and activation through to upgrade and retention?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@earthlingworks Freemium businesses are successful when the free part of the product solves a really painful problem that then opens up more problems that get solved for customers once they upgrade. Using that logic, the sequence for us should have been the core interface first, then onboarding and then pricing. If you can’t get the interface right then it doesn’t matter how great onboarding is. And if the interface and onboarding aren't on point, then you’ll end up wasting time trying to figure out pricing.
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@earthlingworks Thanks for these awesome questions btw Ruben :)
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Founder, Bidsketch
@marie_prokopets thanks for the insightful answers!
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Product Marketing Leader
How did you build and test the FYI mvp?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@anandp29 We started out by taking the most basic feature and testing that - for us, it was searching for documents across multiple apps. So we built a really simple interface to let customers auth G Suite, Box, Dropbox, and OneDrive and then be able to search for documents with a search box. We built it in 5 days, first 3 days we had a working prototype for the team to play with and then we took 2 more days to iterate it before we shared with people. We tested it with 10 early access customers - we asked them to talk to us for 20 minutes each week for 4-6 weeks, either on a call or via email. And boy, did we learn a lot. We learned that search isn't enough, we learned we had to build an interface like what we have today if we wanted to solve the problem of finding documents across all the apps you use. That MVP was the best decision we made early on, and it keeps paying dividends.
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Operations at GrowthGenius
What have you learned from writing that you wish other aspiring writers (like myself) knew?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@suthen 1) Share your writing, even when you think it sucks. I nearly didn't ship a post on remote work tips because I didn't feel like it was good enough (thank you, internal hater). But I shared it anyway, and ever since I shared it people have been thanking me & saying it's the most thorough thing out there. Listen to the hater as you edit and keep making the post better. But once you've done everything you can (or have the time to do), just ship it. It helps to get feedback from friends too, who can tell you how to make it better and if it's amazing. 2) just write, even when you don't feel like it. Some of the best things I've written came from times when I thought I had serious writer's block and I kept making excuses for why I couldn't write something. And then I'd sit down and what would come out was better than when I normally feel in the flow. 3) write often - even a morning journal practice (what Julia Cameron author of The Artist's Way calls morning pages) works. Keep writing and getting better. No matter what type of writing you do. Keep writing and getting better. 4) don't be so hard on yourself. the more you write and put out there and learn from your audience, the better you'll get over time. so keep putting things out there. I look back at things I wrote a year, even 6 months ago and think they are so much worse than what I write now - and that's totally fine and normal. 5) be grateful for what you write, thankful for the ability to express yourself in whatever way that you can and do. gratitude and love is everything. 6) read! 7) be unerringly optimistic. have hopes and dreams about your writing. keep at it.
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Looking back at your past work that succeeded and 💀, across startups, M&A, and even writing, what are common traits of the things that worked out? What do you look for now when deciding what to tackle?
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Co-founder and COO of Nira
@lenny_rachitsky I think of everything that's happened as something that's "worked out." Why? Because I learned from it. I became a better version of myself. I went through an experience I didn't have before. I met people, saw things, found things out about myself. The common traits for when it was something I really enjoyed / feel proud of are - 1) I was terrified or at least very scared of doing it, 2) I thought I was possibly wrong and had to figure out if that was actually the case (this goes for customer research big time), 3) I was driven to do it by some unseen force, drawn to it even if there was no logical explanation, 4) I found myself pouring so much time and effort into it, and couldn't help myself from working late nights on it, 5) it felt good to do and work on. I'm pretty judicious with my time these days, so when there is something to tackle for FYI we base our decisions on research, intuition, desired outcomes, as well as interest. Even for marketing initiatives. For Product Habits, we make sure it's something that's valuable to our audience (i.e. our customers) and that we'll enjoy and learn from as well. On the personal front, I follow my heart and intuition.
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