Micah Baldwin

Micah Baldwin

Founder (6 companies). Failure (2 companies). Building the Happiness Algorithm. Venture Advisor to Crunchfund and mentor to Techstars, 500 Startups and more.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON March 04, 2016

Discussion

Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
I’m Micah, over the years I have founded or been early at 6 startups which raised more than $350mm and exited for more than $200mm. Means lots of success, lots of failure and I am old. Other fun things I’ve done include #followfriday, which lead to death threats, a documentary and once broke Twitter. Primary area of effort is around helping founders be better CEOs and product folks think more holistically. Mentor, invest and advise startups and now at Amazon. Eats donuts. Likes dogs. Might have reversed that.
Diane Florescu
Diane Florescu@dianeflorescu · Marketing Assistant @ConnectiD Ltd
Hi Micah! Got a couple of questions: Q1: We see start-ups failing/exiting the market every day. What have been your biggest challenges to date? Q2: What would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing? Q3: For someone looking to embark on their own start-up journey, what tips could you offer? Thanks
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@dianeflorescu wow, lots of questions! Ok, Q1) Realizing that my biggest hurdle is my own hubris. Q2) feel pretty certain that I won't kill myself that day. (That is not a joke. I think about suicide every day, and some days its easy to come up with a reason to not do it; and some days, not so much. So much better on the former kinda days. Q3) Talk to a lot of people about your idea. Not for feedback, but for reaction. Make lots of friends. Don't ask for money too early. Believe that if a punk high school kid can build a company and sell it to Yahoo! that you can too. Remember that we live in a collaborative community, not a group of cut-throat assholes. Just find your place within that community.
Drew Russ
Drew Russ@drewwruss · Business Development
What is the best trait in a team member/colleague? Intellect? Sense of humor? Dogged work ethic? Etc...
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@drewwruss I look at people in two lenses: personality and production. I can work with someone I dont like as a person, but who produces; but cant work with someone I like who doesnt produce. Im binary like that.
Drew Russ
Drew Russ@drewwruss · Business Development
LA? What's up with that?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@drewwruss Its raining right now in SF. Done. I also think that the LA scene is at the right point in its maturation. There is no longer a need for LA to point to its successes as validation of its as a startup ecosystem, it just has successes...being involved in that scene will teach me a ton, and I am excited to be there.
Dave Schappell
Dave Schappell@daveschappell · Startup BD, Amazon Web Services
How do you define what a startup is, and isn't?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@daveschappell love this question. Is Uber a startup? They still care about revenue, but they have raised a pile. @rabois said yesterday that they have no need to IPO because they can raise billions in weeks. For me, its more of a feeling. Nice offices, salaries, and worrying about death gone? you arent really a startup any more. Maybe its by counting the time between the presentation of grey hairs? I also think that the word startup has become a marketing ploy. So large companies are creating "startups" within the businesses, or promoting that they "operate like a startup." I find this disappointing and disingenuous.
Gordon Weiss
Gordon Weiss@gordon_weiss · Bassline
How undervalued is strategic partnerships or business development in a start-up, Or will a great product proliferate on it's on merit?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@gordon_weiss it really depends on where they are in the life cycle of the business. Leans on partnerships too early in the product lifecycle, and you may end up creating a yoke around your neck that you dont want to give up (cuz the money is good!). Be smart, start slow, dont elephant hunt. I don't believe great products find their market. All grew due to a hack of some sort. Either in their initial marketing (Mailbox); or their buzz (Slack); or their constraint (Facebook). Rarely does a deal make a company long term viable.
Gordon Weiss
Gordon Weiss@gordon_weiss · Bassline
@micah Thank you. Do this again, much appreciated!
Aaron Batalion
Aaron Batalion@abatalion · Cofounder/1st CTO, LivingSocial
What is Founder Donuts? Can you share why you created it and what it's become?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@abatalion its just a couple of people, now more than a couple, that get together on Saturdays to talk about life first, startups second. Its only founders and investors, and we get a chance to strip off all the BS that founders feel that they need to be wrapped in daily, and just enjoy each other as people. Somewhere, in the world of building companies, we forgot that people are interesting because of who they are rather than what they built or how much money they have.
Tyler Willis
Tyler Willis@tylerwillis · Asteroid Hunter
How do you define success? Who are some people you consider successful?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@tylerwillis I knew you would ask the hard questions, dammit. I have often said that the days I say "I am successful" should also be the day I die. After all, other than having complete satisfaction in my accomplishments, and knowing there is nothing else I can do, what else is there to live for? As for people I consider successful? My dad. 3 good kids, who are not in jail. Cornel West, has a message and articulates it. And you. Because you seem to smile more often than you dont.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Makerpad.co
What are your favourite questions to ask founders?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@bentossell I really like to focus on the whys behind the company. First time founders dont really know what they are getting into, so understanding their grip on reality matters most.
Eric Friedman
Eric Friedman@ericfriedman · Partner @ BlockTower
You have said that you get other offers often, what about your role is most fulfilling that keeps you there - what entrepreneur achievements you help them hit are best for you?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@ericfriedman I am very focused on adding value. I have said that my goal in life is not to make a $1,000,000 (have done that, kinda useless), but to help 10,000 people become millionaires, so they in turn can help 10,000 more. That is what drives me daily.
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
What lessons did you learn from Graphicly that you apply to other businesses?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jspepper listen more. Believe in the numbers. Its ok to be wrong. As a founder if you dont know the numbers, if you cant find measurable, important metrics, you will fail. miserably.
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
@micah And should have told me a week or so before you were in places.
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
What is it with the height jokes. Why do you hate short people?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jspepper I'd tell you, but it would go over your head.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Makerpad.co
Whats your opinion on how different accelerators operate?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@bentossell this is a great question. If you were to build a matrix when deciding on an accelerator, it would have total raised, geo focus, mentorship across the top, and marketing/sales, technology, fundraising on the left. Take the top three accelerators, YC, Techstars, 500 Startups. YC and TS were both started by former CTOs, and 500 was started by a CMO. Techstars leans heavily on mentorship, 500 in the middle, YC at the bottom. YC has raised the most, TS next, 500 third. So, if I were a technical founder, who needed mentorship (curriculum) and was focused on raising money, Techstars might be the best. If I was a product focused technical founder who wanted to have space to build and fundraising mattered, YC. If I was a founder (technical or otherwise), and scaling revenue mattered, 500.
Mike Coutermarsh
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
Is it networking or is it NOTworking (cc @justinkan)? 😀. How do you avoid distractions/focus on what's most important?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@mscccc @justinkan Im a massive introvert and hate people. My therapist used to tell me that a schedule wasnt about listing when you had to start something, but rather when you should end something. So I am brutal about time management when its something that isnt driving my core purpose.
Justin Kan
Justin Kan@justinkan · Partner, Y Combinator
Arseniy Strizhenok
Arseniy Strizhenok@arseniy_strizhenok · Co-Founder, SMEDGE
Micah, which of the areas of start-ups over the promising? Regarding the outlook for the year, two or three years. I mean your personal opinion. Based on your experience and vision of the market, thank you!
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@arseniy_strizhenok the pebbles that create the tsunami tend to look like pebbles today. Think about the stupid Oculus Kickstarter. They looked lame. And have been lame for end users for years. Self driving cars? They look moronic. I would love to see the death of money. Not bitcoin, which is equally lame for the common person, but the absolute removal of money in the decision making process.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What of all your achievements to date are you most proud of?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@ems_hodge that I am only 1/2 a shit head. I could have been a totally horrible person, and I am very proud that most people think I add value to the world, even on the days I dont.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What three things should every new founder be constantly thinking?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@ems_hodge 1) why does this matter? Does it matter for me, or for others; 2) does the team still believe in the mission, or are they BS'ing me; 3) What do I prefer to do today? Sleep or wake up. If its the former, then change your life.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What is the happiness algorithm? 😄
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@ems_hodge I answered it elsewhere, but here is two best things I have ever done: I bought a $20 alarm clock. I set two alarms (7am and 7:30am) between those two alarms, its 100% about me. My phone is in another room. I focus on my pleasure, I sleep sometimes, read sometimes, tend to my pleasure sometimes, and sometimes, I just think. As the second alarm goes off, I get up, take my bipolar meds and eat breakfast. Then I feel my pets (dogs and cats). Then I might work out. Then I shower. Then, and only then. I check email. And guess what I learned ... the world didn't end. The other thing I do? Is at some point in the day, I spend 15 minutes doing something that makes me 100% happy. For me, thats hanging out with Taylor, my dog. It's why I never travel more than 3 days.
Jordan Gonen
Jordan Gonen@jrdngonen · trying my best.
What is the biggest mountain you have to climb this year?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jordan_gonen Im over 300lbs. I dont climb mountains.
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jordan_gonen ok. Being serious. At the end of last year, my dog Billie died. I have never been so crushed in my life. Despondent doesnt even begin to describe how I was. Followed that up with a flu so bad I broke a rib coughing. So my biggest mountain this year? Me. Lots to fix.
Maxime MANSEAU
Maxime MANSEAU@maximemanseau
Micah, What's the happiness algorithm ??
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@maximemanseau I do believe there are 5 or 6 things you can do daily that make you happier. I havent figure out all of them, but most of them. Spend the first 30 mins of the day on nobody but you, find your "happiness moment" and commit to doing it daily. Understand that happiness is fluid and an ill defined state. End the day having accomlished no more than 3 things.
Maxime MANSEAU
Maxime MANSEAU@maximemanseau
@micah super interesting! I m currently exploring all this; trying to find my own algorithm like 10min meditation, write 20 min, gratitude...it looks like it s all about energy and sustainable energy comes from daily habits. Why do you think we need to keep our daily goals short?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@maximemanseau too much commitment is work. Improving your life should be joy.
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
What's the best donut you've had? And when you get to LA, want to do a donut tour?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jspepper yes! Apple Fritter. At the place we go in Belmont, Pilgrim Kitchen, they only make 18 a day. And always save one for me!
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
@micah Eater did a donut map, so we're good to go.
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
Is Winter coming (okay, I just like saying that for effect). But if it is coming, what is your advice for startups starting now?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jspepper save your cash. build something real. But really real.
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
With your impending move to LA, how are you hoping to change the LA/Silicon Beach landscape?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jspepper I dont hope to change it at all. I hope to learn from it. After all, Im not from LA, who am I to be directive? I do hope to get involved and learn a lot!
Matthew S LaCrosse
Matthew S LaCrosse@matthew_s_lacrosse · #LEAN CMO Elite-App CEO Elite.Community
What verticals/industries are your favorite to invest in and or the most interesting to you?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@matthew_s_lacrosse Well, Startup God, don't you already know? :) I love anything that is about people. I love pets, no one has figured out that space. I love content, especially the coming of VR, but more importantly the technology behind content, and where content and tech collide. I am not very smart, so super technical things are outside my ability to understand.
Matthew S LaCrosse
Matthew S LaCrosse@matthew_s_lacrosse · #LEAN CMO Elite-App CEO Elite.Community
@micah LOL! Great answer bud! Can you elaborate on the pet space part - what problems do you think need to be solved there?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@matthew_s_lacrosse training is the biggest by far. Cost of pet ownership is huge. I'd love to see a way to remove money from care decisions.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Makerpad.co
What are the most important lessons you learnt from your failures and what impact has that had on your other companies?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@bentossell humility drives success. Best thing I ever learned.
Mikkel D. Bertelsen
Mikkel D. Bertelsen@mikkel_db · CEO of Corro.io
What's the most stupid startup idea you've had, that you almost went through with?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@mikkel_db haha. Who said I didn't go through with them? I don't think ideas are stupid, just ill-timed or thought out. The thing I hate most is when I hear an idea and think to myself, WTF? And then they go off and become magical. Like https://www.bohemianguitars.com/. Guitars made out of oil cans? Please. But the founder, Adam, has just worked his ass off, and they are doing great!
Mikkel D. Bertelsen
Mikkel D. Bertelsen@mikkel_db · CEO of Corro.io
@micah oh lord. I never knew I needed an oil can guitar. Thanks for the good reply!
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@mikkel_db you need one! They are awesome. :)
Preston Long
Preston Long@pmlonglamoureux
What is customer success in the eyes of a founder and how does one implement CS in a startup?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@pmlonglamoureux I have held off answering this question, because its the hardest. Customer success can be so many things -- they bought the product. They didnt return it. They sent the company a nice note. But I think the right answer is that they gave it to a friend. Not recommended. Gave it. Spent their own time and money. Implementing CS has to be a DNA level event. CS isnt a department (although it is because you need tracking, etc.) but a state of mind. Be obsessed about your customer, and your customer will become obsessed about you.
Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez@headhanchoarod · Founder/CEO at WorkMand & Code2040 EIR
Fan of the work you've done and continue to do. What's your best advice to startups on getting their first 10 paying customers? Second question :) - Best advice to those applying to an accelerator like TechStars or 500 Startups. Thanks!
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@headhanchoarod the advice is the same. Dont suck. Listen. Be clear in explaining your value prop. I bet you are making it way more complicated that it actually is. Simple always wins.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Yo Micah! Thank you for joining us my man. I'm bringing the good stuff: What's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as fundamentally misguided?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@eriktorenberg that I was right more often than I am wrong. But I have learned that that in being wrong, I can always find the fundamental truth to life.
Ryan Merket
Ryan Merket@merket · Product at Reddit
You just got into an elevator with a founder who is obviously down and dejected. What do you say in that 30 seconds you have with them?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@merket can you press 10 please? Kidding! I actually invite them to donuts, as 30 secs is just not enough time. I dont want to be patronizing, and I dont really know why they are dejected. It could have nothing to do with their business. Maybe I would just fart.
Drew Russ
Drew Russ@drewwruss · Business Development
Hey Micah -- does a business need an origin story? A deeper narrative or mission than "simply" solving a problem? Is that important and if so, how important?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@drewwruss yes. Since the days of cavemen, we spoke in story. I related to people not companies, and the story is how we relate. If I told you that my startup began because I figured I could make money selling puppy products, would you be as interested as if PupBox (http://www.pupbox.com -- totally angling for free stuff!) talked about their experiences with their own puppy and difficulties in improving the dog's life? Myths matter everywhere. Pretty sure 95% of all marriages started with a myth.
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What are the 3 resources that have most improved your life? (blogs, books, movies, advisors, etc)
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jacqvon 1) being brutally open with close friends, at work they joke that Im the "feelings guy"; 2) wordpress (http://wordpress.com) and medium (http://medium.com) - I never realized how much writing would change my perspective on the world thanks @photomatt and @ev! 3) dammit. I can only think about people. In this connected life (where I hate making and taking phone calls), we forget how actual connection drives maximum improvement. I take time to spend with actual people. Which is hard, because I generally hate people.
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
Since you mentioned VR - and it is pretty cool, like Second Life was - what do you see as the business, communications and other aspects outside of gaming?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@jspepper video content. Medical. Education.
Jeremy Pepper
Jeremy Pepper@jspepper · Consultant
@micah Remind me to tell you about GE.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@micah you think you're done! HA! How'd you get where you are today -- How'd you get your start? To what skill-sets, experiences, and people do you credit for your rise? What advice do you have to people looking to exactly what you're doing? What advice would you tell your 25 yr old self? no rush :P
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@eriktorenberg you are like the James Lipton of Product Hunt. lol. I started my first company when I was 9 because my parents couldn't pay for a movie and Jack-in-the-Box. From there, pure laziness. If I really wanted to work on driving towards dreams, I would have chosen professions that were hard. Teaching. Writing. Engineering. Instead, I chose talking. My parents were very hands off, so I just did whatever I wanted. I guess that good and bad. I had a professor that wanted to do a 10 year study on my career growth. That was weird, but I learned a lot about running companies and what leadership actually means. My drug addiction was a great learning experience. Nothing like putting (a lot) of money up your nose to get focused on what matters. Learning I was bipolar was a huge moment in my life. I finally found out what was wrong with me. And more recently, Billie's death and how people around me reacted. You never know if people are actually friends until you actually need a friend. When I was 25 ... invincibility is a fallacy. I have always lived in the moment (that whole suicide thing with my bipolar) so I have never thought about tomorrow. I would tell my 25 year old self - start a 401k, roth IRA, and stop living like today is the last one you have. It's all poetry to say live in the moment, and would be great if we were fruit flies, but we arent. We live long. we should live like we live long.
Nikhita
Nikhita@nikhitaaaa · Product Manager
How do you filter bad advise from the good? As a founder, you often receive a mix of both - and more often than not, it's difficult to distinguish between the two.
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@nikhitaaaa this may sound like a throw away answer, but my intuition. If its feels wrong, it probably is. Also, I check it against others. Ask people I trust if they think the advice is valid.
Danny Newman
Danny Newman@dannynewman · CEO ROXIMITY
What the heck is a Ham Sword?!
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@dannynewman haha. It was our Rock Band rockband. which only allowed mediocre players. We kicked out players that were too good. It is also a penis. But, apparently, not a Donald Trump penis.
Oliviax
Oliviax@oliviameng
Hi Micah, speaking of the failure, how do you go through the difficult time after rejections or so? Do you re-consider your idea or do you try to find out what went wrong at the initial stage?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@oliviameng I tend to be very self-reflective and introspective. At least according to my therapist. So I mourn. I evaluate. I try and determine what caused the failure and more importantly, WHAT IS MY CULPABILITY? With Graphicly, I should have ended the company about 4 times through out its life and re-evaluated, and maybe re-launched. But instead, I continued to plow forward because I felt I could overcome anything. Turns out, I was kinda wrong.
Omar Valle
Omar Valle@ov · Business Development
Hey Micah- what do you think is the most destructive theme/meme currently circulating in the start-up ecosystem?
Micah Baldwin
Micah Baldwin@micah · Old Founder. Grey hairs and everything.
@ov that revenue trumps growth. Sometimes, growth matters more than making money. Why? Because revenue can be naturally limiting.